07. January 2011 · 3 comments · Categories: All Posts, Traveling · Tags:

Ling has a really funny way of asking for directions whenever we were lost in Japan. Whether it’s a local passer-by along Shijo-Dori, or at some subway station, she’ll always ask this way:

“Excuse me, could you tell me is this the right platform to get to Imadegawa Subway Station? You see, I’m trying to get to Kinkakuji Temple, and I’m not sure if this way or that way?”

And the poor local, more often than not, would end up staring blankly at her!

The way I would ask for directions would go like this:

“Imadegawa Station, where?”

… and accompanied by the universal hand gesturing that indicates “where”. And I get a much more immediate response! Oh, on the odd occasion we did get locals who could speak pretty alright English, but more often than not, I had to remind Ling not to pad her queries with so much unnecessary information that would only confuse the locals to what we were asking about.

One thing I found myself doing too – in addition to taking in all the sights and making mental notes – was to take pictures of funny signs wherever I could find them. Here’s a selection of them.:)

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Japanese Pizza = Pizze? (Signboard along Kawaramachi Dori, Kyoto)

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The 1,000円 fine is too low to be considered punishment in Japan. (Signboard just outside Gion Shijo Station, Kyoto)

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It's a peace of, er, bread? (LCD display along Shijo Dori, Kyoto advertizing English classes)

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To go up, you go down. (Signpost at the Cable-car Station site, Mt. Maya, Kobe)

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Mikado has a play booth teaching you SPASE, i.e. heliophysics. (Signboard along Kawaramachi Dori, Kyoto)

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Upstairs, he meant. (Near Shishigatani Street, start of The Philosopher's Walk, Kyoto)

I'm getting me some of that ice-cream! (Outside Kinkakuji Temple, Kyoto)

Great advertizing for their pastries! (Bread's Court, Karasuma Subway Station basement, Kyoto)

It took Ling a while to realize they were talking about bombs! (Sign at Osakako Subway Station, Osaka)

Funnily, I didn’t actually see any Haiku LOL.

A selection of the 52 panoramic compositions I did during the trip. The full images are huge, so here are reduced-sized versions. Click on the thumbnail for a 1024 pixel wide image.

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Nara, Yoshienki Garden

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Nara, Isuien Garden

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Nara, Todaiji Temple

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Kyoto, Kiyomizu Temple
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Kyoto, Shukaguin Imperial Villa

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Kyoto, Arashiyama district

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Kyoto, Kinkakuji Temple

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Kyoto, Kyoto Station

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Kyoto, Kyoto Station

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Osaka

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Osaka, from the Floating Garden Observatory @ Umeda Sky Building

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Osaka, from the Floating Garden Observatory @ Umeda Sky Building

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Osaka, from the Floating Garden Observatory @ Umeda Sky Building

The third and should be last stack of assorted pictures, unless I uncover more. All but the last two were taken in Kyoto (the last two are in Osaka).

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Mitsui Garden Hotel in Kyoto. There was a nicely done small garden in the hotel that we could view from the concierge, but we didn't actually got the opportunity to walk outside (not sure if it was possible at all to begin with). The entrance to the hotel's communal bath house is just to the right of this picture.

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Bus-stop just outside Karasuma Station along Shijo-Dori in Kyoto. We found the bus arrival timing displays at every bus stop tremendously useful, and coupled with the Japanese exacting standards of punctuality, made it possible for us to come up with realistic timings for our daily itinerary.

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Train stop just outside Fushimi Inari in Kyoto. The train stop is painted in the same distinctive red color as is the temple and the famous 10,000 torri gates. The track has the usual pedestrian and vehicle passes, so I took the opportunity for a quick shot as we walked across the track.

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Opposite Karasuma Station along Shijo-Dori in Kyoto. The vendor machine culture is really quite distinctive, and they sell everything (this one here is selling cigarettes). Ling mused out aloud though that the electricity usage to keep those canned drinks warm in winter would easily surpass whatever profit the business operator would get selling the drinks. And here's the funniest thing; we didn't see a lot of locals actually using these machines to begin with. Weird.

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Between Kinkakuji Temple (visited) and the Rock Garden (we got there, saw the admission prices, didn't visit) in Kyoto. That Ling has her hoodie on again only hints at how cold the weather was. That's her trying to figure out whether we were walking the right direction. It was only after we got to the Rock Garden after a 30 minute walk when she realized that we could have just taken a bus.:)

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Part of the train network map in Osaka. One unsual thing we saw here and not in Kyoto was the almost 4X4 criss-crossing grid of different train lines in the central part of Osaka. Station change entrances and exits weren't always near each other though, and just to get from one line to another might mean walking for a good several minutes.

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At the Namba Shopping District in Osaka. There was a queue to buy these custard buns, and the distinctively sweet aroma interested Ling enough to give it a shot. She purchased a cream custard bun with chocolate chips for 220円 that was pretty tasty, the more so that the bun was hot and it was winter.:)

More assorted pictures. These were all taken in Kyoto.

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Along Nishiki Food Market in Kyoto. The First Kitchen is a Japanese fast food restaurant chain, and we saw many of these outlets in the cities. Ling was especially intrigued by their specially flavored fries advertized. We did try out their fare in Osaka after our Kaiyukan visit, but concluded that their 'famous' bacon-egg burger was severely over-rated.

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At Arashiyama in Kyoto. When you're totting around a huge camera, the general assumption of people around you is that you can take pictures. Funnily, we saw a lot of people go to major tourist places all fishing out their handphones to take pictures, including of the Osaka nightline at the Floating Garden Observatory. Maybe camera phones have improved a lot, but I think those owners have severely over-estimated what those little camera sensors can do. This couple (the guy is Japanese but spoke pretty good English with an American accent) here got me to take a picture of them using his iPhone. Hope the shot turned out well.

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Part of the train network map in Kyoto. Not every train station had an equivalent English name labelled to it on these maps. This was especially true for the outerlying stations, and the printed maps we had didn't always include these stations too. What I routinely did was to use the E-PL1 to snap a picture of the map display on ticket terminals, and follow through the route using its camera LCD display in View mode.

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Along Shijo-Dori in Kyoto. No shortage of cabs in the main city area, though we routinely more often than not saw these cabs waiting at pick-up points (e.g. outside Mitsui Garden Hotel, outside department stores, major traffic junctions) than cruising about for street pick-ups. Whenever we exited our hotel in Kyoto in fact, there would be half a dozen taxis waiting outside, the first of which would have its passenger-side door automatically opened, as though beckoning for us to take a ride instead of bus and train transportation.

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Kyoto Tower in Kyoto, or what our Japan by Railway guide refers to as an eyesore. The book jokingly remarks that the only benefit of going up this tower is that it's the one and only place in Kyoto where you don't have to see the tower. At night though it looks real pretty.

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Kyoto Station in Kyoto. That gargantuan monster of a building, and so big that the only way to actually take a picture of the whole thing is to do a panoramic composition. The travel books we got all remarked on how much of an eye sore it also is, but I thought it looked pretty impressive - at least from the inside. In winter though, the almost open-air concept inside the Station made us shiver in the cold wind.

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Inside Kyoto Station and on Christmas Eve, just after our first dinner at Katsukura at the top level. A all girls Christmas band appeared dressed in appropriate costumes and started playing the seasonal songs. That was a ball of fun and a pleasant treat for us.:)

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Entrance 26 into Karasuma Subway Station in Kyoto. This was the most frequently used get on/off station for us in our Kyoto segment of our trip. It was a 6 minute (800m) brisk walk to the Mitsui Garden Hotel, though from this entrance point to the actual ticket terminal and gantry points, it was a further 2 minute walk through the subway underground passages. On three occasions, we got off at Kawaramachi Station and walked the additional distance (1.6 km in total) back to the hotel.

I’m about sorting through the 2,609 pictures and about 3 hrs 20 minutes of HD video taken during the Japan trip, and selected a couple of other pictures I haven’t posted up here yet. They’re quite a few but they all evoke distinctive memories of our trip.

This first bunch were all taken in Kobe.

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Outside Sannomiya Station in Kobe. Ling was our map reader, transportation decision-maker, and itinerary expert, all rolled into one (I was just the Minister of Finance for this trip). We did get a little lost on occasion and having to retrack our footsteps, but more often than not, we were able to get to where we wanted to.

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Walking away from Sannomiya Station and towards Near Kitano-Cho in Kobe. Ling was fascinated with all types of flora in Japan, and we often stopped for her to take either videos or pictures of interesting plant life. She can spot these things easily, whereas I am more apt at spotting camera bargains.:)

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At Isuzu Bakery about halfway between Kitano-Cho and Sannomiya Station in Kobe. The Japanese eat a lot of pastries, like elsewhere in the world; and interestingly enough, their offerings aren't too different from what we get at home. Prices are more expensive though, with buns typically going for 150円 and north from there.

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Near Kanocho in Kobe. Most non-shopping mall business and dining establishments in Japan look fairly drab in the day time, but they all come to life and lit up like Christmas season when evening starts. I notice that Japanese are fond of snacks and finger foods. It's incredible how few of them still become overweight (unlike what I saw in the United States - shudder).

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Daimaru in Kobe. The main department stores that also we see in Singapore, e.g. Damiaru, Isetan and Takishimaya, are huge in comparison in Japan. They routinely occupy all floors of an entire 9 to 12 story building, and offer a huge range of products for sale. As remarked before though, we found merchanise relatively expensive in Japan. A couple of branded children school bags we saw at Daimaru for instance cost 65,000円 - or nearly SGD1000!

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Near Hare Department Store in Kobe. The period of our travel was still relatively early winter, so every late autumn bloomer we saw was a photographic opportunity for me that gave color to what was otherwise a pretty drab gray urban jungle that was typical of Japanese cities in winter. Ling pointed out though on several occasions that the leaves even for these bloomers were starting to dry out.

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Birds in Motion @ Harborland in Kobe. There were a flock of seagulls looking for food near a bunch of visitors. I was using the E-PL1, but fast-switched to the D300, turned to S mode, drove up shuttle speeds to 1/500s, continous-AF, burst mode and started snapping.:)

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One of the seagulls just about to snap up some food thrown up by a visitor.

Part 3 of our notes on our 10.5 day trip!

The Currency

One thing I absolutely do not like is the fact that you get loose change from every dining and retail establishment that are maddeningly difficult to reuse in the transportation system. It’s just crazy to get a pocket full of jingling 1 and 5円 coins, and then struggle to find ways to use them later. They’re still legal tender of course, but we would have really preferred those transportation ticket terminals accepting small change.

On the other hand, understanding the local currency was a lot easier for me than trying to understand American currency. Denominations are printed in large numberings on Japan dollar notes and are of relatively good quality for paper-based currency. I found American dollars hard to read on the other hand, in very poor physical and nearly torn condition a lot of times, and the less said about trying to understand their dimes and quarters, the better! Singapore currency beats all hands down though; it’s plastic money and color-coded LOL.

The Transportation Network

It’s funny to think of it. In Kobe and Osaka, we took the subway/train. In Kyoto, we took the bus! In all cases, we really benefited from the fact that train subway maps and station maps were readily available and pretty easy to read and understand. Exit/entrance points are clearly marked out, and labeled liberally in sign posting everywhere. Trains and buses arrived exactly on the dot – just goes to show Japanese efficiency and ability to stick to timings… so completely unlike in Singapore – and there were sufficient escalators and elevators in stations to expedite traveling with heavy luggage.

All the subway stations we transited to and from had luggage lockers too, and they cost up to 600円 for the largest ones. Funnily, the largest lockers were the ones that got occupied quickly, and if you’re traveling with larger than 26 inch-sized lockers, you might have to hunt around for a bit to find a free locker that’s large enough for your bag. The last hotel we stayed in – The Lutheran Hotel – were happy to hold onto our luggage for an entire day though till night time after we’d checked out in the early morning on our last day.

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We didn't try these though.

We didn’t find the trains that heavily occupied. Though to be fair, we’ve yet to experience the famous sardine packing in Tokyo, and by luck, we largely traveled outside morning peak hours in Kyoto and Osaka. The Japanese subway and train network seem to employ a huge number of personnel too. Everywhere we went, we saw uniformed station wardens, people traffic controllers, cleaners, unarmed security personnel and the like. Way, way more than maybe the half-dozen personnel you’d fine in a typical MRT station.

On the other hand, public transportation as a general rule is dreadfully expensive in Japan. The flat bus fare in Kyoto really bit us. A flat 220円 for a short trip, and for longer trips, you’d need to top up even that flat fare. There was a 500円 convenience card you can buy, which helped matters somewhat – but you couldn’t use that card in the subway or trains. My ballpark estimate is that on any given day of extensive sight seeing, you’d be spending at least SGD15 upwards per person on travel alone on the subway and bus networks. I guess one’s paying for the high train staff costing (large number of employees everywhere!) and the costs of building the extensive subway and railway track coverage. We’ve really been spoiled by the relatively inexpensive bus and MRT rides in Singapore.

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Japanese trains. Fast, clean, efficient, expensive.

The Culture

The Japanese are world-famous for their fastidiousness in personal hygiene. But the cities we visited weren’t exactly litter-free – not that I was expecting it to be actually. But what’s interesting was the very large number of cigarette stubs everywhere. Ling personally found it discomforting whenever we entered a cafe full of smokers and try to find a table in a non-smoking area, and we ended up walking out of more than a few cafes when she found the tobacco stench unbearable. I guess I can’t complain too much, considering that in Singapore, on any given early morning, you’d find cigarette stubs and used tissue paper and empty can drinks and empty noodle cups and more used tissue paper and empty 7-11 drink cups and… etc.

I read somewhere in travel books too that sneezing without covering their nasals is a terrific no-no-no in Japan. But here’s the dammnest thing: I saw a lot of persons doing just that, and spewing all their goodness on whichever their nasals were pointing at. And they didn’t look like they were foreigners.

And that thing about slurping your ramen? Hearing someone slurp their noodles beside me is enough for me to want to stab my ears! I didn’t personally experience hearing loud slurps in my stay in Kumamoto last year on account that I was fine-dining in a very quiet restaurant every night, but this time round in Kyoto and Osaka, did. I guess it’s a really totally jarring experience to see this very well-dressed and pretty looking Japanese lady loudly slurping her ramen right beside me. It sort of completely killed that image of the refined Japanese woman for me, though of course the Japanese don’t see it the same way.

Ling took special delight in the ubiquitous vending machines everywhere, and she liberally used that excuse of her allergy to seafood and her need for ‘tea detoxification’ to hunt for choice teas from those machines.:)

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Ling is in love!

Finally

It was a good trip, especially for Ling I think who really enjoyed herself taking in the sights, the cuisine, and people-watching. We planned for the trip within a budget of about SGD6K, and spent in all about SGD5K I think, though I’ll only have the exact figure once I’ve completed my usual postmortem spreadsheet accounting. Photographic opportunities were problematic though on account of cold and crummy weather, but we had to manage. Funnily, the E-PL1 has really come through in this vacation, and I found myself relying on the little compact much more than the D300. This vacation has seriously made me reconsider whether those huge DSLRs are where I want to go long-term, or go with the micro-4/3 standard.

I asked Ling where next we should go to. I’m all for visiting the United States again – which as I’ve remarked here before, far prefer it as a visitation place than Japan, and still do even after this trip – but if we’re coming back to Japan again any time soon, I imagine we’ll be hitting the Tokyo region next.

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Taking pictures in Arashiyama.That heron is a lot further away than this picture suggests.

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Ling catching up on Matt's comments to our blog at Kansai International Airport just before our return to Singapore.

As for our ‘loot’, we didn’t really buy a lot of stuff, and the most costly items were a pair of Shigeharu chef knives – one for mom, and another for ourselves. The rest of it were small items; some local snacks, those Green Tea Kit-Kats that we nearly gave up looking for, fridge magnets from several places, a toy for Hannah (that round blue pokka-dot thing in the picture – it’s a whale-shark doll from Kaiyukan), some pottery pieces from Douguyasuji, and lens filters from Yodobashi Umeda.

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Our very small stash of loot from Japan.

Our most treasured gift for us though was that Hannah still remembers us! And she looks taller, looks different, and is capable of more complex utterances than ever.:)

Hannah looking solemn. She just got a nasty mosquito bite though, so looks just a mite unglam here.

Part 2 of our notes on our 10.5 day trip!

The Weather

We didn’t have much of a choice on when to go on vacation given the large number of limitations to accommodate: Ling’s academic calendar, my academic calendar – which was out of sync with hers – and when grandparents were available to take care of Hannah when we’re away. In fact, just 3 weeks before we left and after accommodation and flight plans had all been finalized, our sis-in-law remarked to us that it’s weird we’re visiting Western Honshu in December when this would had been the best month to visit.. Hokkaido instead LOL.

Still; I don’t mind winter nearly as much as Ling does. In fact, given a choice I’d always prefer to go to cold rather than warm places for a vacation. I get enough of the warmth and humidity already every day in this part of the world! The end-of-year we went was just about as good a time possible for the season; any later, e.g. next month, would have started to see heavy snowfall which might have seriously messed up our itinerary; and we got to see some remnants of autumn too.

Of the four cities we visited, we found Nara the coldest, and Kobe the most comfy in terms of temperature. We experienced fairly light snowfall too in Nara, Kyoto and Osaka; and the rain in Nara about destroyed our umbrella.

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It also rained in Osaka. Pretty much killed any chance of trying to get some decent pictures of the outskirts of Osaka Castle here.

The Food

As remarked here at several spots already, there were no shortage of eating places in Japan. Every street we went or road we turned to, we’d find eateries and restaurants. Many of them were modest eateries where you’d walk-in, find yourself a common table, order, tuck-in, pay up and leave. But in terms of their national cuisine, this is as good as it gets. Short of the fine-dining Japanese establishments in Singapore, I don’t think the mid-price Japanese restaurants here can match what you can get in the origin country.

Interestingly, the price range for low to mid-level restaurants seemed pretty consistent. Ramen was routinely going for between 900 to 1200円, conveyor belt sushi between 100 to 140円 per plate, and normal sit-down meals at restaurants between 1000 to 1500円. Strangely, the low-price range eating places of about SGD8 are more expensive than Singapore since hawker and food court fare routinely go for SGD4 to SGD5, but the mid-price range eating places of about SGD12 to SGD20 in Japan is actually cheaper than its equivalent in Singapore. Conveyor belt sushi is for certain cheaper than Singapore. Weird. We didn’t try the fine-dining places.

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I've got receipt fetish! But seriously, I'm just writing out my detailed notes for our trip, and collected all our receipts for accounting. From left to right; the receipts for Katsukura (Day 3), Kappazushi (Day 6), and Holly's Cafe (Day 4).

Moreover, if you go with cuisine across ethnicity origins, the range of cuisine in the four cities didn’t nearly match what we get in Singapore. I guess it’s the benefit of being where we are; Singapore remains a melting pot for all races, and given our geographical location and history, continue to enjoy very well-done cuisine across so many types and price ranges.

As Ling’s remarked too, it’s also possible to find crappy food in Japan. And while her reference point is in a couple of ramen places we tried out, mine is in fast food. Fast food in Japan is as fast food anywhere else gets; it’s just bad. We tried out a couple of items at First Kitchen for instance and it tasted factory-churned out and not terrifically appetizing.

One thing we did like a lot in Japan is that many, many restaurants present static displays of their cuisine in their shop front. It helped Gaijin like us a lot who don’t read a word of Japanese, though there’s still that old adage that what you see is still routinely an idealized representation of what you (might) get. Still, eating out in Japan was an easy affair for us just following our P.E.P. protocol. Language wasn’t too much of a barrier for us. A couple of restaurants had English menus, and at least one waiter staff who could speak Mandarin.

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Point, Eat, Pay! :)

Also, I especially liked the fact that the displayed prices you see in Japan restaurant menus is almost always the actual price you’d pay on the final bill. It’s better than what we get in Singapore restaurants where we have to calculate additional 10% charge for usually just barely adequate service + 7% GST, and loads easier than the IMO troublesome tipping system used in the United States, though you get excellent waiter service in return there.

Part 3 of our notes in the next post!

01. January 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Reflections, Traveling · Tags: , , , ,

Our 11:30 PM flight home from Kansai International Airport back to Changi in Singapore was remarkably smooth in one respect. I was semi-conscious until I was awaken seconds before midnight by the SQ pilot leading the cabin crew and all passengers in the 10 second countdown to 2011, at which point I was asking Ling if we were still taxing. She chuckled and said that we’d been in the air for 30 minutes already! I didn’t feel or sense a thing when the plane took-off. Likewise, the landing was as soft as a feather with zero bumps, low noise – just perfect.

On the other hand, just two rows ahead of us was a crying baby who – somehow – managed to cry continuously throughout the entire 7 hour flight home. You know it’s real bad when even Ling gets exasperated and says it’s either a problem with the baby or the parents! She even wrote Ann that “Murder had never been more real in my mind!” LOL.

Either way, neither of us managed to get much sleep; and right now at 2:10 PM and finished unpacking, laundry, picked up Hannah, had our brunch, cooked and fed her lunch, did her laundry, cleaned up the house – the two of us are just about to completely bowl over from lack of sleep!

Still, blogging comes first before the memories of our trip start to blur and every experience we got from our 10.5 day trip start to feel the same. There are still a few more posts after this, though they’ll be a selection of videos taken by Ling (our video camera girl this time), and also my panoramic compositions.

A 10 day trip through Japan was about perfect for us to get a good feel of the country and at the same time just about exactly long enough for us to start missing home (i.e. curry puffs, Hokkien noodles, roti prata, (real) dim sum, and Hannah). Of the four cities we traveled to and visited, here’s what we think is a doable length of stay for most first-time travelers to these cities:

Kobe: recommended 3D 2N, which was the length of time we spent. There aren’t many definitive sight-seeing spots in the city, but those that are:

Kitano-Cho (~ 2 hrs exploration time)

Nunobiki Falls & Mts. Maya & Rokko (~4-8 hrs)

Sannomiya Station stretch (~2 hrs)

Chinatown (~2 hrs) – are all well worth visits.

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Kobe's Chinatown lit up like a Christmas tree.

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Kobe's Nunobiki Waterfalls at Mt. Maya.

Kyoto: recommended 6D 5N, though we spent a longer 7D 6N here. If you’re up to visiting all the temples and shrines, then a longer visit is recommended. But if you’re interested to just view the most important religious institutions, then an 7 day stay might be excessive, as we both felt now that we’ve been there done that. Kyoto’s palette of sites are significantly more varied, the more so considering it’s such a convenient jump-off point to many other cities nearby. That we missed Himeji Castle was disappointing, but I’m assuming that we’d go back to Kyoto again for a second visit at some point. High points we felt during our Kyoto stay and our recommended length of visitations included:

Nijo-Castle (~2 hrs)

Kyoto Station (~4 hrs, but multiple visits really since it’s a central transit point. An absolutely gargantuan structure!)

Higashiyama area (~4-6 hrs, including Yasaka Shrine/Maruyama Park, Kiyozumi Temple)

Gion area (~4 hrs)

Katsura and Shugakuin Imperial Villas (~1 hr + 1.5 hr, admission applications required)

The Philosopher’s Walk (~4 hrs)

Arashiyama area (~4-6 hrs – the bamboo grove is a must see!)

Nishiki Food Market (~2 hrs)

Kinkakuji Temple (~ 1 hr)

Fushimi Inari Temple (~4 hrs – enough time to climb all the way up to the summit)

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Ten thousands of torii gates at Fushimi Inari in Kyoto.

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Maiko spotting at Higashiyama in Kyoto.

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Nijo Castle in Kyoto.

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Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto.

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The Monstrosity, er... Kyoto Station I mean, in, well, Kyoto.

You could probably manage the above itinerary with 5D 4N too, though you’d probably not spend much time shopping then. We also initially included a few more Kyoto temples as well, but took them out at the last minute after Ling started getting cold feet about visitations there. Another alternative, but smarter way of arranging the itinerary is to visit each Kyoto area according to its cardinal direction; i.e. day 1, go East, day 2, go West etc. In our case, it was a mite bit messed up, but we’ve learned from this experience.:)

Nara: recommended 1D, and as a side trip from Kyoto. The highpoints included:

Deer Park (~1 hr)

Todaji Temple (~1 hr)

Yoshikien Garden (~1 hr)

Isuien Garden (~2 hrs)

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The very serene Isuien Garden in Nara.

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Snowfall at Todai-ji Temple in Nara.

Osaka: recommended 3D 2N, though we spent 2D 1N. You could manage just spending as short a stay as we did, but only if you’re not going to do any sort of shopping.

Osaka Castle (~2 hrs)

Shinsaibashi shopping arcades (~1D – i.e. The Mad House)

Umeda Sky Building (~4 hrs – the best time to go up could be late afternoon in order to catch the sunset, and also stay long enough for the night shoot)

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan (~4 hrs)

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The Umeda Sky Building in Osaka. The Floating Garden Observatory is alllllll the way up there!

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Shopping Arcades, i.e. Mad House Full of People, in Osaka

Continued in the next post!

We finished our visit to Kaiyukan, lunched at First Kitchen at the Tempozan Harbor Village next door to the aquarium, then traveled back the Umeda area. We still had several hours to kill before heading back to The Lutheran Hotel to pick up our luggage that we’d left at the concierge and head to the airport, so we explored the area a bit more on foot, eventually finishing at Yodobashi Umeda mall for shopping and dinner.

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A view of Osaka from The Hilton Plaza West. Osaka with its glass towers and skyscrapers is so unlike Kyoto.

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Part of the Osaka Garden City. It's probably hard to tell from this picture, but on the floor where those potted plants are are hundreds of empty glass bottles.

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Inside The Hildon Plaza West. The first six floors of retail outlets and cafes is serviced by a pair of glass elevators. Even the lift button panels are glass. Real cool. :)

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Elder brother asked us to look for Green tea Kit-Kat, and we'd been trying to find it in vain throughout the trip... only to finally find the item at a kiosk at Subway Umeda Station. You can see Ling's look of triumph!

Dinner was at a level 9 restaurant called Hong Kong Chon Long offering Chinese cuisine, buffet style. There were several other eateries on the floor, but at this point in our trip, we were pretty tired of Japanese food already and were both tired from all the walking and just wanted a place to stone. Per head cost was about 2,100円 per person including drinks; relatively pricey for this floor, but the offerings were rather disappointing. I didn’t enjoy the dim sum as they tasted as though they were made from the same shrimp paste – heck, even the Hougang Mall kopitiam whips out better dim sum than this. The Chinese-styled stir fry tasted better, especially the fried noodles and rice, and the sweet & sour pork ribs, though there wasn’t really much range or variety.

Which led me to conclude to Ling; I think we should just avoid trying out non-local cuisine at this price range the next time we’re in Japan. We should just stick to their national fare which they do consistently do better in, in our experience anyway.

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Should have gone with our instincts and went somewhere else for dinner.

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It might had been because we were at an early dinner at about 4:45 PM, but several dishes advertized at the front display weren't avilable in the buffet spread itself.

01. January 2011 · Comments Off · Categories: All Posts, Traveling · Tags: , ,

While Ling was planning for our itinerary, she lamented that there really isn’t a lot of things to see in Osaka. In fact, the only things visitors go to Osaka to do largely center on shopping and eating. The few places that warrant as popular tourist sights include the Umeda Sky Building (visited), the Namba district and shopping arcades (visited), Osaka Castle (closed for the period), and lastly, Oaska Aquarium, also known as Kaiyukan.

As with my visits to San Francisco and Boston last year, where there’s an aquarium, it’d be a place I’d definitely want to visit. The day we chose to go though was on New Year’s Eve on the 31 December, and as it turned out, hordes of Japanese locals also had the same grand idea. Long queues were already formed up early in the morning at 10:00 AM before opening hours, and keep in mind that the aquarium is located near Osaka Bay and enjoys the best i.e. coldest of sea breezes.

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Ling about to be blown away with the cold winter wind just outside Kaiyukan.

The admissions area was a bit of a mess with throngs of people buying tickets, no clear demarcations to move people from ticket purchasing to entrance, and lots and lots and lots of children about. Heck; I think the first 30 minutes of our visit to the aquarium was made almost impossible to enjoy because of kids shoving and pushing everyone else and themselves.

The aquarium itself boasts of being one of the largest in the world, with a 10 meter deep center piece tank titled “Pacific Ocean”, and houses a somersaulting Manta Ray and a pair of magnificent looking whale sharks. The other really special exhibit for me was titled Japan Deeps, and housing dozens of Giant spider crabs, several of whom were lunching. Lastly, the very cold weather made it possible also for an outdoor penguin parade, something we’re unlikely to ever see in Singapore (we only see penguins in carefully-temperature controlled exhibit areas).

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"The Pacific Ocean" exhibit housing a pair of whale sharks. Magnificent creatures.

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"Japan Deeps" exhibit portraying aquatic life 8,000 meters deep. Giant spider crabs munching on chopped up octupus.

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"Look cute and cuddly, boys!"

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"The Great Barrier Reef" exhibit.

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A special-side exhibit with several tanks of clown fish. Very popular with the kids.

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Can't remember which exhibit this is.

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Picked up a couple of fridge magnets and a soft-toy for Hannah.:)

Kaiyukan itself isn’t too bad given its two highlight tanks with the whale sharks and spider crabs. But all things considered and putting aside the fact that we perhaps chose the worse possible time to visit with all those screaming kids about, I’d expected more for the fairly high admission fee of 2,000円 per adult. It didn’t seem as though there were as many distinctive nor varied exhibits showing the full spectrum of aquatic life, as compared to say the New England Aquarium that I last visited in Boston this June.

So, worth a visit for the whale sharks and spider crabs if you can stomach the high admission fees. But the New England Aquarium has no fear; it remains still the best aquarium I’ve yet seen anywhere.