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.
Part 3 of our notes on our 10.5 day trip!
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.
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.
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.:)
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.
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.
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.:)
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.
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!)
Gion area (~4 hrs)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Continued in the next post!
There’s something just amazingly beautiful about ground foliage, whether it’s autumn leaves, dead leaves, tree bark, or moss. Here’s a couple of pictures taken of moss at Yoshikien and Isui-en Gardens. All taken using the D300 + Sigma 18-250mm lens.
According to the pamphlet notes, Isuien Garden is unique in the city of Nara. It represents the acme of garden engineering of the Meiji Period, and since 1975 has been designated as a scenic spot. The garden comprises 13,481 square meters, and to my best guess, about twice the size of Yoshikien Garden. Admission fee was 650円, which also included admission to the Neiraku Museum next door. It started drizzling midway then snowing during our visit to this garden too. It’s not captured in the pictures here, but Ling has it on video footage.:)
Like our visit to the Yoshikien Garden, I did several panoramic compositions here alongside Ling’s video footage. Will put them up soon! :)
To be honest, we weren’t even aware there was a Yoshikien Garden in Nara city. This garden is situated right beside the more famous Isui-en Garden, but not mentioned in the travel guides we used in our itinerary preparation. In fact, we walked into this Garden thinking it was the Isuien. But what a pleasant find it was!
We were warmly greeted by an elderly lady at the entrance booth, and who spoke marvelous English and chatted with us a bit. Admission fee is normally 250円, but was free for us. Apparently, the local city government was offering free admission to foreigners if we’d participate in a short visitor survey – which we gladly did, saving us a tidy 500円 altogether for admission fees for the both of us.
According to the pamphlet given to us, Yoshikien Garden was originally the residence of priests from the Kofukuji temple, but during the Meiji Era came under private possession before being taken over by the Nara Prefectural Government in 1918. The Garden was finally made public in 1989.
The Garden comprises three areas: the Pond Garden, the Moss Garden, and the Tea-ceremonial Flower Garden. As with the other pictures we have taken in our trip so far, we can only guess at how stunning the place will look in the right season. Just your imagination here as you take a look at the very gray and drab winter pictures below.:(
I did a number of panoramic compositions that I’ll upload soon. These give a better idea of how beautiful the place can look.
Nara is the one-time capital of Japan 1,300 years ago, and is a must-see and visit site for Buddhists. In the initial planning for this trip, I’d scheduled a two day one night stay in this city, but upon finding out about the things to see and do in this city, reduced it to a day trip out of Kyoto. While the city holds a large number of National Heritage sites, many of them are religious buildings that neither Ling and I feel terrifically comfortable visiting.
There were other sites that interested us though; the much-talked about cast of 1,000 tame deer (shika) that roam the wooded park and temple areas freely, and also Isuien Garden. A visit to Nara was thus in order, which we scheduled for Day 5 – Sunday – 26 December.
The city’s accessible by a relatively short 40 minute train ride from Kyoto Station and costs 690円. The train goes to JR Nara Station, and walking eastwards along Sanjodori Street for about 20 minutes will bring one to entrances into Nara Park and the numerous shrines, temples and gardens. Only thing was the weather in Nara was c..o…l…d! By the time we got there at 9:50 AM, the temperature was about 3°C and there was a light mist about. Towards noon too, it started drizzling then followed by light snow fall.
By the time we left the city at 2:45 PM, we checked out five places altogether in the city: Deer Park, Isuien Garden, Neiraku Museum, Yoshikien Garden and Todai-ji temple. I enjoyed the visitations to the two gardens a lot more than the rest; and those two places will be blogged in the next post.