Summer in Japan – 2015

Japan has never really quite been on top of my travel list, however, in view of a wedding to attend at home,  the baffling fact (for myself) that I will be back in Asia but not setting foot into one of the countries that I’ve not been before, plus the attractive complimentary Hyatt nights, I decided to visit the land of the rising sun. Besides, everyone who visit Japan only had good reviews and things to say.

So with our hotel and tickets booked in advance, the date finally came to escape the cold winter here!

Jetstar Dreamliner 787

Got on the night flight with Jestar’s dream-liner 787 and off I went! To my pleasant surprise, Jetstar’s dream-liner was pretty sweet. I had a row to myself to stretch and lie down for the 10 hours direct flight (thanks to the nice lady at check in) and the flight was surprisingly quiet throughout. They did not have window panes but buttons that changed the colour of the windows to block out UV / strong sun rays in the morning which made the whole cabin look green and easy to continue sleeping. The touch down was very smooth and all in all, a great experience.

Japan’s weather in Summer (July and August)

Feeling quite refreshed, I stepped off the plane and humidity that I’ve not experienced for 10 months hit immediately. Little did I know I chose the height of Japan’s summer to go. I’ve always thought nothing could be beat Singapore or Thailand’s all year round summer weather, but this summer heat took it to a whole new level! It was sweat and sweat from here on, but I was happy to be in shorts, flipflops and just not be cold.

Itinerary / Photo bomb

Found my parents waiting for me in Narita Terminal 3 (they took Vietnam airlines instead from home) and off we went. Something just so nice to be with family, so familiar, so easy and comforting. The older you get, the more you feel this. At least for me.

TOKYO

Day 1 : Arrival in Tokyo / Hyatt Regency Tokyo / Shinjuku / Yoyogi Park / Meiji Shrine

We took the Narita Express at about $35 (3500Y) which got us to Shinjuku station in about 1.5hours and found our way to Hyatt Regency Tokyo (HRT).

To get to HRT from shinjuku station, exit from the west gate / Odakyu Department Store and ask someone (preferably a local store attendant) for the complimentary shuttle bus (Across the department store) to HRT. I found it easier to ask for directions than trying to figure out directions in Japanese. And people were super friendly and knew the waiting area I was looking for. We got directed there easily and the complimentary shuttle bus came, and we left for HRT.

Another way to get to HRT is to take the HRT airport bus at $31 (3100) – saves you hassle of changing to the shuttle bus but takes about 2 hours or more. Ultimately, it depends on yourself and your plans.

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Checked in Hyatt Regency Tokyo and got a complimentary upgrade. Whatup!
The room was quite spacious for Tokyo standard and we even had an origami on the table, nice touch.

IMG_20150731_084015A feast over beef udon, soba, rice and curry.

We quickly left for lunch and ate at a local udon place which was delicious. I largely believe any food place in Japan would be pretty decent, our meals were about $7-$10 throughout the entire trip as we decided to eat at local Japanese cheap eateries and they still turned out to be delicious.

It was also interesting to note that many eateries had seats up against the counter so they were all individual seating, instead of the usual table to be shared by a few people, and many diners were individuals as well.

Not that dining alone is frowned upon, it’s just very common (or even the norm?) in Japan.

After lunch, we strolled around Shinjuku, checked out Isetan (their food display was amazing and beautiful), bought cheap Japanese face products (it was so much cheaper here – about 50% cheaper than elsewhere!). Go for the tax free ones, it’s everywhere.

IMG_20150731_085029 Yoyogi Park

 

IMG_20150731_090013 Entrance of Meiji Shrine

IMG_20150731_085348Meiji Shrine

We continued down the street to Yoyogi Park. Large tall trees greeted us at the entrance, as well as the entrance of Meiji Shrine. I liked how the colours used for the roof were all gray and design more simple, more “zen”. China’s temples are splashed with gold, green, red etc and very detailed in their wall decorations  – don’t get me wrong, I love it as well. It was just interesting to note this contrast.

The sun was setting and we were tired and sweaty. In need of a shower, and we headed back for R&R and dinner after.

Felt a bit sad that my day 1 in Japan was already done.

Costs:

Narita Express – $35.00 each
Lunch & dinner – $14.00 each
Train tickets – $2.40 each
Accommodation – Complimentary
Total costs : $51.40 each (Excluding personal shopping)

Day 2 : Tsujiki Fish Market / Ameyoko Shopping street / Akihabara Electronic Street / Shibuya / Harajuku – Takeshita dori

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Rise and shine, we left for Tsujiki fish market at about 9am. Did not want to get up at 3am to catch the 4am bidding and felt checking it out after was good enough. Lots of sushi and food stuff, was pretty good!

We had a standup breakfast over ramen and some mayo crab stick which was yums. I still remembered it was scorching hot and sweat was rolling down my back as I tucked into my ramen and gulped down their free cold tea. It was only 10am but insanely hot.

IMG_20150730_224145 Cooling off with shaved matcha ice at Ameyoko

We continued to Ameyoko where we pit stopped for shaved matcha ice to cool off from the crazy heat / sun and strolled on to Akiharaba where we saw 3 sumo wrestlers buying phones and where many tired shoppers “tried” out a wide range of automatic massage chairs. It was god sent after a morning of walking!

IMG_20150731_084207Shibuya crossing

We then headed off to Shibuya to check out the crossing and strolled on to Harajuku and their famous takeshita dori, before heading back to shower, R&R and had a yummy dinner at a local eatery.

 

doutor-loversDoutor Cafe

We had a pit stop to have coffee and some cakes and found Doutor Cafe. I know it’s a coffee chain but it was delicious, especially their green tea matcha latte and chestnut cream cake 🙂 Bring me back again!

Highly recommend all the green tea matcha food items in Japan, they all taste so good!

Costs :
Train tickets – Approximately $10.00 each
Food – Approximately $30.00 each (Breakfast, lunch, dinner,  coffee & cake)
Total costs : $40.00 each (Excluding personal shopping and accommodation)

Day 3 : Nikko

Decided to get out of the city on this last day to this world UNESCO site : Nikko!
A 2 hours train ride from Tokyo, it’s definitely on the list for a nice weekend getaway.
If only I had more time here.

We got to Akasuka train station from the Oeji line station opposite HRT in about 30 minutes and got our All Day Nikko Pass (which is valid for 2 days and gives us access to the bus to lake chuzenji area – does not include the shrines however which were fine by us)

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The train ride was beautiful there.

IMG_20150731_173411 Nikko Train Station

After 2 hours, we arrived. It was a beautiful day and not as hot / humid here. We easily found the Lake Chuzenji bus station and got on our bus up the windy mountains.

As it was about lunchtime and I knew we were about to walk quite a bit, we had our lunch at a local eatery before heading off the Kegon waterfall. I can imagine how lovely it must be in Autumm or spring where the leaves would be red and orange.

 

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Kegon Waterfall. So tranquil out here.

 

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Our hour walk started and we strolled past lake chuzenji and Mount Nantai.

Again, such a beautiful place, reminded me of Pokhara in Nepal 🙂

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Ryuzu Waterfall.

Old folks got tired after this walk and we decided to bus our way back.

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It was about 4.20pm when we got down the windy mountains and back to Nikko Station, just in time for the 4.30pm JR train back to Tokyo city (The next  / last train was at 5.30pm and my parents were tired, so we decided to head back early). If we had a bit more strength / energy left, I would have checked the freedom bridge out. We bussed past that place and I thought it was real pretty.

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Trained back to Tokyo, again – pretty scenery.

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We got back to Asakusa at about 7.00pm and had our dinner there. We spotted the tokyo tower and the moon was really big and bright this night. I found out that it was actually a blue moon, how rare!

Asakusa seemed like a quiet, friendly neighborhood and I would not mind staying in this area for a few nights. Felt quite comfortable here. I found out later that it used to be a red light district back in the old days, well what do you know!

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My mum and I checked out level 45 of the Tokyo Government Metropolitan Tower which was free, plus it was just beside our hotel. The night scenery was beautiful and we went back the next day but it was a bit foggy (not sure why since it was summer) and I was disappointed because I wanted to spot Mt. Fuji!

Costs:
Nikko JR All Day Pass including train there as well as bus in Nikko : About $55.o0 per person
Food : $30.00 per person

KYOTO

Day 4 : Bullet train to Kyoto / Kyoto new town / Yasaka Shrine / Gion / Nishiki food market

So it was time to say saynora to Tokyo and we left to catch our bullet train to Kyoto after a yummy breakfast at starbucks near HRT. It was only 0830 in the morning but the heat so intense and the summer crickets’ buzz so loud. Now it makes sense – in some Japanese anime movie summer time scenes, they always played a soft cricket buzz background sound.

The train at JR Shinjuku was delayed and we were quite worried about not being able to catch our train to Kyoto as we thought it was hourly. We found out that it runs every 10 minutes, so much for the rush! It was quite unlike Japan for the train to be late (As every train and bus the past three days have arrived on time / or even earlier) and the crowds starting to fill the station and platform! I guess that explains why trains in Japan are so efficient and on time, because if they are not, human traffic really does happen.

My two old bears have not been on a bullet train, neither have I and it was a great experience. We covered 500km in 2 hours and it was really comfortable, more so than a plane! Definitely more leg room.

We checked into Hyatt Regency Kyoto and the room was quite nice. It had a nice cement-ish shower flooring and I found out when I checked out that the toilet seats had heaters on. No wonder it was always warm!

As it was at an odd hour when we checked in and left, we munched on some coffee and cake at about 3pm and started exploring Kyoto!

Yasaka Shrine

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A lot of ladies and men in their traditional Japanese Kimonos 🙂 So pretty.
Tho I wonder how they deal with this intense summer heat

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In Yasaka Shrine, there was a little praying shelter where people pray to look beautiful.
I saw some ladies wash their face even with the water above the amulets. Anything for beauty 🙂

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Hello Gion 🙂

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Left the shrine and walked on to the newer part of Kyoto and hit up Nishiki food market.
Most of the stalls were closing but was still interesting to walk around and browse.

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Night market beside the Kyoto river. All lanterns alight, was so pretty. Nice end to our first night in Kyoto.

Day 5 : Bamboo Path / Tenruji Temple / Togetsu bridge / Kinkakuji Temple / Aeon Mall

Had a quick breakfast of yogurt milk and japanese bread in our hotel room before we set off today.
First stop was to Arashiyama area for the shrines and famous bamboo walk. It was quite easy to get there, just get to Arashiyama station and follow the crowd, they will lead you to the right place.

 

 

 

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Tenruji Temple – Again temple roof were of the same zen colour everywhere in Japan, very simple yet calming. I got my tickets and there was this nice lake greeting me as I entered. Everyone else was just taking shade from the side.

Bamboo Path

Headed on to the bamboo path. Very pretty! and shade from the heat, anytime 🙂
Felt like we were in a scene of the movie “Flying swords” by Zhang Yimou

 

IMG_20150804_110241 IMG_20150804_105459IMG_20150804_102823 IMG_20150802_151517Kinkakuji Temple

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This shrine is plated with gold, how lovely. We left after exploring this place and headed to Aeon Mall at Kyoto JR station for some A&C and R&R, had dinner and headed back.
Quite a fulfilling day it was.

Costs:
All day bus pass : $5.00
Temple entrance : $5.00 for Teruji and $3.00 for Kinkakuji ?
Food : $30.00 per person

Day 6 : Kiyomizu Temple / Kodaji Temple / Hatanaka Dori / Fukashimi Shrine

We booked an airbnb for this day as I could not grab a free Hyatt night. Busy Busy HRKyoto 🙂
Checked out and left our luggage with the concierge before we set off for East Kyoto.

We got a bus pass today and I would highly recommend getting this as Kyoto is not that big (In terms of getting around to attractions) and there are plenty of buses that get you from point A to B, so this is definitely a great option, not mentioning it is more cost effective as well !

Kodaji Temple

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This place feels like the movie Spirited Away. It felt like we were on some great exploration, not really knowing where we were going but just going with anything we felt was going to lead to something interesting.

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I don’t know how these young rickshaw drivers do it under such intense sun. My dad said it was their summer vacation job and they were all uni students, getting fit, getting a tan and getting paid for it. Best combination. Maybe, maybe.

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Spotted a lovely geisha! I’ve read that these are not the real geishas as the real ones do not stop to allow you to snap a photo of them and they only come out at night.
No problem for us, it was just lovely to see one 🙂

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These streets are lovely. Reminded me of Lijiang China actually.

 

 

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Totoro shop 🙂 Before we headed up to Kiyomizu Temple, my dad felt like having morning coffee and we bussed down to new Kyoto area for our favorite Dontur coffee and bussed back. This is when the value of the all day bus pass kicks into play, super useful for the tired legs and out of control taste buds that just want specific food. 😉 No walking to that specific shop, just bus it down. & bus back up.

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Kiyomizu Temple, wind chimes and wishes.

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Last attraction for the day was Fukashimi Shrine. This picture was taken at the Tori gates.
I wanted to climb Mount Inari there but the sun was too strong and I was tired and hungry for lunch.

We headed back to get our bags, have lunch, and check into our comfy AirBnB where we relaxed with the movie “The Longest Ride” till the sun went down (Scott Eastwood-so dreamy), headed out for a delicious dinner and peace-d out for the day.

Costs:
Food : $40.00 per person
All day bus pass : $5.00 per person
Airbnb : $110.00 for 3 persons

 

OSAKA

Day 7 : Namba Walk / Dontobori / Kuromon Ichiba Market / Sennichimae Shopping Street

Couldn’t believe we were leaving Kyoto for Osaka today. Felt a bit sad that the trip was ending and that we were saying bye to lovely Kyoto. Days just fly by when you are having fun.

We checked out of our Airbnb and went to catch the JR Train for Osaka. Only 30 minutes away, in retrospect, I could have booked an extra night in Hyatt Regency Osaka and just trained back to Kyoto for the last day. Nevertheless, it was a great way to have a taste of staying in a Japanese apartment.

Got to Osaka by noon and the complimentary bus took about 20 minutes to Hyatt Regency Osaka. Was a nice ride. Osaka immediately felt like a big city, more organizer and less crowded than Tokyo. And definitely a food capital. My dad was salivating from the moment we arrived.

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We checked in and left for Namba walk and Dontobori area for some last minute souvenir shopping and food. Definitely don’t miss out on the street food here, Tacopachi, Okonomiyaki and the works!
We actually saw a dolphin head at Ichiba Market and when we asked the shop owner, she insisted it was some sort of fish. No fish has a smile on its face lady. Oh wells.
Food here was great, giant prawns, tempura – missing it already 🙂
3rd last day in Japan! – Noooo , oh dear reality. Must we meet again so quick.

Costs:
JR Train ticket to Osaka : $5.00 per person
Food : $30.00 per person
Train tickets around Osaka : $6.00 per person

Day 8 : Osaka Aquarium / Osaka Castle / Osaka Museum

We were tossing between Nara or Osaka Aquarium the night before and the first thing my dad said was to go to the aquarium, so we did. I guess this summer heat was just getting a bit too much, constant sweating and feeling like being in an inferno anytime in the sun.

We got the Osaka Aquarium pass that was bundled with free train rides. Definitely recommend this if you are already visiting the aquarium. You pay about $3.00 extra to get unlimited free train rides, so it is definitely more value for your money!

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I got to pat a shark (A little rough and sandy) and stingray (Super smooth skin) here 🙂
Had a delicious lunch over Japanese beef, chicken, fish, rice and soup! I sincerely believe food in Japan, even at the cheap eateries, is really good.
I had not had bad dish so far, or maybe I was just really hungry at each meal.

With our free train rides, we stopped at the different stations and wandered around before deciding to visit the parks near Osaka Castle. Great suggestion Bobs. It was beautiful and just nice to see this side of Osaka – some culture, history and greenery.

Interestingly at about 5pm, the sun started to set and you could almost feel immediately that it took the heat along with it. We saw a tour group arrive at about this time and thought to ourselves, good idea. It was just way too hot in the day.

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We headed back to Namba walk to have dinner as my dad wanted to have what we had for lunch the day before (Because it was so good) and headed back to R&R.

Day 9 : Bye Japan

We checked out and got the airport bus to KIX airport. Grabbed some coffee and sandwiches before boarding and had our connecting flight in Taiwan.

It was a bit strange for me to land in Taiwan, as I was here about 3 years ago when I came back from my 8 months long Latin America Backpacking Trip.
Where I teared as we landed back then, thinking to myself, “I actually made it back to Asia in one piece and completed my Americas Trip, able to strike it off my bucket list, saw all the places I wanted to see and even if I did not stay to teach, it was already such a great accomplishment”.

I guess I was ready to return home back then and nothing felt better than to land safely after a long flight onto Asialand. Where familiarity surrounds me again.

I guess that trip really taught me what was important to me 🙂 Shall save that big trip for another blog post.

Back to our transit in Taiwan, we had such delicious Lu Rou Fan and Hong Shao Niu Rou Tendons. Yums!

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Sayonara Nippon for now, I reflected back on this trip, it was such an amazing journey through 3 cities and how we managed to DIY it so easily with the help of the friendly locals. Feels a bit sad that it’s over and that I am away my parents again, guess I have to travel more now to get over this one.
Costs :
Airport bus to NIX : $15.00 per person

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Things I’ve observed in Japan : Some Recap

Everything was clean, toilets were clean, streets were clean.
Toilets had different type of toilet bowl, it was all automated. I was a bit confused a few times as to how I should flush the toilet.
People were orderly and polite.
Transportation came on time and early, and very frequently.
People do not really drive here, but with such awesome public transportation even for inter-cities travels, I would also not drive but catch the trains and buses everywhere.
Houses were smaller.
Eateries are small, and usually over the counter for one person dining.
Fake Food displays  in front of most eateries – all really pretty and definitely helped in ordering food
Daiso was only $1.00.
People were proud and kept their culture & traditions – I really liked this.

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Till the next trip & more sunshine 🙂

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