Finding Paradise in Okinawa

“We do not consider ourselves as Japanese,” said a shopkeeper to my friend while we were shopping through the bustling streets of Naha, Okinawa’s capital.  Who could question him when the places, the food, and the people look so un-Japanese.  Maybe this is what makes Okinawa a beautiful destination.

Being burned out from months and months of writing our respective theses, we wanted to go to a place that was very far from Kyoto – something very different.  Sapporo was the alternative, but we thought it would be better to take advantage of  Okinawa’s weather (and cheap tickets).  While booking inside the library, one of our classmates shouted, “Go to Zamami Island!  You can go camping there! It is just a 2-hour ferry ride from Naha and I highly recommend it!”  So we went on Peach, booked our tickets, and found ourselves on the plane a month later.  Our decision to go to Zamami Island led to one of our best experiences ever.  But more on that later.

IMG_8080
Okinawa in all its neon glory (c) mitaru07

Okinawa, particularly Naha, is a 2-hour plane ride from Osaka (from Tokyo, 3 hours), which makes it an ideal final destination for any Japan itinerary.  Transportation from the airport is very easy upon arriving in Naha.  It has the Yui, a 12.8mi monorail that runs through the city center, shuttling people from Naha Airport to Shuri Castle.  We got the 700 yen 1-day pass since we had quite an itinerary that day.  The monorail offers breathtaking views of Naha.  The architecture is different from that of Japan.  Buildings and houses are much lower and older-looking.  I could not help but notice the shortage of temples, too, after practically living with them in Kyoto.  The people looked different and looked more like a hybrid between a Chinese and a Filipino.  Think fair skin and bigger, rounder eyes.  I felt like I was back home!

20170528_072535575_iOS
The Yui Monorail (c) mitaru07

Energy was running low so we were looking for a place to hit for lunch.  We chanced upon an Okinawa soba specialist and went in.  Okinawan soba was so simple: tofu, kamaboko (fish cake), rafute (pork belly), and beni shouga (ginger).  It was delicious and after a few slurps it was gone.

IMG_7990.JPG
Kinchichi’s Okinawan Soba. (c) mitaru07

 

Our first destination was Shuri-jo, which was nothing short of magical.  Admission is 820 yen but if you have a 1-day monorail pass, this gets reduced to just 660 yen.  It is the last station on the Yui monorail and should take about 30 minutes from the city center.  An absolute bargain, although I would have still gladly gone in at full price.  The ticket gets you full access to the history and innards of Shuri-jo.

IMG_8016
Inside Shuri-jo’s majestic walls (c) mitaru07

Shuri-jo or Shuri Castle was the epicenter of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which was an autonomous kingdom governing the Ryukyu Islands.  It was instrumental in international trade across the region, having facilitated trade between China, Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan.  Walking through the main pathway, I could not help but notice the dark shade of red that lined the various structures.  This departed from the famous vermillion that covered the torii gates all over Japan.  Throughout its illustrious existence from the 15th century to the middle of the 19th century, the Ryukyu Kingdom was closely held by Japan under the tribute system until it was formally annexed in the 1870’s.

IMG_8014
Making our way through the many gates.  Take note of the red color. (c) mitaru07

The seiden (main hall) resembled that of a 16th-century Chinese court, featuring lavish gold fixtures, exquisite paintings, dragons, and black wood.  We found it really awesome to be able to go through the different halls and rooms of the seiden.  Going around the whole castle took us about 2 hours.

IMG_8021
The facade of the seiden was under construction. (c) mitaru07
IMG_8025
The Ryukyu King’s throne. (c) mitaru07
IMG_8030
A pair of Golden Shīsā, which is like a gargoyle. (c) mitaru07

We were famished.  It was a Sunday (and the last Sunday of the month) and we forgot to check if the Makishi Public Market was open.  After encountering a man that said the the only day the market was closed was during the last Sunday of the month, we went really irate.  We really wanted to try native Okinawan dishes there after watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown prior to the trip.  Sadly, this had to wait.  Kokusai-doru, the main shopping street parallel to Makishi Public Market, is a very busy place.  American influences in this place were pretty high as evidenced by the unusually large number of steakhouses and diners.  We were not really keen to try them and opted to visit Ootoya instead inside an Aeon MaxValu supermarket near Makishi station.  It was a good choice since we had to buy supplies for our trip to Zamami Island.

IMG_5376
Kokusai-dori at night.

And now, the most epic part of our whole Okinawa trip: Zamami Island.  From Naha, it is an ideal day trip.  If people see that the weather is nice, they’d head to Tomari Port immediately and buy tickets.  If you’re going in the off-season (like us), you can buy the tickets on the day itself.  There are 2 ferries jetting between Naha and Zamami – one is cheaper and the other more expensive.  The only difference (and you might have guessed it) is that the more expensive one takes an hour less.  Being broke students, we opted for the cheaper 4,400 yen roundtrip ticket (the other costs 5,970 yen roundtrip).  For the cheap ferry, there is only 1 trip/day and that one leaves at 10am.  If you are going during the summertime, you can book tickets on this website (http://www.vill.zamami.okinawa.jp.e.gz.hp.transer.com/ship/).  The ferry is quite huge and well-equipped.  It has plush seats, air-conditioning, and wifi.  There are also seats on deck for those who want the al fresco experience.  I usually get dizzy on ships due to the cradling motion.  But since Japanese technology is awesome, the engineers managed to fit stabilizers on this ferry to minimize the cradling.  Sugoi!

IMG_8089.JPG
Aboard the Zamami-3 docked in Tomari port. (c) mitaru07

The ferry goes through the 2 main islands of the Kerama archipelago: Aka and Zamami.  The two are just 30 mins. apart.  Aka is a much smaller island compared to Zamami.  Upon arriving in Zamami port, we could not help but gaze at the clarity and color of the seawater.  It was sparkling turquoise in the shallows and navy blue in the deeper parts.  Zamami is a small village.

IMG_5286
Best seats in the ferry. (c) mitaru07
IMG_5300
Part of the Kerama archipelago

According to a 2011 census, the population was estimated to be at around 580~ people.  There was a tourist-friendly information center right at the Zamami port where you can get maps in various languages.  The people can also speak english and are very courteous.  We learned that there are 2 convenience stores and a supermarket at the town center, which was a 5-min walk from the port.  It is possible to rent bicycles, motorcycles, and cars for those who would want to circumnavigate the 24km-island.  We do not recommend bicycles since the island is full of crests and hills.  Walking or taking the bus are better and cheaper options.

IMG_5294
Fascinating to see something so different from the rest of Japan.

The campsite was located in the western part of the island, just a stone’s throw from Ama beach.  There is an hourly bus that goes through the different beaches but this costs 300 yen.  It was an enjoyable 20-min walk going to the campsite where we happily paid 600 yen/person for 2 nights of camping.  People can rent almost everything from the campsite office (open 10am to 5pm): tents, sleeping bags, hot showers, toiletries, grills, etc.  It comes with cold showers, comfort rooms, kitchen, several charging stations, and a wifi hotspot.   What they don’t have is food so you’d have to bring it from Naha or buy from the town center near Zamami port.

IMG_5355
This store was where we got most of our food.  5 mins. north of the Zamami port.

We were very lucky that the weather was nice.  After pitching our tents and wolfing down our lunches, we headed to Ama beach (a popular breeding ground for turtles).  It was the afternoon already and the tide was very low.  This meant that the corals were on the sand, making it painful to walk especially if you don’t have beach shoes.  This turned us off in the beginning but as soon as we started to snorkel, all of that disappointment disappeared.  Ama beach had a good amount of marine life in it, especially if you go further.  The water was so clear that you could see corals and fish from 10-15 feet away.  The sand was white and soft and made for great naps.  What we liked about Ama beach was that there was nothing on the beach.  No noisy dive bars, hotels, and shops.  It was about experiencing the island life in its purest form.  For people who are worried about security, there is a lifeguard present from 10am to 5pm.

20170529_040009060_iOS
Home for 2 nights! (c) mitaru07

After getting our snorkeling fix, we hiked up the Ama observation deck to catch the sunset.  The observation deck offers breathtaking views of the western part of the island, including the nearby islands.  Since we were getting hungry, we figured to go to the town center for dinner and to refill our food stocks.

IMG_8201.JPG
Sun and sand.  (c) mitaru07
IMG_5309
The crew at Ama observation deck.
IMG_5317
The Okinawan sunset.

We had dinner at an Asian-Okinawan fusion restaurant called Amulet, which was owned by a cool Chinese guy who could speak a variety of languages.  They had good food, big servings, great ambiance, and a stocked bar.  We had green curry, pizza, and sandwiches.  To cap it all off, we brushed the food down with some Okinawan sake.  Only the town center had electricity at night which meant that going back to the campsite was going to be a dark journey, in the literal sense.  For those who are sensitive to bugs and insects, make sure to bring insect-repelling clothes and lotions.   We said our goodnights and hit the sack.

IMG_8261
Ama beach! (c) mitaru07
IMG_5325
At Amulet for food and drinks!

It was a night to remember, especially for the women in our group.  Insects and the lack of overall creature comforts were the main complaints.  But other than those, it was a quiet night.  There were no wild animals roaming around (apart from a cat and some crows) and there were no eerie noises.  We had breakfast on Ama beach.  Some of us made sandcastles, one continued his sleep on the beach, some stayed in the tents, while I skipped rope.

IMG_5318
The dog, Marilyn, who swam to the island across to meet her dog boyfriend, Shiro, who had his own statue there.  The story almost made us cry.

Next on our itinerary was Furuzamami beach which was popular for its white sand and vast snorkeling areas.  It was on the eastern part of the island.  We trekked to the town center, bought lunch, and then walked east.  Though the road was quite steep, getting to Furuzamami beach was an enjoyable  20-min. walk from the town center.

IMG_5340
Orion, Okinawa’s local brew.

Upon descending the winding roads, we found ourselves awed at the 2km.-stretch of white sand that greeted us.  Furuzamami had more activities that Ama.  It had 2 restaurants, rentable beach seats, parasols, kayaks, jet skis, banana boats, and snorkeling equipment.  Diving could also be arranged.  Upon settling our stuff on a huge rock, we immediately set off for the water.  The guidebook could not have said it better.  Furuzamami was a snorkeling paradise that made us forget about Ama beach.  It was teeming with colorful corals and fish of all sizes and colors.  We must have spent hours snorkeling around.  The remarkable part is that we did not have to go far to see the marine life.  It was about 5 feet from the shore!

IMG_8336
Furuzamami beach.  (c) mitaru07
IMG_8304
Posing frenzy at one of Furuzamami’s rock formations.  (c) mitaru07
IMG_8330
Getting toasted in the sun.  (c) mitaru07

Here are some shots from my friend’s GoPro:

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1245.
Blue fish! (c) tranthientri
DCIM100GOPROGOPR1202.
Zebra fish! (c) tranthientri

For our last night, we wanted to grill some vegetables, fish and meat to complete the camping experience.  We went to the only supermarket in the island, 105, and got some chicken thighs and fish.  Sundown was fast approaching so we decided to leave the stuff we got near our tent and headed to Kaminohama observatory.  It was a steep 20-min. walk from the campsite but the trip was worth it.  It was even better than the Ama beach observatory.  The clouds seem to have gone with us and covered most of the sunset.  Even so, we took our time here taking photos of the rest of the Kerama archipelago.  Upon reaching the campsite, we found out that the crows had feasted upon the fish that we bought.  Luckily, we still had the chicken,  For 1000 yen, we rented a grill that came with charcoal and some cutlery.  The group came together in prepping the meat and the vegetables.  We had barbecued chicken, zucchini, eggplant, onions, and carrots.  We even had some soy and chili sauces to serve as dips.  It was the perfect island meal.

IMG_8370
Grilling time! (c) mitaru07
IMG_8386
Eating time! (c) mitaru07
IMG_8402
Lighting up some sparklers at Ama beach.  (c) mitaru07

The next day, it poured.  Heavily.  We packed up in the pouring rain and took the noon bus back to Zamami port.  I could tell everyone was sad to leave the paradise that served as our home for the last 2 nights.  But the day had to come.

IMG_5346
At the Kaminohama observation deck.  It was getting really cloudy.

Surprisingly, it was sunny back in Naha, and we set off for our last night out.  We immediately hit Kokusai-dori to have dinner at Makishi Public Market.  The market was air-conditioned and very clean.  It had the biggest live seafood selection I had ever seen.  Mountains of king crabs, lobsters, oysters, and fish greeted us as we passed by.  For a fee (500 yen at the least), buyers could have their loot cooked upstairs in one of the 2nd-floor restaurants.  We chose Dotonbori for their extensive menu of native Okinawan dishes.  Some of us ordered the local fish, gurukun (banana fish), some ordered the maguro set and a sashimi platter, while I had goya champuru rafute.  Everything was so delicious.  Goya is an Okinawan bitter melon which is similar to ampalaya in the Philippines.  Champuru is a stir-fry of sorts that includes egg, tofu, fish, and…SPAM!  Rafute is simmered pork belly in sugar and soy sauce which reminded me of the Philippines’ asado.  At first, I didn’t think it would work but this cacophony of ingredients made perfect sense once eaten.

IMG_5368
Goya champuru rafute in all its healthy, fatty goodness.

 For dessert, we made sure we tried the local Blue Seal ice cream and the beni-imo tarts (sweet potato, like ube).

IMG_5377
“Born in America.  Made in Okinawa”  This one is shikwasa (tangerine).

For our nightcap, we headed on to Dojo Bar which was shown in the Parts Unknown documentary we’d watched before.  The bar looked and felt like a real dojo, but with a bar.  It was dim and the ambiance was good.  The cool bartender, Jun, spoke perfect english and told us stories about the bar and Okinawa.  Okinawa is considered to be the birthplace of karate and there were about 500 dojos scattered across Naha.  Even some of the bartenders were students of the bar owner, an English karate master, who came to Okinawa just to learn the martial art.  Judging from the thousands of testimonials on the wall, Dojo Bar was a mecca for karate practitioners all over the world.  No one in our group knew the martial art, but we were more than welcome in the bar.  They even asked us to write in one of their walls!  It was a story tale ending to our wonderful Okinawa trip.

IMG_8074
Inside Heiwa Dori.  (c) mitaru07
IMG_5379
Our very own corner at Dojo Bar!  (c) mitaru07

Okinawa truly is a unique destination.  It does not look, feel, taste, or smell anything like the Japan I know.  The shopkeeper at the beginning could not have said it better.

Okinawa is Japan, but only on paper.

Special thanks to  mitaru07 and tranthientri for the photos!  You guys made our whole trip a memorable one.   

The Best Place To Take A Photo Of Kyoto? I Agree! 

I read in an article that this is one of the best places to take a photo of Kyoto (http://en.rocketnews24.com/2017/03/08/the-most-beautiful-photo-of-kyoto-ever-taken-internet-swoons-over-picture-of-traditional-city/).

I went there to see what all the fuss was about.  It turns out that this photo was taken from a slope in one of the bustling roads to Yasaka Pagoda coming from Kiyomizu dera.  Once you are about to hit a slope downwards, Yasaka Pagoda unravels in such a magnificent way.  It is also hard to miss as hordes of photographers set up shop here.  If you are walking by and happen to not see anyone, better snag a photie while you can. 

I took one for myself during a lazy afternoon:

Burnt Miso Ramen? Because it’s Japan!

Good to be back here.  Business school and travel have taken over my life these past few months.  People from back home have been visiting and it’s just been a blast touring them all over Japan. This could be work if they paid me! But it was a lot of fun.

Being a ramen fan, I am always on the lookout for my next bowl.  I was with my girlfriend’s dad and brother when we stumbled upon Kyoto Gogyo (https://www.ramendining-gogyo.com/kyoto-menu), just off a turn from Nishiki Market.  Having talked to people there, Gogyo is owned by the same company that holds Ippudo, another fantastic ramen chain.

Gogyo’s specialty is their Burnt Miso ramen.  They have an English menu where they will show a “special” and a regular.  In addition, they also have a free upsize on the servings which was truly awesome.  We opted for the Burnt Miso in regular (which meant fewer toppings) and an upsize.  We were expecting fewer toppings but when it came in a large black bowl, we were surprised at how adequate they were.  But the upsize was so big so beware if you are not that hungry.  The Japanese hate wasted food.  It was topped with nori, 2 thick slices of chashu, salted egg, and squid.  The highlight here was the really, really thick and black soup.  It oozed with umami and the thickness meant that cholesterol levels were going to shoot up immediately upon taste.  I could literally taste that the soup was burnt but in a salty, umami-ish kind if way.  It was sort of sweet at the beginning and then it was all umami after that.  The chashu slices were really tender and complemented the broth well.  ¥890 that was well spent.  

The ambience of the place was surprisingly fantastic as well.  When I entered the place, it felt more like a hotel lounge than a ramen place. It had subdued lighting and the seats were comfortable and wide.  It could even easily pass for a romantic ramen date or something.  The place also has a bar in sight for the thirsty ones.  

I highly recommend this place if you want a different kind of ramen experience from the usual shio and tonkotsu ramen variants that are abundant in Japan.  Gogyo has them as well, but you have to try the Burnt Miso one.  It is worth it.  

Burnt Miso Ramen! Look at how thick the broth is!
Get counter seats for a more Japanese experience.

To Kobe Or Not To Be

Wow. It feels like I have not blogged for ages!

September marked my 1st year anniversary of being in Japan but ironically I spent it in the Philippines.  It was the summer break and my birthday month as well so I was left with not much of a choice.  Anyway I’m back in Japan!

Two of my friends came over to Kyoto for a week and I grabbed the opportunity to visit new places with them.  Kobe was always on my Japan travel bucket list but for some reason it always gets bumped off.  It’s not so far off from Kyoto at just an hour’s train ride.

Access from Kyoto: 

a) Take JR from Kyoto Station – buy 1080 yen ticket and take the Tokaido Sanyo line bound for Himeji.  Get off at Kobe-Sannomiya.  Travel time is about 50 minutes.

b) Take Hankyu Line – buy 620 yen ticket and take train bound for Umeda.  Get off at Juso station and transfer to Hankyu Kobe line bound for Shinkaichi.  Get off at Kobe-Sannomiya.  Travel time is about 65 minutes.

I’ve heard a lot of feedback from tourists saying that Kobe is such a wonderful city.  But I was more interested in the places that locals visit there and I stumbled upon the majestic Nunobiki Falls.

From Kobe-Sannomiya, I highly recommend walking towards Shin-Kobe (northwest) to Nunobikiyama.  It is a great way to get acquainted with the city and only requires a 30-minute leisurely walk.  If you’re in a rush, you can take the Seishin-Yamate line to Shin-Kobe(210 yen), where you will be conveniently located at the foot of the Nunobikiyama in 10 minutes.

img_2713

There will be a trail leading to the waterfalls as you go down at Shin-Kobe.  You may also ask the counters if you cannot see the signs.  The 30-minute hike involves a steep but gradual incline.  It is also lined with signs in English so that you can find the falls easily.  I assure you it will be worth it!

15095609_10202679736911595_3686458161974855871_n

After the falls, go up 5 minutes and you will see the best view of Kobe from above!

img_2728

The hike will surely make you hungry.  As you make your way around, head back to Shin-Kobe and take the Seishin-Yamate line to Motomachi (210 yen).  Head down south to Nankingmachi, which is Japan’s 2nd largest Chinatown.

djyb8521

Here you will find the best Chinese-Japanese streetfood and the cheapest authentic Kobe beef!  The whole street different from the others and imparts a Chinese vibe to it.  Just walk straight until you arrive at the plaza.  Lots of stalls are located here and everything tastes very well and have good value.  There will be a 2-3 stalls selling authentic Kobe beef.  They offer it in a variety of sets: beef only, with rice, with ramen, with ramen and rice.  The price ranges from 350 – 1500 yen which is very reasonable.  This is ideal for people who just want to eat the best food without having to shed huge sums of money in restaurants.  A Kobe beef set in an average Japanese restaurant will cost you around 3000-10,000 yen.  Best to go here during lunch and dinner.

14955921_10208988209921525_6694389619261830575_n

After filling up with that awesome Kobe beef, it is time to head south and see the famous Kobe Port.  Kobe was one of the first cities to open its borders for business after the formal ending of sakoku which was kind-of-like a policy of seclusion to world trade.  I also noticed a lot of half-Japanese (hafus) which was kind of interesting.  After about 15 minutes of walking southwest from Nankingmachi, you will already see the Kobe Port Tower.  We didn’t bother to head up since it costs 2000 yen to do so.

img_27551

We were here during nighttime so we were able to see the whole harbor in its full lighting glory.  This also meant that we were unable to experience the 40-minute Kobe Bay Cruise which runs from 10am-7pm(1100 yen).  There is also a giant mall (Mosaic) that is located here if you are feeling hungry or want to do some shopping.

img_2742

That’s it for my Kobe blog.  Personally, I think an overnight stay would be best if you really want the full Kobe experience.  It is such a big city with lots of places to see and activities to do.  Credits to my friends Geryl and Lady for some of the wonderful photos!

Don’t forget to check-out my travel video of Kobe below.  Let me know if you have any questions or feedback.

Cheers!

The Beginner’s Guide To Climbing Mt. Fuji

Mountain Day here in Japan is in 2 days (Aug.11) and people are gearing up for the hike ahead.

My friends and I decided to go earlier in August to avoid the massive crowds that climb Japan’s many mountains.  Another reason was that we decided to climb Mt. Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan.  Some 300,000 people climb every year and the most dense months are during the climbing season (July 1- September 10 for Yoshida; July 10 – September 10 for the other trails).

First off, some quick stats about Mt. Fuji.  You have to know what you are climbing!

  • Mt. Fuji is a dormant volcano with its highest peak  at 3,776 m.
  • Mt. Fuji can be accessed from 2 prefectures: Yamashina and Shizuoka.
  • There are 4 trails in Mt. Fuji (in no order): Yoshida (most popular), Subashiri, Gotemba, Fujinomiya.

Second, the equipment I had:

  • 2 base layers, 1 heat-tech layer, 1 insulated windproof jacket
  • 1 pair of heat-tech leggings, 1 pair of fleece-lined joggers, 1 pair of knee-high socks
  • 1 pair of Adidas AX2 Hiking Shoes (trust me, you would want to invest in some good hiking shoes; wearing sneakers is fine if you’re okay with slipping and dealing with rocks in your shoes)
  • headlamp (you will also really need this)
  • sunglasses, cap, handkerchief to shield from dust (neck and foot gaiters also if you can)
  • 3L of drinks (wish I had more), a huge bag of peanuts and cookies
  • sunblock, cooling wet wipes (the descent will be very hot)

I will post our annotated itinerary here and what we did to get to the top.  We all hike for fun and do not regard ourselves as pros.  The trail we took is Yoshida. Hope you guys can pick up a few tips from this post!

July 30:

14: 45Bus to Fuji Subaru 5th Station from Kawaguchiko station (55 mins; 2100 yen roundtrip)

  • Better buy roundtrip tickets from Kawaguchiko station to avoid queueing on the way back

15:40 – Arrived at Fuji Subaru 5th Station

15:40-16:45 – Checked out stores and bought all food and drinks for the hike (everything is marked up 30% from retail)

  • Everything is still priced OK here so I suggest buying as much as you think you need for the hike
  • The comfort rooms here are good (and free) as well compared to the ones going up.  if you can, do everything here.  You’ll never regret it.

16:45 – 19:30 – Arrived at Fujisan 7th Station and booked a hut for 3 hours (5,400 yen)

  • The hike at this stage was relatively easy and could be done faster if you’re fit enough
  • For beginners, I suggest for you to book huts so that you can get some rest.  During the day, it costs 1,100/hr.  At night, it costs around 1,800 yen/hr.  you can try haggling if you know some Japanese.  The last huts are located 2 hours up at stations 8-9.  However, these get booked the earliest.
  • All comfort rooms going up will set you back 200 yen/use.  Do not expect motorized toilet seats and other pleasantries.

August 1:

20:30 – 4:00 – Resumed the ascent to the peak and waited for Goraiko (sunrise)

  • At this point, most of us exhausted our drinking supplies and had to buy.  Everything is marked up by at least 150%.  Coffee and Coke will cost you 500-700 yen.  A hot cup of instant noodles will cost you 700 yen.  Cash is king!
  • As you approach the peak, the pace will be significantly slower since people tend to take a lot of pictures.  Be patient.

4:00 – 8:00 – Watched Goraiko and went around the crater

  • It was around 2 degrees Celsius at the peak.  Good to wear your warm stuff once nighttime arrives.
  • Assuming you arrive there in time, Goraiko will take around 30 minutes total.

8:00 – 12:00 – Descent to Fuji Subaru 5th station

  • Make sure you at least have a handkerchief and sunglasses to cover your eyes, face, and neck.  The descent seems easy but the slope is quite steep and it is very dusty!
  • Expect to land on your butt going down.  Make sure to cover your lower extremeties to prevent injuries.
  • Bring lots of water! It will be very hot on the way down (if you did our itinerary) and they don’t sell anything during the descent as well (which I thought was cruel).

12:15 – 13 – Bus to Kawaguchiko station

That’s pretty much it for the climb.  Prior to the climb, we visited Churreito Pagoda which is the perfect place to capture Fuji from afar.  It is also where most of the postcards about Japan are shot.  We highly-recommend visiting this once before the climb.

thumb_IMG_3895_1024

The team! Missing one ’cause she was taking the photo.

thumb_IMG_3896_1024

It really looks like a painting from afar.  We also could not believe that we were to scale up that thing in a couple of hours!

thumb_IMG_3901_1024

Told you it was like one of those postcards.

thumb_IMG_3932_1024

From the other side of Kawaguchi (which is one of the five lakes which surround the mountain).  It is also home to vast fields of flowers (including lavender!).  Yes, it smells as good as it looks.

thumb_IMG_3946_1024

The men striking a pose.

thumb_IMG_3971_1024

I had to!

thumb_IMG_3976_1024

The complete team at Fuji 6th station!

thumb_IMG_3981_1024

You could literally the sun rising from the horizon.  It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life.

thumb_IMG_3984_1024

The entire slope during the last 50m to the peak was filled with spectators.

thumb_IMG_3987_1024

The sun!

thumb_IMG_3990_1024

Wow, just wow.

thumb_IMG_3992_1024

The torii gate at the peak entrance.  I was spent, yo.

thumb_IMG_3993_1024

My friend loves taking photos.

thumb_IMG_4008_1024

Walking around the crater of Mt. Fuji.  The last explosion was some 300+ years ago.

thumb_IMG_4011_1024

Come here I’m about to take you higher

thumb_IMG_4016_1024

Group photie by the crater!

thumb_IMG_4020_1024

And a solo.

thumb_IMG_4022_1024

Spectators in awe because they made it.

thumb_IMG_4032_1024

While waiting for the others to rejoin us at 5th station.

Thank you to my friend, Aizhana, for the wonderful photos!  More hikes to come!

And since I love making videos, here’s one for the entire trip.  Mountains, friends, and roller coasters!

 

Thanks!  If you have any comments or questions, just post them below.

Being Part Of The Gion Matsuri

This is the story of how I became part of the Gion Matsuri (祇園祭).  Not just a spectator this time, but an actual participant!  Yes! A Filipino in the Gion Matsuri! #proudfilipino right here.  Hopefully, many of you could experience what it feels like to be part of this in the future!

Matsuri (祭) means”festival” in English.  So the Gion Matsuri is a festival which happens in one of Kyoto’s oldest districts, Gion.  There are a string of events running from July 10 to July 24 every year.  However, the three main events usually occur on the three Sundays during the above dates.

The first one is dubbed the Omukae Chochin (July 10; welcoming lanterns) which serves as the beginning of the festival and was the one I joined.  The second one is the Yamaboko Junko (July 17; Grand Parade) and Hanagasa Junko (July 24; umbrella parade).

The opportunity was out of sheer luck since the school was inviting students for part-time jobs as parade volunteers.  One of my friends came to me and invited me to join.  Everything was to be provided for (bento and yukata) and it was very hard to resist the chance to be part of one of Japan’s greatest festivals.  At first, we were skeptic of being accepted due to language barriers but my friend gave me some pre-interview training in Japanese in order to ensure that I could be able to answer questions.  All those Japanese classes are finally showing their value!  What’s more interesting is that there are no rules (that we know of) against foreigners volunteering for the festival.  Although knowing Japan, there must be some kind of limit to it.  Nonetheless, we were happy campers and waited anxiously for July 10 to come.

The process was quite easy: just show up in Yasaka Shrine on the arranged time and date and just present your ID.  The yukata (summer kimono) will be handed to you.  They were quite strict with undergarments though and everything had to be white.  After dressing up, we were given a nice unagi bento which should prep us for the work ahead.

At exactly 3pm, an old guy called out our numbers and arranged us in formation.  The numbers were assigned on (what we believe) the basis of companies who sponsored the event.  We were quite nervous as we patiently waited for the lanterns that were going to be assigned to us.  We ended up not carrying any.  Little did we know that we had to pull some sort of musical lantern cart later on!  After all the arrangements were finished, it was time to commence the parade.

*I would have to give full credits to my friends Yan, Eki, and Xiaotong for taking all these awesome pictures for us.  Thanks guys!

Here is a photo showing us pulling the cart!  We were numbers 4, 11, 12, and 13 which meant that we were almost in front of the entire parade.  And yes, the cart was very heavy but the group effort made it fun and enjoyable.

13662594_10153573299621227_1931398409_o

There were various chants from the back which complemented the drum beating that occurred in front.  The hardest job was being the one who pulled from the center because you had to steer and make sure that it did not stop.  We all took turns for this task.  Our arms were trembling after the parade.

13646773_10153573299701227_2134994997_o

It was very nice to experience being part of this traditional Japanese festival.  We could really feel that we were Japanese.  Even the Japanese friends we made during the parade shared similar feelings as well.  The level of organization, discipline, and commitment were truly Japan.  Our fellow Japanese participants were surprised that we were foreigners and were happy to chat with us along the way.

Here, we just passed OiOi Kyoto and into the busy Shijo-Kawaramachi intersection.  The center of Kyoto was looking at us!

13632826_10153573299966227_1527839918_o

Our friends zoomed in!  China, Indonesia, Philippines, and Taiwan represent!

13621487_10153573299861227_1226047430_o

The intermission was at the Kyoto Municipal Hall where politicians gave speeches.  Wonderful performances by kids were in display as well.  Sadly, we did not have a lot of pictures of them.  More men in yukata pictures then!  The girls love it!

13621889_293415571005325_779280179_o

Some of the lanterns that were part of the parade.  Since these guys were at the front, their lanterns said omukae which translates into “welcoming” in English.

13621648_293415574338658_943433577_o

After the intermission, it was time to head back to Yasaka Shrine.  Obligatory group photo, of course!  Thank you guys for coming!  楽しかった!

13662609_293390247674524_577817059_o

Filipino Expat Living in Japan

New expat bloggers on Expats Blogs get to answer an online interview about their respective lives abroad.  It asks questions relating to moving abroad, studying/working, living, talking, and everything else about the expat life.  It is an easy read and touches on a wide array of topics.  Hopefully, it could help some people who are planning to move to Japan in the future.

Sharing your own experiences there might help other prospective expats to learn from your individual insights, too.

I posted the interview here but you can access the link here:

Filipino Expat Living in Japan – Interview with Vic

Published:  13 May at 12 PM
Want to get involved?Become a Featured Expat and take our interview.
Become a Local Expert and contribute articles.
Get in touch today!
Filed: Interviews,Japan
What is the best part about an expat life in Japan? Studying, traveling, and living abroad at the same time! Vic’s blog talks about his life in Kyoto and Japan. Where he reads, hikes, bikes, and eats! Vic is also an international student so his blog tells a very different story than most of the other expat blogs out there. Vic also has an ongoing project of capturing breathtaking time lapses wherever he goes! Vic’s expat blog is called Vic Mabutas (see listing here)

Inari with my classmates!

Here’s the interview with Vic…

Where are you originally from?
I am originally from the Pearl of the Orient which is the Philippines. Manila, to be specific.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am now living in Kyoto, Japan.

How long have you lived in Japan and how long are you planning to stay?
I have been living here for about 8 months already and will stay here for about 16 months more.

Why did you move to Japan and what do you do?
I moved here because of a generous offer to study in Japan. I am currently an MBA student.

Did you bring family with you?
No, I live alone.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The first month is probably the most painful one. I did not know how to read nor speak Japanese and that was very frustrating. After a couple of months, gravity sets in and I became more comfortable. Living and touring are two very different things.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It was quite hard given the language barrier. Luckily, the school I’m in offers a lot of language exchange programs so it was easier to make friends after enrolling into that. Most of my classmates and colleagues in school are expats so it is very easy to socialize with them.

Kyoto from above!

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The best thing to do here is to relax. If you’re into living in the perfect balance between city life and the relaxed life, Kyoto is your city. Temples, shrines, and mountains should keep your personal harmonies healthy.

What do you enjoy most about living in Japan?
I enjoy reading books by the Kamo river or on top of Mt. Daimonjiyama. Biking all over the city is such a wonderful thing as well. The Japanese people and culture are very interesting too!

How does the cost of living in Japan compare to home?
It does not even come close. Compared to the Philippines, living in Japan costs about 3-5x more.

Baseball!

What negatives, if any, are there to living in Japan?
Probably the language? But it’s very fun to learn though! Imagine all the Japanese anime and great movies you could watch. Not to mention having Japanese friends!

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to Japan, what would it be?
Try to learn how to speak basic Japanese first.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I would say the daily struggles of living alone is probably the hardest part. Next would be, studying the language.

When you finally return home, how do you think you’ll cope with repatriation?
Repatriation would definitely be an issue. The transition from a developing country to one of the most developed countries in the world was hard. But I think repatriation will be even harder since you have been part of a highly-developed society for a considerable amount of time.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?

  1. Try your best to learn basic Japanese before coming here. If you could manage to enroll yourself in classes, that would be fantastic. It will solve a lot of the early problems.
  2. Go around Japan! It is such a beautiful country! Personally, I recommend the countryside. All the cities are the same.
  3. Japanese food is so delicious but can be relatively very expensive as well. So eat wisely!
  4. Japan is a very active country. As an expat, running, hiking, and biking are awesome ways to explore cities while keeping fit!
  5. If you are studying in Japan, participate in language exchange programs as much as you can. Your Japanese network will directly increase.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Battling loneliness in Japan is highly dependent on what kind of person you are. So you would need to figure this one out. Japan has so many things to do though so get out there!

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
If ever you want to contact me, just send me an email at victormabutas@gmail.com. I’ll try my best to respond in 24 hours.

 

Kyoto: Daimonjiyama

My friends and I have started a travel group called DIY Travel Japan. We aim to share our DIY travel experiences in Japan to the world through blogging and vlogging.

Since I am co-contributing to the group, I’ll be sharing our content here in my blog as well.

If you have been following my blog, you know that I have been to Kyoto’s Daimonjiyama many times. Weekly, in fact.

This however is different because it shows group dynamics.  Real people, real events, and real interactions with Japan.

For the complete details on how to DIY this trip, check out Conquering Kyoto’s Mountains.

Please watch in HD and don’t forget to like our Facebook Page and subscribe to our Youtube channel for more.:)

Thank you and enjoy!

Karainya: The Best Curry in Kyoto

Indian food is amazing.  Of all the places in the world, I never thought I’d find amazing Indian food here in Japan.

Karainya is one of the best Indian restaurants near my school.  It is located on Imadegawa dori just before Horikawa dori.  You cannot miss it as it is situated on a busy intersection.  Going in, you will see a happy Indian chap who amazingly speaks 3 languages.  I’ve heard him speak English, Japanese, and Chinese.  I bet he knows Indian, too!

The menu is simple.  There are curry sets (beef, chicken, lamb) and a Tantanmen which is kind of like Japan’s version of the Sichuan dish, Dan Dan noodles.  The curry sets are priced from 750 yen to about 1100 yen for the full set (3 types of curry), if I remember things right.  You can even add 100 yen and get unlimited Naan bread which is awesome!

The chef makes everything by himself so it take about 15-20 minutes of waiting.  Even the Naan!  It is super worth the wait!  I’m no food expert but at least I know a good curry when I smell it.  It smells very strong and spicy (which I like).  It’s served on a canteen-like metal plate with the biggest Naan bread I have ever seen.  It’s bigger than your head.  The accompanying salad and soup were okay.  It’s the curry (I got beef and lamb) and Naan bread that makes the experience enjoyable.

Just look at that plate!  Easily one of the best 750-yen meals I’ve had in Kyoto.

IMG_1794