Ichiran Osaka: Because You Deserve A Customized Bowl

Ichiran arguably makes the greatest mass-produced ramen in the world.

My first encounter was back in Osaka around September 2014.  Yes, this was the one near the bridge by the riverbank.  And yes, this is the one where troops line up for hours. Being so, I gave up and settled for somewhere forgettable.

Now that I live here, Ichiran is part of my regular ramen rotation.  In Kyoto, there is one in Shijo. In Osaka, there are 2 in the Namba/Dotombori area (shhh, the 2nd one is a secret).

The sole resonating point of why you should eat at Ichiran is customization.  After popping 790 yen for the basic ramen, the staff should hand you a white paper with a lot of options.  Some include: amount of spring onions, noodle firmness, pork cutlet option, amount of Ichiran sauce (i think this ranges from 1-infinity), and so on.  It’s like one of those painting stalls you can find in malls. You can buy a pre-designed canvas and go crazy painting over it.  There must be thousands of combinations for an Ichiran bowl of ramen.  I have been there more than 10x already and I swear that I have tried different sets every time.  You can even have noodle refills for an additional fee!

I recommend getting seats in the bar-like area.  It just creates an atmosphere unlike any other ramen joint.

If there’s one thing about lining up for food in Japan that I have learned: it is worth it every time.

Tokyo Drift! A Fast and Furious Journey (Part 2)

Yes, as promised, here’s what went down in Tokyo!

If you want to know where we stayed and how we got here, Part 1 will guide you through. 

First off, buying a train pass comes highly recommended.  There are a number of passes available to tourists and non-tourists.  After reviewing all the bus passes, train passes, and bus and train passes, we decided to get the Common One-day Ticket for Tokyo Metro & Toei Subway.  Since our hostel was near to a subway station, we didn’t really need access to buses or JR Lines for that matter (although there was a JR station about 15 mins away).

The tickets exactly look like the ones on the right side of the photo below (credits to the owner) and are available in almost all ticketing machines.  Don’t forget to press ENGLISH first.  It costs 1000 Yen (500 Yen for kids) and is valid only on the day of purchase.  Since we started early on day 2, we were able to maximize the pass and probably used the subways more than 10x (considering the average fare was around 200 Yen).

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Our first stop was the Asakusa area.  We strolled down Kototoi Dori for about 15 minutes and found ourselves hearing screams.  Yeap, screams.  In the middle of the city.  Turns out that one of the oldest amusement parks in Japan, Hanayashiki, was there.  If you ever hear screams while walking, you are on the right track.

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Since Asakusa Shrine was a Buddhist temple, it was customary for believers to offer prayers.  
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The shrine area was packed. The atmosphere was quite different than that of the shrines and temples in Kyoto. This one just felt less tranquil, I guess.

After this, we just walked straight and ended up on Nakamise Dori which is a popular tourist trap.  The street is lined up with a lot of shops where you can buy native Tokyo eats and things.

Using the powerful subway ticket, we boarded the Ginza Line,  got off at Shiodome and walked to our next destination: Hama Rikyu Gardens.  Shiodome Station itself was a huge building and offered fantastic views of the whole Asakusa area.  Just cross the bridge and you will see a big park across.  The entrance fee is 300 Yen.  What you can find inside will make you forget the entrance fee.

Fields of (Yellow) Gold! Literally.  What a sight.  I can only imagine what the whole park looks like during the climax of spring!

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Plum blossoms were blooming!

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Now after the walking we have done so far, we were hungry.  Good news!  The famous Tsukiji Fish Market was nearby (maybe a 10-min. walk).  Most blogs and guides say that it is best to go during 6-9AM and line up for auction passes.  But, seriously?  We are just in it for the sushi!

Sushi joints in the “inner” loop of the market are generally more expensive and usually cost upwards of 5000 Yen for a set.  The shops in the outskirts of the market are better value and are of the same quality (they come from the same market!).  The premium comes from 3 things: name, chef, history.  This was from Ryu Sushi, if I read the characters right.

This was how our set looked like and it cost around 2500 Yen.  As with most of the food in Japan, we were left wanting.  (tummy still grumbling).

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After leaving still hungry, we retraced our steps back to Shiodome.  We wanted to use the elevated train (Yurikamome Line) to our next destination: Odaiba.  In doing so, we were unable to use our train pass and had to pay 440 Yen for the privilege.  It was worth it: the train will give you breathtaking 360-degree views of Tokyo Bay.

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Alight at any station after the bridge.  The whole island is pretty much walk-able and will take a better part of your day.

Palette Town had a nice mall named Venus Fort (will keep the females occupied) and an amusement park to boot.  Furthermore, Toyota’s Mega Web  (will render males unconscious) theme park was here!  In here, you can test drive (if you have an international permit) virtually anything from Toyota’s current vehicle roster, see a sea of Toyotas, buy limited edition racing stuff, and browse through a curated historical garage.

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The ferris wheel would have been fantastic to try if it weren’t for the rain.  
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The inside was unlike any mall I have ever seen.  It was very confusing to navigate but it smelled really, really nice.  So yeah, we got lost.  But we smelled good doing so. 
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After the endless sea of shops (nothing of which I was interested in), I jumped for joy when I saw this.  I immediately cut ties with my sister and went straight to business.   Thank you Speedhunters for writing about this!
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Mega Web had a lot of the current Toyota GT racing cars and lots and lots of exclusive TRD-editions and parts.  It was a Toyota fan’s mecca.   
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Fancy a pristine 2000GT?  Feast your eyes!
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At last, I was able to see and ride the most exclusive Toyota in the world, the V12-powered Toyota Century.  In Japanese scheme of things, it is mostly used by the Yakuza and powerful sarariman.  It costs north of $100,000. 
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GREAT SCOTT IS THAT A DELOREAN?! 
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History Garage had a Cafe on the ground floor which had a window that allows you to see some craftsmen working on Toyota classics.
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The world’s only full-size Gundam (I think it’s an RX 78) at the back of Diver City Tokyo Plaza.  
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Tokyo Bay

Due to the sheer amount of things to do in this island-city, we were unable to visit SEGA Tokyo Joypolis, Leisure Land, and a whoooole lot more.  I highly recommend setting aside a full day (AM-PM) if you want to visit all of the spots.

It was a lof of fun, Odaiba!

That’s it for part 2 which pretty much covers the Asakusa and Odaiba areas.

Ja mata!

 

My Weekly Hike in Kyoto

Every week I make it a point to go hiking here in Kyoto, well, because I can!  The city is surrounded by mountains and one of them is fairly accessibly by bike.

Daimonjiyama is just a 20-minute bike ride from Kyoto station or you can take a bus that will take you to Ginkakuji temple.  Once you get to the front of Ginkakuji, make a left and then turn right on the first street.  Follow your way up a steep hill and make a right on the first road you see.  This will lead you to the trail.

It will take you about 30 minutes to get to the top, depending on your conditioning.  Better strap on some hiking boots and pack some water.

Getting to the top just gives you an awesome view of the entire city!  It’s all free by the way!

I redid my video today!  Hope this can guide you on how to get to the top!

A Day Trip In Nara

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The march to Kasuga-Taisha Shrine begins! Going here during oshogatsu means being prepared for crowds.
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Nearing the entrance after almost 30 minutes of lining up! Best to grab some snacks and drinks from the stalls nearby prior to queuing.
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Finally made it to the main temple! It is customary for believers of the Shinto religion to do the ff: 1.) Toss a 5 yen coin 2.) Clap 2 times  3.) Bow Make a Wish  4.)  Bow again |  According to locals, this is a humble gesture for those requesting for good fortune in the new year.
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Countless lanterns fence the entire shrine.

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My friend’s stamp book! I think she has now already collected around 20 stamps from different temples all over Japan.
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Prayers are being hung on this old tree.

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There would not be a Nara without its deer! From Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, retrace your steps back to the main avenue and make a hard right towards Wakakusaya Hill. The wheat-colored hill will serve as your landmark.
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Kawaii!
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After a pleasant stroll, you will end up at Nigatsu-do. It is quite an amazing structure and offers great panoramic views at the top. Entrance is free.

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View at the top!
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For nature lovers, Nara offers a hiking trail not known to many tourists and locals. The name is Kasugayama Mountain Trail. It is quite tricky to get here but coming from Wakakusaya Hill, retrace your steps to the main avenue and check the signs. It should be about 400m down a different path from the main avenue.
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The hike is a moderate one and is about 3kms. long. It should take about 1.5 hours going up and down, depending on how long you stay at the top.
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We made it!
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On the way back to the JR station, you can pass by Todaiji temple. This is one of the biggest temples I have ever seen and is found among other great temples as well. The sad part was it closes at 5PM so we were not able to see the Great Buddha inside.
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Looks bigger than it seems. The two gold horns at the back are actually from another bigger temple inside!

For the last part of oshogatsu (winter break), me and my friends decided to head on to nearby Nara.  Nara is most popularly known in Japan for its free-roaming deer but the city also has a rich past.  It is the first imperial capital of Japan and was established around 710.  You can easily compare and contrast the shrines and structures here with those in other parts of Japan.

The city is small and easy to navigate for a day trip.  From Kyoto, you can take the JR Nara line for 710 yen one way.  The train ride is about 55 minutes long via the rapid train and about 1.2 hours via the local train.  Getting around is best done on foot.  For those who are in a rush, you can take the “Gurutto” bus (color red) which goes around the major tourist attractions for 100 yen per trip.

Hatsumode in Inari

Happy New Year everyone!

If you have ever dreamed about what it feels like to be in Memoirs of a Geisha and Rurouni Kenshin, then this is the shrine to go.  It is considered as one of the big 3 shrines in Japan, alongside Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine and Osaka’s Sumiyoshi Taisha.

Any trip to Japan would largely be trivial without visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine (and Kyoto!).  There is just nothing in the world like it.

Here’s how hatsumode (first Shinto shrine visit of the year) is done in Kyoto!

 

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January 1st is chaotic in Inari. Security and traffic were very efficient though. Inari can be accessed via the Nara line from JR Kyoto Station and costs 140 yen one way.  Entrance to the shrine is free.
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After 15 minutes, we reached the first torii gate. Whew.
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Entrance to the main temple grounds. I tried my best to minimize the heads.
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Traffic gets even worse inside. And this was at 1:30PM! If you want to ring the bells and offer prayers, best to go really early.
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The vermillion journey begins! Arm yourself with some trusty shoes and dress in layers. The weather during this time might be cold, but you are surely going to sweat buckets on the way up.
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FYI: According to one of the signs, 10 torii gates amounts to a donation of around 1.3M yen!
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Just do the math!
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There were Chinese hoisted messages on this torii according to my friend. We’re not sure how it got there,
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A place to offer candles and prayers.
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More steps! I lost count after 10.
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Miniature versions are studded all over the shrine and mark people who passed on.

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The way down is even more fascinating as you get to see the names of the people and companies who donated these.
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Top!
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The line was too long. But still worth it!
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View of Uji from above!

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Happy 2016 from Kyoto!