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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The facade of the seiden was under construction. (c) mitaru07
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The Ryukyu King’s throne. (c) mitaru07
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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.

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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!

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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.

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Best seats in the ferry. (c) mitaru07
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sun and sand.  (c) mitaru07
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The crew at Ama observation deck.
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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.

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Ama beach! (c) mitaru07
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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.

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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.

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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!

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

Here are some shots from my friend’s GoPro:

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Blue fish! (c) tranthientri
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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.

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Grilling time! (c) mitaru07
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Eating time! (c) mitaru07
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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.

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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.

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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).

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“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.

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Inside Heiwa Dori.  (c) mitaru07
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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.   

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.

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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!

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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!

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Told you it was like one of those postcards.

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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.

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The men striking a pose.

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I had to!

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The complete team at Fuji 6th station!

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

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

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The sun!

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Wow, just wow.

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

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My friend loves taking photos.

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

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Come here I’m about to take you higher

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Group photie by the crater!

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And a solo.

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Spectators in awe because they made it.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Kyoto Time Lapse! +GoT Ep. 3 Is Now Loading

You know that feeling when you’re so immersed into whatever you’re doing that you don’t realize a week just passed?  That was last week.  Whew.

First, nothing delights me more than speaking to my girlfriend properly.  Not just sending some random emoticons and late messages.  I’m talking about real conversations in real time.   Maybe I’ll do a piece on long-distance relationships some time in the future.

Second, as you might have suspected in this post’s title, I cannot wait for GoT to fully load.  Given Japan’s internet, it should be over before I finish writing this post.  And yes, *spoiler alert*, John Snow is alive!  Ep 2’s ending was something else and a total rebound from the always-dismal season opener.

Third, I am still dumbfounded with how the Spurs lost to the Thunder.  I know how damn good the Spurs are and losing the series in 6 games was really below expectations.  No wonder Pop’s interview was so dry.  But, it’s also exciting how the Thunder will size up against GSW.

This time lapse shows the Nishijin area of Kyoto where you the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is located.  This was shot for roughly 6 hours on a 5-second interval.

Should be a great week ahead!  Hope you have an awesome week, too!

 

Time Lapse: A New Take on Daimonjiyama

I think I may have taken too many subjects this quarter.  

I’m taking Finance, Business Research Methods, Statistics, E-Marketing, Nihonggo, zzzzzzz.  The curse of free education.  Why slack off, right?

This time lapse was taken two weeks ago.  I had no time this weekend to take a new one.  This one shows a different perspective and shows more of the mountain’s slope.

I hope I can take a new one next week!

 

Tokyo Drift! A Fast and Furious Journey (Part 3)

I suddenly remembered that I have to write about the last leg of my quick Tokyo trip!

In case you missed out on the earlier posts, here’s Part 1 and Part 2

The last part of our trip covered most of Central and Western areas of Tokyo: Akihabara, Harajuku, and Shinjuku.  These are the busiest places in Tokyo (probably in Japan) and offer a lot in terms of things to do.

We started by visiting Tokyo Imperial Palace.  The palace grounds alone will take you about 30 – 45 minutes to circumnavigate.  One can really feel that this is the epicenter of the Japanese empire just by walking around.  The attention given to the plants, flowers, trees, and structures cordially dial in majesty.

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Behold!  The almighty castle walls!
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How big were horse-drawn carriages in Japan back then?  Because this street is so wide!
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The trees are just perfectly manicured.  Not a leaf out of line.
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We were really lucky because these were not supposed to be in bloom until 3 days later.

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From there, we took the subway bound for Yoyogi Park.  This is a massive and beautiful park that ends at Harajuku.  At the middle, you can drop by Meiji Jingu to get a breather.  It felt like a stretch of 2.5 kms. of gravel.IMG_1676

If you followed our route, this is what you should see:IMG_1678

We went crazy with all the shops from Harajuku to Roppongi.  There were a lot of foreigners living here too.  This area will gladly take your money.  Name a brand and chances are, a flagship store will be in this area.  So bring a lot of dough.  Or don’t.IMG_1679

If you go left from here, you will arrive at another famous shopping destination, Takeshita Street where you could get a shot at one of the graffiti-lined walls.  Each of us just had to take one.

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According to my sister, this street is mostly kawaii girls stuff.  But she was able to find this store, Monki.  There’s a cool dessert place beside it if ever you are a guy shopping with a female.

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The iconic Hachiko just near Shibuya Crossing!IMG_1689

Maybe it is just because off-season but I think Dotombori in Osaka is much busier than this one.  If you are thinking about getting a nice view from the Starbucks joint you see in this picture, good luck getting in.  The upper floors of the train station and malls are the best places to get a nice shot.  I just wished I was into time lapse photography when I went here.  IMG_1693

We had to double back to our hostel to get our bags and got lost.  All the subway-switching can get really confusing.  It really pays to know some kanji especially when the nearest map looks like this:

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We had a great bowl of Seaweed Shio ramen after an exhausting day.  Unfortunately, I forgot the name of this ramen place in Shinjuku.

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While waiting for our midnight bus back to Kyoto, we checked our watches and realized that we had about 4 hours to kill.  Luckily, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is still open!  It has 2 observation decks: North (9:30-23:00) and South (9:30-17:30).  It gives you a stunning 360-view of Tokyo for free!  The elevator line might be long during the day so going at night is better (the night view is better too, I think).  Oddly, the observation deck has a toy store and a coffee shop at the top.  It even has complimentary Wi-Fi! IMG_1702

That’s all, folks!  This series is done!  I can’t wait to go back to Tokyo!

Here’s a video of the entire trip!  I’m very sorry that the camera is shaky, the gimbal is broken. 😦

Time Lapse: Uji and Mukaijima

Pink to green.

*This is quite a long post so if you just want to see the time lapse, scroll all the way down or click here.  Always in HD!

When you’ve been living in a city pocket for a reasonable amount of time, there’s always going to be this longing to go somewhere else.  Somewhere far.  This is what I have been feeling lately.

About a couple of weeks ago, my good friend Michael and his wife invited the group to his new place in Mukaijima.  However, we weren’t able to go last week due to unforeseen school events.  Yesterday was a fantastic day and we were all able to go.

Mukaijima is very accessible from the center of Kyoto.  From Karasuma-Imadegawa, we just took the subway and went all the way south and hopped off at Takeda to switch trains (Kintetsu).  From Kyoto station, you can just use the Karasuma line and head south (there are many alternate routes).  Ticket should set you back 500 Yen and about 45 minutes to get there.

Prior to heading there, I had trouble finding any bit of information about what to see and what to do.  Good thing I knew someone there!

My first impression upon going down the train station was the abundance of apartment buildings and the endless rows of fields.  It was very different from Kyoto (city center).  But this is still part of Kyoto nonetheless.

Roads were wider and cars dominated the streets.  Mukaijima Park was really nice and clean.  I found it hard to imagine that there was a cleaner place than central Kyoto.  Air quality is even better.  Another surprising thing about this place was children.  There were so many!  Maybe because this part of the city was more family-oriented.  Rent was a cheaper too, especially if you want to raise a family in a bigger place.  Supermarkets had better selection too.

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Mukaijima Park
We were able to go the Gakusei (Student) Center where my friend lived.  They made nabe (hot pot) for lunch and had some booze to spike the conversation.  For dinner, we made some freestyle sushi out of pickles, egg, sausage, and cucumber.  The combo was weird but it was delicious!

We got quite drunk due to the great bottle of sake that Michael had.  I think I got too drunk and lost my phone when we were chilling by Uji River.  BUT, we went back and found it (also chilling by the river).  Nothing gets lost here.  Except bikes and umbrellas!

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The spot where we found my phone.
It offers a different feel compared to the central Kyoto.  It is more laid-back and will nag you to sit outside, drink a beer or two, and feel the breeze.  Uji and Momoyama are also very accessible.  These are places famous for authentic Japanese tea and shrines.

WHEW!  I hope I didn’t bore you with that long post.

Thanks again, Michael and the wife for hosting!  Until next time!

*Nico Rosberg had a great race in China.  Things are looking good for Mercedes this season.