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:

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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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!

 

Tokyo Drift! A Fast and Furious Journey (Part 1)

First timers in Tokyo!

In the past, I had always wished to visit Tokyo.  I mean, hello, I live in Japan!

Anyway, I planned the trip for me and my sister who was visiting.  The plan involved visiting 4 cities (Kyoto-Tokyo-Nara-Osaka) in 9 days using the least amount of cash possible.

Tokyo from Kyoto?  How can that be cheap?

Bullet train? EEEEENK.  At around 25,000 Yen for a roundtrip ticket, this was out of the window.

Local train? EEEEEENK.  Waaaay too confusing and waaay too long.

Bus? TING NING NING!  But not just any ordinary bus.  An OVERNIGHT BUS!

Welcome to Willer Express.  At around 4,500 Yen (one-way) for a no-frills overnight bus ride to Tokyo from Kyoto, this was in the money.  We intended to visit only metropolitan Tokyo this time around and set aside 2 FULL DAYS for it.  They also offer premium coaches with sleeping pods and other creature comforts for around 7,000 Yen (one-way) which is still cheaper than the Shinkansen.  We were so happy with the experience that I am now blogging about it. If you are penny-pinching, not pressed for time, or both, then we highly recommend taking this route.

The Willer Express (not the one we took) looks like this:

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Inside, it looks like this (WHY ARE WE BROKE!!) and it is pretty awesome

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The good thing is they subcontract other buses for the cheapest trips and their buses look something like this (this is not the actual one)

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Inside it is still pretty comfortable and clean.

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Flow:

  1. Catch overnight bus at midnight at the bus stop near Kyoto Station (Hachijo side). The stop is very easy to locate and the directions and pictures from the website are very accurate.  Our only comment was the stop was not enclosed so we were freezing all the time we were waiting.
  2. As with all things in Japan, the bus arrived and left on time. The bus was clean and the seats were comfy, even though we opted for the dirt cheap ones.  Curtains enclosed the bus so in a matter of minutes, we were ZZZZZ…
  3. Around 7AM, we arrived in Shinjuku (you have the option of choosing either this or Ikebukuro) where we took the subway going to our hostel, SPACE (which was freakin’ awesome as well!)
  4. The trip back is pretty straightforward.  Just go from #3 to #1 and voila, you’re back in Kyoto.

You can plan and reserve seats online.  Their website takes some getting used to but i user-friendly enough for locals and tourists alike.

After sifting through various hostels prior to our trip, we ended up staying at SPACE Hostel.  The hostel was nicely sandwiched in between the Ueno and Asakusa areas and is a 5-minute walk from Subway Iriya station (Hibiya Line).  It had a Lawson 100 Yen store nearby that will solve all your personal needs. The location was perfect.

Website: SPACE Hostel

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Stefan, the one operating the concierge at that time, was very accommodating and understanding.  He fixed a system issue because apparently the system did not recognize the booking revision I made.  Otsukaresamadesu!

There was a common area with a dining table.  Coffee and tea were complementary and there was a fridge to store some of your food.  They can even keep your luggage on checkout day for free until 7PM!

Shower rooms and bathrooms were conveniently located on the 2nd floor.  No need to bring shampoo and soap.  You do need to bring your own towels and other personal effects such as (toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.).  The dormitories were very nice and the temperature was kept at the perfect temperature (it was around 3-4 degs celsius outside).  As advertised, the beds were nicely crafted and were complete with covers and a duvet to keep you warm.  Everything was really, really clean as well.

Overall, we highly recommend this hostel to anyone visiting Tokyo!

Please drop a line if you have any comments or questions!

Now, on to the sights and sounds!

**disclaimer:  full credits go to the owners of the photos used in this post with the exception of the cover image which is mine

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.

Miyajima: An Amazing Island

Before coming to Japan, I knew that it was a country comprised of a number of islands (though not as archipelagic as the Philippines).  Most of the anime I watched as a kid were mostly set in either the big cities or mountainous countrysides.  All of these changed when I got to visit Miyajima (Itsukushima) for a day trip.

A tourist can definitely go hopping around fantastic islands in Japan!

Getting here is fairly easy and just takes a brief train and ferry ride from Hiroshima.  If time is not an issue, I highly suggest spending a night here especially if you want to experience the Japanese kind of island life and nature.  I would say it’s a very unique kind of island because there’s only a small amount of shoreline (at least in the parts I visited) and cold bodies of water.   If time is an issue, then an early day trip (8AM) should enable you to fully explore this beautiful island.

Words cannot really capture the natural beauty of this island.  It reveals a different side of the Japan that you might have known of.  I will definitely return here in the future.

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A shot of Miyajima island from the ferry. From Hiroshima station, take the Sanyo Line bound for Miyajima-guchi (alight here) and Iwakuni. Train fare costs about 450 yen and 30 minutes one way. The ferry ride costs about 360 yen for a roundtrip ticket.
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Arrival at the port! Very tourist-friendly with a lot of English signs.
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Deer! They roam freely throughout the island.
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Probably not a good idea to do (see the warning). However, they are so adorable!
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There is also a long shopping arcade that traverses the shoreline where you can find local food, sweets, etc. Good place to experience local food after a long hike.
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A shot of the “Torii” gate during high tide. These gates can be found all over Japan and symbolize the movement from the material world into a place of holiness.

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Entrance to Itsukushima Shrine

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Perhaps one of Japan’s most beautiful moats I have seen so far.
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To fully experience the best of both worlds, I highly recommend taking the cable car to go up Mt. Misen to experience the breathtaking views (the car was so packed I could not take photos). One way costs 900 yen. To make it even more exciting, hike all the way up the peak from the end of the cable car and then hike back down. I guarantee that it will be worth the 2-hour trip and the sore legs.
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Made it to the top of Mt. Misen!
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After a wonderful and exhausting hike down Mt. Misen, this is what I saw. You can actually go to the Torii gate at low tide!
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See what I mean? Truly amazing!

Hiroshima: Where Peace Happens

Hiroshima is literally a city that has risen from ashes.  History may have not been on this city’s side during WWII but that totally changed.  Now, it is a city that is thriving and blossoming.  I was amazed at how the people of Hiroshima were able to rebuild the city while retaining its core heritage.  The bridges were paved mightily and road trains were still the best way to go around.  Peace truly has a unique way of making things happen.

 

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Kodama! The Kodama is the slowest Shinkansen at roughly 270km/h but as a first timer, I really liked how the speed was subtle.
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An amazing thing about the Shinkansen was the revolving seats which allowed me to face friends. Eating and drinking is allowed on the Shinkansen!
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Touchdown at Hiroshima Station! The entire trip took about 2.5 hours.
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We were starving so Hiroshima-Yaki happened! The difference with a regular Okonomiyaki was that it had considerably more cabbage, was somehow layered, and more delicious than Osaka’s Okonomiyaki. This one should set you back about 750 yen. Oishi desu!
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The train stations of Hiroshima were just few and tourist-friendly. Going to the Peace Museum (Genbaku Doma-mae) costs about 160 Yen.
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Choo-choo! First road train ride ever!
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Look at that cool brown cockpit!

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A brief history of the significance of the A-Bomb Dome (Genbaku Dome).

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It used to be an exhibition hall where the city’s products, both traditional and modern, were showcased. The walls were really melted in a very unique way.
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On the way to the Peace Museum. It had a majestic garden in front of it. I could not bear to take pictures of what was inside though. I would just leave it for you to see on your own. It was very sad.
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The pristine Ota River which is another one of Japan’s beautiful rivers.
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Hiroshima Castle! We were fortunate enough because students get in for free! So don’t forget your ID! For tourists, it costs around 800 Yen to go to the top.  It will be worth it. There’s so many things to see inside! Especially Samurai equipment and other historical Japanese artifacts.
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The breathtaking view at the top of Hiroshima Castle. It takes around 6 flights of stairs to get here.
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Hiroshima Castle with the lights on.
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As a huge Japanese car fan, I could not help drooling over this awesome R31 Skyline. The stance was perfect and I could tell that the car had seen some drifting action based on the tires and the fender scratches.