[CONTEST INSIDE] Japan Trip: Tokyo Leg 24th April – 3rd May 2015

Want to win a tour in Tokyo, Paris, or London? Read on to find out more!

Work and life has been a little busy, but I’m pleased to share my final blog post on my trip to Japan in 2015!

I stayed in two different hotels within Ikebukuro (池袋) during my Tokyo leg; I had not explored this part of Tokyo previously and I was pleasantly surprised. Did you know that Ikebukuro Station is the second busiest station, surpassed only by Shinjuku Station. However, unlike it’s more popular counterpart, Ikebukuro is a cheaper location to stay in without missing out on any of the hustle and bustle.

Between the B Ikebukuro and APA Hotel Ikebukuro-Eki-Kitaguchi hotels, I very much preferred the former.

the B Ikebukuro lobby
the B Ikebukuro

1-39-4 Higashi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku Tokyo 170-0013

http://ikebukuro.theb-hotels.com/en/

APA Hotel Ikebukuro-Eki-Kitaguchi

2-48-7 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku 171-0014

http://www.apahotel.com/hotel/shutoken/14_ikebukuro-eki-kitaguchi/english/

These two hotels were both great choices for under S$150 a night, but the location for the B was much more convenient and in a better neighbourhood. Basically, APA was too close to drinking bars/clubs and the night entertainment area for my comfort, and a bit further away from the train station.

Everyone must have heard about Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場) closing its operations and relocating in November 2016. It becomes a must-go destination not only to observe the early-morning tuna auction, but also to taste the fresh seafood at the popular stalls there. I had a tiring red-eye flight, so I had to give the auction a miss. Those who want a piece of the action must be prepared to wake up at 3am to queue, as admission is on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Sushi Zanmai

I reached Tsukiji around 10am, and the much raved Sushi Dai (寿司大) or Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司) were not feasible ideas when I’m carrying a luggage straight from the airport. I settled for chain restaurant Sushi Zanmai (すしざんまい) the King of Tuna, which was in fact very decent.

http://www.kiyomura.co.jp.e.sv.hp.transer.com/

I ordered what I needed to, tuna – otoro (大とろ) –> chutoro (中とろ) –> akami (赤身) –> Salmon Belly

Tuna Sushi

Moving on, I wandered the narrow streets of Tsukiji and stumbled upon grilled scallops, tamagoyaki (egg potong stick), ramen and many more. I was full and satisfied within 2 hours of stepping foot in Tokyo.

Tsukiji Scallops

Tamago Yaki ShopTamago Yaki

There is also a snaking queue for this clear broth ramen from 中華そば 井上 (Chuka Soba Inoue)

中華そば 井上

中華そば 井上中華そば 井上

I know it’s rare to hear this, but the ramen chef really prepared the bowls with finesse. They do it 10 bowls per batch, and everything was done so orderly. Slurp.

Harajuku Crepes

Another area I love to visit in Tokyo is Harajuku (原宿) and Omotesando (表参道). It is interesting to stroll through Takeshita Dori while snacking on crepes, but one of the main highlight for me is the LINE store at the end of this street. One of only two stores in the whole of Japan (other store is in Sendai), this is the place to stock up on your LINE merchandise.

http://fs.line.me/en/harajuku/#index

LINE Brown's Room

Look how big Brown is. Some people like to slap his face and leave hand-prints…

Giant Line Brown Bear

One of my favourite Starbucks in Tokyo is at Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku, at the road junction not far from the LINE store. It is located on the rooftop and has a large garden terrace for relaxing and coffee chats.

Omotesando Starbucks

Tourists being tourists, I had to make a visit to the Kaminarimon (雷門) Thunder Gate. A short walk from the Asakusa (浅草), you won’t miss this place with hundreds of people thronging the narrow street leading up to the temple. Within the gates lie Tokyo’s oldest and most famous temple – Sensoji (浅草寺). It’s fun to walk around and look at the handicrafts/souvenirs they have for sale, but do note that they (prices) are targeted towards tourists.

KaminariMon

I passed by Tokyo Dome City during the last day of my previous trip, and I so badly wanted to check out this amazing place in Tokyo that has a roller coaster! I specially went there this time, just to sit on the Thunder Dolphin. It costs 1,030 yen per ride, and a roller coaster adrenaline junkie like me didn’t regret it at all. Watch the video below for the first person point of view!

Tokyo Dome City

Friends who know me well understands that I love ramen. It’s my comfort food, and since I was staying at Ikebukuro, I had to try the Mutekiya Ramen (無敵家). Address: 1-17-1 Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku 東京都豊島区南池袋1-17- (Ikebukuro Station East Exit), Tokyo, Japan. They open until 4a.m. so it’s the perfect place to go for a warm hearty supper after a night of drinking / partying. But really, you don’t need a reason to have good ramen. I went around 11a.m. before the lunch crowd arrived, but I wasn’t early enough. Standing in the hot sun for about 30 mins waiting for my ramen only whet up my appetite. Turns out it was good, but not fantastic-come-back-again-tomorrow kind of good. Only 六厘舎TOKYO Ramen at the Tokyo Station made me do that.

Mutekiya Ramen

Mutekiya Ramen

When you ask a Tokyoite about Monjayaki (もんじゃ焼き), inevitably Tsukishima Monjya street comes to mind. Monjayaki is a kind of Japanese-style pancake, in which you can cook it on the grill by yourself, and eat off it afterwards. I was recommended to go to Bambi, as it had an English menu and the food was decent. I guess I was there more for the experience, being a first-timer I think my Monjya actually tasted mediocre at best.

Bambi

Monjyayaki

I am really happy to have re-visited Japan, and I would take it up again in a heartbeat if an opportunity knocks on my door. It’s truly one of my favourite countries in the world.

Now comes the exciting part – GIVEAWAY CONTEST!

YOU can win a free self-guided tour on the popular app GPSmyCity. Rules are really simple:

  1. Comment on THIS blog post the city you would like to go next, and tell me why!
  2. Bonus points will be given for creative entries.
  3. Share this post on Facebook so your friends can be rewarded too.

Contest dates are from 8 February 2016 – 29 February 2016. 20 lucky winners will be chosen and will receive a special promo code to download the app. Winners will be contacted via email, so please provide a valid email address.

Based on the comment, the winner will get the specific city’s guided tour app. Please refer to this link for the full list of cities. 

GPSmyCity app is compatible with both iOS and Android devices.

Good luck and happy travelling!

Japan Trip: Osaka & Tateyama Leg 24th April – 3rd May 2015

I’m back to blog about my trip to Japan several months ago. This second part will be on Osaka (food) and Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route (scenery). These two places are actually not near each other, so I was maximising my JR Pass to travel to farther places.

Osaka to Tateyama

The biggest deterrence for most people is the time taken and cost of the journey there, but I’ll go into details later.

This is my second time to Osaka, and the streets of Namba still impress me. If I were to stay here, I’ll be a chubby boy in a couple of months. There’s just so much food to eat, and the nightlife here is so much better than Singapore.

My hotel is a 5 minutes walk from the main Namba shopping area and it was super convenient! Osaka Floral Inn Namba was about $125 a night when I booked it during the golden week holidays. It’s a little run-down and the room is not nicely decorated/modern, but I guess I’m just paying for the location here.

http://www.agoda.com/en-sg/osaka-floral-inn-namba/hotel/osaka-jp.html

When you visit Singapore, you got to have Chilli Crab. Same rule applies when you’re in Osaka, you must have an Okonomiyaki! I had my serving from Chibo restaurant, just a bit further down from that famous “crab restaurant”.

http://chibo.com/

I was greedy as usual, so I ordered both the Okonomiyaki and the Yakisoba to try.

Okonomiyaki

Yakisoba

If you’re interested in seeing the chef in action, please watch below!

Verdict: I should have just stuck to the Okonomiyaki. It was too filling to have both. The Yakisoba was good, but not worth my limited stomach space.

One cannot simply walk across Dotonbori bridge without impersonating Glico Man.

Glico Man

As mentioned previously in my Osaka post 2 years ago, Pablo cheese tarts are worth the queue for. This time when I got there, Pablo introduced new flavours like Matcha (my favourite) Cheese Tart! It was so good because they combined 2 of my favourite ingredients together.

Matcha Pablo Cheese Tart

I decided to be a little touristy and scheduled a visit to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan (海遊館) to look at fishes and their famous whale shark.

http://www.kaiyukan.com/language/eng/index.html

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

Entrance to the aquarium costs 2,300 yen, and you get to see the star of Osaka’s aquarium – the majestic Whale Shark. The sheer size of the glass enclosure is enough to impress, not to mention this beast swimming inside.

Whale Shark

The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is located on an island near the heart of Osaka, and is easily accessible by the Chuo Line (Osaka-Ko Station).

If you still have some time left in Osaka, do visit the vibrant Shinsekai (新世界) district and try the Kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers) from Daruma!

Daruma Kushikatsu

There are many bright 3D signboards that are sure to capture your attention, and they are also great for taking photos!

Shinsekai Osaka

By now if you haven’t already gone to an onsen during your Japan trip, it is recommended to drop by Spa World that is conveniently situated at the end of Shinsekai. It is a huge multi-storey onsen complex.

http://www.spaworld.co.jp/english/service.html

I went there 2 years ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it with the various European and Asian themed onsen. No pictures here for obvious reasons haha. They alternate the onsen for males and females every month throughout the year, so you have to go at least twice to try out all of them.

After Osaka, I embarked on my journey to the Snow Corridor at Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Open to pedestrians for only a few weeks every year, you can traverse a path that has up to 20 metres of snow on your left and right.

Selfie

It is a long and expensive journey, but the experience there was well worth it. Here is an extract of the different modes of transport you have to take just to enjoy the view. The total cost for my two-way trip turned up to be more than $70 (non-JR) even though I travelled from Osaka Station to Toyama Station with my JR Rail Pass. Here’s a simplified route map.

Alpine Route

Don’t worry it is not the same cable car as Sentosa-Mt. Faber, instead it looks like this.

Tateyama cable car

The section with the snow corridor that you can walk and take pictures will be at Murodo, 2450m above sea level. You can either choose to continue on the journey all the way through, or make a turn back to Toyama. I chose the latter because it’s faster and cheaper to do so, and it was getting dark already.

Snow Corridor

Do note that because I travelled from Osaka, I took more than half a day to reach Murodo and barely had 30 mins to cam-whore and selfie till my heart’s content. It is advisable to factor in much more travelling time, especially since these local transport may run once every 30 mins or once every hour.

View at 2450m above sea level

A very good guide to do your research if you want to go to Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route will be at http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e7550.html

Hope you enjoyed this second part of my Japan Trip 2015!

Do read my the first part here – Click here!

and also watch out for the third and final part in the coming weeks~

 

Japan Trip: Fukuoka Leg 24th April – 3rd May 2015

After a long hiatus, I’m back with a series of blog posts about my most adventurous and impromptu trip thus far. I booked a return ticket (whilst it was on promotion of course) and flew off to the land of the rising sun. This was all done within a course of 2 months during my work’s peak period, and it gave me something to look forward to at the end of the April.

This journey required the use of a JR Pass, so I had the advantage because of the weakening yen. I paid $341 from the JTB at Ion Orchard, and I’m able to take almost all the Shinkansen in Japan with reserved seating! A travel tip to everyone is to plan early before you arrive (I use Hyperdia http://www.hyperdia.com/en/ ), and then reserve ALL your seats the moment you arrive in Japan at the JR ticketing booth. That means you must plan on a detailed level, down to the exact timing and exact Shinkansen that you’re going to take for the rest of your stay in Japan. If unfortunately you miss your Shinkansen timing and you must forfeit your reserved ticket, it is actually at no extra cost for you to book another later timing, just that you run the risk of the Shinkansen being fully booked.

Note: You cannot take the Nozomi & Mizuho lines, but you are able to take the next fastest Hikari & Sakura lines. Honestly, it doesn’t matter unless your schedule is so tight that 15 minutes more for a 3 hour journey makes a difference to you.

This is the all powerful and mighty JR Pass. You just flash this to the ticketing officer at the gantry and you shall pass.

JR Pass

Another thing to get before departing for Japan is your portable wi-fi device. In this digital age, not many of us can survive without portable wi-fi when we’re overseas, so I got mine from:

http://japan-wireless.com/

It’s actually one of the more affordable ones (I compared prices against those at the airport itself, and it’s cheaper to get online in advance). The best part is that they deliver straight to your hotel/accommodation/airport before you arrive! I got the Y!mobile 3G 7.2-21Mbps unlimited data usage plan and it works out to be $7 per day. To fully maximise this unlimited usage, you can share it with up to 5 devices and the daily cost is really minimal.

Ok enough about the boring planning part, the rest of this post shall be dedicated to my short tour of Kyushu.

Due to time constraints, I visited only 2 locations in Kyushu. They are Oita Prefecture (大分県) and Fukuoka (福岡). As seen from the map, they are on the northern part of the Kyushu islands.

Oita and Fukuoka Map

A short ride away from Oita city is the famous hot spring town of Beppu. It is also home to the 8 Hells (地獄 Jigoku) of Beppu. I skipped the sight-seeing and went straight to the real thing itself, the onsen. The one I went to was relatively secluded, and is actually near the “geyser hell”. It’s called Hyotan Hot Springs.

http://www.hyotan-onsen.com/english/

The place is definitely English friendly, so it wouldn’t be a problem even if you don’t speak Japanese. The sand bath that you have to pay an additional 300yen for is a bit over-rated in my opinion. I had to dig a hole and bury myself with sand that was barely lukewarm. The hot spring itself was better, especially with the special waterfall feature that helps to massage my neck and back.

Hyotan Hot Spring

I tried the Hot Spring Egg! Disclaimer: It tasted really normal. 

Hyotan Hot Spring Egg

After a short 1 night stay at Oita, I departed for Fukuoka, the gateway to Kyushu. I chose to do something touristy, and visited the Fukuoka Castle Ruins because it was one of the top destinations on TripAdvisor. And then I remembered why I shouldn’t trust these review websites. There was barely any ruins left to see, and the “Castle” was not recognisable at all. I guess it was good for a morning stroll if it was the Sakura season, as all I saw were wilted pink petals on the grass.

Fukuoka Castle Ruins

There’s also a grand mall called Canal City Hakata (キャナルシティ博多), known for its quirky architecture. If you like shopping, I guess you could check it out. The Ramen lover in me just went there for the Ramen Street on the top floor, but sadly to say it disappointed me…

Canal City Hakata

However, there was something else that caught my attention. I kept seeing these two words “放題” around, and when I found out that it actually means “eat-all-you-can buffet”. I knew I had to go for it. Especially when it also comes with “飲み放題”, which means free-flow alcohol as well!

This. was. awesome.

The place is at Yodobashi-Hakata (ヨドバシ博多) 4th Floor called “焼肉の牛太”.

http://www.yodobashi-hakata.com/restaurant/restaurant_gyut.html

Yakiniku Buffet

I know meat and highballs don’t pair well, but I couldn’t care less.

I honestly didn’t explore much of Fukuoka, and it was a shame that I had to rush off to Osaka after just 1 night here.

There’ll be more interesting food and places in the next post, including my trip to the famous Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route!

Japan Trip: Tokyo Leg 19th – 25th May 2013

We were fortunate enough to spot Mt. Fuji on the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo! Little did we know that it will also be our last time seeing it, but more on that later.

Mt. Fuji

The bullet train ride was expensive, but it was still pretty exciting because it’s my first time riding a train going at speeds of up to 320km/h. It honestly doesn’t feel that fast whilst we’re on it, and I even enjoyed my bento breakfast along the way.

Shinkansen

The first thing that hit me when I arrived in Tokyo was how crowded this city is. At any given time of the day, most places are perpetually filled with people walking about, commuting, standing around waiting at train stations. I also observed that Tokyoites very often do things alone, even when it comes to having meals. I guess most of the population come to the city only for work, and their families are hours away in the suburbs.

Our hotel for our 6 nights stay was at Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku.

http://www.hotelsunrouteplazashinjuku.jp/en/

It was affordable and most importantly, a 3 minutes walk from Shinjuku Station Southern Terrace exit. The room has a double bed and a private toilet, but we did not have enough space to even open our luggage because it was really tiny. Everything else was good though!

Our first meal there was the famous 六厘舎TOKYO at Ramen Street, First Avenue Tokyo Station. The special Tokusei Tsukemen there is the best Tsukemen I ever had. The dipping soup had so much ingredients and the stock so tasty that I knew I had to come back again (I eventually did).

Tokusei Tsukemen

Their noodles are also different from the thin yellow ramen noodles; this was more chewy like udon. I am salivating just thinking and writing about this. There is no doubt a long queue so be prepared to wait about 30 minutes or so.

http://www.tokyoeki-1bangai.co.jp/en/

First Avenue Tokyo Station also has a Character street, where Michelle had a good time at the Rilakkuma and Totoro stores. Actually, Tokyo Station is a train station cum shopping mall so massive that Ion Orchard is probably minuscule compared to it. 

Shopping at Shinjuku alone exhausted us on our first day, so we took a day trip out to Yokohama the day after to relax and visit some museums! Yokohama is about 30 minutes via subway from Tokyo, and is the second largest city in Japan by population.

Our first stop was the Ramen Museum, which was actually quite a disappointment. It’s located a few blocks away from the Shin-Yokohama Station, but we could not spot the building in the rain; our mood was also quite low because of our soaked shoes.

http://www.raumen.co.jp/

Anyway, it was not much of a museum, but more of a 1900s themed ramen restaurant that gathers some recognized brands together, much like Ramen Champion at Bugis+.

Yokohama Ramen Museum

Therefore, it felt a bit ridiculous for us that we had to pay an entrance fee, and are also obligated to order a bowl of ramen when seated. (You would have noticed by now that I seem to be eating ramen throughout the entire trip, but don’t worry I eat soba noodles and tempura sometimes too~)

Luckily, the Nissin Cup Noodles Museum was a much better place that cheered us up from the gloomy weather.

Yokohama Cup Noodles Museum

The fun part was we get to make our own instant noodles! We paid 300yen to decorate our cup, choose 4 ingredients together with our preferred soup base, and take it home with us!

Cup Noodles Ingredients

Michelle and I chose chili tomato and curry respectively, and it was really good! They are also more generous with the ingredients there than the ones we buy off the shelves. Also, I checked almost all the stores in Singapore but they only seem to stock the Seafood flavor cup noodles. Anybody knows why not Chili Tomato/Curry?

Michelle's Instant Noodles

Michelle and her well-decorated Rilakkuma Instant Noodles.

That was about all for our Yokohama day trip. Cosmoworld was closed due to the rain, but I read that they had a roller-coaster that goes into an underwater tunnel. Sounds pretty cool!

A tourist attraction not to be missed in Tokyo is the newly built Tokyo Skytree. Our visit coincided with their 1st Anniversary celebrations; lucky for us because Tokyo Banana’s outlet there had a special flavored spotted Tokyo Banana – Chocolate Cream.

Tokyo Banana Limited Edition

Starbucks also had limited edition tumblers for sale for their 1st Anniversary at Tokyo Skytree. (Needless to say, I grabbed both designs and have spares for sale. Interested buyers, PM me)

Skytree Starbucks Tumblers

A ticket to the Tembo Deck 350 metres up in the sky costs 2000yen. To go further up 100 metres to the Tembo Galleria is another 1000yen more.

http://www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en/

It’s really beautiful up there with a 360 degrees view of Tokyo City Skyline. There’s the famous top 3 “million dollar night views” in Japan (三大夜景), but I think this new skyscraper stands as a strong contender.

Tokyo Skytree Night View

Me at Tokyo Skytree

On the way to Tokyo Skytree, you can make a short detour to check out Asakusa and the famous Sensoji (Asakusa) Temple. There are many rows of shops outside the temple, and this is also where you can find the most delicious melon pan (メロンパン) in Tokyo!

Asakusa Melon Pan

http://asakusa-kagetudo.com/

It’s called Asakusa Kagetsudo (浅草 花月堂) and their melon pans are big and fragrant. The skin/crust on top is really crispy because they’re fresh out of the oven.

Here is some proof that I eat food other than ramen while in Japan. We went to Midori Sushi (美登利) at Mark City, Shibuya. Their set meal is famous for being good and affordable. At 2100yen, it is quite a bargain for the sushi they serve.

Midori Sushi Set

However, Michelle and I do not have the acquired taste to fully enjoy their sea urchin (uni) sushi and crab roe paste salad. The prawn’s brain juice also disgusted Michelle so much that we had so much laughs during the meal.

Prawn Brain Juice

The Hong Kong tourists next to us, thinking that we don’t understand cantonese, were commenting on how wasteful we are, while slurping the brain juice from the prawn’s head and devouring the uni fresh off their black poky shells. This really was a memorable meal for the wrong reasons haha.

We also ventured out to Tsukiji Fish Market to try fresh sashimi. However, we were not crazy enough to queue 3 hours for the Omakase at Sushi Dai or Daiwa, hence we settled for a Donburi at Nakaya (仲家). I had a bowl of fatty tuna and salmon, and Michelle had fatty tuna and salmon roe. We found it to be decent, but slightly expensive because we weren’t able to discern how fresh it actually was.

Nagaya Donburi 1

Nagaya Donburi 2

Food enthusiasts would burn us at the stake, but we think the sushi bought from Daimaru’s basement was equally nice and much cheaper.

What’s a trip to Japan if we do not visit Mt. Fuji right? We took a 2 hour long train ride to Hakone-Yumuto Station anticipating a stunning view of the snow-capped mountain. We were so disappointed. The moment we reached we figured something was wrong because there were no Mt. Fuji to be seen, and it was confirmed by the tourist guide checking the webcam – that it was too cloudy that day.

So to all readers, please heed my advice and check the webcam BEFORE you head over to Hakone.

http://www.fujigoko.tv/english/

You can save yourself a lot of time and money this way.

Since we’re there, we decided to relax at an onsen. There are many hot springs there, but we chose the Tenzan Tohji-kyo (click link) because the reviews on Tripadvisor were #1. It costs 1200yen and we brought our own towels, or else you have to pay for 1.

Tenzan Onsen

The onsen was indeed very close to nature; it was open-air, and there were several pools and tiers to soak in, with varying temperatures. They also have a cave-like sauna where you have to rub yourself in salt before going in to roast. I didn’t try it because it really reminded me too much of 盐焗鸡 (Salt-Baked Chicken) that I really love eating.

As I couldn’t take pictures inside, here’s one that is a fine representation of what I saw.

Onsen

Yes you got that right, I saw too much. HAHA [Image taken from another person’s blog about Tenzan Onsen]

Back to touring attractions, we dropped by the artificial island of Odaiba one evening to do some shopping and sightseeing. I guess the best mall to go to is Diver City, easily recognizable by the built-to-scale 1:1 Gundam standing guard in front of the entrance.

Odaiba Gundam

Nearby, there is an outlet shopping area at Palette Town, but the main eye-catcher there was the pet shop on the first floor.

Odaiba Palette Town

They have such adorable puppies and kittens for sale, including corgis and munchkins. If we lived in Japan we would have brought one or two home with us already. They easily costs $3000 onwards though, but I guess that’s the price you pay for cuteness.

Michelle had been longing to go DisneySea the entire trip, and we were blessed with good weather (or rather we checked the weather forecast to avoid the rainy days). We bought the open-date tickets from JTB Singapore Ion Orchard so we need not queue in Japan, but it’s slightly more expensive at S$85.

Monkey at DisneySea

They have a few exciting rides there and I read/heard that the Tower of Terror is the best one to go to for thrills. However, the Toy Story Mania Ride is also pretty fun. It only opened last year so the queueing time can be up to 2 hours, even on weekdays.

Toy Story Mania DisneySea

Be sure to buy the alien mochi ice-cream while queueing to omnom.

Alien Mochi Ice Cream

Also, if you do not understand Japanese, please do not go to the Turtle Talk exhibit. It’s an interactive talk show featuring “Crush” from Finding Nemo, and it features some top-notch technology that combines animation with real-time conversations with the audience. Entirely in Japanese. It was funny because we sat through the 20 minutes talk show laughing along with everyone else.

Another advice for DisneySea visitors is that their Fastpass system works differently, and is not like your usual express lane. You enter the park and grab a Fastpass ticket specific to the ride but for a much later timing, and come back at the given timing without the need to queue. Hence, you can have meals/watch other shows while waiting for your turn to come. The downside is, the popular rides have their Fastpass tickets sold out within an hour of the park opening anyways.

Michelle at DisneySea

It was lots of fun and definitely not just for kids, and we spent nearly the entire day there.

One of our last activities in Tokyo was spent walking around the Shinjuku Gyoen Park (literally around). It’s very much like our Botanic Gardens but they charge for entrance, hence there is only one or two places of entry near the Shinjuku Gyoen-Mae Station. We didn’t know that, and had to walk the perimeter of the huge park just to find the entrance.

Shinjuku Gyoen

Nevertheless, we were rewarded with much greenery and little kids running about playing Mr. Wolf.

Shinjuku Gyoen Kids

One last thing to say before I end off this Tokyo post, and also my final Japan post.

Look out for this Salt and Camembert Cheese Biscuit from Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory!

Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory

It’s the best cheese biscuit ever, and I seriously regretted buying only 1 box. I know they sell it at Tokyo Skytree, but I’m not sure where else.

I think this is a much better gift than the boxes of omiyages that they overprice and sell at the tourist souvenir shops.

Thanks for reading!

Japan Trip: Kyoto Leg 15th – 18th May 2013

Japan Trip: Osaka Leg 12th – 14th May 2013

*If you are going to Japan and are a fan of Starbucks, please comment below. I need some help buying/collecting Japan’s Starbucks Cards. Thanks!

Japan Trip: Kyoto Leg 15th – 18th May 2013

Osaka and Kyoto are actually very near each other, and when I reached Kyoto Station I was amazed at its architecture. It kind of reminds me of Star Vista (Buona Vista MRT), but on a much much bigger scale.

Kyoto Station

Our hotel, APA Hotel (Kyoto Eki Horikawa Dori) was a 5 minutes walk from the Kyoto Station, and in my opinion was the best accommodation we stayed out of the 3. It was fairly spacious by Japan standards, and the room was well equipped with fast wifi.

I was chatting with an Australian in the sento the night before and he told me there’s a Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) happening the morning we are to arrive at Kyoto, so it was awesome coincidence that we got to witness our very first Japanese Festival. The tradition began way back in the 7th century, and is one of the 3 most famous festivals in Kyoto.

Aoi Matsuri

After watching part of the procession, we wanted to go visit Kinkakuji (金閣寺, Golden Pavilion). However, genius me misread the name and we ended up at Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion) instead.

Ginkakuji

Nevertheless, it was part of our itinerary anyway and the beautiful garden was worth a visit! The said pavilion was not anything near silver though. It was intended to be covered with a silver foil overlay with water reflecting onto its lacquered finishing, but it never came to fruition.

Our next stop of the day, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most people come here to drink the water flowing down from the 3 channels into a pond, and hope their wish would  be granted.

Kiyomizudera 3 streams

Others come here to attempt walking with their eyes closed between 2 love stones, and if they succeed, they will find their true love.

Lovestone

However, my Japanese teacher told us that in the past, people actually go to more drastic measures to have their wish fulfilled. It is said that if you jump down from the Kiyomize-dera’s stage (as shown below) and survive, your wish would then be granted.

Kiyomizudera

You can imagine the look of horror on our faces when we were told that so many people jumped down from that great height. Anyway, thankfully quite a majority survived.

On day 2 of Kyoto, we took a day trip out to Nara to visit some temples, but mostly to see deers roam about freely in the parks. It’s quite cool that these deers and humans can mingle around rather amicably.

Nara Deer Park

On the day we went, there were large numbers of both and it was like a scene from the movies. School girls (and some boys) were screaming and running around, with the deers chasing them for deer snacks.

Deer Snacks

These deer snacks can be bought for just 150yen, and it’s a sure way to get deers to come close to you.

Deer Feeding

After playing with deers, we visited Todaiji (東大寺), which is the world’s largest wooden building. Inside the buddha temple, we also learnt that the building had been brought down by fires twice, and is now 1/3 smaller than its original structure about 400 years ago.

Todaiji

There were also kids queueing up to crawl through a tiny hole in one of the wooden pillars in the temple. I was so curious as to why they were doing so, as even their teachers were pulling them through one-by-one.

Lucky Tree Hole

After doing some research (google google), I found out that you will get lucky if you crawl through that hole! It looked more like they were doing it for fun…

Day 3’s main attraction was a visit to Kinkakuji (金閣寺). It was majestic and the golden structure just shone with brilliance under the sunny weather. “Perfect photo opportunity!”, thought every single tourist that entered the garden and blocked the pathway, till security have to chide people to move on.

Kinkakuji

It was quite a short and relaxing walk through the garden though, with the gold-leaf covered structure being the centre of attention all the time.

Jeremy Khong

The rest of the day we spent shopping at Teramachi and Shin Kyogoku Shopping Arcades. Most of them are local brands that we couldn’t afford or have no interest in, but we did find plenty of great deals at the 100yen and 300yen shops littered along the street.

We also took a look at the famous Nishiki Market, which runs parallel to Shijo street (四条通). It was quite a disappointment for us though, mostly because they sell lots of fresh whole fish or preserved Japanese appetizers that we weren’t exactly looking to buy.

Our last day in Kyoto was a bit more exciting! We travelled to Arashiyama (嵐山), which is known for its bamboo forest.

Arashiyama

It’s actually a very touristy place with lots of souvenir shops and restaurants along the main street.

Getsukyo

During spring, the cherry blossoms will bloom and can be seen from the Togetsukyo (渡月橋), but when we went all we saw were more tourists.

Michelle posing for pictures amidst the bamboo forest.

Michelle

If you’re lazy to walk, there are muscular, young & charismatic (adjectives provided by Michelle) rickshaw drivers ferrying people along this scenic route too.

Rickshaw

Another place of interest in Kyoto is the Fushimi Inari Shrine. You will better recognize it as the place with lots of bright orange Torii gates.

Inari Shrine

They represent holy gates and are iconic of Shinto shrines. But as usual we are just there to take pictures because it’s a beautiful place to camwhore.

Torii Gates

A different city warrants another visit to the cat cafe! This one is Nekokaigi (猫会議)

http://www.nekokaigi.com/english/top.html

Cat Onsen

The cats here are not like the pedigree-ish cats in Osaka, but more like regular cats. However, the owner here have a unique way of interacting with and getting the cats’ attention. You will have to go there and see for yourself to find out!

Turtleshell Cat

During one of our nights there, we ventured out to the bars at the Kiyamachi area and walked into a narrow lane (Pontocho Street) where we were lucky enough to spot a few Maiko (left) and Geisha (right) going to one of the many nondescript teahouses.

Maiko

It is said that if you are not a guest of a regular customer, you probably would be denied entry into some of the high-class restaurants.

We finally settled on a bar called ING Bar, that is tucked away on the 2nd floor of an old building. It’s about the size of a 2-room flat, musty and dark, and has the atmosphere of a quaint Rock n Roll bar from the 80s. Would still recommend it though, as the owners are friendly and speak english.

http://www.kyotoingbar.com/

My last bit about Kyoto will be about Gogyo Kyoto’s (京都五行) burnt ramen!

Gogyo

The soup base is really pretty burnt, think black and sooty. It’s also very thick and flavorful. If you’re seeking a good ramen place in Kyoto, this would definitely be it. It’s a short walk away from the Nishiki Market and is very easy to find.

Burnt Ramen

That sums up the Kyoto Leg of my Japan Trip!

Please stay tune for my last Tokyo Leg post coming soon.

Japan Trip: Osaka Leg 12th – 14th May 2013

Japan Trip: Tokyo Leg 19th – 25th May 2013

*If you are going to Japan and are a fan of Starbucks, please comment below. I need some help buying/collecting Japan’s Starbucks Cards. Thanks!

Japan Trip: Osaka Leg 12th – 14th May 2013

I happily departed for my 2 week long Grad Trip to Japan on 12th May 2013. Michelle and I flew Singapore Airlines because the tickets were only slightly more expensive, and we didn’t have to make any stopovers. (The real reason was because I wanted to sit on the Airbus A380 on the return flight back)

Anyways, I have been wanting to go to Japan since my last trip there when I was 10 years old. It was also the reason why I took Japanese as my 3rd language, and 14 years later my dream came true.

Kansai International Airport

We reached Kansai International Airport early on 12th morning and got our b-mobile SIM card first thing! You can pre-order the 14 days 1GB data plan from b-mobile, and they will deliver it to your chosen airport’s post office.

Here’s the website to buy your visitor SIM.

http://www.bmobile.ne.jp/english/

On hindsight, this was probably the best $50 we spent. Google Maps & Hyperdia are extremely helpful, and both require data on the go. Of course, it’s also good for the times when you Facebook/Twitter/Instagram your pictures…

Despite sleeping for only 1 hour on the overnight flight, we headed straight for Nanba/Shinsaibashi for the shopping and sightseeing!

Our hotel at Osaka was Hotel Raizan North, a stone’s throw away from Dobutsuen-Mae Station, or the Shin-Imamiya Station.

http://www.chuogroup.jp/kita/en/

It was a business hotel with minimal decor. Luckily ours was a twin-bed room so it was supposedly bigger. The toilets are in the corridor, and the public bath is on the ground floor. However, for the very cheap price we paid it was decent enough!

Shinsekai

We smartly chose to walk from our hotel to Nanba that morning. Silly us, probably because it was the first day of our trip and we were still having a fresh pair of legs. We passed by Shinsekai on the way, and there were lots to see and eat. The first thing that caught my attention was the Mentaiko Takoyaki Balls of Joy amidst the very excessive and eye-catching shop decorations.

Takoyaki Balls

We know we’ve reached our destination when we spot the famous Glico Man, as well as the Crab Restaurant. The atmosphere there is bustling with activities! I was also delighted to see a Tsutaya Starbucks, where you can buy a drink there and browse through any of the books available at the cafe. I also got a limited edition Daikanyama Starbucks tumbler for myself =D

Glico Man

The first food recommendation I’m going to make is Pablo Cheese Tart. Do not be fooled by the name, it’s not just a small tart, but more like the size of a pie.

Pablo Queue

Pablo Making

Pablo Cheese Tart

There’s always a queue for it so be prepared to wait. I ordered “Rare” instead of “Medium”, which is supposed to have more flowey cheese as the filling. Because the portion is huge, please do share it with your friends or it will be quite gelat after a while.

Nanba River

This was the river that cuts across the busy shopping district, and was also our place of respite to rest our tired legs/eat snacks/take pictures.

Osaka Castle

Day 2 was Osaka Castle! A huge park and a castle in the middle of a city never fails to amaze me.

http://www.osakacastle.net/english/park/index.html

Dandelion

It’s a great place to take pictures and if you can, snap a picture of the gigantic crows that populate the park. The crows there are the size of full-grown ducks and fly around squawking at visitors.

Cute Dog

We also saw plenty of cute dogs doing their bow wow patrol. I don’t know why but pets in Japan are much more well-groomed than the ones in Singapore. Maybe because of the less humid weather…

Rinku Premium Outlets

Rinku Premium Outlets was quite a disappointment. It was very near the Kansai International Airport so the transportation costs were high, and the prices for the brands there weren’t cheap. I did managed to bag a set of Ashworth polo shirt and pants for about $80, which was the only thing we got there.

http://www.premiumoutlets.co.jp/en/rinku/

The store list can be found above in case you’re still interested in going there on the way from/to the airport.

Don Quijote Osaka

Another sight to behold is this quirky elliptical ferris wheel that belongs to Don Quijote. Don Quijote is like a chapalang store that sells everything at discounted prices. It’s best for buying snacks and other body care products etc, you’re almost guaranteed to buy something each time you walk in.

Ichiran Ramen

A few stalls down from Don Quijote will be Ichiran Ramen. As Singaporeans, I’m sure all of you have heard about this legendary Ramen place. I’m pretty sure about that because both times we’ve stepped into Ichiran (Nanba and Shinjuku), we met heard Singaporeans happily chatting & slurping away. I don’t think it’s the best Ramen, but Michelle loves it and surprisingly manages to finish the whole bowl herself, the only time I don’t have automatic kaedama (extra serving of noodles) from her. We both loved their Sake though!

Osaka Gyoza

You can’t say you visited Osaka if you’ve never tried Okonomiyaki and Gyoza! We actually had Yakisoba & Gyoza at Osaka Osho, just opposite Forever 21 at Dotonburi and they were delicious!

However, we weren’t so lucky with our Okonomiyaki though, the place we bought from, Creo-Ru, was a tourist trap and we couldn’t finish it because it was mediocre at best.

Entrance Sign

We found time to go to a cat cafe as well. Neko no Jikan is a short walk away from the shopping district, and they have beautiful cats there!

http://www.nekonojikan.com/

You must visit this place if you’re a cat lover. Firstly, they are nothing like your stray cats you find around your HDB. They are big-sized cats with long, groomed fur and they love you as long as you have food.

Beautiful Cat 1

Grumpy Cat 2

Fat Garfield 3

Suddenly, Cats

This place is located on the 2nd floor, so do look up to try and spot the cat cafe. You will also hear mewing sounds that’s played on repeat amidst an inconspicuous small road junction. Not easy to find, but definitely worth your time.

On our last night in Osaka we had Ippudo Ramen and gyoza!

Ippudo Ramen

I like the soup at Ippudo more than Ichiran’s and I’m getting hungry just looking at my pictures.

That concludes the Osaka Leg of my Japan trip.

Will blog about Kyoto and Tokyo soon!

Japan Trip: Kyoto Leg 15th – 18th May 2013

Japan Trip: Tokyo Leg 19th – 25th May 2013

Do check out my other post on Osaka in 2015!

Japan Trip: Osaka & Tateyama Leg 24th April – 3rd May 2015

*If you are going to Japan and are a fan of Starbucks, please comment below. I need some help buying/collecting Japan’s Starbucks Cards. Thanks!