Thursday, June 21, 2018

One Day in Nara

Well, I'm now back in Melbourne and reminiscing my time in Japan.
It was as exciting as ever but at the same time it was tiring. It was largely to blame on my cheap and nasty pair of walking shoes with no proper arc support, which were already giving me enough trouble; and the day's destination was Mt. Shigi in Nara.

It took a few transfers to get to the foot of the mountain. The Hanshin line train my husband I took took us to Kintetsu Ue-Honmachi station, where we transferred to a connecting train to Shigi sanguchi station ("The Foot of Mt Shigi" station) where we took a cable way to Takayasu Yama Station, which means Mt. Takayasu station.
Takayasu mountain is another mountain in Ikoma Mountain Range, but I don't know, for some reason I was intrigued by Mt. Shigi more.
We took a bus from the cable way station and the amazing view was already in front of us.

Out of a pure serendipity, we found a hotel that had a hot spring. We were so pleased because we had wanted to go to a hot spring but all those I could find were too far away from where I was staying.

We didn't have any bath towel with us, but I had a small towel and my husband bought one at the reception. They had a Roten Buro (Open-air bath) in Women's bath as well as Men's. Enjoying the hot spring while watching a magnificent mountain view was truly indulging, but one thing to note; people with tattoos are not allowed in the (public) bath.

About half an hour later we headed to the peak of the mountain, which the google map said would take 17 minutes walk.
No way, it took more like 30 minutes. Maybe it was because the weather was rather hot, or maybe it was after having a bath, or it could be because we detoured a lot by dropping by the temple half way up the mountain that made the distance feel a lot farther. Either way, we continued to walk up the seemingly endless steps to the top of the mountain.

We were puffing heavily, as I was dragging my body up somehow, my husband would ask me every few minutes "how much longer to the top?" - Well, that's my question, my dear.
Then shortly after, a monk in Yamabushi-like outfit spotted us and greeted us with a bow. He spoke English and told us that it would be just 5 more minutes walk away and gave us a god's blessing with a horn as he took off.
Amazingly all the people we met on the way up there were middle-aged to old people, who are used to walking up and down the mountain daily.

The peak we finally reached was nothing fancy, but very special. The sense of achievement was of course part of it, but overlooking the breathtaking mountain range and the nearby temples with nobody else around but us, sitting at a bench and eating sandwiches, is also something that we will never forget.

After coming back to our accomodation, I could barely move. I was so exhausted, my legs felt like tree trunks, and we had to give up on the plan to go to Kyoto the next day.

We spent a few more days in Osaka, but for now I finish my journal entry for the day and wish you good night.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Quite an experience for one day.

Today we decided to walk to a market near Nanba, which on the Google Map said is about 35 minutes walk away from where we are staying.

Out accomodation is actually located in the midst of red light district, with many old buildings with young chinese and japanese girls waving at us. From the look of the neighbourhood, seems to suggest that the area has been full of aibiki yados (something like love hotel of old days) for a long, long time.
Less than 5 minutes walk from the district is a local shopping arcade which already have everything essential and more, and we were thinking, like,
"Hey, this is THE REAL Osaka" isn't it?" , yet it was only a small part of it.
After going across a river, of which I don't know the name and walked pass a local school, a few parks and supermarkets, we were there.
It turned out that what we thought was a market, was just an average sized supermarket. Our consolation was that it was close to Nanba, about 1.2K away.
From there on, it was a real tourist experience.
It felt like we were in Shibuya again, just that people in Osaka are heaps more friendly and helpful. We enjoyed the street performances outside Takashimaya department store and then explored shopping arcades right, left and centre, and headed to Dotonbori, which is the real centre of Osaka tourism. I will put up photos I took on the way to and from once we are back in Melbourne.
We nearly got lost few times today but GPS helped me a lot. With the portable wifi provided, made my day a lot easier. Still, we managed to walk at least 8km, about 3 hours. After days and days of eating out, this long walk was a good workout. I bought enough fruits and vegies (plus eggs and bacon) to last for the rest of our time in Osaka, to maintain our healthy lifestyle at least while we are here.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Good Bye Shibuya, Hello Kobe!

Just as we were leaving Shibuya, finally sun came out. We didn't do much while we were in Shibuya, but yesterday we did something special. I took my husband to the place I spent 4 years in my 20s. It was right after my devorce from the last husband. I kick started the new life there, I often went to the local park called "Himonya park". I remember I threw my wedding ring into the lake. It was an expensive ring so perhaps I should've kept it, but I never really regretted doing it, for it gave me the courage to move on, and lifted the emotional hungup that was weighing me down.
After that I truly started enjoying my new single state. Meeting new people, going to many fabulous restautants, both traditional and multi-national. 
The place is called "Gakugei Daigaku", which is like 5 stops from Shibuya via To-Yoko Line local train. It's only like 10 minutes from Shibuya and yet, people are more down to earth, and "Himonya Park" was just as tranquil as always.
I also went to the cafe right outside the station called "An-gui-yu", which I think is a French word, but don't count me on it.
Anyway, 23 years ago I used to go there almost everyday. the owner made an amazing cup of coffee. Everything was special, the music he chose to play, the kind of customers they had, the desserts and the vibe and of course the coffee were all so special. He was a quiet man who didn't communicate with people but his coffee was a piece of art. The price is rather high, but everything there tastes like WOW, I don't mind paying extra for that. Only sad thing I found this time was the owner is now an old man and looks very old to the extent I couldn't recognise him. That means I am getting old. Time has past.
I am not sure how many more times I get to see him, but would certainly try to go there every time I come to Japan.

So now, it's our second day in Kobe. Before coming here all I knew about this place was about the earthquake that killed around 5000 people and injured 40000 people.
But geez, this place has completely revived. I wish I could stay a lot longer. People here are so much more easy-going and genuinely helpful. And the food - everything I've eaten here is nothing like I had before. Kanto (the central state of Japan) has its great food culture of its own, and the China town in Yokohama offers mouth watering noodles and all but, Kobe offers the BEST sweets especially those made from local milk, literally melt in your mouth.
This place also has its top-grade beef called Kobe-Gyu, which is more lean and full of taste, we loved it. Chinese noodles I ate in China Town was different in taste from Kanto style, less salty maybe?, I could definitely taste Kansai style in the way it was seasoned.
Another special experience we had was dining at Mosrite Cafe in Kobe Harbourland. We accidentally found the place while walking down the main street leading to the Port Kobe. The food was superb, just as you would expect from any restaurants in Kobe. The place was full of Mosrite guitars and my husband got so excited. As it turned out that the old man who was running the restaurant was the guy who owns the guitar manufacturer Mosrite, which is originally a US company, but Mosrite was no longer manufactured in the US. After the factory was closed down in the States, the old man bought all the licence from Mosrite, and now the factory in Kyoto is the only one that manufactures Mosrite guitars!!!
My husband felt so previledged to meet the owner and we spent hours listening to their houseband playing 60's Ventures' style music. I know it's not the type of music that attracts many audiences but their musicianship was great, their timing was spot-on, the band was so tight and together.
The band members all spoke a little English and my husband had a great time talking to them - sharing the passion for music in particular.
I still have so many places I want to check out but unfortunately our time in Kobe is running out. We are taking a train to Osaka tomorrow but at least we don't need to worry about the departure time, thank god.
You know I'm gonna stay in Kobe as long as I can and have lunch before heading off to Osaka tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Another Rainy Day in Tokyo

So looks like the weather forecast is right. It's already 3 days into our stay in Japan and the weather hasn't been very kind to us.
There are still fun activities you can distract you from the rather depressing weather.
Shibuya certainly has heaps of department stores, electrical shops and huge convenience stores (Jap version of triple seven or coles express) and more, and more.
Just take a look at the photos of one of the conbini (completely different scale from triple seven you are used to).
Oops, looks like I have a problem here uploading photos, so I will do so later on. Let's just say that there are a great sellection of magazines, comic books, drinks,  including alcohols, snacks, fruits and vegies and all essential amenities.
They even have window seats where you can sit down with your tablets and a cup of coffee and use free-wifi service that all convenience stores supply in Japan these days.
I was in Sangenjaya yesterday evening (one of the downtowns in Tokyo) which I heard is a nice area to check out, but the daylight was fading and the wet weather let us down. Main problem was I could hardly use Internet anywhere. First, my mobile was  on global roaming setting, so it would cost a lot if I use data or make calls carelessly. Most free-wifi don't allow you to access websites that share ads and personal infomation of any sort. In the end I gave up going to the "fasionable" side of Sangenjaya and headed back to Shibuya.
It would've been a lot easier if I had planned it ahead of our trip,,,but I thought I could get by by asking locals for direction.
Unfortunately those people you find in Tokyo are not necessarily locals, indeed, majority are commuting from other neighbouring surburbs and cities such as Yokohama.
So my advice is. Don't try to save budget when it comes to Internet and phone services. Bite a bullet and get a prepaid or travel sim. You definitely need it.
I am going to put up some photos later.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A hectic day.

The plane arrived in Narita at 9am Japan time, and the good thing is that the airport was still quiet that all the entry procedures didn't take any more than 20 minutes.
We, me and my husband had so much time left before check-in time so that we decided to go to my home town Kamiooka.
There are many places where we can connect to free-wifi and while my husband was using Internet at Starbucks I dropped into my family home and had an afternoon tea with my mum.
She is already 80 and while she is definitely starting to show her age, she is amazingly sharp and fit.
It's always such a big relief to a daughter living overseas to know that her aging parent (Dad's passed away like 10 years ago.) is doing really well.
I wish I could stay there a bit longer but I was keeping my hubby waiting for hours so I went back to Kamiooka station and did some shopping.
The train ride to Shibuya where we spend the next 5 days were smooth as usual, but there were so many people that we found it hard to walk through. The way to our accomodation for the night was draining after a long full-on day like today. Shibuya is pretty central so if someone says "it's close to the station" could mean 20 minutes walk from the station. Or it was actually close but seems a lot longer because it was pissing outside, and oh, we had to look for our umbrellas that were packed "somewhere" definitely, but couldn't rememberwhere we placed them so we were frantically digging everything out of the suitcases and backpacks like a pair of lunatics.
The weather forecast says that it's going to be rainy for the next 4 days. Well, I don't mind it. The accomodation is located in a sidestreet just off Dogenzaka with many great restaurants and casual nomiya (pubs) packed with businessmen and the locals.
We had a nice meal at a cozy restaurant with this very intimate vibe. We were the only customers there but the food was great.
It was a hard day but it all ended well, and we are looking forward to whatever we come across with tomorrow.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

...

I just had a cup of cafe latte near our boarding gate. God, you really shouldn't have any drink including coffee at the airport.
The cafe charged me $4.90 for an absolute shit that I only managed to take one small sip. The bar next to it had the old menus on their menu cards that don't exist anymore and they didn't even apologize.
Talking of customer service, I can expect a really good one I guess.

To Japan

Here I am at Tullamarine airport waiting for our flight to Japan.
Since it is a midnight flight the departure lounge was fairly quiet and even after two stage bag check - one for explosives and body check and then normal bag check, we still have over an hour left before boarding time.
At least nowadays we get free wifi at every airport to kill time, which is exactly what I'm doing now.
Over the next 3 weeks and a few days I'll be in several different places I haven't been before. When you live in the country of your origin, you just don't travel around different places that much, because you're thinking that you can go there any time you want and if you want, and you don't appreciate your country as much as you do when you live outside your country.
I'm sure I'll find something new and interesting everywhere I go with my husband.
It's going to be too precious experience to forget, photos only won't be enough to describe what I am going to see. So I'm thinking about posting a travel journal as often as I can while I'm there.