Thursday, 31 December 2009

Travelling Around in Japan

Some people wonder how we can cover so many places in one trip and whether we BACKPACK... ah yo, we're too old for backpacking la... think we cannot take it LOL

so it's comfort vs budget... chris always chooses comfort if he can afford it and his most important criteria for accomodation is FREE INTERNET LOL for me, i like to try different experiences, especially those with local flavour such as ryokans where the buildings are very traditional, you sleep on tatami, have nice dinners and breakfast, soak in natural hot springs and if got nice view lagi better =DD but usually, these ryokans are in not so accessible places and are very expensive so i try to limit it to one or at most two per trip. the rest of the time, business hotels near train stations are most convenient and comfortable although not really budget...

we usually base ourselves in one or two cities depending on the places of interest we want to visit and branch out from there. for example, this time round we based in nagoya and spent one night in futaminoura to explore ise shrine, meoto-iwa and mikomoto pearl island. then we came back to nagoya, spent one night there and got ready for takayama and shirakawa-go. it makes sense because to get from one leg of the trip to the other, we had to pass by nagoya anyway.

some people may think it's a bit waste time and money but while in nagoya, we checked out noritake garden, osu kannon temple and tried all their specialty foods. also, we always leave our big luggages and just carry one overnighter with change of underwear (in cold weather you don't need to change clothes everyday one... anyway go to ryokan will change into yukata le so just wear the same thing there and same thing back) but for takayama and shirakawa-go we brought a change of top too and two changes of underwear. plus it's not so siong... especially if you're bringing kiddos. imagine lugging your big luggage everywhere you go... very siong neh. we only lugged from kansai airport to kyoto, kyoto to nagoya and nagoya to chubu airport. the rest of the time, we just carried one small overnighter and tripod (chris carried his backpack with laptop and i carried my own handbag la).

and when you reach the destination, if you want to explore first then check in, you can leave your baggage in lockers which cost about JPY300-500 depending on size. very safe one la... even the Japanese do this.

if you want free and easy, you'll have to plan lor. got to plan where to leave the big luggages and avoid lugging it around as much as possible. plan the route, plan the itinerary. in our family, chris chute money i chute energy. he is v shiok one. no need to pack, no need to plan, no need to unpack, just go and see nice view, stay at nice places, eat nice food cos i did all the research LOL but i got co-pay a bit la... chris say my employer send me overseas also need to co-pay ma LOL also, chris does most of the navi while i do the conversations (with my broken Japanese and if they speak slowly LOL) so we work well together.

of cos will spend more time and money than tour groups (cos they keep your big luggage in the coach cabin everywhere you go) but for the freedom and a chance to experience local culture (go with tour group won't have chance to cheong trains one la), got to give and take lor.

but if you're bringing old people, unless they are able to carry their own luggage or you can pack their things in yours, it may be a little difficult because in some train stations, there are no elevators or escalators so you have to lug your luggage up and down stairs... and they may "complain" cos from one city to another, they have to lug the luggage lor as opposed to hopping on the tour bus and sit...

yeah, like that lor. feel free to ask me anything... i'd be glad to help if i know.

Nagoya Specialties

The specialties in Nagoya include Hitsumabushi which I blogged about here,

kishimen. it looks like our ban mian but lighter in colour. kinda like udon but flat. soup stock is similar to shoyu soup for ramen. taste ok only.


tenmusu. onigiri with tempura inside. sounds interesting but tastes ok only


miso katsu and cochin chicken which i blogged about here.

miso udon. we found the udon in nagoya tougher than usual... like cooked less than al dente >.< chris found the gravy very appetising and ordered a bowl of rice to mix and eat but i found it a tad too salty. not bad la...


oh, it's very cute though... they gave everyone a bib cos when you eat this, it may splash hehehe...


and you're supposed to use the pot cover as a bowl to eat it. reminds me of the korean "boys over flowers" show where Jun Biao ate instant noodles with the pot cover! ^^

my verdict is if you have time to only try ONE dish, go for the Hitsumabushi... it's delightful. the rest, nothing special, other than the miso katsu which is also very nice.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Japan Star Buy!


My best buy in Japan has to be the pair of made in Japan lambskin exterior, fur-lined interior, Gortex-soled boots. My normal boots are good for autumn only. They won't keep my feet protected from the cold in Shirakawa-go and Takayama. I knew i needed better boots so i waited til i came here to buy rather than buy them in singapore cos there's so much more variety here.

These kept me warm and dry from the snow plus they look pretty (cos got a bow with fur pom poms ^^) but are very very comfortable (i chose flats, no heels, cos got to walk on snow ma). Although they're better at anti-slip then regular boots (chris was like skidding around in his office shoes LOL), when it's really slippery, you'd still have to hold on... no spikes ma)

I showed them off to chris…
Me: hey dear, check out my GORTEX boots *hao lian look*
Chris: ha? Gortex? Say so ma, I also have… -.-
Me: ha? You have such high class material shoes????
Chris: ya, gahmen give me free one every year! =D
Me: -_________-||| but your gortex boots don’t have fur interior…
Chris: I go and stick on some fur for you la =D my gortex boots are really anti-slip you know!
Me: -.-
Chris: dear, you're weird you know... you like to wear gortex and beret in japan... >.<
Me: -.-

while walking around in biwako, kyoto...

me: i'm so glad i bought this pair of boots!! =D they're soooo comfortable!
chris: -.-

while exploring noritake garden in nagoya...

me: i'm so glad i bought this pair of boots!! =D they're soooo pretty!
chris: -.-

while walking to ise shrine...

me: i'm so glad i bought this pair of boots!! =D they're soooo comfortable! if it's my regular boots, they'd have killed me walking on these pebbles!
chris: -.-

while putting on shoes after visiting takayama government house...

me: i'm so glad i bought this pair of boots!! =D so easy to take off and put on! just zhioop out and zhioop in!
chris: -.-
me: dear dear dear, you have to sit down and wear your shoes ah... ah yo, so ma fan!
chris: -.-

while in shirakawa-go

me: i'm so glad i bought this pair of boots!! =D they keep me warm and dry!!
chris: -.- dear... i know... you REALLY like your boots... -.-
me: how you know?
chris: cos you've been saying "i'm glad i bought these boots!!!!" everywhere we go!
me: oh? hahaha =D

Shopping in Japan

Singaporeans who go to Japan always hit burberry blue label and fancl... yes, they're cheap but there are other shopping experiences i fancy too =)

Besides Kyoto's kiyomizuzaka where they sell the famed (and very very expensive) kiyomizu pottery, my favorite shopping street is in doguyasuji, Osaka. the things here are much more affordable... mainly household brand prices although they do have high end suff... there's a range. I can spend one whole day there. i get as much kick from a teacup as from a pair of ferragamos... hahaha...

At the entrance of the street is this banner.


The shops here sell everything you can find in a Japanese restaurant. There are shops selling pottery ware, knives (very very cool… I was tempted to buy one but my Henkel’s is fine so I didn’t want to waste money), lacquerware, pots, pans whateva la. Whatever you can find in a Japanese restaurant, you can definitely find here. It’s a chef’s heaven =D

I usually frequent this shop near the beginning of the street. Here’s a glimpse of what’s in the shop...






the uncle is very nice one. he understands a little english cos got ang mos go there and buy too... i told him i'm taking airplane back so he wrapped everything properly for me. i checked them in under fragile (cos i had to hand-carry my precious noritake fine bone china...) and they came out unscathed ^^

K, I bought:
6 chawanmushi bowls (i had wanted pink but they were sold out left only one =( so i got the other colour green... very reasonably priced JPY430 which is about SGD$7 each. it's the cheapest. the rest all cost more than $10 each...)


12 soup spoons with spoon rests


2 oyakodon pans (I bought one for priscilla!! =D lately she's been learning how to cook and she liked the cooking with dog oyakodon)


and from top right clockwise:

1 sieve ladle (good for scooping out froth from meat when cooking soups)
2 lemon juice extractors (nice... torisho taka uses these)
10 crab digging instruments
2 crab scissors
10 chawanmushi spoons (bopian... i bought 6 bowls, the spoons come in 5s LOL can be used for other purposes too la)
1 pizza cutter (i just thought the wooden handle looks way too cool compared to the plastic ones...)
1 okonomiyaki "spade" (neh, the thing u use to cut it up and serve)


well, i try to buy stuff i can't find in takashimaya or meidiya of course, otherwise lug back meh? but some of the stuff... maybe you can find in singapore but i saw it and it's good quality so just get la. anyway, there's so much more variety here.

now you know why i packed chris' luggage bag half full and why my house has so many of these "contraptions" LOL

Access:
Take subway to Namba and it’s near Bic Camera. If not sure, ask tourist info.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Fancl: CHEAP CHEAP!! =DD


For those who use fancl, you'll know that it's cheap cheap in Japan. The collagen powder for example is like half price. In Singapore, 3 packets (of 10 satchets each i.e. 30 satchets) is SDG$108.50 but in Japan, 9 packets (of 10 satchets each i.e. 90 satchets) is JPY8500 (approx. SDG$140).

So i bought 27 packets of collagen powder cos chris' colleague ordered 20 packets (i.e. 200 satchets) for his wife (It would have cost SGD$730 in Singapore but now it's only SDG$300+). Kor ordered 3 packets, i'll eat the rest (4 packets). his another colleague ordered one bottle of sunblock, priscilla ordered 3 bottles of mild cleansing oil and the rest are mine.

now need to pack them in LOL chris looked at the packets and
-_________-|||

Japan 2009: Day 9 (UNESCO World Heritage Site: Himeji Castle 姫路城)


Inspired by CY's Kumamoto Castle 熊本城 photos, we decided to re-visit Himeji Castle 姫路城 (we were there 5 years ago), the most beautiful castle in Japan, also one of the top three castles (Kumamoto Castle 熊本城 being the second and the third is Matsumoto Castle 松本城 in Nagano). It's actually nearer from Kyoto or Osaka (Kansai) but since we didn't have anything planned and the JR Pass is still valid, why not? We were too tired to hike for 3 hours in Kiso Valley (where we originally planned to do a day trip) la...

Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was home to the granddaughter of Ieyasu Tokugawa who married into the Toyotomi family at age 7 (wa biang, i was like in pembry 2...). The entire castle is in it's original state because it has never been involved in war and is a very good repesentation of castles in Japan.


Flowers outside Himeji Castle.


Each emblem represented a family who contributed to the building of this castle.


shopping street near castle





Access: Take Shinkansen to Himeji and walk 15 mins. When the train is approaching the station, you'll be able to see the castle from afar.

Japan 2009: Day 8 (Gero onsen 下呂温泉)



On the way back to Nagoya from Takayama, we stopped by Gero onsen 下呂温泉 for a soak in a public hot spring bath. Gero onsen is one of the TOP THREE FAMOUS hot springs in Japan wor! Woot! The other two are Arima and Kusatsu. We have been to Arima. Woot! 2 down, 1 to go!! oooh! ah.. ah eh bah! ooh! ah... ah eh bah!

There were only two other obasans so after they left, i whipped out my camera and fired away until someone else came. this time my camera didn't fog up cos we went to an outdoor hot spring.

If you don't have a chance to stay at a ryokan with a hot spring, here's a cheaper alternative =) a day use hot spring. The one we went to is an 8 min walk from Gero station. Here's how it works.

You buy an entrance ticket at the vending machine. If you can read Chinese, this shouldn't b difficult. However, if you need towels, you'll need to be ale to read katakana. anyway, small towels are the right most button. For bath towels, click the second right most. We bought two entrance tickets and two small towels (we kept them as souvenirs... hehehe... eh, Japan's top 2 hot spring neh... don't play play). When we went to the Shirakawa-go hot spring, we brought along our towels from the room =)



In the bathroom are lockers where you can lock your belongings for JPY100.


If it's just clothes, i don't bother... no one steals clothes one la... you can put in one of these baskets. of course i locked my camera LOL


Here's the certification that it's a Japan hot spring...


Please shower yourselves clean clean before soaking in the hot spring bath. the Japanese have this fetish about looking at themselves in the mirror when showering one... hahaha... and oh, please don't stand up hor... your dirty water will splash onto other people. please sit down... no towels IN the hot spring ok? towels wrapping hair or on the head are fine.




here's the basins. this public bath is very ngiao one. usually at public baths, they'd provide hair brush, toner, lotion etc. this public bath has nothing, not eve tissue paper and got to pay for hairdryer some more JPY100 for 5 mins.


Of course, before leaving, i bought a packet of hot spring powder =DD

Access: Take Hida Wide View from Nagoya, Takayama or Toyama to Gero station and ask the information counter for locations of public baths.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

KAWAII!!!


i bought a pair of My Melody shoes for my ichiban kawaii nieces with matching socks ^^ i hope they can wear... these are original sanrio made in Japan one k... not those imitation ones from pasar malam LOL the My Melody and flowers are stitched on one, not colour on one... and i also got one hair clip each (strawberry for kirstyn, ladybird for gwyneth so that people can tell them apart)

haiz... the clothes here are very cute but wrong season la. the material is so thick i think they'd sweat like siao if they wear them in Singapore -.- so i got them a T-shirt each. hope the red doesn't lak seck hehehe... shouldn't be la... Japanese stuff...

Japan 2009: Day 7 (UNESCO World Heritage Site - Shirakawa-go 白川郷)


50 minutes by Nohi bus (not covered by JR Pass) from Takayama is the UNESCO World Heritage site Shirakawa-go. I was very excited about coming to this place, staying at a gassho zukkuri (farmhouse)


and soaking in the hot spring in shirakawa-go =D

Here’s the route to Shirakawa-go.



To get to the village from the bus terminal, everyone had to cross this suspension bridge. It’s quite amazing… there’s NOTHING supporting it from beneath. It’s just suspended at two ends and when you walk with many people, you can feel the bridge vibrating hehehe…




After depositing our baggage at a gassho zukkuri (farmhouse) Kanja, we walked around and built our first snowman







below are the three gassho houses always featured in posters and postcards. To take this shot, i was standing on a rice field covered in snow. For the zoomed in shot, if you look closely at the bottom left, there's actually a rainbow ^^



had lunch at a small eatery. I had Hida soba which I realised is vegetarian =P


I met a group of ah pehs who reminded me of Mr Tee… armed with their top end nikons and canons with tuah tuah liap L lens and monopods, they were having a whale of a time firing away at this persimmon tree LOL


we kena saboed by them though… they told us that to get to the top of Shiroyama viewpoint, we would need a car so we decided to hike up to Shiroyama Viewpoint to catch a bird’s eye view of the place. It wasn’t that bad but I kept asking chris…

Me: dear, are we reaching??
Chris: not yet…
Me: I think we’re reaching!!
Chris: we’re not even half way there, dear.
Me: >_____<|||

When we finally reached, Chris said his lunch was gone liao LOL the sun was in the wrong direction la so I was rather -.- but then again, we’re only there once so shoot shoot lor. there was actually a bus up and down the viewpoint!!! We took the bus down -_____-|||



The snow was like 1m high…


Before dinner, we dropped by at Shirakawa-go no yu 白川郷の湯 for a soak in the public hot spring bath =D

Actually, Shirakawa-go can be covered in a day trip from Takayama unless you want to stay at a gassho zukkuri. If you do a day trip, you won’t be able to see the night view of the place lor. But light-up is only in January anyway. I went around at about 4:45 when the sun was going to set and saw a couple of crazy photographers like me out with tripods and cameras LOL There was an ah peh who was helpful in pointing out interesting things to shoot and happily showed me his pictures =)

Here are some of my night shots…



A machine shovelling snow and spitting it out into a heap. It was freaking cold out there…


Here’s our dinner… again nothing fancy, just homecooked fare: tempura vegetables (eggplant, pumpkin, sweet potato, shiso leaf, mushroom), fried fish, grilled beef, pickles, tofu, miso soup, rice and mikan, Japanese tangerine.



they still use firewood one neh...

oh, we met two Singaporean geen nahs at the gassho zukkuri we stayed at... ah yo, they backpack one er... >.< young really different la. got the energy... we travel more like the old fogeys in Japan... with our tiny overnighter trolley bag hahaha oh but the trolley bag is not such a good idea in snowy places because you can't drag it at some parts! hahaha we realised =P

and the geen nahs couldn't understand a word of Japanese but could still get around so to those who are wondering... it's possible one. but of course, if you can speak or at least READ Japanese, it's an added bonus.


Access to Shirakawa-go:
Take Nohi bus from Takayama bus terminal (JPY4800 for round trip)

Price at gassho zukkuri Kanja:
JPY19320 per night (about SGD$300) inclusive of dinner and breakfast which is very expensive considering the fact that it's got no TV, no internet, no ensuite rooms, toilets are freezing cold (although got heated seat). The water in he toilet is not heated so it's like iced water. I didn't wash my face. I just used cleansing milk and tissued off. heng i brought my evian spray so i sprayed to remove cleansing milk then wiped off with tissue and toner twice. Our hotel in Nagoya with everything only cost about JPY17000 neh... but staying here is for the novelty lor. Try Koemon (nearest to suspension bridge so most convenient) or Yokichi (Yokichi has English speaking staff and is near Shirakawa-go no yu so it's very popular for non-Japanese speaking tourists) but book early cos when we booked, these were already full. However, I was told that reviews about the service at Koemen were not good. I don't know. Basically, it's an experience. Tried once, probably won't try again cos for the price, we can get much better hotel amenities in the cities LOL