Arashiyama

Hi all!

I took a day trip out from Kyoto to Arashiyama, arriving at the JR station even before the JR ticket person started their shift. So there was a group of us tourists with JR tickets “pushing” our way through the ticket barriers. Anyway, I headed straight for the bamboo forest before the crowd started coming in because I’ve seen and heard how bad it can be.

The perks of arriving early, you get the area mostly to yourself, so you can get crowd free shots like those below. But the forest itself is actually quite underwhelming for all the hype that surrounds it, because it is really small – like a short path littered with bamboos growing alongside. As I came to the end of the forest, there was a group of people with heavy duty tripods and camera just waiting for me to make my way out so a instagrammer/blogger/youtuber(?) can get her insta-worthy shot. Kind of awkward/weird with everyone just standing around waiting for you to get out of the way (i.e. out of the forest).

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Arrived so early that I could see the sun rising above the fields in the neighbourhood.

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I just find the exterior of Japanese houses to be so beautiful and calming.

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Along the quiet streets of the Toriimoto preserved street. That was a mouthful.

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The moss garden but it was not yet opened.

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Another classic Japanese scene – the train tracks.

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Just loitering about waiting for the monkey park to open, I seriously arrived waaaay to early for this place thinking I would need to spend a good amount of time here. Had to google for nearby places to go after the park because I was not too keen in visiting any of the other temples in the area.

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Togetsukyo bridge – it was freezing, trying to cross the bridge in the morning with the strong winds blowing over the cold “dam” water. Crossed back over to the other side to get a cup of coffee from the ever famous shop “% arabica” as it opened for the day.

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There was already a queue forming when I arrived.

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I had a super embarrassing moment here. Because I ordered a cup of hot americano, we had to put the lid on ourselves. And my sleep deprived mind failed to process the curved edge of the glass table when I placed my cup down to cover it with the lid and it spilt all over the place. There was this frantic moment of me trying to clean the mess up and asking the staff for a cloth. The shop was only managed by the 2 guys below – 1 the barista, the other the cashier. They both stopped their work to help me clean it up and even ask if I needed access to a washroom to remove the coffee from my clothes/jacket.

Luckily I was in all black and the splatter was minor. Also, my jacket was waterproof so it was easy enough to get the stains wiped off. Honestly, all I wanted to do was get out of the shop. So embarrassing. But the staff was really nice about it, they didn’t even showed any annoyance and instead was concerned on my behalf. So I was really appreciative of this.

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Downed the remainder of my coffee after this shot and headed to the monkey park after. If there’s one place you have to visit in Arashiyama, I would highly recommend the monkey park (550 yen/adult). It’s fun and interesting – a really good break from all the temple visiting.

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The playground constructed for the monkeys. Although it seems they tend to gather and had around at the top in the early morning.

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The classic food grabbing mode (on standby) by these greedy little creatures. I also bought a packet of apples to feed them (50 yen) from the store inside this enclosure for humans.

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The boss seat.

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The horny monkey on the right that keeps trying to hump every other monkey it can get its hands on before finally succeeding. It was a great show of its perseverance, witnessed by many.

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A great view of the town from the park. I headed straight to Kobe (next post) after spending a good amount of time here so till then, bye!

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Kyoto I

Hi all!

After arriving super early and settling my luggage at my hotel in Kyoto (~7-ish), I set out to explore the city I was most excited about and have captured my heart (and my wallet). A good tip is to buy the 1 day bus pass (600 yen) and you’re all set for exploring the city. The subway pass (600 yen) is not necessary for getting to most of the attractions so don’t make the same mistake I did by buying it. But if you really do need the subway pass, buy the subway + bus pass combo. That will save you about 100 – 200 yen as compared to buying them separately (which I did because the tourist offices were not yet opened when I arrived in Kyoto – downside of arriving too early).

I started out with the furthest place from the city centre – Shimogamo shrine. It is one of the most important and oldest shrine in Kyoto, alongside the Kamigamo shrine. The shrine is free to explore and because it is a lot further out, you only get a handful of tourists at the site. Most of the patrons are devotees which made this visit a nice, zen start to my temple/shrine visit in Kyoto.

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I find this pretty interesting – the tying of a rope around a tree/rock etc. to keep spirits tied to them and prevent them from harming others.

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Totally in awe at how peaceful and pretty this place is.

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Next is the famous golden temple – Kinkakuji. At 400 yen/adult, it’s really quite an underwhelming place. Even when I arrived at 9 am (just as it open its doors), there was already a long queue in place. The crowd was huge and once inside, you basically move with the flow. Aside from the golden pavilion, there’s nothing else of interest in this area. So I quickly left for Ryoanji.

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Ryoanji, or the stone garden, (500 yen/adult) was surprisingly a superbly nice place to visit. Other than a stone garden that strangely made me feel quite calm as I sit on the wooden steps and zone out, there was also a beautiful garden behind the temple compound. The “zone out” was nice until I was almost “kicked” off the steps by another tourist.

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It is pretty unique that the cleansing basin is in the design of a coin.

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Look at the beautiful weeping sakura trees!

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Yudoufu – a vegetarian tofu restaurant located within Ryoanji. Because of the high quality of water in Kyoto, tofu (despite being a common dish) is one of the specialty items. I was a bit hesitant to eat here because of mixed reviews, plus, it is pretty pricey (3300 yen) for a tofu only set meal.

But I don’t regret it. I think of it as paying for an experience and a great view of the blooming sakura in the garden. For those who are more meat-based eaters, dislike tofu or considerably plain tasting meals, then this might not be a place you would enjoy. I was more focus on the texture of the tofu and its raw taste so this made me appreciate the meal a lot more. Also, I generally consume a lot of tofu on a daily basis as my source of protein, so I am quite used to it.

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Just look at this, where else will you be able to dine with such a view!

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A simple delicacy of tofu in clear water that goes well with plain rice, served with a side of different pickles, tofu skin, tofu-version of a pudding and salad. It’s a simple meal but it is made with high quality ingredients that came together to make it a refreshing and cleansing lunch to the palette. I was also rather appreciative of the simplicity of this meal that made tofu the focus rather than all the flavours that come with the addition of various condiments. It was a good meal and a good lesson for the heart.

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After the meal, I made my way to Nijo castle (600 yen/adult). There was a long queue of about a 15 mins wait to get my ticket. But the weather that day started to warm up a bit so I was feeling quite warm in my sweater, jacket, heat-tech leggings and jeans. It made me wonder if I should go shopping for some summer clothes because I only brought stuff for cooler weather. Fortunately, I didn’t need to make any purchases because it started pouring rain over the next few days and the temperature dropped.

As with most castle, I went in to have a look around but it was not of much interest to me.

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After the castle visit, I groggily made my way to Nishiki market after dozing off in the bus I thought to be heading in the right direction before realising I was moving in the opposite direction after 20 mins. Silly and tired me. If I was leaving for home right after Kyoto, I would have bought some food items from here to bring back because they looked really good. However, I had another week in Japan so I could only feast with my eyes.

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Having heard good things about the elephant factory coffee from Simon and Martina’s vlog about Kyoto, I headed there for their coffee and cheesecake (1100 yen in total). It’s a really small and quiet place with a laid-back atmosphere.

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Coupling the bitter black coffee with a dense, slightly sweet cheesecake really hits the spot for a mid afternoon perk me up.

IMG_0908I left the cafe for boroniya – a bread shop that came highly praised from Simon and Martina’s vlog. As I made my way through a leisurely stroll across the city, I came across this river view that made me think of it as a classic Japanese scene. I loved it. Can I also highlight how clear the river water is – I’ve not seen such clear waters in the city other than in Japan.

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The bread here has this croissant style edge with a soft, fluffy interior. I got a slice of the butter flavoured one for breakfast the next day and an apple and cinnamon one for desert. Both were so wonderful that I came back on my last day in Kyoto to buy a loaf of earl grey flavoured bread for breakfast for the rest of my remaining days in Japan. It was love and sadness when I ate my last piece. The earl grey was my favourite of the lot but I am biased towards most tea-flavoured things when they are good (since good ones are hard to come by).

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A quick snap in the middle of the road when the light was red.

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Yasaka shrine

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I absolutely adore the vibes coming off all these olden architecture.

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Hokanji temple ( or the Yasaka pagoda) situated right in the middle of olden Kyoto. There’s a number of kimono rental shops lining the streets and you’ll see tourists hobbling around in the uncomfortable wooden clogs that pairs with a kimono.

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The packed streets of Higashiyama as I made my way to Kiyomizudera temple (400 yen/adult). Fortunately, I arrived at the temple just as the sun was starting to set so this shrouded the temple in a beautiful warm glow that made the visit so much more special.

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Some devotees praying in the temple.

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Cute little love stone. It is said if you can walk and touch the stone with your eyes close, you’ll be with your partner for a long time.

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I just can’t get over how rejuvenating and heart warming to witness the setting sun as the sakura sways and falls in the cool spring eye. It was truly a moment for strengthening the tired soul in me.

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Headed to the Gion district and spotted 2 geishas and a maiko rushing for their evening duties. I actually saw 2 geishas standing in an alleyway (which I was supposed to turn into but missed) just off the main street waiting for their taxi. So when I turned around to walk into the alley, I was shocked by how white their faces are from the powder. So I stood around, wanting to snap a picture but feeling it would be quite rude. But their taxi came quickly and they rushed off.

After turning into the alleyway, I was just wandering about the area hoping to spot more of them. Then I saw a maiko getting off a cab and rushing into a restaurant, guided by the restaurant employee. It was quite a memorable experience even though I don’t have any shots of it. So cool!

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Walked over to poncho to feel the vibe before heading back to the hotel for some random dinner nearby before resting for the day. Till the next post, bye!

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Universal Studios Japan

Hi all!

Universal Studios Japan or USJ (for short) was the main aim (for me) in Osaka. I did all my bookings online, including the cheapest fast pass I could get my hands on that covered the timed entrance ticket to Harry Potter world.

The local train journey was mildly terrifying. The crowds in & out the train was horrible in the morning. But I got there (finally) after getting off 1 stop early and had to wait for the next (and fortunately, more breathable) train.

The classic USJ landmarks. It’s a good tip to get your entrance ticket & express pass sorted online. The queue to enter was quite long (but moved fast). And there was still a large crowd waiting to buy their tickets in the line.

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It’s also pretty fun to see so many of the locals dressing to the theme.

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It was a while until my timed entry to Harry Potter. Since it was a slightly odd timing and I wouldn’t have any time to queue for other rides, I just wandered about the area.

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Finally in!

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Didn’t intend to get anything in USJ cause everything was really expensive. But I did pay for a cup of butter beer. Loved the creamy froth, not a fan of the soda. It was too sweet, meh.

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I actually wanted to have lunch at three broomsticks, but I ran out of time and had to rush on for my next timed express ride 😦 – more on this later on.

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So after the 4D ride in Hogwarts, where everything was in Japanese, I thought I had time for the flying Hippogriff. So I waited in line and half-way through, I was just too stoned and dropped my phone on the ground and the screen + led cracked. Die me, luckily the phone still worked. But either way I was quite annoyed with myself cause it meant spending more money to get it repaired. And I also had to leave the queue cause my next timed ride was up…this means no time for lunch at three broomsticks. Double sian.

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But had enough time to visit Ollivander’s so here’s a picture of the castle from the queue!

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A quick look at Ollivander and Zonko before rushing off.

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Flying dinosaur was the next timed ride I was talking about. Because you had to remove all loose things from your face (including glasses) so I was left quite blind. I couldn’t see the ground other than experiencing a lot of wind from all the spinning in the ride. This made it NOT scary and NOT very fun.

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I left Jurassic Park after the ride and basically roamed about the area and went for my other 2 express rides. Both were nothing to get excited about so I won’t talk about them.

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And because I’m cheap and lazy to queue for upwards of 2 hours for a ride, I left around 2-ish and headed back to Namba for lunch.

I headed straight for the sushi place which I missed out on the day before because I arrived just as they closed for lunch break. But when I arrived, the shop was closed for the day since their seafood was not on par in terms of its freshness. Like what?! Top notch service in Japan but disappointment for me. So I went to Ichiran at an odd timing (around 4 plus). There was no queue but the ramen was meh. Ippudo (and other random ramen shops I tasted later in my trip) was much better. The normal broth was too thin and somehow it tasted quite normal. I don’t get the hype about it.

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But till the next post (when I can get my Internet to run), bye!