~ Japan 2017- Kyoto pt.2 ~

Sunday, October 8, 2017
The second day in Kyoto mainly consisted of visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine. In theory you can walk there from the Gion area which is about a 50 minute walk. I considered it but because I was dressed up in a kimono (which hardly left any breathing space) we actually taxied instead. Taxi's were relatively cheap in Kyoto and we utilized them quite a bit. Just make sure you know where you're going or have the address in Japanese. 

The entrance into the shrine area. Try to get here early as there were lots of people by the time we got there which was the afternoon, around 1 pm.

The beginning of the walk through the mountain and tori gates. Each tori gate is actually donated and the company or persons name is written on the tori.

You can buy these wooden plaques shaped like a fox, write a wish on them and hang it up.

I only walked a small portion of it although I wish I could've walked the entire thing. It didn't seem to be a difficult walk but not a very short one either. The crowds lessen the deeper you went.

One of the main reasons I wanted to come back earlier was so I could have afternoon tea! While I was walking the Gion districts earlier I had seem a cute shop advertising their afternoon tea. I can't remember the name of the shop but the small cafe is actually behind the shop, through this small garden.

The theme seem to be matcha and I remember almost everything here was delicious! It was a great way to have a bite and rest. However because my kimono was so tight I could barely tell if I was getting full or not!

We tried to make it to Kiyomizu-dera but it closed just as we got there. However it wasn't a total lost as we passed by %Arabica and had the most delicious iced latte ever!

We got there at sunset so we stuck around for some photos and enjoyed the scenery around us. There were guards telling people to leave the temple as it had to close. At the moment the temple is also undergoing renovations and there is large scaffolding around the viewing platform.

At night we decided to head over to Pontocho for dinner and check out the area. The alley was is narrow and easily crowded even where there wasn't a lot of people there- it was just the nature of the street. There were lots of restaurants that had rooms opening right out over the river with a beautiful view. We looked around for one and decided to splurge for a kaiseki meal- a traditional multicourse Japanese meal.

The presentation of each dish was beautiful and the overall speed of the course wasn't too slow. I had read that sometimes these meals can take a long time. However the dishes were too bland and simple for me. One course was boiled tofu. Literally just boiled tofu with soy sauce, something that I don't know how to appreciate. I would be willing to try a kaiseki meal again in the future despite not having such a great one here.

After dinner wandered down the main street and saw a Basket Robins. I had seen how cute the Basket Robin presentations could be so went in to have some. I ordered one of their spring "eggs" and wasn't really expecting it to come in an egg! The sorbet I chose was muscat which was delicious! I LOVE muscat flavored things.

~ Japan 2017 - Kyoto pt. 1 ~

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
      The second portion of my Japan 2017 was spent in Kyoto. I stayed in the Higashiyama district and honestly did not leave it very much other than to visit other tourist spots. I loved this area. It's in the heart of historic Kyoto and right by the Gion district. There was plenty to keep us entertained here that we never left to go into the city of Kyoto. The area has lots of restaurants and small shops. To me it actually had a bit more of a local feel here although the area was filled with tourists.

      Since I didn't rent any pocket wifi I relied heavily on public wifi spots. I usually made a rough itinerary the day before, Googled mapped the locations, and took screen shot of those to rely on throughout the day. 

       I had my first Airbnb experience here and it was lovely. The apartment was clean, cozy, and the location was great. We had a bit of trouble getting the apartment key but the host answered quickly and we were inside the apartment within minutes of his reply. 

I woke up quite early everyday and usually had a coffee and bun from the convenience store before actually heading out for breakfast. I usually Googled up the best breakfast places in the area and narrowed them down from there.

I would highly recommend coming early to visit the shops before they fill up with people. The area is quite quiet in the morning and I really enjoyed the serenity. 

We went to Inoha Coffee for breakfast. The breakfast was well balanced and perfect for my eating habits. I like to eat a variety of things and I definitely got that here. Eggs, ham, salad, croissant, and fruit! I also had coffee and grapefruit juice as well.

You'll see dozens of souvenir and trinket stores lined along the streets. However you'll also see many specialty stores as well. Most are food related buy there was some cute hair pin stores and hand made textile creation shops.

For dinner we went to Izuju which is famous for it's Kyoto style sabazushi- saba sushi. I'm sure just by looking at it you can tell it's different from the regular Tokyo style sushi that we are most familiar with. The saba is strong and pungent but beautifully balanced with the sushi rice. I can't remember what the cubed mosaic sushi in the back was called but it was also good, our favorite was the sweet egg sushi. Make sure you peel the kelp off the saba sushi!

There was a short wait and we were handed menus so we could order beforehand. The sushi came as soon as we sat down. The saba sushi can also be ordered for take out. It wasn't the cheapest sushi meal but it was one that stood out throughout our entire trip. I think there are a few 1 and 2 Michelin star sushi restaurants in the area too!

Last but not least we coincidentally ran into a Studio Ghibli store! The Donguri stores are located throughout Japan and carry official Studio Ghibli merchandise. The store is located inside a small alley, right beside the Hello Kitty store. There's a small sign and shelf when the store is open so keep you eyes peeled. 

~ Japan 2017 - Osaka ~

Thursday, September 7, 2017
      I was only able to squeeze in 2 days in Osaka which was definitely not enough to explore the city. I liked the slower hustle and bustle of the city which in comparison with Tokyo, is snails pace. I used to love the rush of Tokyo when I was younger but now I enjoy life at a slower pace and Osaka gave me the big city vibe but at the perfect relaxed tempo.

      I stayed at Red Roof Plus+ Inn Namba and I loved it! The location was perfect, right by Dotonburi and by Shinsaibashi. From what I understand the hotel just underwent renovations and thus the rooms are clean and up to date. A complete set of toiletries were given and while I read some complaints about the "beady" pillows, they didn't bother me at all. The hotel is also within walking distance to large department stores such as Takashimaya, where I loved checking out the food basements!

It rained quite a bit when I was there so I appreciated how stores have the plastic bag machines for your umbrellas so the floor doesn't get wet and slippery, plus your umbrella won't get your pants wet when it accidentally hits you!

It was really interesting to see the difference in atmosphere between night and day at Dotonburi. While there are still quite a bit of people during the day, most stalls are closed besides restaurants, and the vibrant energy that you see at night seemed to be resting patiently for the sun to set.

Signage in Japan is the best! All the restaurants seem to be fighting for your attention with the biggest, brightest, most unique signs.

This bridge tying Dotonburi with Shinsaibashi is always crowded due to the great view of the canal and of course, the Glico man! You can take canal rides which I think would be a fun way to see Dotonburi.

One thing I miss terribly about Japan are the convenience stores. They had a plethora of drinks and snacks to choose from and I always had such a fun time picking one. Needless to say I drank a lot of beverages during my trip. I didn't try the Starbucks coffee but I was tempted to grab the s'mores one until I heard that it was really sweet.

The day we visited Osaka castle was overcast and all I wanted was for it to not rain! I don't recall it raining but it was really WINDY! My camera lens was dirty for the first half of the trip but I guess it added some nice effects to my photos.

This was the view from the line up to get the tickets. Tickets to many attractions are often done by machines, most have an English options so there's no need to worry about language barriers. You choose how many you want, insert the money, and out pops your tickets. So while the line may seem long it actually moves fairly quickly. It's similar to the food machines you will mostly likely run into on your trip. Sometimes you must enter your money first before any options show up.

Osaka castle was a great way to learn some history of Japan. I recommend for you start at the very top (viewpoint) and then make your way down to each floor. 

Dotonburi was really busy at night but there was still room to breathe. There's much less people walking by the water versus the main streets.

The entrance leading into Shinsaibashi. Most of these stores opened around 10 or 11 so don't come too early. They do close relatively late though and the street really does go on for a LONG time. I walked many many blocks. The further down you walk the less touristy it gets and you'll see more locals as well as local shops.

There's a 24hr Ichiran so we went here for lunch which is a better idea than queuing for dinner however if you can only make it for dinner do not fret as the line moves quite quickly. I got their "C" combo which, from memory, is their cheapest and most basic ramen. When I say basic I don't mean plain- it still came with a large helping of mushroom, green onions, seaweed, and pork. 

Ichiran only sells tonkotsu ramen and have basically 3 options to chose from. The only difference between them are how many toppings you want. When you enter the establishment you are asked to fill out a sheet consisting of questions regarding the way you like your ramen. Firm or soft noodles? Spicy or no spicy? Then you pay at a machine, receive a ticket which you give to your attendant when you sit down.

One of the biggest novelty about eating here is that you are seated in a solitary-like booth. You don't interact with your server and also don't even have to see anyone around you. Ichiran says this allows you to solely focus on your ramen. If you want the dividers can actually be folded away so you can see you companion if you want to. Each both has a small water station so you can have water at your leisure.

The cha sui here was divine!! It wasn't dry but juicy and flavourful. I really enjoyed the ramen and had it a second time in Tokyo. It can be quite spicy, I actually removed most of the spicy sauce.

      I think it was a good idea to start the trip in Osaka and end in Tokyo. It's a good way to get your bearings of how things work such as the metro system. If you're into collecting stamps then make sure you bring along a notebook as most major historical spots in Japan has a stamps. Most train stations do too but you'll have to hunt it down as some larger stations have many entrances and the stamp may be at only one entrance.If I come back to Osaka I definitely want to explore the bay area and Kobe as well!

~ Iphone Photos- Japan 2017 ~

Thursday, May 18, 2017
      Most of my Iphone photos from April were from Japan. I tried my best to make sure there isn't a lot of recap from my Japan posts and this one. My April was pretty good, work was easy and of course Japan was great! I find that I take less photos as I get older and it's probably due to the fact that I tend to enjoy things more "in person" versus having to record everything down with a photograph. However this means I don't get a visual reminder of my memories which I sometimes miss.

I've always loved stationary it's only lately that I've been on a buying binge. Japan is THE place for stationary and it took everything in me to not over shop. Do I have regrets? Of course but at least my bank account is still floating. My top three loves are stamps, washi tape, and stickers. I also really like ephemera and embellishments although those are a bit harder to find. 

While I was planning my few days in Kyoto I decided to give up renting a kimono since I thought I would waste too much time but when I arrived and saw everyone else wearing one...guess what I did. That's right I ended up making a reservation and renting a kimono.

It's better to do research beforehand and make an appointment online because they give good discounts online! Try to get there early as the early bird gets the best kimono selection. I chose the kind with the longer sleeve and boy was the kimono tight! I don't know if the girl thought I was smaller than I was or what but it definitely wasn't the most comfortable thing. I had afternoon tea in my kimono and couldn't tell whether I was full or not...
I also opted for a hair up-do because honestly it would've looked silly if I hadn't and just let my hair flow. The up do was an additional 1500 yen and the kimono rental was about 6500-7000 yen. It depends on the type of kimono you choose. You also get the slippers, socks, and a small handbag for the day. 

My muscat flavoured sorbet from Basket Robins! It was really good! I love all things muscat flavoured.

I had these hot and yummy steamed buns often for breakfast which are available at most convenience stores. My favourite was the meat one and the most interesting was a pizza/cheesy one and a curry one.

Another sandwich like bun from the convenience store. As you can see they only put mayo on the outer half other bun so it looks like there's mayo all over! I thought it was hilarious although I know some people might be taken back. The sauce on the meat was flavourful enough so I didn't care there wasn't a lot of mayo.

I loved the vending machines in Japan, especially since hey dispense HOT drinks! I had this hot Boss coffee a lot when I was there. It's available where I live too but having it hot from the machine was another experience. It was still quite chilly and cold in April.

I saw this gorgeous cookie inside the basement of a major department store. Make sure you hit up the food basements inside them such as Takashimaya or Isetan etc. It's huge and there are plenty of things to see and eat! It's also a great place to pick up souvenirs as everything is beautifully packaged.

One of two afternoon teas I had in Japan. The first one was impromptu and this one I managed to make reservations via email before arriving. This was at the Palace Hotel Tokyo and you can check their afternoon tea menu here

I can't remember the name of this restaurant but it was like Yoshinoya which is a place for cheap eats and are often open 24hrs. They use a ticket system where you order through a machine that dispenses your ticket. You then proceed to take a seat, hand the chef your ticket and they'll make your meal according to your selection. At this specific one we ate at, there was an English menu and it was a great place to have a cheap but filling breakfast.

I love Doraemon as I grew up with his movies so I was really excited and lucky that there was a pop-up Doraemon cafe at Tokyo Solamachi ,which is the shopping area right by the Tokyo Sky Tree. The food wasn't great so don't come with great expectations but their decor is adorable.

The cherry pie frappucino came out when I was there so of course I had to try it. It was actually pretty good! I had 2 of them although it was tricky to eat the pie crust.

We ran into our first Donguri store in Kyoto. The Donguri is a chain of stores that sell official Studio Ghibli merchandise and can be found throughout Japan. I went to this one in Kyoto and two in Tokyo. Everything was also decently priced. From memory the largest Totoro plush was about 5500 yen and the smallest ones about 1000 yen.

This one in Kyoto is a bit hidden and we were lucky to have run into it! It's located right by the Hello Kitty store, there is a small sign and shelf with some Ghibli items by it. It's on a street leading up and from Kiyomizu-Dera temple. 

One of the hot lemon drinks I fell in love with! It's by 7-11 so I had to hunt for one if I wanted to drink it.

I really like this candy brand, I saw some in Kyoto and then in Tokyo. I bought some as souvenirs and wanted to buy another bag for myself! I loved the way it melted in your mouth and how the air pockets created a "fluffy" texture.

I asked for coffee on the plane ride home and was pleasantly surprised by this cute Doraemon cup saying bye bye to me.

Back at home I got to try a new restaurant called Hatzu. I've seen their lunch plates all over Instagram and had to try it since I love this type of dining. When I went the lunch plates were 50% off making them 13$ instead of 26$ which I thought was a fantastic price for value! The food itself was alright, not bad but nothing spectacular either.