<bgsound src="http://www.ijigg.com/songs/V2BFBCGCPAD" > My Big Big Adventure: May 2005

Sunday, May 22, 2005

My Last Day in Japan

Waking up early in the morning after yesterday's night talk with Takano Otousan.

It's good to see every member back, especially Nozomi, the eldest daughter of Takano family. She has just got back from her Hokkaido trip. She gave me Special Edition Kit Kat from Hokkaido - melon flavour, for present.

We had breakfast together, and we had rice with seaweed and mame tofu soup. Yum~

Takano Otousan gave me a book "Japan - the land & its people". With due respect,I am very impressed with him, as he reminds me of my own brother, who is a studious person with details and lots of intensive reading. I highly admired these people.

After breakfast with the family, we have had a family potrait at their beautiful garden, together with ojiisan and obaasan. It's a pretty sight!

In Nagano, it bears a history to the mystery of the road to paradise. That's why, I went to Zenkoji with Otousan and Nozomi-ne san.

I bidded my farewell with grandparents and Takano Okaasan and went on with our trip.

In Zenkoji, we went in for praying. Today is Wesak, no wonder there are some ladies dressed in beautiful kimono here. Otousan paid for the fee to enter the chamber of secret - the passage to paradise.

Inside the passage of paradise, it is in total darkness. When I mean darkness, it's really like you can't see a single thing, even with your eyes opened. Using your right hand to navigate around, at the corner, you could feel the olden days padlock. That is the door to paradise. Mysterious ...

We then strolled along the ishi-tatami while viewing Nagano town from uphill. Beautiful.

Takano Otousan brought me to this Shichimi shop, selling spices. He got me a souvenir, sichimi. Thank you, Otousan!

Had to depart to my last stop of Japan, Nagoya. Farewell to Takano family and their warm hospitality.

Embarking on a new journey bound for Nagoya at 9:54 am. Need around 2 1/2 hours to arrive. It's an exciting adventure so far, despite what has happened yesterday. A journey does begin after all.

Nagoya is the home to Toyota, one of the world largest car manufacturer. Nagoya is currently hosting the Aichi Expo. I heard from a foreigner about the Aichi Expo, but not intended to go there. Why? One, cost; two, time.

I don't know why I am so attracted to Japan's castles. I think it's the majestically built structure with big beautiful garden that facinated me. That is why, I am going to Nagoya castle.

It was raining today, not as fun I thought. Worse, I have left my umbrella at the train station. Too late to redeem it.

Today, Nagoya castle has a special event, Gold Satchi, opened for viewing and touching. That's why the entrance fee is 1000 yen instead of the normal 500 yen.

Gold satchi, or commonly known as gold dolphine, is an auspicious animal that grace the rooftop of the castle, similar to dragon for Chinese. It is believed to bring good luck to the person that touches it. Today, I have the chance like any other Japanese to touch it for the first time. And I must say, it is really a huge gold statue. No wonder during the olden days, theives are at large to steal the pair of gold satchi.

Nagoya has a famous noodle, called Kishimen, a flat noodle that resembles "ban min" (cantonese). Very delicious. I even got myself Nagoya Omiyage, ebi senbei prawn crackers.

Well, had gathered enough Kantou souvenirs for Hitoshi, as a gratitude to his hospitality in Kobe. So, to Kobe I go!

I left Nagoya around 4 pm, reaching Kobe around 7pm +. Had to use my memory to remember the route to his house as he was not picking up his phone.

The whole day was raining. I can feel that it is a sign telling me that it's sad to leave this place, but happy memory must come to an end, somehow. Yes, indeed.

I was glad that Madam Nagano was in and I passed the souvenirs to her. She insisted to walk me to train station, and I am glad. She is such a kind lady. Thank you very much!

Embarking a journey back to Kansai, I would say relieved. I realised I like Kansai so much better and I feel I was at home once again.

Tonight, it will be my last stay in Japan. I am now back to where I have first departed from, Kyoto. I am glad there is room for me that night. Though the same guesthouse which I have departed from, but the room mates and the feeling of closeness has never been the same as I have had two weeks ago.

Had a little chat with Eiji. Had introduced him Tama Ryokan in Shinjuku. I am glad that he noticed my improvement in Japanese. I am proud too. I am glad to make it so far all by myself, of course, with the help of the people along my 13-day journey around Kansai, Kantou and Nagano. It has been great knowing you all. And, I wanted to say: THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

It was really tired, and I dosed off quietly.

Tomorrow, is Home Sweet Home!

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Nagano: My second day

"Located at the very center of Honshu Island, Nagano is the most mountainous prefecture of Japan and owns many excellent skiing resorts. For that reason Nagano has been chosen to organize Winter Olympics in 1998."

From that moment, Nagano was on the map of the world. Little did I know this until I found out further from my guidebook.

I met Toshiko, Satoshi's youngest sister during breakfast. We had a western breakfast, with egg, asparagus and strawberries, all from their farm. First time trying Nato, beans fulled of vitamins and mineral. Delicious.

I went out to the train station with Satoshi. He had this serious look on his face. I got the answer when he asked subtlely about my whereabout tonight. I told him I will figure a way to it. I felt hurt.

Never let little things to deter my enjoyment to the journey, I looked forward to my next journey - Matsumoto, downsouth of Nagano town.

From the guidebook, I read about Matsumoto and its dark-coloured castle. Wanted to see it. Taking the train took me one and half hour to arrive. I reached there around 9 am, where the tourist information center was not yet opened. Luckily enough, there are brochures and pamphlets for reference.

I got myself a one-day bus from the tour bus driver. And head straight on to Matsumoto castle.

Arriving to the "crow castle", met with a couple from Saitama. It was Megumi (wife)'s birthday, and he was so sweet to bring her along for a short trip.

I went along with them on the castle tour. During our trip, Koji (husband), was kind enough to explain to me about Matsumoto castle. From there I knew that I have visited one of the four oldest original castles in Japan. I was so proud.

We then walked to the old sake brewery building at Nawatemachi. Along the street of Nawatemachi, I noticed that the buildings are painted in white, instead of the usual black from the castle. So black-and-white.

Wanting to get the omiyage at Kaiundo, one of the oldest store in Matsumoto. It is famous for its manju, a sweet dessert with red bean paste. It is called "kore umai" (literally means this is delicious). Got two separate bags for Megumi and Koji for a thank you gesture.

I felt so acquaited by them and I went on a road trip to Swiss winery farm and the largest Japanese Wasabi Farm, Dai-O Wasabi.

The wasabi is large, and it's like a highway linking to nowhere. It is situated at a secluded area free from pollution. Even the rivers that run through the farm is crystal clear. From Koji's explanation, I understand that in order to having a healthy plantation of wasabi, it needs clean water.

We also had wasabi ice-cream that does not taste like one, worth a try. Well, Shinshu soba as well. FYI, "Shinshu" is the old name for Nagano. Not sure how it got the name changed.

I am grateful that we have had this roadtrip together. Thank you.

I then got a train back to Nagano station, then took a bus back to Matsushiro station, where I got lost.

I then inquired from a nearby convenient store, and I realised that the Takano family lives in a very very remote place. I was lucky to meet up with a lady, Akiko-san.

I was relieved to see Takano okaasan when we arrived there. As a gratitude gesture to Akiko-san, she gave her mikan from her farm. I really appreciate that, thank you!

I am glad to be at "home".

Feeling of home ... Nagano?

I was lost when I got back from Matsumoto day trip. Fortunately enough, I got a lift from a local, Akiko-san. I was grateful.

Early that morning, I got a hint from Satoshi to move out from his house. I understood that, and had inquired from the local tourist center for lodging. Found one near Senkoji, called "Kinenkan Ryokan".

Frankly, I was reluctant to leave, for I still want to know more about Japanese living and its family. Forgive me with my selfishness. I think it's time to go before my new friend, Satoshi started to repel.

Too late! I got home and helped out at the kitchen and he was back before I managed to get out the house. What's more hurting when he said "mada iru?" which is so hurting, until I lost myself and tears flowed down my cheeks.

I ran to the bathrooms to cry. Takano Okaasan knew about it and let me to her farm and a shinto shrine near her home. She has been very patient with my presence. I am very very grateful and I felt at home.

At night, we had sukiyaki, and gyoza.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Nagano: home to Satoshi

Yup. It took me another 5 hours to arrive at Nagano to meet up with Satoshi, whom I met at Kyoto with Mo, the Canadian. I was quite thick skinned when I asked whether I could come to put a night there at his place. Being typical Japanese, he reluctantly agreed.

He came to pick me up at the station. We chatted and I am delighted to see him again after my 2-week escapade to different part of Japan.

His house was near the mountain, where his family has a small vegetable and paddy farm there. I wonder how it looks like?

It was embarassing because I have come to his place uninvited. I feel so sorry for Satoshi. His mom welcomed me to their home and I felt great. She even brought out cookies and served tea though it's late at night.

I know Satoshi was tired as he was preparing for exams tomorrow, military entrance exam, so I heard. Not sure how he did, but I could see that he is a determined boy.

Takano family house is big, it houses eight people, including grandparents, mom and dad, three siblings, including Satoshi. The older brother left the house and live alone. Anyway, what I mean was the house is big and with a small garden in front. Pretty!

Nagano is known for its snow capped mountains. Here is the fact of the Japan Alps: The name was popularized by the Rev. Walter Weston, who explored and wrote about many of these soaring peaks in central Honshu. Long favored by mountain and nature lovers alike, they offer a variety of sports from hiking, trekking and rock climbing to skiing. Alpine flora abounds in the warmer months. The mountains range from 2,500m to 3,000m, although the highest peak, Mt. Okuhotakadake reaches 3,190m. Facinating place indeed.

Will explore the places more tomorrow. In the mean time, thank you Takano okaaasan for the warm hospitality.

Home to Yamaha

Rushing from Tokyo to Kyoto took me about 4 hours. Half day already spent on train.

Not wanting to carry my huge luggage with me. I left my luggage back at Kyoto station and separately packed my stuff for two days up the mountains. I am going to the Alps of Japan this evening.

Before that, stopping by at Hamamatsu, the home to Yamaha. I got to know Yamaha when I was still in primary school. Though we have motorcycles by Yamaha, it didn't occur to me that it's of the same brand. To me Yamaha was related to music. How naive I was then.

It was a place introduced by Mr Singh during my first encounter with him at Kansai airport. I have given it a thought and so here I was.

I remembered Hamamatsu well, especially when I stepped out from the station at around 1:30pm. It has this oval bus station. Uniquely designed. I wonder who came up with the idea?

Not much time to spare, I went on to the tourist information counter to get what I need and moved on. I managed to cover only the sand dune and bus tour of the hanamama lake. Nothing special to me. I thought after meeting with a Brazilian who lives there for five years, it would be interesting. Maybe I was on a rush and didn't enjoy that much.

On the bus ride back, I saw Yamaha's factory. I was thrilled and finally able to capture the Yamaha which I have wanted to.

I left Hamamatsu at around 4pm. Not having fond memory of this place. It's just a journey to the ordinary.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Tokyo: what do I see

Tokyo, a metropolitan of 12.36 million people, 10% of Japan's population lives here.

Today's itenery were as follows:

1) Sony building at Ginza: latest gadgets by Sony that I get to see and touch only in Japan

2) Tokyo station: oldest train station with Victorian influence in its architecture

3) Imperial palace: house the current emperor and the royal family. the most unfriendly park with no refuse bin.

4) Yebisu beer museum: museum of beer making from Sapporo. Nearly got drunk in bright daylight when trying a set of four different beers. Nice to go with smoked cocktails and biscuits.

5) Meiji temple at Harajuku: a mix of the new and old. A street was divided for modern (take no shita shopping district for young) and for the sacred (meiji temple)

6) Asakusa: for its famed lantern masterpiece and senbei

7) Shibuya: loyal copper dog statue Hachiko and fashion district. Got water colour for my brother as presents.

8) Tokyo tower: an orange and red lighted building. Famous for people dating and a landmark for Tokyo. Did not go near, taken picture from afar.

Wanted to go to Tokyo bay but time was running out. There house the Fuji TV station, the famous Rainbow bridge and its by the sea.

I am glad to know that I have traveled in its efficiently subways. I am more surprised to know that even at 10pm, it's more like a rush hour here. I guess people leave from work around 8pm - 9pm. So, it makes sense.

It's really tiring, physically and mentally. I guess, Tokyo, a city where everyone was looking forward to, but me. There is no gold rush and it's so full of people. I wonder how these people survived. I really don't know.

Tsukiji market: largest fish market in Japan

I bet you are wondering why I am interest in this fish market. Well, I don't. But, at least I know that's where the freshess sushi is.

I was a bit lazy and I woke up at around 6:15 am. After getting advice from Frances that the auction is going to be out by 7am. I chose to be as laid back as I could.

Catched subway to Tsukiji market. The place is very interesting, even bigger than the PJ market I have seen in Old Town. Even trollers are motorised, zooming in and out. I was especially facinated with a traffic director in the middle of the road in the market area!

In the market, you could see those livestocks for sale. I have never seen so many gigantic and fresh fish my whole life. Some of them I have not seen before in my entire life. Unique yet exquisite. I have witnessed slaughtering of big tuna, and a unique "umi no oppa" (sea breast). So unusual. I wonder how it is cooked.

After some eye-opener at the market, next stop was breakfast. Sushi is very well known in Tokyo, especially with its fresh seafood there at the market. I was queueing up at the 4th famous sushi parlour, called Dai Wa.

At the entrance, I met two new friends. They are from Kusyu. We chatted until we were ushered in. I was so thrilled to see a mom-and-pop ambienced store such as this, and a sudden urge of greeting everyone in high spirit voice was nonetheless, overwhelmed to those unheard of for a long long time. "Ohayou Gozaimasu", I said in a high enthusiastic tone. Everyone at the store just stopped and looked up, followed by grins and smiles. I was delighted!

Obasan was teasingly said I am too "genki" for such a great morning. And I just nodded. Then, I asked the two new friends about the menu, and they said just let the sushiya-san makes the introduction. "osusume kudasai", I said. That was it. Seven different sushi were served, including tuna, prawns, sea urchins, squid, and some maki too. They are so fresh and delicious! It's quite filling for breakfast. I feel great!

At the same counter, there was this young fellow, who is coincidentally from kushu too explained some of the sushi I had. He speaks much fluent english than the other two. I was surprised. He revealed that he was in LA, USA for sometime, so he is quite used to it. That's explain.

So, Tokyo is not such a bad place. I mean, maybe the people I met are not from Tokyo, so makes them nicer people to talk to. I am glad that so far in my journey, I have met great people, kind people that had rendered a helping hand to me. I am really grateful to them.

Market is a merry place for every people from all walks of life. What's more a fish market that is unique and familiar. I am fortunate to be part of it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Yokohama: the port

Yokohama is famous for its port as it is by the sea, similar to Kobe or even Osaka. However, it has never really taken flights as the other two sister cities.

Another unplanned trip. Well, make the full fun of it. In Yokohama, there are three things you can't miss: Chinatown, Yokohama Landmark Tower and of course the Ramen Museum.

In Chinatown, a stone-throw away from the station has been the biggest Chinatown. There, you could hear familiar mandarin or even chinese dialects, that you felt home. I truly believe that every part of the world with economy activiites, you will find Chinese. I was there early in the morning. Since I am not fancy chinese food here, so, just got some grapefruit and prawn crackers and walked along this replica of China.

After strolling there, I took train to the town center for a Ramen tour. It's funny that it has a dedicated Ramen museum which charges you entrance fee. I guess anywhere you go, you pay. The background of the ambience was set during the time of showa period. I felt like I was in this time machine that goes back in time. The mood was teriffic.

I decided to try the Hokkaido ramen. It was a mistake, as I felt it was too oily for me. There, I met a young fellow from Saitama, who was with his friends for a visit to Yokohama. Nice to chat with.

Looking at my watch, it was already in the afternoon. Better rush to Tokyo to get my things checked in to Tama Ryokan. The inn was run by a couple in Shinjuku near Takadababa station.

By now, my luggage is getting bigger. I then realised that I like Kansai better. Why? Well, for a start, at least it's more disable friendly, or should I say, more heavy luggage friendly. I have higher expectation for Tokyo as it is metropolitan and supposed to be more friendly in the amenities. I was truly disappointed.

So, I have to haggled my luggage with me all the way to Tama Ryokan. So, when I finally arrived, I was so relieved. But then again, I have to get on some steps before to the door. Note to self: leave luggage at coin locker.

Ms. Eiko, the host lady was there to receive me. Looking at my heavy bag, she has decided to let me occupy the room downstairs, instead of the room she had cleaned. I must thank her for her warm hospitality and the effort she had for me when she cleaned the room downstairs. Thank you very much.

The sky was pouring when I got there. Had a bath and took a rest, watching TV programme and video. At around dinner, I took subway to the heart of Shinjuku to see for myself how's a metropolitan looks like when night falls.

I began to feel clausterphobic, for I have never seen so many people crossing the street at the same time.

There is a sudden wind blowing carrying some pollant. I heard from Cassy that Tokyo was having some pollant disease or something during our conversation in Kyoto. So, I believed that's what got into my eyes.

As I was munching my McD along Kabuki street, I was approached by a young fellow in white jacket (similar to the men-in-black), talking Japanese to me. With my beginner Japanese, I began to follow what he was trying to say. I ignored him instantly and walked on. He was persistent and kept following me still talking in Japanese. After he said "kyumi ga nai?", then, I just turned my back and in English, "sorry, what did you say?" As he was astonished and taken aback, as he was expecting answers in Japanese. He had made a mistake and apologised then walked off. Phew~ another close encounter. Do I look desperate or even Japanese to these people? I really don't know. Well, on a brighter note, at least I have potential market there. Guys, bring it on! ~giggle~

That's not the end of it. I was standing at this old kabukiza, which has turned into an entertainment outlet with cinema and theatre. At one corner, there is this square overlooking a giant outdoor screen with "The Queen: Live in Theatre" commercial on display. I was still there munching my McD fries. Guess what? An old uncle, a salaryman after work looking for fun, approached me and asked "nihonjin?". I just shook my head. Sarcastically, I just walked over to him, tapping his shoulder to tell him to look for others for assistance. He just shrugged his shoulder and went off. Hahahaha~ What a joke!

I felt a sudden shudder and I sat there finishing my fries and I walked back to the station. On my way back, I met a kind aunty who is more willing to walk to the station with me. A sudden comfort set in. I was even relieved when I arrived at the ryokan safely!

Shinjuku, the heart of everything in Metropolitan. It does not interest me at all. Funny people walking on the street, with men-in-ties too, not to mention, ladies with thick make-up. I don't seem to fit into any of these. It's total madness. How I wish I was at other place outside the city, a quiet serene place.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Fuji-san indeed beautiful


Catching a train to Hakone station from Osaka took me around 2 hours. Then, had to hop onto a local bus which drives up the hill to my guesthouse, Fuji-Hakone guesthouse. The journey took 1 hour + to get there. It's a long long journey as I witnessed it from dusk till night fall.

Catching a bus uphill, I met up with four lovely middle-aged housewives, who were on a getaway trip together - Tatebayashi, Chigiro, Kazama and Nigishima. It was nice to have their company and we have dinner together at this "asian-like" cuisine dining restaurant. How unusual! We chatted happily with some delightful moment from the host too. It was a wonderful and fun evening. And I too got a souvenir bookmark from the host too.

We then parted separate ways, as these ladies were of a different lodging. I am glad to be back to a cosy room for a rest. It's a long day, there is little to do but to recollect my thoughts and also catching up with the local TV programme.

Tomorrow, I will be going to the outdoor onzen (spring bath), naked.


Well, wide awaken with the beautiful sunshine. My room was facing the east side, where I could see bamboos outside. Despite the cooling weather, the sun is still hot too. Have to get out for a nice warm bath at the outdoor onzen.

The onzen is full of the volcanic mineral. I dipped in with my toes and I can feel the heat beneath me. I then took off my clothes, leaving nothing on, out in the nature and enjoying my hot bath while embracing the cold weather. It was an experience. Bear in mind that it is not suitable for a long dip, as too much blood circulation will kill you. So, I got up and took a seat. I felt tired.

After recharging, I got back to my room to pack and leave for hill. Today's weather was perfect. From there, I took the ropeway to the mountain. From afar, I could see the beautiful mount fuji, standing majestically with snow caps on. Stunningly beautiful.

With the ropeway, I got to a place called the Owakudani, which is famous for its volcanic steam. For Japanese, they have this yearly pilgrimage here for a taste of the dark egg "kurotamago" for health. The eggs are cooked with volcanic steam fulled of sulphur, which makes the egg black in colour.

From the top, Mount Fuji is visible. It is like a fairy land hidden underneath the clouds.

Take another trip down to Lake Ashi-no-ko with pirate ship. Crusing along the lake is astonshingly exciting, especially with the green hills with clean blue water set as a backgroud of this awesomely beautiful scenery. How I wish time could freeze then.

At the exit, I got myself a quick lunch and head on to the checkpoint exhibition too. There, I could see that every part of Japan you go, you need to have a passport to cross the border of the prefecture. It was for control purposes, I think. Now, the checkpoint was no longer in use.

With the greens here, I also experienced walking through the thousands-year-old cedar trees. The trees are maturedly grown and it serves as a shade during hot season.

Looking on to the lake and Mt. Fuji, I am glad that I have witnessed the true beauty of Japan.

Meeting Machiko and Big Buddha

Has been emailing Machiko for around 4 years now. It's the time to give a visit to this dear friend whom I have met on the net. Yippie.

Since there is time, I have taken a detour to Kamakura. This stop was an unplanned one, I was quite excited about it. Kamakura is a place for worshipping the great buddha and the kuan yin deity. I was a bit late to go into the statue to see what's is in it, as it was almost five when I got there.

It was another rush to meet Machiko. It was already late when I got to the Odawara station. To add salt to the wound, I have got off at the wrong station! We were supposed to meet at Starbucks at Hiratsuka station, not Odawara. Oops, sorry for being late. I think she must be really upset, as I know that Japanese people hate tardiness.

As the night is getting dark, and Machiko's house was far away, I have the priveledge to ride on a taxi. The taxi special. It has automatic door, which opens and closes itself. And the best part is that, you don't have to flag down one.

Anyway, arriving at Machiko's place was thrill. Her dad was cooking some bamboo shoot stew. Delicious. We had SEA mango for dessert. The dinner went on fine. I love her aunty as she is chatty and friendly, and always trying to give me things, which I think it's not nice to take. Eventually, I took a pair of blue shades. Thank you very much.

I am glad that Machiko has a new boyfriend from Belgium. Had a little chat with him. He seems friendly. Really hope that she will be happy with him.

Looking the photos that Machiko had. It was like magic. How a little girl, who was so adorable that has changed into an overnight fairytale of a young Queen Amidala with a little pricess? Psst... she still keeps her figure. Amazing! From then, I have decided to be on diet, well, almost. Her daughter is as cute as her mother. Cute!

From our conversation and Machiko's tired look, there is a sudden sadness I felt. I believe too much work makes a person dull and lost the dynamism. From then, I decided to be as cheerful as I could and never let anything to be in the way to upset me. Never! Machiko mo ganbatte ne.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Last Day at Kansai

I can still manage to do some emailing at late hours like this at this 24-hour internet cafe. Get some message back home is a good idea.

Though yesterday was a hectic sightseeing day, I enjoyed myself. Though cover most of the places, there are some yet to be seen. Will go there first thing when the sun rise. Will be going to Tsutengaku tower, Osaka Dome, Kuromon market as well as Umeda Yodoshibara Kamera, Osaka biggest electrical mall.

Half day at Osaka is enough for me. I have got onto the Tsutengaku tower, with its original steel structure. Amazing to see that is still stood there after all these years. The view was magnificent though it is viewed in the morning. Here, you can have a more microscopic view of the city. Lovely.

I then went on to Osaka Dome. Unfortunately it was closed. Just manage to take a picture outside the magnificent building.

Kuromon market is just a stone throw away from where I stay. From the guidebook, it says I can't miss the loud uncle's voice. Well, today the uncle did not make a noise, as I was quite late compared to the frequent buyers. The uncle was kind to introduce affordable tuna, so I got myself that fresh tuna and eat it on the spot. It was delicious! Yum~

Time to depart for Tokyo before it's getting late. Before that, I went to Umeda electrical mall to get my watch fixed. Surprisingly, I got myself a 1 gig memory card for the camera which cost about RM 600.

It's time to bid Kansai farewell. You have given me so much of fond memories, I really cherished it. It is truly a place with friendly people, lively culture and lifestyle. A mix of the old and the modern. So overwhelming and yet amazing at the same time. I will come back again, and goodbye for now, my beloved Kansai.

It has been a great week at Kansai. I really enjoyed it very much. After today, I will be in Kantou, the east side of Japan. Not sure what will be installed for me, but really looking forward to it.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

My Adventure in Osaka

Dotombori Riverside Night Market and Food Bazaar

In comparison to Kyoto, Osaka has a wide network of efficiently linked subway. But, the trouble is that I have to walk from one end to the other when I wanted to switch to another line. That's really hectic. So far, I managed it perfectly despite the tiring run sometimes. A one-day pass really helps, and extra savings too.

I got the information I needed from the Information Center near the train station. It has been the greatest convenience I could get, and it's free consultation.

I woke up late today after a sound and uninterupted sleep yesterday. Anyway, it's Sunday!

I got myself up with a shower then I proceeded to Shintenoji, a famous temple downtown that was built by the prince. Nothing much to see though, but it surely has a beautiful garden on the east side of the temple.

Time is running late, as I need to rush to Osaka castle (see left) to see for myself what is installed in it. My expectation was high as I had been to Himeji two days ago. I was hoping for the better. Unfortunately, I was indeed disappointed for that this castle is a museum-like setting. Can't blame it much as it was a restored castle within the modern background of the city. At least it helps to explain some stories about Yoshitone and Tokugawa period.

From the guide book, I was attracted to Matsushita memorial museum which was located in the suburb of Osaka, where the brand National and Panasonic was setting its roots on. So, I took the slow train and for ages I arrived there to realise that it was closed. Right, on Sunday! Tough luck.

I then went ahead to the living museum of the olden and modern days of Osaka people. There house the original setting of the lifestyle of Osaka from the old to the modern. The famous landmark is the river and the Tsutengaku tower. It has been a really busy port since the olden days. Interestingly, I got to play some of the toys Japanese used to play when they were younger. Got myself some biscuits, mochi and postcards too for souvenirs.

When I got out the building, I met with Kachin, a thick specky guy that looks like a geek. Funny enough he was so "helpful" that his hands start to come by, which I strugged off most of the time. But when we arrived at this famous okonomiyake (jap pizza) at Kikusui shop, along the 2.6km shopping street, then he realised I am not local and he made excuse to go to the bathroom and never return. I was fortunate that it was a close encounter to a molester, strange yet interesting.

I had my share of fun at the Kikusui shop, where the waitress serve filling okomiyake.

Meeting with Kachin does not deter me for the rest of my journey. I then went on down south where the port is, and the ATC tower that houses the world trade center. The night scene from the port was breathtakingly beautiful. The city was so full of life and lights. Since it's near the port, the cold wind really does not give mercy to a helpless girl like me. It's really cold.

Time to head to another high-rise tower for a city night view. I then head to floating garden at Umeda. There, I met up with 4 Taiwanese and 4 students from local universities, where one of them is Swedes. Lovely view from the top, as I am on the top of the hustle shopping district in the center of Osaka, where everything come alive there. Lovely!

I remembered my friend Eonn once told me to head to Shinsaibashi to take a look. Well, it's almost mid night when I got there. Every shop has closed. While I was strolling there, I met up with some street buskers there, who are still performing. At least I was rewarded with some nice tunes while walking back to my hotel. I got to know them for a while, bought their CD and then head back to my hotel. On my way back, I have a near encounter with the men-in-black, as I was taking a shortcut and got lost. Luckily, I inquire from the shop and manage to walk back on the familiar street I was in. Phew~

Another hot bath and some MTVs and lights off! Very tiring day! Better get some sleep as I will be heading to Hakone for a view at Fujisan.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Osaka: Japan's Commercial District

Sleeping soundly the whole night makes me a happier person. It's nice to know that Hitoshi is so nice to be a hospitable host.

Breakfast with Mrs Kawano and Noriko was very enjoyable. We shared so many cultural differences and some lifestyle habits with our bread and tea. I realised from Noriko's conversation the drivers for both manual and auto has to undergo examination. That's something new to me. I think it's partly due for its safety for road users. Maybe Malaysia should also take this as a consideration?

Noriko and I walked to the subway station and we went on our separate ways as I was heading to Osaka today, one of the busiest district in Japan.

Osaka is well known for its hustle and bustle city life as well as the loud and merry people. Would definitely looking forward to see some activities there since I am putting a night at Yamatoya Honten, which is closed to Dotombori river (famous for snacks).

It's funny that while I was trolling my big and heavy luggage, I saw this poster of "cecelia-chung-look-alike poster" at a shop selling sex service. Unbelievable!

As the day is still young, I went on to Shinseikai for a taste of the Osaka cuisine. There, I met up with two young fellows from Kobe at this famous shop listed in my guidebook. Everyone was in line for dinner, so I guess large crowd means good food, so I went along. The shop is 八重勝, famous for its deep fried items. It is awefully delicious. I have got a help from these two new friends for ordering. It was an enjoyable treat from both of them.

After the sumptous dinner, we went for a stroll along Shinseikai and had took some photos in front of the famed Tsutengaku tower. We then departed, and I went on to Umeda for a ride on the big ferris wheel. I could really see Osaka castle in the modern setting from the top of the ferris wheel. It was cool. As around 10 pm, I was on my way to Dotombori for a night walk before heading back to my Japanese-style hotel with hot water bath. At Dotombori, I got myself at Ootako, a famous store for friend squid balls at around 11pm till it closes at 12 am. From there, I got myself CD singles too, not to mention some nice strawberries from a Chinese lady.

Better head back to hotel, as the weather was getting freezingly cold. I love this hotel, as it is so closed to everything. Frankly, this hotel stay could be the best I could afford for this trip. Better make full use of it, especially for hot bath and some Kansai TV programme.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Goodbye Kyoto & Hello Himeji/ Kobe

After two days in Kyoto, it's hard to believe that I will be leaving this beautiful place, where there are so many to see yet little time to do so. I will definitely go back there one day.

In the morning, I managed to go to Ginkakuji and Sanjyusangendo for a short excursion. Ginkakuji has a nice zen garden with a laid back hill. It's breathtakingly beautiful. As for Sanjyusangendo, the hidden secret in the aged wooden temple is that behind the closed windows, housed 1,001 unit statues of the Kuan Yin deities. It is a well-kept nation heritage.

Himeji castle from the front

Next stop is Himeji, and it will take around 2-3 hours time to reach there. Himeji is located in Hyogo and at its further west. I am particularly attracted to it as it is the world heritage and it's one of the biggest original castle in Japan. Plus, it was once staged the cinema "The Last Samurai". It's really beautiful. From afar, the castle was stood on top of the hill majestically, with parks laying before my eyes. I am so proud to be here!

I am more delighted to know that the castle is kept as its original state after so many years. My heart was filled with awe and surprised with its previous glory, that my tears stremed down my cheeks. It's such beautiful sight.

How I wish I could be there earlier so I could get a personalised guided tour.

Running late to meet my Kobe friend, Hitoshi. I am supposed to meet with Hitoshi at Shin Kobe station for a baseball game. I arrived at Shin Kobe at 6:15 pm and we were running late. Wow, didn't know that Hitoshi is so handsome. Hee hee~

Osaka Oriks vs Hiroshima Kap at Kobe Stadium

Anyway, we went to the watch baseball match between Kobe Oriks and hiroshima Kap at Kobe stadium near his place. Though I don't know anything about the game, but at least I feel the excitement of the crowd. It was fun. During half time, we have to leave the place for the famed Kobe beef dinner. Yum~

The restaurant was located underground. I realised lot of shops are underground as there are limited space for retail. Anyway, in the shop, I met up with HItoshi's friend from university, Noriko. She's nice. Then, both of them show me around at Meriken park and Mosaic, an upbeat youngsters' place.

The funny thing happened was that we have totally forgotten to check in the guesthouse and I have to put a night at Hitoshi's place. It was uncomfortable for Hitoshi, I guess. So sorry for that. His home is a cosy typical home where I saw on TV soap drama. Yup, nice Japanese home. For Malaysian standard, it is a detached home with own private garden in the house. Lovely!

Hitoshi bought me presents, a foam bath and a special dessert in a tube. Will try it at home soon. It's so thoughtful of him. I only got him canned fruits and mango. Thankfully, he likes it.

I am so overwhelmed with the hospitality of Hitoshi and his family, also his friend in receiving me there in Kobe. At least I feel warm and welcome into the new land in Japan. Well, makes me look forward to my journey to the my next adventure. Have to get some rest!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

My encounter in Nara & Kyoto

After two days in Kyoto, I have been up about 7:30 am (6:30 in KL). Checking my mails on the net to see how Hitoshi has planned for me and some unfinished business at home. It's quite a spoiler that the trip itself I have to think about work too. Anyhow, that helps me be intact with my work.

It was a lousy day today because the rain has started pouring early in the morning. But, it did not deter my spirit of visiting Nara. I hopped on a train while enjoying the raindrops outside. Nara is a small town with 360,000 people. A compact city. I took JR West on the Miyakojima Express. It took me 40 minutes to arrive.

It was fun, despite the rain. I even had a deer munching my guide leaflet while I was posing for photos in front of Todaiji temple, the oldest wooden structure listed on UNESCO world heritage site.

The deer park is famous too. It is believed that deers are children of the god. All park visitors are forbidden to harm these creatures.

Kofukuji is five-storey pagoda is a place to visit too.

Here, I noticed that students from all over Japan have come to Kyoto or Nara on field trip to learn more about Japan. I even met up with primary school children having an English assignment of asking foreigners to respond to the questions, like "do you speak english?", "where are you from?". At the end of the interview, I have got little presents from them, like origami and book mark. They are lovely! I think the focus is on having Japanese children picking up language at a younger age. It was very well received. I am much more obliged to help since English is my second language too. Good effort!

Had a sumptous chagayu, famous rice in tea with some side dishes. It is delicious and exotic.

Since the rain poured much heavily, I have decided to head back to Kyoto for some more sightseeing. Met an uncle from Hokkaido, who has business dealings with JR. We went for tea at his hotel and I walked to Shijokawaramachi and Kamo gawa for a stroll.

There, I saw Maiko (geisha) walking along the stone-paved walkway. When the night falls, lot of men-in-black were out in action. These men in black are not the typical Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, but out to grab men to patron their prostitution service. At least something new.

Walked back to guesthouse and walked along Gojo street. From the place I stayed, I could see Kyoto tower at the end of the road. Then, something facinating caught my attention - hangind petrol pumps. It certainly saves place. I also noticed that the petrol price is at least 3 times more than Malaysia and it fluctuates based on daily market rate.

Call Japan safe, indeed it is. It even has an emergency button in the bathroom should there be assailants there. And the siren will be sounded, then followed by petrolling police. I accidentally pressed on the button, and the police came in and checked. Efficient indeed!

Walked back to my guesthouse and have a nice hot bath and chat a little with the gang at the lobby then head to bed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

My second day in Kyoto

I am glad to bring along my guidebooks with me. From there, I discovered a place where we can do boat ride there. It's called Hozu gawa kudari. It sounds fun, especially with the Toroko (a train). The entrace is fee is around 3,900 yen (which is quite expensive).

I went over to the two new friends' place at the youth hostel at Utano. We had to take bus, then a train, (instead of Toroko as it is closed for maintainence on every Wednesday) then some walking before reaching the place where we are going for the ride.

Quite unexpected that the whole boat ride is more of a sightseeing one. We have about 18 of us on the boat, all elderly except us, and three peddlers on board to kick start the journey. The three are paddling downstream and started to explain the whole trip in Japanese which I can't make a head of tail out of the jokes and stories they are telling. To me, it's the breathtaking scenery and the crystal clear water that makes me awe in surprise. It's a totally different experience with rafting which I had in Sabah.

The whole boat trip took us about 1 1/2 hours.

The boat lead us to the bank of the downstream of Hozu river. There, we could see the famous Tougetsugyo, a bridge that bears a story about a father and a son. It's beautiful with the monkey hill set as a background to this lovely bridge.

Mojo, who is fan to the monkey, has coaxed us to go there too. Though I am not that interested to, but at least I could get to see the whole city of Kyoto from there. The climb was ok. The whole city of Kyoto looks clearer on top. It's beautiful.

Our lunch was a special one, as we went to this obaasan's place, where we had neruzaru soumen (one type of noodle that drops from the top using the mountain water to our platter). It was fun and enjoyable.

Adashino Nenbutsuji temple, a famous place for its bamboo forest. There, we met up with a new friend, Jia Hui from Taipei. We then strolled along Hozu river, Nijojo and lastly to Kyoto Imperial Palace, before we depart on our separate ways.

We had a wonderful and fun time there for the whole time. Now I know that fun time runs fast. It surely is.

Back to the guesthouse, there is another new room mate from Taipei, Cassy Guo. The fun seems to start off well. New friends each day, I wonder who else is coming into my journey?

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

My first day on The Land of the Rising Sun

Everything was so new to me. New faces, new places, even new traces of life here in Japan. The first thing I noticed was the cooling weather. It's nice and warm, and this is spring! A weather I truly appreciate in comparison with the whole year hot and humid weather like Malaysia. I begin to love Japan.

Taking a bullet train from Kansai airport to Kyoto is a smooth ride. I noticed that the service level here is that the people are courteous. Even the ticket master gives a polite bow at the doorway for each carriage. It is strange to an eye of a foreigner. I did inquire from a lady who was seated next to me, and she responded that it's a way to say thank you to the passengers onboarding the train. How unusual.

Prior to boarding this train to Kyoto, I have met up with a man from Mumbai, India, where he is heading to Hamamatsu for a business dealing with Yamaha. He recommended me to this place, which was not in my plan. I think I will give it a thought, since I am getting the whole nation rail pass from JR (Japan Railway).

I have to recollect my thoughts when I alighted from shinkansen and stepping onto Kyoto station. It's a start of a wonderful journey, I thought, I can't wait any longer to keep my 25kg bag safely somewhere. It was about 9 am.

I got out of the station and was I felt lost. The station is a huge one, and I have never seen such a modern yet gigantic train station before. I have to ask around to navigate my route to my first stop at the guesthouse, Gojo Guesthouse at Gojo Zaka street.

With my bulkly bag along, I find it's hard to get on the bus. Fortunately, I have a helper from Singapore that helped me with my luggage. Can't thank them enough. Everyone was in awe looking at an Asian girl with has a bag larger than herself, getting on a crowded bus. That was not the end of me with my bulky bag. I have also trouble with the bus fare too. On me, I have nothing but 10,000 yen bill, which was unacceptable on the bus. I was fortunate to find a grandma who was so kindly exchange her small notes with me. Thank you. Well, at least I finally made it. I will remember bus #206. I must say, I am fortunate to meet up with kind people who helped me along the way, even before I started my sightseeing tour. Thank you very much!

Checking in at the guesthouse was easy, but it took me about half an hour before I get myself recollected. The guesthouse was strategically located, and the lodging fee is reasonably cheap by Japanese standard (even cheaper than far away youth hostel). I am glad I found this place.

Getting direction from Yai (a lady at the registration counter in the guesthouse), I got myself a one-day pass and some maps to help me navigate around. It was really useful.

My first stop is the fame Kiyomizu temple, which is about 5-min walk from where I stay. It's not surpring that every corner you go, you will see this jidohanbaiki (vending machine). I got myself a macha ice cream while climbing the slope to this UNESCO protected cultural heritage.

Along the slope, you could see this beautiful tiny shops which sell souvenirs and restaurants, just like any tourist attractions in the world. I am really going to buy those cute items on display but hold back my urge to conserve cash for the rest of the journey.

Kiyomizu temple is thousand-year-old temple situated on top of the hill. It has breaktaking view of the Kyoto city. People come to pray for good luck and there is this love-marriage stone that could help improve the fate of singles. I dared not try it, for I am just afraid that it might not turn out to be what I have wanted.

There, I met up with a Canadian guy, Mojo with his companion, Takano Satoshi from Nagano. They are really friendly people. And I stick on to them for the rest of the tour. It's still best to have local than going alone in an unknown land.

From there, I walked through ninenzaka (second strett) and sannenzaka (third street). These streets are old and laid with ishi tatami (stone mat finished road). On these roads, you could see fancy restaurants occupying the olden day houses. I wanted to try Kyoto delicacies, Tofu, but just can't bear myself to ask, as these two guys I was with have a tight budget. Too bad!

We had lunch at sannenzaka and moving on to Yasaka shrine at the end of the kiyomizu temple tour. Embarking on the bus, we headed to kinkakuji, where it has this gold-plated temple in the middle of the pond. When the water is cleared, you could see the mirror image of this marvellous craved piece reflected. The common thing that shrines or temples has is its accompanied zen garden with ponds full with fish. Lovely.

After visiting the older part of town, we went on to the newest part of town on Shijo (fourth street) for dinner. Surpringly, my first dinner was nothing Japanese, it's just KFC. I was too tired to go searching. We departed after that, and promised to meet up with them tomorrow at the youth hostel they are putting a night at. After a short supper, I headed back to the guesthouse and got some rest for tomorrow.

I met with the new yorkers, lilian and frances at the guesthouse. I was too tired, and I just slept soundly for the night.

Japan, here I come

It's my first trip to Japan. I am taking 14-days off to this wonderful land of the rising sun. It was thrill and I am more facinated by the rich culture of the Japanese people, not mentioning the interesting places there too.

It was a hectic day before boarding on the plane as I was rushing my work through till 6:15 pm, then a short blessing at Brickfield temple before embarking my journey to Japan. It was really a rush, and I am glad that I could finish it on time. It's time to enjoy myself in a cellphone-free trip for 2 weeks. Hello Japan!

My first encounter to a Japanese person is onboarding the plane on MAS 50, taking me to Kansai International Airport, her name is Itawa Mayumi. She was heading back to her home in Osaka after a short trip to Malaysia. The plane leaves at 9:15 pm on 9th May, and I touched down approximately 6:19 am the next day (Japan time).

Not been on a trip outside Malaysia for so long. I am quite excited and yet feel indifferent. This is my first trip alone without a personalised guide, an experience which I would like to find out myself after this trip. Backpacking alone in Japan... interesting.

At the immigration check point, I must thank Mayumi for her help, as her presence has certainly shorten the process.

Getting out of immigration and into the new world of Japan. How is it like? I would love to discover more of the hidden mystery and excitement that awaits me.

My first day is going to be great despite the fatigue on the plane.

Japan, here I come!