11:33 AM | Posted by Elusive Travels
At approximately 7.15pm we arrived at Osaka station. We were actually based in Universal City, without realising it my brother had booked a hotel right near Universal Studios. There were restaurants, TGI Fridays, Shonen-Jumo shops, warner bros stores etc I suppose it was less Japan than what Kyoto was. Anyway we needed to find our hotel and so I called them. However, just as the phone was ringing I spotted the hotel opposite the road. We checked into our rooms freshened up and then headed out for dinner. We figured we would dine at Universal City rather than going into Osaka as it was quite late now and we wanted to go early in the morning to visit the Ueno sky tower. We had a somewhat dissapointing dinner at a ramen place in universal city, surprisingly the first bad meal of the holiday and then it was back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.
Around 10am the next day we made our way from Universal City to Osaka station to visit the Umeda sky building, a massive skyscraper that looks somewhat like a giant lego piece with a cool tube-like escalator that connected the two buildings together. It seemed to go on forever. Total cost per person is about 700JPY and at total of 173 and it's well worth it to get the spectacular panoramic views of Osaka. We spent a good couple of hours here before venturing back onto the road to Osaka station. It was now around 2pm so we decided to have some lunch and head back to Universal City.
Back at Universal City we did some more explorations, had some lunch and then after colleciting your luggage it was back to Osaka station. Our train wasn't for another hour, so we did some wandering around the station had a bite to eat to kill the time and soon we were boarded on the shinkansen back to Tokyo.
At 8pm that evening we arrived at Tokyo station and made our way to our hotel. After checking in and freshening up, we got ready and headed towards Akihabara where my brother's friend had arranged to meet us and take us out for a few drinks. After quick introductions at the station Colin, his partner, my brother and myself were sat outside a british pub enjoying a pint of beer and each others banter. Our friends soon left but I wasn't ready to go home just yet, so me and my brother decided to head into Shibuya and see what was happening around there, we got there around 1am and unfortunately everything appeared shut. Apart from a few eateries and Izakayas, not many places seemed open. Thousands of people were on the streets roaming aroud, some drunk, some trying to fag down taxis. After walking around for about half and hour we decided to just head back to the hotel. Unfortunately this cost us an expensive taxi ride since the train stations were not in operation at that hour.
The Next afternoon we explored the busy fashionista streets of Harajuku, which is a haven for teens who indulge in all sorts of extravagant fashions, hair styles etc. Harajuku street gets pretty packed, so be warned not to stay in one place for too long, you have to keep moving or you will end up crushed. The main reason for going there was to meetup with my mate who showed us around the massive Yoyogi park. We spent a couple of hours here wondeirng the park, watching various peforrmances and then it was time to head back home as we had plans to see a movie later that evening.
In the evening around 7pm we headed to United Cinemas for a 10pm showing of Iron Man 3, seeing a film on holiday is not my usual MO but this was the first film I was seeing with by bro in a long time and it was good fun. We also enjoyes a rather delicious and filling Korean meal prior to the film. After the moving, heading home back to Tokyo was a challenge since the usual route had been closed i.e since it was past midnight. Anyway in our attempts to find an alternate route home, I managed to befriend a young couple who were so kind as to take us all the way back to Tokyo. We exchanged contact details with the young couple and Im hoping to meet them again on my next visit.
The next morning, Sunday 28 April was a sad start to the day. I woke up at 8am to say goodbye to my brother who's holiday period had come to and end. You have all this fun and in one fleeting moment it all comes to an end. Anyway I said my goodbyes knowing that our next adventure was only a few months away. I was still rather sleep at 8am so I went back to bed.
Around 10am I wokeup, checked out and then headed over to Ginza where I would be meeting my friend Jules one last time before my flight in the evening. Jules met as planned around midday and the first thing he did at my request was help me find some traditional Japanese sweets. After that he took me to Tsukiji fish market. Though closed it was still busy with lots of people buying fresh fish, eating, trading etc. I cant quite remember the name of the little Sushi restaurant but the Sushi I had was probably the best I've had anywhere. Thank you Jules for your hospitality and generosity.
By now it was almost time for me collect my belongings from the hotel and make my way to Narita Airport. A few short hours later I would be on the flight back home to Singapore.
In Summary, I can honestly say that Japan has been one of the most fascinating and rewarding places I've been to. We covered a lot in 8 days but I do feel I've only just scratched the surface. A return trip is definitely due and with new found friends the next visit should be even more exciting.
11:36 AM | Posted by Elusive Travels
When we arrived at the Kyoto imperial palace we walked around the gardens for a while but noticed there weren't many people to our dismay we found that the place was shut. We took a few photos anmd walked back to the main road. It was around 4.30 pm now and there wasn't much we could do as most of the other major sites were appraoching closing time too. So instead we headed back to the hotel where we rested a bit and then headed out to dinner.
The following morning after breakfast we took the train to the Northern Higashiyama region where to we visited the Nanzen-ji temple a beautiful 13th century Zen Buddhist temple that was built by emperor Kameyama, first as a retirement villa but later converted to a Zen temple upon the emperor's death. The temple is free to all except the sub temples and gardens. We visited one of the gardens which carried a cover charge of 600 yen (5.94 USD at the time of writing). rich greenery, a beautiful waterfall, bamboo , this is all the stuff you expect to see in a typical Japanese garden.
Splash Splash! It was starting to rain lightly. We braved it but very soon within ten to fifteen minutes it was pouring down rather heavy. Our next destination was the "Kinkakuji" - Golden Pavilion temple, but it turns out it was around 45 mins walk from Nanzen-Ji. We pulled out our trusted lonely planet guides and looked for what was closer, the station was onlly 2 mins walk away and it was still raining so we had to make quick decisions. We decided to head to Kyoto, grab a bite to eat, get ourselves and umbrella and then head to the "Ginkaku -ji" - Silver Pavillion temple.
With our newly purchased umbrellas we caught the bus from Kyoto station arriving shortly afterwards (around 15-20mins) at Ginkaku-ji. For your information the bus number you need to take is No.5 and it is located at bus stop A. The fair for an adult is 220 yen (2.18 USD). Anyway so back to where we were, there was a long road with signs leading upto the temple, we followed it up for about 10 mins before we reached the big gate of the temple complex. We had to pay around 600 Yen each to enter. The main attraction here of course is the silver roofed temple, o fcourse due to natural erosion and oxidisation the roof doesnt really look silver anymore, but I can imagine it must have shone brightly in its heyday. There is also meticoulously raked cones of white sand in the gardens, said to represent a mountain and river and a beautiful pathway leading further up the moutains that provides a scenic view of the pavilion from above. I can only imagine that the scenery would have been a lot more picturesque had the skies been blue, due to rain it was pretty grey but nonetheless we still enjoyed walking around here, and taking in the beauty in all its stride.
We had spent about a couple of hours wondering the gardens and temple complex and now it was time to head back to Kyoto. Most of the other temples would be closing and it was still raining. Unfortunately the bad weather on that particular day meant that we had to cut out a few places from our list.
Around 5.30pm we arrived back at our hotel and did some research on where we could have dinner. I then remembered that a friend of mine had given me a list of places to eat in particular Ramen in Kyoto and so we headed to an area called Pontocho one of Kyoto's most atmospheric dining areas. Certain restaurants here are pretty exclusve and require the right connections and fat wallets. It is also the place where Maiko are seen. We were able to see a couple but they didnt stay inthe vicinity long enough to take photos. We were quite hungry so I started asking people where I could eat ramen. Eventually the directions given led us to a small ramen bar tucked away in a little corner. It was your typical ramen complete with the smells and slurping sounds making it the complete authentic experience. I must say the ramen was so good! It was, as they say in Japan "Oishii!!!"
It was now close to 10pm, we had another early start tomorow as we wanted to cover the Southern Higashiyama region and Arashiyama as we were headed to Osaka in the evening.
The next morning we took the train the Kyoto station to Arashiyama. Located in the western regions of Kyoto is famous for its natural beaut, particularly popular during the cherry blossom and autumn colour seasons. Ther are also many temples to be seen here but what I was most interested in is the famed bamboo groves. If you have seen the movie House of flying daggers, you will know exactly what I describe. Acres of lush bamboo trees towering all the way up creating a breahtaking canopy. The bamboo groves are just five minutes walk from Arashiyama station. The road along the bamboo groves leads towards a few shinto shrines, a few quiet roads with small cafes and beautiful green fields. By around 1pm we had made our way back to the main streets of Arashiyama and we stopped at a restaurant where we had the most amazing lunch that I've ever had. It was a dish called Chazuke a simple dish consisting of rice and fish where green tea is poured onto the rice and eaten along with the fish. It is simple yet delicious and as always presented like a work of art. In fact I would go so far as to say that no one presents food quite like the Japanese.
Around 2pm we returned to Kyoto station and from there caught bus number 206, around 20 mins later we stopped at Kiyomizu-michi which was about a15 min walk away from our final destination in Kyoto. The Kiyomizudera temple - litterally Pure water temple. So named because it was built on the site of the Ottowa water fall's pure waters. I believe the temple dates back to around 780AD. Anyway it is a magnificient temple complex that attracts thousands of visitors from all over Japan as well as from other countries. In total it takes around 2-3 hours to visit the entire complex. The main attraction is the large wooden deck and also the water well where hundreds flock to get a taste of the pure water.
After returning from the temple grounds along the side streets were we greeted by a group of school childen around 8-10 years old who wanted us to take part in a little survey, so we obliged. They spoke to us in English telling us their names, where they were from and then asked us a few questions. I was totally amazed at how well mannered and well disciplined they were. They thanked us with smiles for our time and soon they left our company.
Kyoto - Japan's ancient capital rich in history, culture and food had provided us with an enriching experience that would last in our memories for a long time, but now it was time for us to head back to Kyoto as we had a train to catch to Osaka.
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