Juggling Japan – Day 6

On our last few days in Japan, we’ve decided to just relax and take it slow. In fact, on our last day in Osaka, we only visited one place: Tempozan Harbor Village in Osaka Bay Area. Osaka Bay Area is on a man-made waterfront island and is the perfect spot to chill and spend the day until sunset.

Since our hotel (Toyo Hotel) has the policy of check out time before 11 AM, Puput and I woke up around 8 in the morning to clean up and pretty much repacked our bags from scratch. To make matters worse, we ran out of instant noodles so we had to leave the hotel on an empty stomach! Thank God the vending machines were right outside the hotel, so at least we got two bottles of hot green tea. We then bought a large loaf of chocolate bread at one of the kiosks inside the gigantic Osaka train station. After getting our breakfast, we went straight to Willer Express office at Umeda Sky Building. We were taking the 11:20 PM overnight bus back to Tokyo, so we decided to keep our luggages inside the locker at the office until it was time for us to get on the bus. With luggages safely kept for the rest of the day, we made our way to Osakako station, the closest train station from Tempozan Harbor Village.

According to www.japan-guide.com (this site is highly recommended when you create your own itineraries, by the way. So informative!), Tempozan Harbor Village is only a 5 minute walk from the station. And the chances of getting lost was highly unlikely for us because the giant Ferris wheel was ready to greet us the second we stepped out of the station.

Spot the Ferris wheel!

Spot the Ferris wheel!

The main attraction of Tempozan Harbor Village (at least for us, anyway) was The Osaka Aquarium a.k.a Kaiyukan. The 2300 Yen admission fee was a bit expensive for a couple of backpackers like Puput and I, but i can guarantee that it was well worth it.

Kaiyukan !!!

Kaiyukan !!!

Cool mural!

Cool mural!

The entrance was designed in a museum-like fashion, with large pictures of sharks on the walls. We walked a little further inside and arrived at the Japan Forest exhibit, a beautiful man-made green forest where we saw a lot of Asian small clawed otters. These insanely adorable mammals were fast asleep on a large tree trunk and didn’t even care that a group of awestruck visitors were surrounding them. Puput even found one that was sleeping peacefully on water! We also spotted some salamanders, which made my skin crawl, to be honest. Move along!

Entrance, greeted by a shark?! :P

Entrance, greeted by a shark?! :P

Welcome to Japan forest!

Welcome to Japan forest!

Ssshh... Sleeping otters!

Ssshh… Otters are sleeping…

Sleeping, floating otter! Awwww...

Sleeping, floating otter! Awwww…

The Osaka Aquarium introduces visitors to various forms of life in the Pacific Rim, showing diverse animal species and plants of the Pacific ocean through 10 different exhibits. We entered the building from the 8th floor (Japan Forest), and spiral our way down floor by floor around the giant, 9 meters deep, central tank that contains the famous Whale Shark. Along the way, we saw tons of fascinating exhibits. Our favorites were:

1. The Monterey Bay exhibit, where we observed the marine mammals that live along the California coastline. We got to see not only the lazy life of sea lions and seals where they spend their day lying on rocks and basking on the sunlight like tourists on Amalfi beach, but also their underwater behaviors. It’s really fun seeing them glide from the rocks, dive into water and swim with such speed and grace.

A couple of lazy seals...

A couple of lazy seals…

She's looking right at you!

What are YOU looking at ?

2. Antarctica exhibit, where I finally got to tick one thing off my bucket list: see penguins! There were plenty of cute tuxedo birds as far as the eyes can see, from the dashing king penguins to the ever-so-adorable Gentoo penguins. It was like having a scene from Happy Feet played before our eyes!

A Happy Feet movie still ?

A Happy Feet movie set ?

What are they doing?

What are they doing?

3. Tasman Sea exhibit, where we got to see the Pacific white-sided dolphins. I’ve got to say that this exhibit truly was the best part of the aquarium. The dolphins were very eager to entertain everyone by swimming from corner to corner, making people clapped and cheered. They were so playful too, especially since the aquarium provided them with many toys for them to toss and drag across the water. One of them even leaped out of the water to kiss the ball that was hung above the water surface! Puput actually got the whole thing on tape, but she accidentally deleted it when she was going through all the pictures. :(

There were plenty of other interesting exhibits to explore, such as the Japan Deep exhibit where we got to see the Giant Spider Crab, and the Floating Jelly Fish exhibit. In total, we spent around 3 to 4 hours inside this giant aquarium, and we came out with plenty of pictures.

What can you see, Puput?

What can you see inside the giant tank, Puput?

A hammerhead !!

A hammerhead !!

A stingray !!

A stingray !!

A whale shark !!!

A whale shark !!!

A Santa ?!?

A Santa ?!?

Puput & The Great Barrier Reef exhibit

Puput & The Great Barrier Reef exhibit

Giant spider crabs in Japan Deep exhibit

Giant spider crabs in Japan Deep exhibit

After Kaiyukan, we still got a lot of time to spare before our overnight bus departed. So we decided to check out the Tempozan Marketplace Shopping Mall (which was only a few steps away) and get some souvenirs for our loved ones back home. Even if malls aren’t your thing, you definitely should check out the Naniwa Food Theme Park inside this mall. We stumbled across this area by accident but boy, were we glad to spot it! This area consists of many stalls showcasing Osaka’s many dishes and specialties in a fun, traditional-market atmosphere. If you weren’t hungry going in, you would be salivating and dying for some snack by the end of it.

The sun was setting by the time we finished checking out the mall. We decided to just sit on the free benches right outside the building and enjoy the gorgeous view. With the glorious Osaka Aquarium on our right and the giant Ferris wheel on our left, we held back tears at the thought of leaving Osaka.

It was already dark when we arrived back at Willer Express office, despite the fact that it was only six in the evening. Thankfully (and to our surprise), there were plenty of youngsters inside the office, waiting for the overnight bus as well. These youngsters were mostly girls and after a quick check over their clothes and accessories, we realized that they actually just got back from a Big Bang concert in Osaka and were waiting for the same bus to get home to Tokyo. Puput and I got pretty bored after a couple of hours of waiting, so we walked around the Umeda Sky Building. And thank God we did, because we stumbled upon a lovely little Christmas fair that was happening right next to the building! What made this fair really unique (other than the fact that it wasn’t even December yet!) was the fact that it was done in a very European fashion! From the decoration of the stalls to the stuffs that they were selling (frankfurter, gingerbread cookies, snow globes, the famous Matryoshka dolls, etc), nothing about it screamed “Japanese” at all. Even the shop assistant behind the stalls were expats! Regardless, it was such a festive fair and we were so lucky to have experienced it. I’m not sure whether this fair is held annually or not, but I sure hope it is!

One of the stalls at the fair. How cute!

One of the stalls at the fair. How cute!

This stall sold gingerbread cookies.

This stall sold gingerbread cookies.

The Cotton Candy Wizard!

The Cotton Candy Wizard!

There was even a carousel !!

There was even a carousel !!

And a huge Christmas tree !

And a huge Christmas tree !

We eventually had to say goodbye to the fun fair (and to that cute sales boy from the miniature-porcelain-houses stall !) and made our way to the overnight bus that would take us back to Tokyo. We were so tired that as soon as we sat down, we immediately fell straight to sleep. See you in 10 hours, Tokyo!

 

See you next time, Osaka!

See you next time, Osaka!

****

 

Juggling Japan – Day 5

Have you ever woke up on a nice, mellow day, stretched in bed, stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, then said to yourself, “Nope. Let’s just get up a few hours later”, and dozed back to sleep? Well, pictured that exact moment, but in a Japanese style bed instead. That was the exact feeling I felt when I woke up at the cozy hotel the following morning, and drifted back to sleep after I pressed the Dismiss button on my phone alarm. It was somewhere around 09:00 when we finally got up, two hours later from the original wake up call. This is the beauty of independent traveling. But of course, every beauty has a beast. And in this case, the beast would have to be our stomach. By the time we had finished washing our faces and brushing our teeth, our stomach growled in such a way that would make a lion hides in a corner. We had nothing but a couple of instant ramen which Puput had brought. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

We had our breakfast in the hostel’s common room, where we sat on the dining table with an Indian guy with his sandwich. There was no way I was going to eat my breakfast face to face with a stranger in an awkward silence, so i broke the ice with the young Indian guy, and in no time the three of us submerged in conversations about random things. We talked for half an hour, until it was finally time for us to get going and explore Osaka. First stop? Osaka Castle!

 

Osaka Castle (source: http://www.osaka-info.jp)

 

Osaka Castle, or Osakajo, is one of Japan’s famous castles. It’s relatively close from the Osakajokoen station, but a bit tricky to locate unless you know your way around the entire two square kilometers of Osaka Castle Park. And by “you”, I mean “we”. And by “tricky”, I mean we got lost. It didnt matter, though, because the park was gorgeous and packed with people celebrating autumn. Puput and I got pleasantly distracted and we took plenty of pictures under the beautiful orange leaves, we didn’t even mind when it started to drizzle. After a while, though, we grew a bit tired of getting lost and decided to focus on finding the stunning castle. When in doubt, follow the massive crowd, and voila! Across the river, with its gorgeous walls and moats which served as defense measures, there it stood, the majestic castle.

 

The view after exiting the station

The view after exiting the station

When in doubt, follow the crowd!

When in doubt, follow the crowd!

Let's enjoy the view..

Let’s enjoy the view..

Pleasantly distracted.

Pleasantly distracted.

Finally, across the river...

Finally, across the river…

Finally, Osaka Castle!

Osaka Castle!

 

The rain has started to get worse by the time we were queuing to enter the castle. The admission ticket costs 600 Yen, and it will take you all the way to the tower where you can see the entire Osaka Castle Park from above. There were only two elevators that would take us to the top of the tower, and it was relatively small. Thankfully an employee was there to keep everyone in order so none of us had to squeeze our way in. One interesting part about these elevators: they could only go up. So when you’re done taking in the beautiful view from the tower, you will need to take the stairs to finally exit the castle. I think this is a really smart strategy because visitors will not clash, plus they get to exercise! :D

We got a gorgeous 360 degree view of the Osaka Castle ground from the top of the tower, a perfect spot to see Osaka’s autumn leaves (koyo). As always, Puput got tons of beautiful pictures from the observatory deck. The only negative thing about it is the fact that it was a bit crowded so we had to struggle a tiny bit to walk around. But that certainly didn’t rain on our parade.

 

Observatory deck

Observatory deck

Osaka Castle ground..

Osaka Castle ground..

Ms. Busy Photographer :P

Ms. Busy Photographer :P

 

Speaking of, the rain had turned into a drizzle by the time we got out of the castle. We decided that it was time for lunch, so we headed to a nearby food stall to get a bite to eat. Puput ordered a cold soba while i got myself a nice hot octopus okonomiyaki. There were several logs behind the food stall where we could sit on and eat, but it was a bit tricky for us to eat AND hold our umbrellas at the same time. Besides us, a couple of old Japanese men were sitting on a different log and one of them noticed the picture of a sumo wrestler on my umbrella and tried to comment on it. I could only smile awkwardly because i didn’t understand what he was saying. I did understood when he asked where we were from, so I told him and he smiled awkwardly back. :D

After lunch, we decided to start shopping for souvenirs, especially for the famous Green Tea Kit Kat bars. For that, we went to Shinsekai, a very crowded and lively district. We were taken aback at first by the craziness of it all. It was a clear contrast to the serene Kyoto and busy Tokyo. I guess what Mrs. Kishimoto said about Osaka was right: it’s noisier than Tokyo. We bought so many chocolates and cookies in the shops in Shinsekai, and even got to take pictures inside a giant Pocky box (one of Japan’s most famous snack) and the Biliken statue. Psst… When you do find a biliken statue, don’t forget to rub it’s foot before or after you take a quick picture because it’s said to bring good luck. Puput and I had no idea about this so we just walked away after we took the pic. :(

 

Welcome to Shinsekai :)

Welcome to Shinsekai :)

look at the crowd!

look at the crowd!

Can you see the Tsutenkaku tower? I can!

Can you see the Tsutenkaku tower on the back?

We forgot to rub Billiken's foot!

We forgot to rub Billiken’s foot!

A giant Pocky !!!

A giant Pocky !!!

 

Exhausted from all the shopping and picture taking, we went back to the hostel for a little nap. Then around 7 PM, we set out again for another round of exploration, this time to Minami, Osaka’s major city center. Reachable on foot from Namba train station, Minami is highly recommended to visit at night time. The city came to life in a way that’s overwhelming yet exciting with all the colourful neon lights and people walking from every direction. Known as the city’s most famous entertainment district, Minami stretches from Namba station all the way to Shinsaibashi station and consists of several streets. Based on several researches before our Japan trip, we decided to focus only on Dotonbori, which is said to be the perfect area to experience Osaka’s famous nightlife. And by golly, what an area! Dotonbori clearly wastes no expense in maintaining its title as a food destination from the way it’s decorated by giant displays and moving signs. Some of the famous ones include Kani Doraku crab sign, Zubora-ya (a fugu / blowfish) and Kuidaore Taro (mechanical clown). Last but certainly not least, the giant neon sign of Glico Man, a symbol of Japan’s famous candy manufacturer.

 

Welcome to Dotonbori! (source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Nightlife in Dotonbori

Nightlife in Dotonbori

Puput with the Glico Man display

Puput with the Glico Man display

Kani Doraku sign! I’m a proud Cancerian :D

Last but not least, the giant neon sign of Glico Man!

Last but not least, the giant neon sign of Glico Man!

 

There’s an old saying in Japan, that a person from Tokyo will spend his last dime on footwear, a Kyoto man will spend his on a kimono, while a person from Osaka will spend his on food. After spending the rest of our night exploring Dotonbori’s festive area, and looking back on our early experience in Shinsekai, I guess I can see where that old saying was coming from. :)

 

Day 1 in Osaka: Done! :D

Day 1 in Osaka: Done! :D

 

***

Juggling Japan – Day 4

Good bye Tokyo, Hello Kyoto !!!

You would think that was the first thought that came to mind as I stepped off the bus, right? Well, you would be wrong. Because the minute we jumped out of the double-decker bus, we looked at each other and simultaneously cried: “Holy sh*t, it’s freezing cold!!!”. The strong exclamation was in Bahasa, of course, since we didn’t want any of the pedestrians to realize how rude these two lovely girls actually were.

courtesy of flickr.com

The Willer Express bus parked right across Kyoto train station for a few minutes, then left to continue its journey to Osaka. Puput and I were freezing our pants off, so we walked as fast as we could with our backpack and suitcase to the huge station. Please bear in mind that we had been stuck inside the bus for 7 hours, give or take. We hadn’t had breakfast, washed our faces, or brushed our teeth, so we weren’t exactly in a jolly mood. We strolled around the station in silence, mainly because we didn’t want to knock each other unconscious with our morning breaths. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what we were looking for inside the two-story station: toilet!

We decided to look for the toilet on the second floor because that was where the Kyoto’s Tourism Office was located and we needed to go there later on to buy bus passes. My friend saw an elevator right outside the station’s first floor entrance and she quickly walked to it. I quickly grabbed her elbow and pulled her back, simply because I saw a homeless man walking towards it as well. The last thing we wanted was to be inside a small elevator with him, so we just stood there and waited. To our surprise, he actually stopped right beside the elevator door and… pee. I had never been so amused and disgusted at the same time. We looked at each other, uncertain. If we went there a few seconds after the man did his morning relief, it would be one of the most awkward moments we would ever have in our lives. But we really needed the toilet and the one on the first floor was too far away and more likely crowded!

“The hell with it! I’m going in!” Puput finally exclaimed, and I followed her march. We tried our hardest not to make eye contact with anything or anyone other than the elevator button, and by the time we got inside the elevator, we burst out laughing.

Kyoto station, courtesy of travelpod.com

We took turns washing up then stored our backpack and suitcase in a huge locker. Again, we stayed frugal by splitting the fee, especially since it cost more than it did in Tokyo. Our original plan was to go straight to Kyoto’s Tourism Center office, which was conveniently located right across the locker room. But it was still closed (it opened at 08:30), so we went to get some breakfast in a nice little cafe only a few steps away from the office. Staring at our small cups of hot tea and four tiny slices of sandwiches on the table, we realized that we were no longer going to be able to have the fulfilling Japanese breakfast. Suffice to say, we were really missing the Kishimotos.

The tourism center office was packed by the time we got inside. I was really amazed by how efficient the place was! There were a row of counters (I forgot how many there were. I think it was about six to ten of them), each with a sign overhead that stated the counter number and the languages the staff was able to speak in. So if I were a tourist from Korea, I could go straight to the counter where it had the word ‘Korea’ written on the board overhead, and the staff would answer all my questions in Korean. Same goes if I were from China. How neat! Too bad there was no ‘Indonesian’ board, so we had to settle for the English-speaking staff. The man behind the counter was probably in his late 40s or early fifties and he was genuinely very friendly! I have to admit, I was really surprised! I thought elder workers would be grumpy and bitter but I could not have been more wrong! He spoke English very well and was very agile. Hell, he was more capable than most Indonesian young workers I’ve met! Gentlemen, please take notes!

After we got our bus passes (500 Yen for a day’s use), we headed to our first stop: Sanjusangendo temple, famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. And I have to say, Kyoto is a far much better place to enjoy the view of autumn leaves than Tokyo! We were treated with so many beautiful red leaves even before we got to a single temple! On the bus heading to Sanjusangendo, I couldn’t stop bugging Puput by pointing at every tree I saw. They were that magnificent!

Sanjusangendo, front

Back to the temple. In retrospect, Sanjusangendo was the most serene temple we visited in Kyoto. I think it had something to do with the lack of colorful trees in the garden, because most people (both local and non local) go to Kyoto to enjoy the stunning autumn scenery. However, it didn’t take away the fact that the place was amazing. As I entered the room (barefoot, by the way, since visitors were not allowed to wear any kinds of footwear other than socks. So make sure you have no stinky feet!), I could feel the mysterious aura taking over with its serenity and the smell of incense. And by the time the 1001 Kannon statues came into view, I got chills down my spine.

We spent a good 45-60 minutes inside the museum, then another hour roaming around its beautiful landscape. From the outside, I could see how vast the place really was. There were plenty of spots to take pictures, something Puput was clearly very excited about. Just like what she did in Edo Tokyo Museum, she basically left me stranded and had some fun of her own taking pictures here and there! :)

Sanjusangendo

Sanjusangendo, side

Sanjusangendo garden

the autumn leaves!

the autumn leaves!

autumn has arrived in Kyoto

autumn has arrived in Kyoto

After Sanjusangendo, we hop on another bus to Kiyomizudera temple. To our amazement, the bus was extremely crowded! And everyone got off at the same station we did, which meant everyone was going to Kiyomizudera! If this did not peak your interest, I don’t know what would.

The walk from the bus stop to the temple was an experience in itself. It took approximately 20 minutes to get to the famous temple, situated on top of a hill. Some would think it an uphill battle (pun intended), but the atmosphere would take your mind off of it. Just like in Asakusa, you would be pleasantly distracted by endless rows of shops and restaurants. In fact, I can boldly say that this walk was even better than Nakamise Shopping Street! Walking along the steep and narrow lane, I could feel the traditional essence of old Kyoto alive with all the wooden buildings and the salesmen shouting in Japanese. If Nakamise specializes in small souvenir shops, this particular lane has everything for everyone, from small souvenirs to sweets and pottery and many more.  This vibrant lane leading you to Kiyomizudera is called Higashiyama District, and it will satisfy the shopaholic side in you.

Higashiyama District

Higashiyama District

"Who, me?"

“Who, me?”

As much as we would love to explore every store in the district (and torture ourselves by the many things we couldn’t afford, as always!), Kiyomizudera was the main reason we were there.  At the time, we really had no idea what the fuzz was all about. Sure, the district was the perfect place to experience traditional Japan, and the temple was said to be one of the best places to view the ginkgo leaves, but we were already exhausted halfway there and were beginning to worry whether the temple was worth the hill climb.

So when we finally reached the end of Higashiyama District and were greeted by the stunning red gate that separated the district from the temple, we did nothing but simply stood there and be amazed. Size-wise, the gate in Asakusa was clearly bigger and with better decorations. But I personally think the Kiyomizudera gate left a bigger impact on my psyche.  The fact that it was situated on top of a stone staircase might have something to do with it, or maybe we were just plain tired by the time we got there. Whatever it was, I couldn’t help but feel small as I looked up to stare at the red and white entrance gate. It was the exact same feeling I felt in Kawaguchiko. Sanjusangendo may be the first temple we visited in Kyoto, but it was in Kiyomizudera where I finally realized that I have arrived in Kyoto.

The stunning red gate

The stunning red gate

"Welcome to Kiyomizudera"

“Welcome to Kiyomizudera”

After going through the gate, we had to climb more stairs to finally reach the glorious Kiyomizudera temple. Our earlier doubt was quickly demolished. This temple was more than worth the journey! It was absolutely, extremely, and completely breathtaking beyond words! Thirteen meters above the hillside, this temple is the perfect place to enjoy the sea of ginkgo trees. The wooden balcony that protrudes out of the main building is the most favorite spot for visitors, since it provides a clear view of the autumn colors.

Regardless of the massive crowd, Puput and I had the time of our lives in Kiyomizudera. We spotted many beautiful ladies wearing Kimono, even one wearing a very quirky get-up! It was unfortunate that neither of us took a picture of her. I guess we were too…stunned. :)

Red… Gorgeous red everywhere!

Look who we spotted!

Look who we spotted!

Enjoying the view, Put?

Enjoying the view, Put?

May all your wishes come true

May all your wishes come true

The stunning Kiyomizudera Temple

The stunning Kiyomizudera Temple

We spent about two hours there, and we wish we could have stayed longer. Too bad the need to fill our stomach got the better of us, so we had to get going. You would think that we would have no problem finding some food to eat at Higashiyama District, but you would be wrong! As always, the depth of our wallets were no match for the height of the prices there. In fact, we couldn’t find any affordable restaurant until we returned to the bus stop! And it was a Chinese restaurant! A fellow Indonesian traveler I knew once said Chinese restaurant is the best place to eat when you’re craving for some rice or just plain right starving, because you don’t have to spend a lot of money for a satisfying meal. I guess she was right!

Once our stomach were full, we set off to Gion District, a traditional Kyoto avenue most famous for its geisha district. It’s only a ten minute walk from Kiyomizudera, or even less, if my feet weren’t in so much pain. I guess the hill of Kiyomizudera took a toll.

Gion District, courtesy of japan-guide.com

Gion District, for me, is the perfect place to get the sense of traditional Kyoto without having to deal with the hustle and bustle like in Higashiyama District. I personally enjoyed Higashiyama more, but Gion was a nice and much-needed change. It was calm and peaceful, aside from a few cars that might pass now and then to deliver stuffs for the many traditional merchant houses. Despite being Kyoto’s famous geisha district, we didn’t see any of them in Gion. I think it was because we were there during the day, because a friend of mine who went there a few months earlier said that she saw plenty of them during the evening. But it was still fun to walk around the district, enjoying all the old-fashioned houses. Hopefully one day I will be able to visit this district again, this time during the night ;)

IMG_3277

IMG_3290

Our last stop in Kyoto is Kinkakuji, or The Golden Pavilion. This is probably the most popular tourist destination in Kyoto, despite the fact that it was the furthest out of all the other well-known places. How far, you ask? Well, let’s just say that I had a nice long sleep in the bus while Puput went through the map to figure out where to get off and change buses. Such a lovely travel companion I was, eh? But it was a much-needed sleep, I tell ya, because I was already exhausted by the time we left Gion!

I felt like a recharged Energiser bunny by the time we got off at Kinkakuji bus stop. Again, we had to walk from the bus stop to get there, but I was back in high spirits so I didn’t mind at all. As a reward, I was greeted by this stunning golden temple, situated on a large pond. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter this site, so we had to settle for a nice spot from across the pond. Though not as crowded as Kiyomizudera, we still had to fight our way in order to get a nice shot.

In restrospect, Kinkakuji was my second most favorite place in Kyoto (Kiyomizudera would be the first), because I got to walk on this beautiful path and saw the famous Zen temple from various angles. And because autumn was in full swing, I could enjoy the beautiful red and orange trees and hear the leaves crumpling beneath my feet. The path also leads the visitors to the vast garden, where I spotted some statues where people threw coins at for luck. We initially wanted to try, but thought better of it because a 100 Yen coin was worth a nice can of warm chocolate milk from the vending machine.

the beautiful walk to Kinkakuji

the beautiful walk to Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji entrance

Kinkakuji entrance

view from across the pond

view from across the pond

Found the best spot!

Found the best spot!

up close

up close

the gorgeous path around Kinkakuji. Look at those leaves!

the gorgeous path around Kinkakuji. Look at those leaves!

The sun was setting as we made our way back to Kyoto station. It was our time to leave Kyoto and head for Osaka. There are two ways (that we know of) to reach Osaka from Kyoto: by bullet train a.k.a Shinkansen or the normal JR train. It would take 15 minutes by the former, and 45 minutes by the latter. The 30 minute time gap might look insignificant, but the price gap between the two was anything but! While the shinkansen would drain our pockets dry for 1,480 Yen, it would only cost us 540 Yen by JR train. I think it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which one we chose! ;-)

When we arrived in Osaka, our first and only thought was this: Must.Find.Hotel! We were completely exhausted and we wanted nothing more than to call it a day. We were dying for a nice, long rest! We had booked a room at Toyo Hotel and were smart enough to print the map of the hotel. The last thing we wanted was to get lost, especially when we were seconds away from collapsing, so Puput quickly pulled the map out of her bag the second we got off the train.

And whaddaya know! The hotel was only a three-minute walk from the train station !!!!

Oh God Almighty !!!!

We literally screamed for joy when we spotted the hotel, which was located so conveniently near Dobutsuenmae train station and just right around the corner from the main street! It took less than a minute for us to fall in love with the cleanliness and comfort of the hotel, and its friendly staffs. The room we booked was a twin Japanese-style one that includes air conditioner, a television, and refrigerator for only 3,000 Yen a night, or 1,500 Yen per person! If that’s not a bargain, I don’t know what is!

After a quick dinner (consisting of two instant noodles courtesy of Puput’s), taking a shower and changing into pajamas, I snuggled like a cocoon inside my thick, warm blanket. Puput was too busy enjoying the free wi-fi (she had been having troubles staying in touch with her family without any internet connection), so it was understandable that she didn’t notice me dozing off. Of course, I didn’t forget to set the phone alarm for 7 AM. As I positioned my phone next to my pillow, I couldn’t help but picture myself waking up the next morning and press the Dismiss button again. But this time, it was intentional. Why?

Because unlike in Tokyo and Kyoto, our schedule in Osaka was a relaxing one. In other words, we wouldn’t have to run against time to visit all the places in our itinerary.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was pure heaven.

***

Juggling Japan – Day 3

The day my friend and I had been dreading finally arrived: our last day in Kishimoto Residence.  As soon as I opened my eyes, that realization hit me like a tidal wave. It was without a doubt the saddest morning in our Juggling Japan adventure. I went to the room where Puput was staying (which was right across the tiny hall) and found that she was still asleep. I wish i had mistakenly pressed the Dismiss button on my alarm clock like I did on our first day so we would have overslept again and had more than enough reason to stay there longer. But that was not the case. So I woke her up and we took turns washing our faces and brushing our teeths. On our way to the bathroom, we ran into Mr. Kishimoto. He was surprised to see us up so early, considering yesterday we were still in dream land by the time he left the house for work. He nodded to us and said good morning, but he was quite awkward about it all. Later on we found out from Mrs. Kishimoto that he was shy since he didn’t have any daughters. Nevertheless, he was really nice. He was the one who invited us to sit and rest under the kotatsu on our first day. Oh, who are we kidding here? Basically EVERYONE in the Kishimoto household were angels!

Japanese breakfast, courtesy of www.lessonlinks.org

Japanese breakfast, courtesy of http://www.lessonlinks.org

For the second (and sadly the last in our 2012 Japan-vaganza) time, Mrs. Kishimoto had prepared for us the mouth-watering Japanese breakfast. I’m just going to say, right here and now, that the typical Japanese breakfast is absolutely fulfilling! We ate at 7 in the morning every day for two days, and we never felt hungry before 3 in the afternoon!!! It was a fantastic way to stay frugal on a backpacking trip! This time, Mrs. Kishimoto prepared tuna instead of beef, and chicken cream soup instead of miso. Plus, we had nori (dried and salted seaweed) for snacks, as if we still had enough room. We never forgot to say “Gochisousama desu” (rough translation: “I am done. Thank you for the meal”) after we ate, and she was very impressed with our Japanese language ability. Now i’m not saying that we could speak fluent Japanese. We are nowhere near that level yet! The way I look at it is this: Japanese language is considered as one of the most complicated languages in the world. Even not all Japanese know their Kanji! Therefore, they never expect foreign people to know their language. So when they hear us speaking Japanese, they would be very surprised. This sort of makes me want to study the language even more, just to see how they would react when I actually speak fluently.

Back to breakfast with Mrs. Kishimoto. Throughout our morning chat with the lovely mother, Puput and I exchanged glances and I knew she was thinking the same thing: sooner than later, we were going to have to say good-bye to this wonderful host and the warm house. So when she stood up from her chair, opened a drawer next to kotatsu (I swear I would steal that comfortable table!), and pulled out two gift-wrapped farewell presents, I completely lost it and started crying my eyes out. It was the ultimate sucker punch. She had treated us with such grace and warmth and kindness that many travelers could only dream of receiving, and it made it so much harder to say good-bye. I could see tears in her eyes as she said, “It has been a pleasure having you in our house. Please come here again when you visit Tokyo”. And later, as we packed our bags to go see Mount Fuji by bus, she handed two plastic bags full of snacks for us to eat on the way. It’s just one of those mornings Puput and I would never forget.

Our beautiful and kind-heart host

Our beautiful and kind-heart host

Too bad Mr. Kishimoto had already left for work..

Too bad Mr. Kishimoto had already left for work..

After our tearful and bittersweet goodbye, Puput and I finally set out our journey to Lake Kawaguchiko to see Mount Fuji. We went there by a highway bus, which cost 1700 Yen and took about 2,5 hours. Yuya warned us the day before that it would be even colder there than Tokyo (The temperature in Tokyo alone at the time was ten to seven degrees Celcius! You could only imagine the effect it had on a couple of girls who had lived their 22 years of lives in a tropical country!), so we went all out and wore three thick layers of clothes.

Puput took this picture from the bus!

Puput took this picture from the bus!

But alas! The weather was actually sunny and warm as we stepped off the bus at Kawaguchiko Station! This unexpected change completely lifted our mood, because it meant we got to see the majestic Mount Fuji on a clear day! Many travelers would kill for a clear view of the iconic mountain, and we were one of the lucky few to get that!

The best way to see Mount Fuji is by taking the Kachi Kachi Ropeway, which cost 700 Yen for a round trip. Once we got off the rope way, we had to do a bit of hike to get to the top. Don’t worry, it was not hard at all. And as a reward for the not-so-rigorous hike, a lovely little restaurant / gift shop greeted us at the very top. What’s even better was the balcony over the restaurant where it served as the best spot to feast our eyes on the beauty that is Fujiyama. As I climbed our way on the stairs that led to the balcony, my heart was pounding. In a matter of seconds, I was going to catch a glimpse of the mountain that is the epitome of Japan. I got goosebumps just thinking about it. And when I reached the final step, I took a deep breath. Holding on to the railing, I looked up.

IMG_3030

There it was, as clear as day. Mount Fuji in all her glory. The view I had been dreaming of seeing since I was a little kid. The type of view I only got to see on screen or plastered all over Japanese souvenirs. And there I was. In Japan. After sixteen years of waiting.

It was such an overwhelming moment. I couldn’t help but feel small, and I knew my friend was experiencing the same feeling. Standing at the balcony, staring at the gorgeous view, we took a minute of silence to remember how blessed we were throughout the entire journey so far.

God knows how much time we spent up there, taking pictures and admiring the brilliant views. Kudos to whoever built the balcony because it was such a perfect spot! Try standing dead center on the balcony and look around. You would find the famous mountain on your left, and the Kawaguchiko Lake on your right. Isn’t that just so bloody picturesque??

The girls with Fuji-san :)

The girls with Fuji-san :)

Binoculars are available for 100 Yen

Binoculars for an even better view (100Yen)

Kawaguchiko Lake

Kawaguchiko Lake

"Quick! Tie your fortune paper!"

“Quick! Tie your fortune paper!”

the view from Kachi Kachi Ropeway

the view from Kachi Kachi Ropeway

As much as we wanted to stay there forever, we needed to get going because we still had to get back to Tokyo to see the iconic Tokyo Tower and go to Shinjuku to take our overnight bus to Kyoto. So we hopped on the lovely tourist bus back to Kawaguchiko station and bought our highway bus tickets back to Tokyo.

The cute little Tourist Bus

The cute little Tourist Bus

It was already dark by the time we reached Shinjuku. When I said dark, I’m sure lots of my Indonesian friends who are reading this would expect the time to be around eight or nine at night. The truth is, it was just after five in the evening. The days are pretty short during autumn and winter. This came as a surprise for me and my friend as well. And the streets got really quiet and almost empty by seven. At first, it felt a bit spooky when we made our way through the deserted streets, parks, and overpass. Lots of times we found ourselves being the only two people on the sidewalk! But eventually there was this sense of serenity surrounding us, and as the iconic tower slowly came into view, the silence of it all made the view of beautifully-lit Tokyo Tower even more stunning than it already was.

as it came into view...

as it came into view…

...and up close

…and up close

We didn’t take a lot of pictures there (well, at least I didn’t. Puput did more than enough for the two of us) and sat on the nearby benches instead. Early on, we had decided not to enter the tower and go to the observatory deck because we were already content with the view from Tokyo SkyTree that we saw the day before. Sitting on the nearby benches might sound boring, but it couldn’t be much further than the truth. Since Christmas was only a month away, there were these gorgeous Christmas lights decorations everywhere in Tokyo, including around the Tokyo Tower grounds. You could feel the festivity blooming and even though neither of us celebrate it, we could feel the joy and excitement surrounding the day that is Christmas. Our favorite Christmas Light decorations in Tokyo would be Ebisu Place Garden and Roppongi, both we visited on our first day. They were just so festive and romantic!

Christmas decorations near Tokyo Tower (1)

Christmas decorations near Tokyo Tower (1)

Christmas decorations near Tokyo Tower (2)

Christmas decorations near Tokyo Tower (2)

the cute bench

the cute bench

fav decoration (1): Roppongi

fav decoration (1): Roppongi

fav decoration (2): Ebisu Place Garden

fav decoration (2): Ebisu Place Garden

From Tokyo Tower, we made our way back to Shinjuku to catch the overnight bus. But we managed to make one final pit stop. If Shibuya has Hachiko statue as its famous meeting point, Shinjuku has its Love Sculpture. Just like Hachiko, this sculpture was located only a few inches from the street’s busy crossroad. I’d say the best time to see this modern art is at night because of the lights surrounding those four letters.

IMG_3074

It was ten PM by the time we got to Sumitomo Building. This is where we checked in our reserved seats for the overnight bus to Kyoto. As a traveler on a limited budget, an overnight bus is the perfect alternative to reach point B that is located quite far from point A because most of the times it is much cheaper than a night’s worth of hotel.

It takes roughly 10 hours to reach Kyoto from Tokyo, with a few stops along the way. Our bus had to make a few stops to switch drivers, which is a really good thing because we wouldn’t have to worry about the driver dozing off and jeopardizing the passengers’ safety. If you’re wondering about the name of the bus service that we chose, it is Willer Express. I loved this company’s service. The staffs were so nice and extremely helpful despite the limited English proficiency.

The bus departed from Tokyo at 11: 50 PM. It was dark, and most of the passengers fell right to sleep the moment their heads touched the head rest. I had a bit of problem storing my backpack because the cabin was smaller than I expected, so it took quite a while for me to dozed off. And when I finally started to feel my eyes closing, one single thought came to mind:

Kyoto, here we come!

***

Juggling Japan – Day 2

At the end of our Juggling Japan Day 1, Yuya’s mum kindly asked what time we would like to have breakfast. As a traveler with a limited-budget mindset, this question was completely unexpected.  I mean, it felt like we were getting a room service treatment only provided in a 5-star hotel! So thrown off we were by the question that we simply looked at each other and stuttered: “Err…Six?”. WAAAY to early for breakfast, I know. But it was the first number that popped in my head and my innocent friend went along with it. There was no turning back. We had to set our alarm clock at 5:30 in the morning so we could wash up first.

At 5:30 the next morning, my mobile phone alarm rang. My eyelids were as heavy as 10,000 tons of bricks, so I pressed the Snooze button. Five more minutes

The next thing I knew, I heard a gentle knock at the door. I opened my eyes, looked around the room, and mumbled a coarse, “Yes?”.

Yuya’s mum’s peeped inside. “It’s 7 o’clock now. Are you okay?”

WHAT ?!

I staggered off my bed, looking all kinds of mess. “I’m okay, I’m okay. I’m coming.” Turns out I pressed the Dismiss button by accident, instead of the stupid Snooze. Great. This wasn’t exactly the kind of first impression you want to give to your kind-as-an-angel host family. And what was worse, my friend was also dozing off when Yuya’s mum knocked on her door! I swear, it was as if we were on sedatives! But what else would you expect when you get to sleep under a warm, thick blanket in a cold autumn night?

By the time we were ready for breakfast, Yuya’s mum was already sitting in the dining room. Again, with a limited-budget  / couch-surfing mindset, we really didn’t expect anything more than a couple of toast with butter and a cup of warm tea. But God bless her! She had prepared for us a Japanese feast! We could only gape in disbelief at the lines of delicious food on the table, just for the two of us! I should have taken a couple of pictures of the bowl of rice, the marinated roasted beef, the spinach saute, the egg dumpling, the miso soup and the cup of hot ocha. I know I should have. But man, we were too busy devouring the heaven-sent feast that was laid in front of us!

Yuya’s mum taught us which sauce to pour on the egg dumpling, the Japanese manner in eating gohan (bowl of rice), and how to hold the bowl of miso soup. It was the perfect Japanese Culture 101, free of charge! She also told us that she had always wanted to have a daughter, so she was more than pleased to have us as her guests (God, I’m tearing up as I’m typing this part!). Looking back at our 7-day trip in perspective, spending quality time with her every morning during breakfast was the most precious memory of all.

After breakfast, Yuya’s mum took us to greet Yuya’s grandma who was on the other part of the house. She was the most adorable 80-year-old I have ever met! Despite knowing no English whatsoever, she was very friendly and not at all shy! She patted our backs and bowed in a Pleasure-to-meet-you kind of way, it was transparent how happy Yuya’s grandma was to have us. It was such a sweet moment on a fine Tuesday morning.

Now that our stomach were completely stuffed, we were ready for our day 2 adventure. Yuya walked us to the train station – which meant he had to wake up early as well despite the fact that he only had one afternoon class (God bless him!) – and told us that he was going to catch up with us later at 15:00 after his school was done for the day. Our first stop was Asakusa, a total 1-hour train ride from Tsutsujigaoka. Having to leave quite early in the morning (around 8:30 – 9:00 AM), we got to experience Tokyo’s rush hour, which consists of people jostling inside the train like a giant can of sardines. One thing I realized about the citizens of Tokyo was how serious they mostly were. There was barely any noise inside the train compartment, even from a couple of people who knew each other! All of them were either reading newspaper or checking out their mobile phones, which by the way was set to vibrate mode (or as they say: Manner Mode). It was complete and utter silent.

Commuting in Tokyo, courtesy of http://tonymcnicol.photoshelter.com

Commuting in Tokyo, courtesy of http://tonymcnicol.photoshelter.com

One more thing about the Japanese and their ‘train mannerism’. The people waiting at the platform ALWAYS let the people walk out of the train first before they get on board. They literally waited until the last person got off, and they did so in such perfect lines! There was no fuss whatsoever, no worries about the train leaving before they hop inside because there would be some kind of a jingle playing throughout the platform to warn them that the doors were about to close. Did I mention that every station had their own jingle? I didn’t even realize it until Yuya told me later on. How unique and fun!

When we got to Asakusa, the place was packed! People of all shapes and sizes were there to catch a glimpse of the Kaminarimon, an entrance gate decorated with a huge (and I mean GIGANTIC!) red lantern. Once we passed the gate, we were greeted by Nakamise Shopping Street, which was basically rows and rows of souvenir shops and food stalls, all beaming with the authentic Japanese atmosphere. It was like a vibrant flea market, except there was nothing ‘flea-ish’ about it. Every key chain and refrigerator magnet has got Made in Japan written all over them, which made them so bloody expensive for a couple of backpackers like yours truly. Mind you, my mum and I have always been souvenir junkies. Back home, in the living room, we have a huge glass cabinet filled with souvenirs I got from my domestic and international trips. The thought of handing mum a bag full of snow globes was enough to torture myself as I squeezed my way through the crowd. Despite our mental note of NOT buying anything, we found ourselves exploring all the stores for a good 45 minutes, tormenting ourselves by staring at the beautiful stuffs we couldn’t afford. After minutes of struggling, I finally cracked and bought a lovely pack of book markers with pictures of Japanese women in Kimono on them. Yes, out of all the interesting things I could have got, I chose a pack of book markers. What a nerd. Oh, and we tried this INCREDIBLY delicious Tempura Manju, which is basically a fried dough filled with red bean paste. Lord, have mercy! They smelled and tasted like heaven !!! I may forgive you for not buying any souvenirs in Nakamise, but it would be a crime to not try this wonderful snack. I’m telling you, they are so very addictive! Oh Gosh,my mouth is watering!

Puput in front of Kaminarimon Gate

Puput in front of Kaminarimon Gate

Nakamise Shopping Street

Nakamise Shopping Street

Drooling over every little thing...

Drooling over every little thing…

Once we were done going through Nakamise, we finally arrived at Sensoji Temple. It was the first temple we had ever visited in Japan, so we were in complete awe as the stunning temple came in full view. Before entering the holy temple, we had to clean ourselves at the nearby ablution pond. The water was ridiculously cold, but it didn’t stop both of us from diving head first into Japanese’s holy ritual. Next to the pond, there was some kind of a well. We couldn’t get too close to it because of the crowd, but we could see smoke coming out of it. People were trying to breathe the smoke in because it is said that the smoke can bring you health. So if you’re not feeling well when you’re traveling in Tokyo, Asakusa might just be your solution!

Since Sensoji was the first temple we visited, we decided to have a little fun and got ourselves fortune papers. The fortune papers were kept inside a large drawer, and the only way to get it was by shaking a can until a piece of stick fell out. There would be a number written at the tip of the stick, and you had to get your fortune paper from the drawer of the matching number. I was really pleased with the good fortune I got, but the same couldn’t be said for my friend who got the unfortunate one. We just laughed it off, but later on I found out that my friend actually tied her bad fortune somewhere near Mount Fuji to prevent it from really happening. Ha!

The water was freezing cold!

The water was freezing cold!

Her unfortunate fortune :P

Her unfortunate fortune :P

The Sensoji Temple grounds

The Sensoji Temple grounds

After Asakusa, we went to Ueno Park. I could probably compare its vastness with New York City’s Central Park, though I’ve actually never been there. It was a really pretty park, but I didn’t get to see as many yellow leaves as I had expected. In fact, many of the trees were withering, some were even bald. I could only picture how beautiful it must be during spring, with all the cherry blossoms. Mental note: return to Japan in April. Despite it all, I had a good time at the park. I got to sit on the pavement and relax while watching the street performance: a beautiful lady playing accordion and singing Opera.

We met Yuya a few hours later at Edo-Tokyo Museum, which was only a five-minute walk from Ryogoku station. It cost 600 Yen to enter, but we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that we could actually use our university student card to get a discount. We only had to pay 450 Yen instead!

Edo-Tokyo Museum was really interesting, because it was filled with dioramas of the old Tokyo. If you’re into history, this five-storey museum is the place for you. There were a lot of displays you get to touch, enter, and even play with. It was so interactive! My friend got a wee bit too excited and started to roam around the museum with her digital camera, abusing the Diorama Effect on her camera and leaving me and Yuya behind. But thanks to her, we got some amazing pictures!

Yuya being interactive with the props :)

Yuya being interactive with the props :)

A replica of an old book store.

A replica of an old book store.

inside a traditional Japanese house

inside a traditional Japanese house

From Ryogoku, the three of us headed to Akihabara for dinner. At first, Yuya wanted to take us to a Maid Cafe, but his Google Map phone application got broken halfway, so he took us to an Udon restaurant instead. Words can’t express how grateful we were of Yuya because he was basically our translator for the menu and he prevented us from ordering the wrong food (read: pork). The Udon we ordered was delicious and well worth the money.

We also got to try Purikura, a popular photo booth in Tokyo where we could edit our pictures. You could literally do anything to your own pictures, from adding cute writings to enlarging your eyes! It was fun, but a bit complicated for first timers such as myself. My friend, on the other hand, was into it like a pro! We got to pick our top 6 favorite pictures to have them printed, and most of the ones we picked were her ‘creations’!

Slurping some Udon...

Slurping some Udon…

PURIKURA, making girls look creepy since 2012 :P

PURIKURA, making girls look creepy since 2012 :P

The highlight of our second day of Juggling Japan was our next (and final) stop after Akihabara: Tokyo Sky Tree Tower. An interesting story behind our visit to the world’s highest free-standing broadcasting tower: A month before our arrival to Tokyo, I was talking to Yuya through Skype about the places my friend and I were going to visit when he recommended us to go to this tower. After a quick check on the internet, I discovered that the price ticket to get inside (and straight to the observatory deck) was way too high –no pun intended – for a couple of backpackers like us. I told Yuya this, and added that we would probably just took some pictures outside the tower. I thought that was the end of that. But a couple of days later, Yuya messaged me through Facebook that his mum had given him money for tickets. She was treating the three of us !!! Even before we met, Mrs. Kishimoto had already gone to great lengths as the greatest host ever!

Our night at Tokyo Sky Tree got even more exciting because we were going to meet an old friend, Rani. We had not met Rani for three years, since she left Indonesia with her husband to Tokyo. It was such a fun reunion! We took a lot of pictures together inside the observatory deck like a proper Asian tourist :P Too bad we couldn’t stay a bit longer because the three of us didn’t want to arrive at Yuya’s house late at night (again).

with Rani, inside the observatory deck

with Rani, inside the observatory deck

our lovely guide, host, and translator :)

our lovely guide, host, and translator :)

High up above...

High up above…

...or down below

…or down below

The tower's purple, the color of Tokyo

The tower’s purple, the color of Tokyo

By the time we got home, Mr and Mrs Kishimoto were already asleep. Once again, the three of us sat under the kotatsu and chatted for a bit about how our day was in a nutshell. We even watched some comedy shows, with Yuya as our designated translator. It had been a really great day, even better than the first. But as I wrapped myself around the comfortable blanket,  I couldn’t help but feel sad as the sudden realization hit me: that night was our last night at the Kishimoto residence.

****

Juggling Japan – Day 1

When I said “childhood”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Sitting in the sand box and building sand castles? Running around the jungle gym while screaming bloody Mary? Or playing house with your imaginary friends, along with your adorable stuffed animals?

The most vivid memory I can conjure when it comes to childhood is me sitting in front of the telly, watching Japanese cartoons (anime) on a peaceful Sunday morning. No fuss whatsoever, I would sit with my sippy cup, hair all messy and tangled, and watch the hours went by by staring at an animated robot cat named Doraemon. That is my earliest memory of being exposed to a tiny piece of Japanese culture, and since then my fascination towards the country grew and grew. So you could only imagine what I was feeling sixteen years later, as I was standing on a wooden balcony on a clear day, staring at the majestic Mount Fuji, the epitome of Japanese culture. God knows the struggle I went through to hold back the urge to scream, “BLOODY HELL, I AM IN JAPAN!!!!!”

My seven-day Japan-vaganza started on Sunday, November 18th, 2012. My friend and I intentionally chose November so we could see the beauty of Japanese autumn first hand. We could just picture the breathtaking scenery: rows and rows of yellow leaves, mixing together with reds and orange, along with the hypnotizing smell of freshly brewed green tea (ocha). Aaaah… the hard life :)

Unfortunately we had to wait a little longer because the plane landed in Haneda Airport at approximately 10:30 PM. With the long (yet very effective and efficient) line at the immigration and baggage claims, it was already past 11PM when we were finally free. Unfortunately the last train heading to downtown Tokyo was around 12 at night, and it would be a huge gamble to go straight from the airport without knowing any directions whatsoever. We didn’t want to take the risk of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere on a cold night, so we decided to crash at the airport and start fresh the next morning. I was worried the airport officers were going to throw us out, shoo-ing us for sleeping on the hard-cold benches, but alas! we weren’t the only crashers! Slowly but surely people started to claim spots on the benches, stretching their legs and using their long coats as blankets. The airport officer just stood and watch like a lifeguard, which actually made me feel safe. I’m telling you, you could might as well be carrying a golden Buddha statue in a Seven-Eleven plastic bag and you wouldn’t be worried about having anything stolen from you! There’s just something about Japanese’s discipline culture that reassured you.

The next morning, we woke up in high spirits. After some time in the toilet doing some washing and tooth brushing, we carried our bags to brace the Tokyo’s autumn air. Oh! Speaking of toilets.. I saw in many Hollywood movies how complicated Japanese toilet seats can be. To be honest, I was quite intimidated by the fancy buttons when i first entered the loo. There was a button for bidet, a button for spray, buttons to modify the water pressure for the bidet, a button for fan to dry your, ehm, area, after you’re done and even a button for sound effects! It was like trying to figure out the best fighting combo on your Mortal Combat game!

Japanese toilets

Thankfully the buttons were also written in English – at least the toilets in the airport, anyway – so it was actually not as complicated as it would seem in the movies. AND it actually makes everything a lot better. I felt – for lack of a better word – cleaner. The bidet sprayed things that needed to be sprayed, and the fan dried things that needed to be dried. Coming out of the toilet, I felt… sanitized. This, therefore, got me thinking. If the Japanese toilets are considered complicated and too tech-savvy for the Westerns, I wonder how clean they actually are after a session in the loo. You know, without the bidet and the fan and the… well, you get the picture!

Anyhow!

From Haneda airport, we took the Keikyu express train to Shinjuku station, which is the epitome of downtown Tokyo. Shinjuku station is the world’s busiest train station according to Wikipedia, so you could imagine how scary it was for us two tiny Asian girls, trying to find our way around without getting trampled on. First thing’s first, we rented a large locker inside the station to store both my backpack and my friend’s suitcase. It cost 500 Yen for 24 hours, which is a real bargain because we could split the fee.

With heavy burdens now out of our way, we strolled casually out of the station to our first destination: Icho Namiki, a famous street in Tokyo. What’s so special about Icho Namiki is the pedestrian walk in both sides of the street, which is decorated with rows and rows of stunning ginkgo trees. Standing in the middle of the pavement, we feast our eyes upon the gorgeous yellow leaves. At that moment, a sudden realization hit me. I’m actually here, in Tokyo, staring at ginkgo trees.

Tokyo, Nov 19th 2012

It was an out-of-body experience, and it lasted for a few seconds until a creepy black crow suddenly came swooping down and scared the hell out of me. Yes, you heard me. A crow. A huge, horrific crow that made me scream at the top of my lungs as it made its way towards me and my tuna-filled onigiri. It wasn’t my fault, okay! My stomach was screaming for some food, so I just had to pull out from my carry-on bag a couple of onigiris for breakfast. How was I supposed to know that the beautiful pedestrian walk was occupied by crows??I couldn’t help but imagine its huge beak destroying my already-flat nose and turning me into Voldemort in a matter of seconds. Did I mention that it was also trying to steal my water bottle AND gloves?? Stupid winged creatures, ruining my morning! Further on I discovered that there are actually A LOT of crows in Japan. I saw them every-friggin-where, not just in Tokyo. Some countries have pidgeons, others have strayed cats. Japan has crows. Creeping crows…

Despite the traumatic interruption, in a true asian-touristy style, my friend and I didn’t miss the chance to take some pictures. We took turns taking pictures of each other, and just when we were trying to figure out how to get both of us in a single frame, two kind lady approached us and offered to take our pictures. There was no catch whatsoever! These two ladies were enjoying their morning walk and just like that, they decided to help us capture our Icho Namiki moment. How lovely!

From Icho Namiki, we went to our second destination: Kawasaki. Kawasaki is a little bit outside Tokyo and can be reached from Shinjuku station using the Odakyu Odawara express Line for approximately 30 minutes. Kawasaki is the home of Japan’s most beloved comic (manga) artist: Fujiko F. Fujio. Remember the robot cat anime I mentioned earlier? Mr. Fujiko is the creator. Doraemon (the robot cat) is arguably the most lovable Japanese cartoon characters ever existed. It is impossible to find a Japanese kid who doesn’t know who Doraemon is. As a kid growing up watching Doraemon, it would be a sin for me to come to Japan and not visit this museum.

“Door-to-anywhere”

at the rooftop playground

It cost 1,000 yen to enter, and you have to purchase the ticket in advance. But the trouble is well worth it once you’re inside. I got to learn the life of Mr. Fujiko and the story behind the creation of Doraemon and his other famous works. I felt like a kid again when I stepped into the rooftop playground, which was decorated with various Doraemon characters. I’m telling you, this trip is one not to be missed for the kid in you. However, please bear in mind the weather when you’re there because a lot of the spots that are picture-worthy are mostly outdoors. It had just stopped drizzling when I arrived, and boy, was it cold !!! I lost count how many times my teeth were chattering! Well, I guess this is what you get when you’ve lived in a tropical country for 22 years *sigh

picture taken from flickr.com

After a huge portion of lunch at a nearby station (this is not a sponsored blog post, but I will say this: Yoshinoya restaurant saved our lives more than once), we went back to Tokyo to meet my Japanese friend, Yuya. I know Yuya through AIESEC –an international student organization – and I helped him during his two-month internship in Jakarta. Yuya and his family had kindly offered to be our host family for two nights, something we could never be able to thank them enough for. Yuya had agreed to meet us at Shibuya, at the famous Hachiko statue, because he wanted to go sightseeing with us. The three of us went to Ramen Museum in Yokohama, then to Roppongi and Ebisu Place Garden, both in Tokyo.

I could go on and on about the places my friend and I have visited on our first day in Tokyo (and I may as well already have!), but there is nothing that I want to share more than the generosity shown by our friend Kishimoto Yuya and his family.

It was already around 21:30 by the time we left Ebisu Place Garden and the three of us were exhausted. After getting our backpack and suitcase from the locker, we went straight to Tsutsujigaoka, the train station located near Yuya’s house. My friend and I were cold and honestly starving by the time we were on the train, but none of us said a word because we didn’t want to make Yuya more tired than he already was. But alas! The second we stepped out of the Tsutsujigaoka station, Yuya invited us to have dinner in his favorite sushi restaurant, and he told us that his mum was going to treat us! At that exact moment, I could see Yuya and his mum with wings of an angel, heaven-sent to save this poor, low-budgeted travelers. Yuya took us to a unique sushi restaurant where the customers could order sushi from a touch screen menu and the food would be delivered to you through a mini conveyor belt in minutes time. Well, at least it was unique for us. I’m pretty sure it’s nothing new for Yuya and the rest of the Japanese citizens. Yuya taught us how to order from the screen and recommended us some of the most amazing sushi I have ever tasted. It was such an experience!

Having filled our stomach with delicious feast, we went straight to Yuya’s house. On our way, I kept imagining different scenarios about how our first encounter with Yuya’s parents were going to be like. One thing was for sure, guilt came over me as I realized how late it was by the time we arrived. It was near 23:00 when we finally got there, and the last thing we wanted was to wake Yuya’s family up. But again, I was touched by everyone’s friendliness and generosity. We were greeted with such warmth as if we were old friends. They even allowed us to rest under their kotatsu (a low, wooden table covered by a thick blanket with a heat source underneath. Source: wikipedia), which was extremely comfortable. I swear, after a looong day of shivering cold, I could live under that lovely table and became a human cocoon.

Now you’d think allowing the guests to rest under the kotatsu is enough for winning the host family of the year award. But nooo…. Yuya’s family went above and beyond by providing us with, wait for it, toiletries! Words can’t express how touched my friend and I were as Yuya’s mum began to explain the stuffs she had prepared for each of us: towels (a small one for drying our face, and a large one for our body), a toothbrush, a shower cap, a plastic mug for gargling, and a loofah to wash our back. Did I mention that she bought everything in double quantities, one for each of us??

After a few minutes of small talks while sitting under the kotatsu and watching TV, it was finally bed time. Yes, each of us got our own bedroom because Yuya has two older brothers who already had a place of their own.

with Yuya-san at Roppongi

It was only our first night at Yuya’s house, and I was already almost in tears because I was so overwhelmed by his family’s kindness. When Yuya asked what the highlight of the day was, both of us said Ramen Museum and Ebisu Garden Place because those places were unique and beautiful. But when my friend and I chatted for a bit as we got ready bed, we both agreed that Yuya’s family was the highlight of the day.

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The Tiny Traveler

Praise the Lord!

My blog is still alive !!!!

I thought the invisible hands have voluntarily erased my WordPress account from the face of the cyber world due to the lack of posts I have made since God knows when! And now that I am back, I am pleased to announce –to all of you who are still kind enough to stick around and continue subscribing to this deserted ground (bless you!) – that I am going to add a new category in this blog.

When I started this blog, I mentioned two things I’m passionate about in this world: writing and reading. But now, I’ve come to realize that I am also passionate about traveling.

God, I love to travel! The sensation you get when you step on a new territory or when you explore every nooks and crannies of an unfamiliar ground, the adrenaline rush when you’re lost in translation. Everything about traveling humbles you. Therefore, I have decided to add The Tiny Traveling category to share my experiences to those who might be interested.

Please bear in mind that my traveling posts may not be filled with tips and tricks. Hell, it could even be filled with my nonsensical rant about everything and nothing. But who knows, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two anyway :)

Alrighty then. Let’s get to work, shall we?

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