さよなら日本. What have I learn?

Day 8 Sayonara, what have I seen?

Today we bid farewell to Kyoto and Tokyo that have hosted us for the past eight days. A very good trip that was with a lot of sight-seeing, food, travelling and learning. Learning? Yes, and I am still asking myself what I have learned from an unusual but interesting place, or as a matter of fact as a country.

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This country, Japan runs on discipline. I have seen that the people are very hardworking, diligent and takes pride of their job very much. No matter what their jobs are, I noticed that they have high regards to their own abilities. They treat themselves as the authority of their own work areas. With the numerous enquiries at information counters, ticketing offices or at shops; never that they have failed to help! (of course with the exception of language barrier) They were competent with their work without referring to their co-worker or superior. I think they have done a pretty good job every day in and out; keeping the country running so efficiently; at least from a traveler point of view.
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I think the Japanese are practical people. A few examples that I would like to single out. Firstly, the young and old alike ride bicycles in the middle of busy city streets; especially around high end shop in Kyoto. Are they keeping up with the tradition or being just convenient and practical. I think the latter would be the answer. Not only roads are paved properly but the parking lots too, a convenient solution. Keeping the city clean and environmentally friendly reminded me of the Kyoto Protocol signed as a commitment for carbon reduction.

Another example I would like to share is my experience with cashiers at the shops. Most of them have a standard operating procedure when customers pay for their items. Good will be scanned and items displayed on terminals with the total to be paid. Customers are to put their money in a small tray provided. You must not hand the money directly to the cashier. If you do that, they will ask you to place your money in the tray provided. When they picked up your money, they will actually remind you again how much you handed over. I guess the procedure helps to reduce misunderstanding at the counters, pretty cool. In addition to that, the money, especially notes received were then slot into an ATM like machine instead of a till. Cool, this will reduce the need to recount the money handed as the machine will count and reconfirm the amount handed over. What about the balance or loose change, no worry. The same machine then dispenses the balance in notes and coins when the cashier just need to hand over the balance to the customer. Pretty cool, no counting error and fraud; all handled by an ATM like machine!

While we knew that Japan is the leader in terms of Inormation Technology, I must also say that certainly the live of the Japanese are made richer with the Information Systems they have. Ranging from the systems at the various train and bus stations right to the weather forecast information; mostly accessible to travelers like me at every corner of stations and streets! As though these are insufficient, most stations, shopping complexes and tourist spots offer free WiFi. These were the spots that yours truly have written his posts for the past week! Accessing information on train arrivals, departures and routes were never easier in these cities. Most eateries provides free internet access and I now wonder is Kyoto or Tokyo fully wired? Should I say fully informed?

Internet speed? No comment, or rather no complaint of course! Mind boggling at times when the station gives you and probably another hundred thousand people WiFi at a speed more than what you pay for at home; and all at the same time! I wonder what powers their server, was that sushi, LOL.
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I think application developers in Japan are the most money but pushing themselves further away from the comfort zones; challenging the power of technology. Of course to nation like Japan, the possibilities are never ending as the attitudes and disciplines made them possible. I like this country and definitely with god’s  will I will be back again to see and learn more from the right people.
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Sayonara.

p.s. please continue to follow my blog on Japan as I have many more things on my mind. By the time you read this we are safely home and raring to live with the spirit of the Japanese.

それでは、姫路へ行こう (Himeji)

Day 7 visiting the emperor

Today is a special day to visit the most important part of Japan, a courtesy call to one of the grandest castle in the land of the rising sun. The Himeji castle, a world heritage status accorded by the UNESCO and the country’s national treasure. The journey started in Kyoto Station south west bound via the Shin-Osaka line on the Shinkansen (platform 14). We do not want to wait too long for a direct ride and instead opted for the Kodama line stopping at Shin-Osaka and then transfer to the JR line (platform 20) to Himeji Station. The journey took about an hour from Kyoto.

The first sight of the Himeji Castle was astonishing with a very straight road leading to the castle, visible when you walk out from the Himeji Station.

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The road leading to the castle has been turned into a tourist lane with merchants selling almost everything visitors would want to buy, including memorabilia of the castle.

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The entrance fee to the castle is Yen 1000 for an adult and a child would need to pay Yen 300. The fee is small comparatively, considering the need to upkeep this world heritage. The view leading to the main castle was too complicated to explain but I can show you some of the pictures here. I must warn you that the climbing of stairs in the main castle is straining for an average age like m
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We had lunch on our way out from the castle, at a restaurant within the Himeji square in front of the Himeji Station. The restaurant is named Gyuta Meat Bal . We had one of the finest American beef grilled served with rice for just a mere Yen 980 each. The taste still lingers on as I wrote these, we ordered medium rare and the best part is the tenderness of the meat!

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After lunch we made our way back to Kyoto on a direct ride on the Shinkansen. Back to the shopping row of Shijo (Fourth Sree). I show you some of the view from the busy street on a high day, filled with both locals and foreigners like me.

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Seen here is a pre-dinner Tully’s Coffee costing Yen 360. Taste? Average compared to Starbucks.

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Dinner today is also special as we forked out nearly Yen 20000 back to a Shabu Shabu restaurant we visited few days ago. This time we ordered some Wagyu beef and they looked good. Not only looked good, they actually melted in our mouth as we savor them over the hot pot. Great meal of the trip actually! This restaurant Miyagi-an, near Sanko serves fine beef for various budget. Our costs Yen 6180 per person. I think I am going to write a good review on TripAdvisor later.

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Cheers.

マウントフジを引きます Fuji-san

Day 6 Fuji-San

Today we try our luck to catch a glimpse of the legendary Mount Fuji. The trip started from Tokyo Central Station to Odawara on the Shinkansen (this train en route to Shin-Osaka as we took the Kodama superexpress).

From Odawara, one can transfer to another hill climb to view the majestic mountain by following a trail where three vintage views can be found by boarding the Hikone line, a train that leads to the trail. Hikone, of course is a mountainous area so get ready with your wind breaker. Today it was raining in the morning and the chances of finding this glimpse could be reduced to zero!

Upon arriving at Odawara, we immediately board the Hikone line train, costing us Yen 1750 per person on a day pass. The trail is a triangle shape ranging from a place known as Hikone on a bus no. 11 to Gora on the second corner and of course, Hikone-Motohakone at the final corner. The journey started with train no.11 and changes to train number 3 in Hakone-Yumoto.The view was so spectacular as we climb hill, supposedly getting you up to a cable car so that you can enjoy the view of the legendary mountain.
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We decided to have lunch earlier here as the chance of seeing the real thing is so low at the early morning rain. At least after lunch or later we can hope that the sunshine will be up! The lunch at this station was great, I had a simple ramen with pork. The view beside the café is so complimented by the clean river beneath.

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After lunch we continued our journey on train number 3. Somehow a smaller and narrow train to climbed the hilly areas. This is one excited train ride, not just the forest and flowers decorating the rail line; but the manner the train reaches the top! This is how. The train will move forward as usual, but this one will change its direction after a few halts. It’s like a zig zig patter that the train will reach the halt, changes line quickly and the train now moves in reverse to climb another part of the hill. So depends on where you sit, you will feel that the train now moves in reverse. No worry, it has just changed to another track to climb further! The train then repeated this pattern trice to reach the top.
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Upon reaching the top with the rain continue to paint the mountain, we decided to descend to the final corner at MotoHikone. This time we have to descend with the “H” bus. Apparently there are two vintage points to catch Mount Fuji. Both are at the rim of Lake Ashi. The descend took us about half an hour through a winding road. Not giving up, we managed to get a glimpse, a very faint one but visible to us as the legendary Fuji! With the rain still drizzling, the view had just satisfied our eagerness to see the mountain. It was a very faint one but the mountain top seems to have a little patches of snow on the top. Can’t show you at the time of writing as the view was captured in my dslr.

With that we decide to call it a day as we were also catching a Shinkansen back to Kyoto before it is too late to check in again into our hostel. It is then again on a Shinkansen, the crowd missing as today is a Sunday. The train cruises at an average of 460kmand hour but unfortunately for us, we only managed to get the Kodama line with too many stops. But….

When things not get expected, my daughter prompted us on Mount Fuji on our right as we cruise in the Shinkansen. With jubilation, we got a much better and clearer view of the mountain, just before Shin-Fuji station! (Tokyo-Kyoto direction). What an amazing view! Although missing out the ice top of mountain, the sight is just satisfying. To me it could be once in a life time!
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Appetite just get better with a bento set on the fastest bullet train on earth! Cheers, oh ya… we reach our hostel about eight pm! (three plus hour ride)
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Day 5 私たちが来るここディズニーランド (Disneyland)

Day 5 Disney Time

Today we made a trip to Disneyland, which is made up of two parks; the Disneyland and Disney Sea. Both parks are at the Disneyland Resort. It is situated at the eastern part of Tokyo, assessable by the JR-Yamanote line (platform 3 or 4), approximately twenty minutes ride and costs nothing for us as we have the seven day pass. Only four stops from Tokyo Central Station that is and stopping at the Maihama Station.
Upon reaching, we took the Disney Line monorail to access the parks, costing Yen 260 for an adult. I recommend a day pass for Yen 650 because you need to access at least trice to complete the two parks and getting off the park (260 x 3 = Yen 780).
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We started with the Disney Sea.

As today is a Saturday the parks were full of visitors, mainly locals with their children. The parks managed to keep their reputation well as I see happy faces everywhere! Equally important is the smiles from all support staff at the parks.
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Eating here is extremely challenging with the massive crowd but I guess there are enough food for all, only the lines were just too long! We tried eating at the restaurant instead of the kiosks but unfortunately they were full too. One of them insists we have reservation! Without a choice, we queued up at one of the kiosks that sell smoked turkey legs. Blessings for us in disguised as the smoked turkey legs we bought turned out to be a good experience for us and tasty too!
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We didn’t manage to get on many rides or shows because it was too crowded. But somehow managed to get on an electric rail way and a gondola ride. Other rides would have made us waiting for at least an hour each! The view around the Disney Sea is just magnificent, coupled with the presence of cartoon characters and their antics!
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By the time we were ready for the other park, Disneyland we took a monorail ride again. It was unfortunate we can’t enter the park because we have mistakenly bought the wrong ticket; good for only one park instead of two! Without a choice we went back to Disney Sea!

To cap the day we had dinner back at Ueno and a Japanese restaurant opposite the Ueno Station (Bamboo Garden). Impressive dinner, not too costly!
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Cheers!

Day 4 東京へようこそ – Welcome to Tokyo!

The day starts earlier today too as we found ourselves on the way to the metropolis Tokyo. We started our trip from Kyoto Central Station on a 8.56am Shinkansen SuperExpress on the Hikari line (bullet train) from platform 11 for a three hour journey (Kyoto-Nagoya-Hamamatsu-Shizuoka-Atami-Shin-Yokohama-Shinagawa-Tokyo Terminal). All these stops at an average of 460km an hour, ground speed.
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I will let you imagine on its punctuality!
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This bullet train is so stable that I can type the first part of post without any problem. Quite packed on the early morning route with mostly business travelers, our train arrived two minutes earlier than scheduled time and left exactly 8.56am! It was a good ride and as I type this, I expect to see Mount Fuji on my left in two hours. We couldn’t get the window seat view though.

I am still amazed about the power of discipline that has kept the country so clean, including the interior of this car number eleven we are travelling in as I type this on my table. In fact, before boarding into this car, I have noticed that the Shinkansen has the best trains in the world but yet operating from the simplest architecture design platform! The platforms have bare minimum design and have no sophistication found in other cities (including Shanghai’s bullet train that I have traveled on).
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The cabin comes with full fledge toilets, bar and snacks purchases. The seats are comfortable and comes with a business class leg room and overhead compartments.

Striding our pace up north east I can see the countryside with rice and vegetation fields and intermittently some factories and not so tall buildings. The land is pretty flat from my view out the window.
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I saw Kirin’s factory on my left just before our first stop at Nayoga, a brief one. Nagoya thus is thirty eight minutes on Shinkansen from Kyoto! Nagoya is more industrialized from my view here.

Second stop was Hamamatsu, seems to me like a busier city with more passengers boarding and getting off. I saw a Sony factory before this stop. Third stop was Shizuoka, also an industrial city to me. This point onwards seems to be more mountainous as we went through more tunnels, although mostly short ones. Next was Atami, followed by Shin-Yokohama and Shinagawa. Next was the most anticipated view of Mount Fuji and Tokyo!

At sharp twelve noon we have reached the Metropolis of Tokyo. Let’s the adventure begins! But wait, did we missed out the view of Mount Fuji earlier? Yes, don’t ask me how!

From the Central Tokyo Station we made our way to Ueno where our hotel is. It so convenient with a connecting train to Ueno within a few minutes.
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Our first meal in Tokyo was our first stop at a ramen shop in the Ueno Station itself, the Atre Station. This ramen is one of the better one and tasted great. Your cell where you eat your meal is very small but the food itself had override the space constraint. Great meal!
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Our hotel, the New Izu is just a stone throw away from the station, making it very accessible for the next two days! We left our luggage in the hotel and made our very first visit, the Tokyo Skytree. The tower is majestically structured.
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Capping the day would be another japanese tempura dinner at
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I have nit downloaded some puctures from my dslr which shows the most happening place in Ueno with rows of shops offering food, beers, panchikos… stay tuned for next post. Meanwhile Oyasumi~nasai (good night)

Day 3 Down south to visit shrines and temples.

Day three started earlier as we have more places to cover. I started the day at five this morning and spent about forty five minutes and four hundred Yen doing the laundry. Good washing machines and dryer and the clothes were ready in no time. I have also talked to a Shanghai born American as I did him a favor when he was short on Yen100 with the dryer.

Soon, breakfast followed at the kitchen with the same food. My wife made me a good toast with peanut butter before we hit the road. We took a good walk from the hostel to the Sanjo train station for the Keihan Line (Yen 210) heading south to Fushimi-Inari to visit the “Orange Shrines”. It was a memorable trip with fascinating rows of arches painted in the orange color. This set up went back a few centuries ago.

Upon reaching the other end of the station, we had the opportunity to see from very near a rail line crossing.

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The climb there was manageable with row of stalls on the way up. These are the photos that I have taken.

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I have also got a chance to try Okonomiyaki, a fried vegetable with eggs in the form of a pan cake. Not that I can rate it at ten, but the experience counts.
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Finding our way to another temple, the Kiyumizu-Dera by noon, we found our way back to Kyoto station where we had lunch. Sushi from the belt in a restaurant in the station. Price is not bad sound Yen147 to Yen230 a plate. Something simple and tasty.
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We also took the opportunity to try out our favorite fast food, McDonald’s. I took a set of beef burger costing Yen600 and I think that its far more expensive that those in Subang Jays. Tried the pork burger too!

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The bus trip started with platform D2 with bus number 206 and ended Kiyumizu-nichi. At the Kyoto station we managed to catch a glimpse of the Kyoto tower!

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I found the Kiyumizu-Dera temple to be of significant importance from the perspective of architecture. How would they have built such a magnificent shrine on a cliff that high back centuries ago? Look how amazing that is from the various angles.

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Plentiful of shopping in this tourist spot here too with rows and rows of shops selling ice cream to designer kimono! The green tea ice cream seems to be a hit here, supposedly the tea came from the mountainous Kyoto.

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Surprisingly so many tourist wre seen sporting enough to wear rented kimonos walking around and into the shrines and temples. I took opportunity to shoot some pictures here. Also this place is favorite place for couples to shoot their pre-wedding photographs!

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With also covered some shrines in the Gino area, which is walking distance from where we were. More magnificent view such as this gigantic statue of the God of Mercy, with the hills as backdrop.

 

With too many shrines to cover with our already tired limbs, we find our way back to our hostel from Kiyumiza-nichi stop to Shijo-Karawamachi for some shopping at the crowded Shino shopping row. The scene there is as though the whole of Kyoto is on holiday! From here we walked through Nishiki market for some late afternoon action there.

 

As I type these the local time is around six pm and with our tummies already drumming, we find our way to a tepanyaki meal at a nearby restaurant named Zoronpa. How is that going to be? You have to wait for my review tomorrow. Cheers!

 

 

The Nishiki Market, Kyoto

The Nishiki Market, Kyoto

This is no ordinary market, it isn’t a market for tourists and certainly not a market built to please the locals. If you are wondering why I have said that, let me bring you to a journey into the market itself. This market is lined on a straight narrow street spanning across few major roads. To be more precise, horizontally across them! You will never miss this if you are putting up in places near Sanko (in local name, the third road as Kyoto city is made up of a road number system)

The main reason why it is a local market is because they sell local food stuff and vegetables just like back home. They cater for tourists mainly from the small eateries and souvenirs but generally the local shops here most. I stood at a corner during lunch and after office hours and I can see droves of locals busy shopping here. The market is fully covered from street to street.

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The traders start their daily routine around seven each morning with most of them busy cleaning, arranging and stocking up their wares. I can see them do it so diligently, a trait that most of us knew is discipline. Although the street is narrow, the traders made sure that their wares are not blocking the follow of human traffic, unlike my beloved country! These are some of the morning scenes.

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I can see fish, liquor, medicine, souvenirs, eateries, handicrafts, groceries etch, all under one roof literally. They all lined up so handsomely and so harmonious that you will not feel bored. Yours truly busy snapping what can be seen. (more shots with my Nikon but travelling without a laptop is not a good idea). The diversity in needs across the visitors are amazing. School children will get their food, the older folks getting their groceries, foreign visitors like me looking for food and souvenirs and of course not forgetting the local housewives getting their daily supplies. The scene is just so lively here!

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Bargaining is really not practiced but I guess the price tags helps, even for foreigners like me would rate it as excellent in terms of prices as I have compared the prices in other places, they are almost similar. The prices are obvious if you can recognize the currency!

The evening scene is somehow more interesting with people eating while walking or just browsing. I have tried some local food as well but not too many as they are quite pricy comparatively.

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For more adventures, stay tuned.