Kansai, Day 9: Universal Studios (Osaka)

Hello UNIVERSAL STUDIOS JAPAN! Good thing we already bought our tickets online + Express Pass Standard 4 because the lines were loooong. We were able to buy ours online, with the help of my cousin who can read Japanese.

Note that Express Pass cannot be bought using the English website of USJ so it helps if you know someone who can read Japanese. This is very helpful particularly during days when USJ has high volume of crowd.

MARCH 14, 2017

The day we have been waiting for because 1) theme park rides, and 2) HARRY POTTER LAND! We left our Airbnb early and arrived at the theme park at around 9AM.

Hello UNIVERSAL STUDIOS JAPAN! Good thing we already bought our tickets online + Express Pass Standard 4 because the lines were loooong. We were able to buy ours online, with the help of my cousin who can read Japanese.

Note that Express Pass cannot be bought using the English website of USJ so it helps if you know someone who can read Japanese. This is very helpful particularly during days when USJ has high volume of crowd:

  • You get to skip the long lines in popular rides as there is a dedicated Express Pass line. Rides/ attractions depends on what kind of Express Pass you buy. The one we bought includes Amazing Adventure of Spiderman, Jaws, Jurassic Park: The Ride, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. Extremely useful for HPFJ because the estimated waiting time when we got there was 3 hours.
  • Timed Wizarding World of Harry Potter entrance – on occasions where there is a really big crowd inside USJ, they do not allow visitors to just come and go WWOHP. You have to (run and) get a ticket which tells you the time you can enter the area. This is where the Express Pass is useful again. We chose our time to be around 2PM so that we can spend the time before that in exploring other parts of USJ.

 

 

 

When we got inside, we went to Backdrop right away to fall in line. We waited for about 2 hours before we finally got to ride and every minute of waiting was worth it. The staff placed us at the first row and I am not sure if I was happy or angry because of it. Haha!

Highlight of this ride is the “car” moves in reverse so we could not see where we were going and if the track would be elevating or dropping us. I actually got teary eyed after the ride because it was already extreme for me.

After the ride, we explored the other areas…

 

 

 

…and eventually found ourselves in front of the Amazing Adventure of Spiderman attraction. We had low expectations when we learned it was 4D experience BUT DAMN. This is definitely a must for anyone visiting USJ. The effects were really awesome that M ended up clapping and saying “Sugoi!!!” loudly when the ride ended. 😉 It was also a good thing that the staff let us sit at the first row so there were no heads blocking our view.

Another round of exploration and I could not help but admire the details done in every building. Minions were also a big thing during our visit.

 

 

 

Also saw this pterodactyl ride which looks scarier than Backdrop. Good thing the waiting time was too long so my friends gave up on the idea of riding this.

Next stop was Jurassic Park: The Ride, which was also included in our Express Pass. It was a chill ride initially until we got to the last part. Kind of expected it but not that high! Good thing we were seated in the middle so we did not get soaked.

 

 

 

We decided to go to Jaws attraction before we eat our lunch and so hello Amity Island.

 

 

 

Power of Express Pass enabled us to skip the long line. It was entertaining but not as fun as Spiderman – set the bar too high for us! No decent shot of the shark in the attraction…

 

 

 

…but there’s one right outside the entrance!

This is what I got for lunch because everything inside was so expensive and most theme park food do not offer value for money.

They also bought the same food!

After lunch, it was time for us to visit WWOHP. AAAAHHHH!!!!! We had to go through some maze-like entrance forest (and passed by the Whomping Willow) before we got inside the magical world.

 

 

 

Hello Hogsmeade!!! I honestly did not know where to start… Too overwhelmed with happiness.

 

 

 

We decided to use our Express Pass for the last ride in our list – Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. We skipped the 3-hour wait and the ride was perfect for us because there were 3 seats per “car”.

Funny though because at the Whomping Willow area where we were tossed, our car stopped and we were sort of upside down. We asked J if this was normal because she rode the same attraction in USFlorida. She was not sure though and it was just a long time of silence before we heard an announcement in Japanese. We infer that there was a technical difficulty because after a few seconds, our car started to move again.

Once we got back at the platform, the staff asked us if we want to ride again. We thought maybe it was because of our Express Pass but heck, of course we want to ride again! We did and after passing the Whomping Willow area, we realized that it was because of the problem during our first ride. We skipped some portion of the 4D experience hence they offered us to ride again.

After our 2nd trip, we went to Three Broomsticks to have our late lunch. Food was not bad and I actually enjoyed their Butterbeer. Not a fan of caramel in general so this was a surprise.

 

 

 

The trip would not be complete without visiting Honeydukes… and I ended up spending a lot here. Chocolate frog, sugar quill, jellybean, lollipops, and more! No regrets though.

 

 

 

Oh and of course, I am proud to show my alma mater – Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Libre naman mangarap eh! 🙂

Since we still had some time to kill and the waiting time for Flight of the Hippogriff was just less an hour, we decided to go there. Definitely for kids because there was no thrill at all.

 

 

 

One last round of going around WWOHP before we leave…

 

 

 

…and USJ photos at night, yay.

 

 

 

We were supposed to have dinner at Harukoma because they are famous for serving generous thick cuts of fish for their sushi. But lo and behold, they were closed on that day. Since we were too tired to think and walk, we went to the sushi place across it. Sushi was just okay but at least we felt full after. Chef also placed a LOT of wasabi in each sushi… ☹

 

 

 

Went home afterwards because J and I needed to get up early the next day for our Ise-Shima trip while M had a flight to catch in the afternoon.

 

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)

Japan, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka

Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka

Japan, Day 8: Nara >> Osaka

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Kansai, Day 8: Nara – Osaka

NARA KOEN was our first destination but we were confused where to get off (while on the bus) so we chose a random stop. Apparently, the park was huuuge and all of the places we wanted to visit were all there. We looked for a quiet spot first to eat breakfast – and away from the deer!

MARCH 13, 2017

Another daytrip that we did from Osaka was to visit Nara. Our train ride was about an hour and a half, which gave us enough time to sleep because we woke up early.

NARA KOEN was our first destination but we were confused where to get off (while on the bus) so we chose a random stop. Apparently, the park was huuuge and all of the places we wanted to visit were all there. We looked for a quiet spot first to eat breakfast – and away from the deer!

After filling our tummies, we went to KOFUKU-JI (UNESCO) and we had free access to the temple grounds. Its five-story pagoda was an amazing sight and considered to be the second tallest in Japan.

We were unable to view Central Golden Hall (the main hall) because it was undergoing renovation. We decided to just explore the other parts of the temple grounds instead.

Since we did not have a lot of stops in our itinerary, J suggested we visit NARA NATIONAL MUSEUM. It was also raining so it would be good for us to seek shelter for the meantime. Taking pictures was not allowed inside but it was worth the visit. The extensive history of Buddhism can be found there as well as A LOT of Buddha and Buddhist-related statues. We also visited a portion that was dedicated to Omizutori, which was our last item for the Nara itinerary.

Near the museum, we saw an old lady selling sweet potatoes per gram. We bought 500g and we were surprised how big it was. Even if the three of us shared it, we were not able to finish eating it.

One deer spotted us with the sweet potato and it followed us even when we crossed the road. We ended up hiding in a shrine but we could see the deer looking for us. LOL.

Seeing and interacting with deer was the activity we were all looking forward to. But, I was initially scared especially when we encountered them in groups. We saw a local who threw bits of crackers and the deer nearby went wiiild – I even saw a few jumping over rocks while rushing towards the food.

I followed my cousin’s advice on how to feed deer with lesser chance of experiencing them being aggressive:

  • Be careful when buying food in the deer cracker hotspot – areas with many vendors who are all selling deer crackers. Better to look for another place with less vendors as fewer deer are hanging out there. (We were able to buy ours in a store near the road – it was the only store at that spot)
  • Do NOT let the deer catch you buying their food! Put the crackers inside the bag right away. They are smart enough to see that you bought crackers and where you put it. Once they see you, they will not stop bugging you to give them food.
  • Most of the deer roaming around the park can be too aggressive especially when it comes to their food. Those that are inside temples are more docile and they kind of act like a hippogriff – when you bow to them, they’ll bow to you. Some already bow once they see you. We felt that it would be cold of us not to give them food so we ended up giving most of the crackers to deer inside temples.

Fun fact: Deer is the symbol of Nara and it is regarded as the messenger of the gods. Nara’s deer mascot is called Shikamaru-kun – and this made me realize one of the famous characters in Naruto named “Nara Shikamaru”. Cool!

The walk to our next destination was quite long but it was a pleasant one. It took us about 20 minutes of walking along a path covered in trees before we reached KASUGA TAISHA.

This is the most important Shinto shrine in Nara, and it is famous for the donated lanterns decorating a portion of the shrine. These are only lit during evenings of Lantern festivals in Nara. Similar to Kofuku-ji, the grounds do not have any entrance fee.

We spotted a few deer here and they were hiding near the stone lanterns.

 

Inside the hall, we saw the lanterns with intricate designs as well as ema which included deer-shaped ones.

Since we still had time to kill before the Omizutori, we ate late lunch and checked out the line of stalls near Todai-ji.

 

Our last stop in Nara was TODAI-JI (UNESCO), a famous Buddhist temple founded thousands of years ago. We were not able to explore this since we arrived during closing time. It was a bit of a bummer though as I wanted to visit the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall – Main Hall) – largest wooden building with the largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan.

But, we did not felt that bad because the main reason why we visited was attend the Omizutori. The ceremony was held at Nigatsudo Hall, which also gave a good view of the city. We were lucky enough to be able to climb the steps going up the hall but we were eventually asked to leave as the locals prepare for Omizutori. OMIZUTORI is one of the oldest festivals in Japan as it started in 752 AD. It is done as a way to cleanse sins and welcome spring. They say that March 12 and 14 are the best days to watch the ceremony – longest on the 12th (45 minutes), shortest on the 14th (5 minutes) but more spectacular as torches are lit all at once.

Even before sunset, there were already a lot of locals in the temple grounds. Wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than a thousand people there.

Funny story: we realized we came unprepared when we saw almost everyone were sitting on the ground with a plastic or cloth that they can use as a mat. There was still about an hour of waiting because Omizutori would only start at 7PM. I had scratch bond papers inside my bag and brought it out to use. But, an old lady took pity on us and gave us her extra big disposable plastic mat. (Arigatou obasan!) Made us love Japan and its people even more! ❤

The ceremony started on time and seeing this 1250-year old tradition in real life was surreal. Series of torches were lit one at a time and on occasions, the torch holder would shower sparks over the crowd. It lasted for about 30 minutes and everyone was focused in this ceremony.

I wish I could post the videos but the file sizes are too big. 😦

After Omizutori and making our way out of the crowded place, we decided to have dinner in Osaka. Automatic choice was to go to Dotonbori and just choose whichever we wanted to try. We went to DARUMA, which is famous for its kushikatsu (deep fried skewered meat/vegetable) and has been in the business since 1929. We were lucky because there was no line and we were able to get a table right away. Our table (2nd floor) was also next to the window which provided a view of Tonbori River.

We initially wanted to order 2 sets but because there were 3 of us, that would mean that for every type of kushikatsu, one of us would not get to taste it. And so, we decided to just get one set each. I think the staff could not help but stare at us because 1 set has 12 kushikatsu sticks. But, we were hungry plus we did not know when we could get to eat again there. J and I ordered oyster too because a deep fried one sounded yummy.

Our orders did not disappoint! Definitely not for health-conscious people but come on, the oil probably helped in making the kushikatsu delicious. :p

Note that they do not allow double dipping for hygienic purposes. You are only allowed to dunk each kushikatsu in the sauce only once. If you still want more sauce, you use the piece of cabbage (provided for free) to scoop more sauce. I also read in some posts that eating the cabbage helps in digestion.

After dinner, we explored Dotonbori some more and after seeing J enjoying her Cremia ice cream before, I had to buy one. My sister always told me that it is fun to eat ice cream during cold season but the idea is weird to me. So after trying this during this trip, I finally understand what she meant. What I like about eating ice cream during winter is that I do not have to worry that my ice cream would easily melt and drip everywhere. Haha!

That’s it for Nara. Next stop is USJ (and WWOHP)!!!

 

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)

Japan, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka

Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka

Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Kansai, Day 7: Himeji – Osaka

Our 2nd daytrip was in Himeji, almost 2 hours away from Osaka by train. From Himeji Station, we rode the Himeji Castle Loop Bus which looked like an old-fashioned bus.

Our main stop here was the famous HIMEJI CASTLE (UNESCO), which is also known as “shirasagi-jo” or “white heron castle”. It was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century and during our visit, a portion of the castle was undergoing restoration – goes to show how Japan highly values their history and puts great effort in preserving this.

MARCH 12, 2017

Our 2nd daytrip was in Himeji, almost 2 hours away from Osaka by train. From Himeji Station, we rode the Himeji Castle Loop Bus which looked like an old-fashioned bus.

Our main stop here was the famous HIMEJI CASTLE (UNESCO), which is also known as “shirasagi-jo” or “white heron castle”.

It was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 16th century and during our visit, a portion of the castle was undergoing restoration – goes to show how Japan highly values their history and puts great effort in preserving this.

What was interesting for me during our visit was whichever area we were in the castle grounds, we could always clearly see the castle. Before going to the main keep, we explored the other areas nearby including a long passageway.

Inside the main keep, we climbed 6 floors. This was not the only challenge as the staircases were narrow and steep so if you have kids with you, better be careful in climbing those stairs. At the topmost floor, there was a small shrine where the local visitors all paid respect and prayed for a short while. Aside from this, we were also able to see the spectacular view of the city and the maze-like layout of the castle.

Fish ornaments placed on the roof are believed to protect the castle from fire

Before leaving, I was trying to look for a magnet that had its cute “mascot” as the design. Unfortunately, there was none so I decided to just buy the coin-like souvenir with しろまる姫 (Shiromaru-hime).

We went to KOKOEN GARDEN afterwards, which was just a few blocks away from the castle. The ticket we bought included admission for the castle and this garden. We were lucky because there were some flowers that had already bloomed but I bet that it would look even better during springtime.

Drainspotting — white herons!

We were supposed to visit Mount Shosha but given the time we finished the garden, we decided to go back to Osaka so that we still had time to visit ONE PIECE MUGIWARA STORE. I only bought two small boxes of keychain with random characters since I could not find any Zoro goodie that I liked. I was sooo lucky that one of the boxes had Zoro in his Film Gold costume! (Note that a few days after this, M told me that Den-den Town stores were better since he was able to buy the ship that was out-of-stock in OP Mugiwara Store.)

Since we did not have the energy to go far from our Airbnb, we bought dinner at MCDONALD’S and tried some of the sakura-themed items. I had the fries and soda for this but I bought a regular cheeseburger. The fries was yummy at first but I found it to be too salty later on. I guess I shouldn’t have poured all the powder… The sakura float tasted like medicine so good thing I bought an apple-flavored alcohol beverage, which was a good pair with my food.

This is for the French fries to make it “sakura fries”; package says “sakura ebi shio” which translates to sakura shrimp salt

 

 

Next day’s adventure is Nara (including deer), yay!

 

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)

Japan, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka

Japan, Day 8: Nara >> Osaka

Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Kansai, Day 6: Kobe – Osaka

Time for our daytrip in KOBE! After about an hour and a half of train ride, we reached Kobe-Sannomiya Station. We bought onigiri and bread for a quick breakfast before walking to our first destination – MAIKO MARINE PROMENADE.

It is an observatory located right under AKASHI KAIKYO BRIDGE, the world’s longest suspension bridge. Basically, it offers a beautiful view of the sea and it even has a small section where you can walk on the glass floor and see the waters below.

MARCH 11, 2017

Time for our daytrip in KOBE! After about an hour and a half of train ride, we reached Kobe-Sannomiya Station. We bought onigiri and bread for a quick breakfast before walking to our first destination – MAIKO MARINE PROMENADE.

It is an observatory located right under AKASHI KAIKYO BRIDGE, the world’s longest suspension bridge. Basically, it offers a beautiful view of the sea and it even has a small section where you can walk on the glass floor and see the waters below. Not for those who are acrophobic.

 

There are two main viewing areas in Maiko Marine Promenade – one is inside the building, which has tall windows and coin-operated binoculars for a better view of the sea and city. As for the other one, you have to go outside the building and walk right under the bridge.

We did not know that it would be open air so we could really feel the sea breeze on top of the very low temperature. Also, every now and then, the structure would vibrate because of the passing vehicles on the bridge.

 

 

Our next mission was to eat Kobe beef for lunch! STEAKLAND is a very popular resto for this but I cannot judge if it is the best one out there. Price is definitely cheaper than the other popular Kobe beef restaurants. They cook the beef right in front of you so be prepared to smell like grilled meat when you leave the place.

Since there were only three of us in the group, a couple was assigned to our table and the chef cooked the vegetables together then divided it to 5 servings. We had different orders on the beef / Kobe beef but the chef knows his craft since he knew what type of beef each one was. I enjoyed my food but I am definitely curious how the Kobe beef in pricier and popular restaurants taste, since Steakland has mixed reviews.

We went straight to ROKKO CABLE SHITA STATION after lunch – cable car to reach MOUNT ROKKO. There are a lot of places to visit in this area and we noticed some locals who brought snowboards. We were puzzled because it was already early March but apparently, there was still snow in Rokko-san Snow Park. Note that there is a schedule on the Rokko Sanjo Bus so better take note of that. We did not know about this so when we reached the cable car station in Mount Rokko, we took our time going around and when we went out, the bus just left and the next one would come in about 40 minutes.

Our bad luck did not end there though… We chose Rokko Alpine Botanical Garden but when we got there, the place was closed until end March. Most likely because none – or very few – plants had bloomed at the time of our visit. We had to wait (again) for a bus and it was really cooold up in the mountain.

We went to ROKKO-SHIDARE OBSERVATORY instead and the architecture looked really awesome. We took time going around plus we were surprised to see remnants of snow + frozen water in the area!

After our time in the observatory, we went to ROKKO GARDEN TERRACE which was just across it. The view of Kobe was definitely breathtaking and we were fortunate to have good weather on that day.

Since we were already hungry and I wanted to see Rokko-Shidare Observatory at night, we grabbed some snacks first. We were confused by the vendo machine for ordering because everything was written in Japanese. I could read hiragana and a few katakana but we were worried we might end up ordering the wrong food. A local went in front of us so we had to ask for his help in ordering the ice cream with Kobe honey. I got that plus akashiyaki, which is takoyaki dunked in hot broth – perfect for the cold weather.

While waiting for nightfall, I bought the famous Kobe pudding in a souvenir shop as well as Kitkat with Kobe pudding flavor. There were other food/snack choices that I wanted to buy but I decided to just limit myself and go with the most popular one.

When the sun had already set, the colorful lights in Rokko-Shidare Observatory were illuminated. It was a nice sight to see but it was not as awesome as I expected.

We went back to Osaka after this and had our dinner at ICHI, a yakiniku restaurant near our Airbnb – recommended by our host and apparently a popular place among locals. We ordered a lot of meat for our empty tummies and we enjoyed our meal here. Even though it was quite difficult to communicate with the language barrier, the staff was able to give us what we need.

That’s it for now. Next post is our adventure in Himeji! 🙂

 

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)

Japan, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka

Japan, Day 8: Nara >> Osaka

Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Kansai, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

We started our 4th day in Kyoto a bit later than the previous days since our first stop was just a few minutes away (walk) from our Airbnb – NIJO CASTLE (UNESCO)!

While walking along one side of the Nijo Castle, we realized how huge the castle ground was since it took us a few minutes to finish walking just one side. The huge stone walls looked imposing and surrounded by moat. At the time of our visit, the original entrance gate was under renovation so the entry point to the castle was different.

MARCH 9, 2017

We started our 4th day in Kyoto a bit later than the previous days since our first stop was just a few minutes away (walk) from our Airbnb – NIJO CASTLE (UNESCO)!

While walking along one side of the Nijo Castle, we realized how huge the castle ground was since it took us a few minutes to finish walking just one side. The huge stone walls looked imposing and surrounded by moat. At the time of our visit, the original entrance gate was under renovation so the entry point to the castle was different.

We paid ¥600 to get access to the castle grounds, and our first stop was the Ninomaru Palace, with the Karamon Gate as entrance. For me, this was best part of the castle because of the “nightingale floors”, a term used for the squeaking floors which resemble the bird’s sound. We read inside the palace that this served as a defense mechanism back then as it alerts the people inside the castle on presence of intruders.

Another thing we loved inside Ninomaru Palace were the artworks inside. Each part of the palace had a different theme for decorations – from walls to ceilings and fusuma-e. The most striking themes there were the tora (tiger), peony, bamboo, and simple drawing (in black ink only).

Too bad we were not allowed to take pictures and videos inside… so I highly recommend this to people and go see for yourself.

While walking to the next part of the castle, M spotted a sign that leads to another area. Surprise, surprise – a garden of ume (plum blossom) trees! Unlike the ume garden in Kitano Tenmangu, we got inside this one for free.

We went to Honmaru Palace afterwards but we were not able to enter since this is not regularly open to the public. We still strolled around the garden and we found an overlooking spot that had a good view of the moat and surrounding residential area.

After a bit of rest, we headed for our next destination. We thought that the first shrine we encountered was already the place but it turned out to be KAWAI-JINJA. What I found distinct in this shrine was the ema used – mirror-shaped + must draw face + write down request to be more beautiful! The god in this shrine specializes in women’s beauty, hence this concept.

Our actual destination, SHIMOGAMO-JINJA (Lower Kamo Shrine; UNESCO), was not far from here. It is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful shrines in Japan, which I agree with. It is also said to be one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan.

The walk going to the entrance was a bit long but we took our time since the view was really nice. We were surrounded by trees, and everything was just peaceful and quiet.

Inside the shrine, I easily spotted the Takiobashi bridge. It was beautiful especially since there were some ume that had already bloomed.

Another interesting thing I saw in this shrine was how the locals were dipping a piece of paper in a small stream of water. Not sure if what they were checking out was an omikuji. The contents are only available in Japanese so we did not try doing this anymore.

After going around the shrine, we went to NISHIKI ICHIBA since we had not yet eaten lunch and it was already past 2PM. The bus stop where we were waiting was quite confusing but we were lucky that there was a local who could understand English.

Nishiki Market is also popularly known “Kyoto’s Kitchen”. It is the largest traditional food market in Kyoto and it is a really long alley lined with mostly food stalls. Other stalls sell souvenirs and fresh ingredients (including meat and seafood).

We tried a lot of food here but I’ll let the pictures and captions do the storytelling. 🙂

Kawaii tofu doughnuts
Dashimaki tamago

I wanted to try tako tamago (baby octopus with quail egg inside) but I found out it is served cold so I passed on this. I also thought of buying matcha warabimochi but the line was long and I was already too full by the time I saw the stall.

We went home after eating to get some rest before our 9PM reservation in YAKITORI HITOMI. I found the place through some blog posts, who highly recommended it as a casual yakitori place that makes of almost every part of a chicken. The place is popular among locals and tourists so I had to ask help from our Airbnb host on reservation.

However, when we went inside, it seemed like they forgot about the reservation. Good thing though that there was a free table so we did not have to wait for long. Pictures and captions below show what we ordered. Also, the owner and staff were apologetic about our reservation to the point that the person serving our table kept on saying “sorry” and “gomenasai” every time he would go to our area. The owner also gave us free food – 1 stick of chicken meat with perilla and 1 stick of wings per person.

Almost every part of a chicken can be ordered

Tsukune (chicken meatballs) — one of the best dishes we ordered! Got sold out fast!!!
Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Duck meat — soooooo good!!!!!
Chicken skin — sinful but really, really yummy!!!

We were the last customers to leave so we had a bit of conversation with the owner. This also gave us the opportunity to personally give our compliment to the chef/owner. All of the food we ordered tasted really great! What a great way to cap off our last night in Kyoto. 🙂

Kanpai!!! These are called Shochu Highball 🙂

 

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka

Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka

Japan, Day 8: Nara >> Osaka

Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Kansai, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, N. Higashiyama)

Another early start for us since our first stop for our 3rd day in Kyoto was in FUSHIMI INARI TAISHA and we wanted to avoid the crowd. The place is well-known for its senbon torii (thousands of torii) spread across an entire mountain. The whole hike usually takes 2-3 hours according to those who have already experienced doing it. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, with foxes as the messengers.

MARCH 8, 2017

Another early start for us since our first stop for our 3rd day in Kyoto was in FUSHIMI INARI TAISHA and we wanted to avoid the crowd. The place is well-known for its senbon torii (thousands of torii) spread across an entire mountain. The whole hike usually takes 2-3 hours according to those who have already experienced doing it. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, with foxes as the messengers.

There are two lines that can take you to Fushimi Inari Taisha – the nearest one to the location is the JR Line. We rode this one and right after exiting the station, we can already see this big orange torii.

Upon entering, we passed by the main prayer hall. We saw a map and a few signs that pointed to the start of the famous line of orange torii. A few minutes of walking and we finally saw it! There were only a few visitors around at that time so we were able to enjoy walking slowly along the torii-lined pathway.

We only reached a third of the hike when we decided to go back. It was too cold already and we had not yet eaten breakfast so we knew that we were not going to last the hike.

 

By the time we reached the area with the main hall, there was a huge crowd already due to students on a field trip.

We decided to exit via the road with food stalls so that we could also buy breakfast. Unfortunately, they were still closed – most likely since it was still early. We looked for the nearest convenience store and bought the usual: onigiri, sandwich, hot tea and coffee. There were no seats inside the store so we went back to Fushimi. Luckily, when we got there, the food stalls were already opened. I wanted to try the yakisoba but the serving size was too big! I ended up buying karaage shared with my friends. Might be weird to eat something that heavy for breakfast but it was really crispy and delicious!

TOFUKU-JI was our next stop, which is a place famous for maple leaf viewing. Unfortunately, most of the trees were bare since it was still early March. We only visited the Sanmon Gate (oldest Zen gate) and Hondo (main hall) since these were free. Access to Tsutenkyo Bridge and the gardens have corresponding charges. Our trip here was just short.

We headed to Ginkaku-ji although we had a hard time getting a cab from the station we got off. Not sure why there were very few cabs in the area since it did not look like a rural part. We finally got a cab and I was a bit surprised that the driver was a lady. She spoke good English and we saw that there was a “Foreign Friendly Taxi” sign inside her car – though the fare was more expensive than the usual. She toured us a bit by pointing interesting places we passed by such as the road to Nanzen-ji and an expensive restaurant with really good food.

We had to walk going to Ginkaku-ji since vehicles are not allowed anymore at some point. But before entering, we tried mini cream puffs from GENMAI – vanilla, matcha, and sakura flavors. Not sure what to feel about the sakura flavor – it was okay but it tasted like vanilla with pink food coloring.

As we had more energy to do activities again, we headed to GINKAKU-JI, another UNESCO site in Kyoto.

It is also known as the “Silver Pavilion” – similar to Kinkaku-ji without the gold colors on the structure. Near the pavilion is the Dry Sand Garden, which has this massive sand cone named Kogetsudai (Moon Viewing Platform). I took a panorama picture with my phone but the quality was crappy as usual.

We were able to easily follow the path since it was just straightforward and there was a big crowd anyway in front of us. We passed by the main hall, Sengetsusen Waterfall (although it was not a huge one), moss garden, and the overlooking spot which gave us a breathtaking view of this side of Kyoto.

Before our DIY tour ended, we got another glimpse of the Silver Pavilion but this time seeing the back side.

The street that would take you to Ginkaku-ji reminded me of Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka because of the various shops along the sides – food, souvenirs, etc. We were looking for Omen to have our late lunch and we were relieved to find out that it was just a few minutes away on foot.

OMEN is popular for its handmade udon and since the weather was cold, we opted for the hot version. We got the set meal which included appetizers we did not know – everything tasted okay except for the green vegetable with a small slice of raw fish. It was too bitter! J and I also got an additional order of sabazushi – too big to eat in just one bite but it tasted really good! Definitely recommend getting this one.

Omen recommends experimenting with the four spices on the table when eating their udon. However, I recommend eating first the udon without any of these so that you can get compare more precisely which you prefer. There is also a brochure with English instructions on each table, and each spice has an English name so you kind of know what you’re putting in your dish.

We headed to GION afterwards. Since it was mid-afternoon, there were only a few people around. We were not hoping to see real geisha or maiko at that time but we encountered three women who dressed up like them.

We went back to our Airbnb early again as we were too tired to go around. I’m curious how Gion looks like at night so I will surely be back here. Shirakawa area might also be at its best during spring season because of the willow trees lining it (+ Shirakawa Canal). I also want to do the Kurama-Kibune hike so I think that’s another reason to go back to Kyoto? 🙂

 

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Japan, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka

Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka

Japan, Day 8: Nara >> Osaka

Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Kansai, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

We started our 2nd day in Kyoto quite early since our goal was to get to the famous bamboo grove without the big crowd yet.

I finally understood what people meant when they said that photographs were not enough to do justice on how ethereal and beautiful SAGANO BAMBOO GROVE is. Highly recommend to go here really early! Aside from us, there was just a tourist couple so we managed to get good pictures of the place. The place was also quiet which made it perfect for a bit of reflection and relaxation time.

MARCH 7, 2017

We started our 2nd day in Kyoto quite early since our goal was to get to the famous bamboo grove without the big crowd yet. When we got off in Arashiyama Station, there was a sign which exit was for the bamboo grove but we were not sure how to get there by walking. It also started raining so the temperature became too cold to handle (at least for me).

We ended up taking a cab so that we would not risk getting lost – short ride and the driver dropped us near the entrance. The first hundred meters of the bamboo grove got us thinking why people described SAGANO BAMBOO GROVE as majestic because there were electric posts + wires blocking part of the view.

We still walked some more and stumbled upon NONOMIYA-JINJA, which is a shrine dedicated to Amaterasu and the deity of fire.

After spending a few minutes here, we decided to continue our walk along the bamboo grove but we were surprised that it was quite short. We were at the back area of Tenryu-ji and we could not find any more bamboo. We decided to walk some more and finally, we saw the bamboo area captured in most photographs.

I finally understood what people meant when they said that photographs were not enough to do justice on how ethereal and beautiful this place is. Highly recommend to go here really early! Aside from us, there was just a tourist couple so we managed to get good pictures of the place. The place was also quiet which made it perfect for a bit of reflection and relaxation time.

At the end of the path, visitors can also go to OKOCHI SANSO VILLA. Since it was too early and too cold to wait, we retraced our steps to reach the city area. We grabbed some breakfast from Lawson – onigiri, sandwich, hot coffee and tea. We were lucky that it was very near to TOGETSUKYO BRIDGE and there were vacant benches. We ate our breakfast with the bridge and Katsura River in sight.

After eating, we crossed the bridge and explored the park on one side. On the other side, we got a closer and better view of the river. There were also boats offering a cruise along the river, but I think this would be best enjoyed during the spring and fall season. Trees were still bare at the time we visited.

We wanted to buy some local sweets in Arashiyama and we decided to get help in Arashiyama Randen Station. Another surprising discovery we made here was the KIMONO FOREST. A short pathway was lined with cylinder-shaped pillars, which were designed in different colors and patterns. I read a bit more about the place afterwards (read here), and people highly recommend going here during the evening as well as the pillar are lit up.

At the end of the path, we saw a small pond with a sphere designed with a dragon. There was a small sign near the pond that said that if one dips their hands into the water, s/he will feel refreshed and will be blessed with happiness. My hands were too cold already so I did not do this but J and M went ahead since they felt they could still withstand the temperature.

We walked to TENRYU-JI (UNESCO) afterwards and bought tickets for both the garden and buildings in the area.

It is the largest temple in Arashiyama and said to be one of the best Zen temples in Kyoto. Not a surprise because the place is beautiful, and there is a spot in the main hall where one can sit and admire the garden and pond outside.

Before heading back to Kyoto Station, we bought tickets for the SAGANO SCENIC RAILWAY. We were lucky because we only had to wait a few minutes before the special train arrives. The next schedule after ours was an hour later.

We hopped on the retro-looking train when it arrived (seat numbers are assigned upon buying the ticket). It was past 1PM already and since we had not yet eaten lunch, I ate the daifuku I bought from a stall near the bamboo grove entrance.

Flavors (L-R): adzuki, ???, matcha

The ride lasted for about 25 minutes – we passed by scenic views of mountains as well as a good view of the Hozugawa River.

We only bought a one-way ticket so upon arrival at the last station, we walked going to Umahori so that we could catch a train ride back to Kyoto Station. We had our very late lunch in KYOTO RAMEN KOJI, located at the 10F Kyoto Station .

There are 10 ramen shops to choose from and this “street” (koji) boasts of housing shops that serve ramen from different parts of Japan (check out the list of ramen shops here).

Since we had different ramen preferences at that time, we decided to go our separate ways for lunch and meet at the entrance of Kyoto Ramen Koji after eating. I chose HAKATA IKKOUSHA because I was super hungry and I saw that their ramen has huge pork slices. Yay! Securing a seat was not a problem since it was still off-peak hours.

Their hakata ramen tasted really, really good that I finished the whole bowl by myself. This was on top of my additional order of karaage (which I also enjoyed BTW!).

After lunch, J recommended going to Kitano Tenmangu as she saw IG posts that a lot of ume trees there are already in full bloom. We somehow gave up already in seeing sakura so we decided to go there.

KITANO TENMANGU is a shrine dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar and politician during the Heian period who is also best known as the “god of academics”. Hence, this is also a shrine where many students visit to pray for their studies and exams.

We also went to the garden of ume trees (with entrance fee but forgot how much), and it did not disappoint at all! I’ll let the pictures below do the talking. 😉

We went home afterwards and bought convenience store food for dinner. Guess we had not yet recovered from the 30,000 steps we did the day before this.

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)

Japan, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka

Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka

Japan, Day 8: Nara >> Osaka

Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Kansai, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

On our first day of tour, we left early for Kiyomizu-dera to avoid the big crowd. We hopped off at Gojo-zaka bus station and it was still a long walk before reaching the majestic gate to KIYOMIZU-DERA (UNESCO). There were no visitors yet when we reached the place, and it was a wondrous feeling to take in all the calmness and serenity.

MARCH 5-6, 2017

We purchased our tickets to Osaka (KIX) via Cebu Pacific last year, and we were lucky enough to catch a seat sale (Php 7,500 for RT ticket per person).

Our flight to KIX was a bit delayed but we still arrived in KIX around 8PM (flight lasted for about 4 hours). Since we were not sure if there were any restaurants near our Kyoto Airbnb, we decided to eat in KIX before leaving. We chose SUKIYA which is popular for their gyudon but there were also a lot of other dining options in the same area. After eating, we bought ICOCA cards at the JR office then proceeded to the bus terminal for our airport limousine bus tickets to Kyoto (¥2,550 per ticket).

The trip was about 2 hours and we hopped off at Kyoto Station (JR side). I read about a Foreign Friendly Taxi in Kyoto Station (read more here)… But, we could not find the terminal for this so we opted for the regular cab. Good thing Shu, our Airbnb host, sent us a PDF file which included the Japanese address and a map screenshot of the Airbnb’s location. Our taxi driver did not have any problem finding it.

While we did not meet Shu, he was really accommodating of our requests. He helped us book a reservation in Yakitori Hitomi and even allowed us to store our luggage beyond check-out time. We highly recommend staying in Shu’s Airbnb:

  • Clean unit + working heater
  • Walking distance: Nijo Station and bus stations (IMO, bus is the better way of going around Kyoto)
  • Walking distance: Nijo Castle
  • Free pocket Wi-Fi
  • Convenience store in the same building (ideal for breakfast needs)

On our first day of tour, we left early for Kiyomizu-dera to avoid the big crowd. We hopped off at Gojo-zaka bus station and it was still a long walk before reaching the majestic gate to KIYOMIZU-DERA (UNESCO). There were no visitors yet when we reached the place, and it was a wondrous feeling to take in all the calmness and serenity.

Kiyomizu-dera is best known for its wooden terrace where people can have a good view of the surrounding trees and of Kyoto. Unfortunately, the roof of the main hall is currently undergoing renovation so it is difficult to get a good view.

A little bit of walk and we saw the gate to JISHU-JINJA, a shrine dedicated for love and matchmaking. They also sell different types of enmusubi omamori – for single people who are looking for love, stronger relationship, good marriage, etc.

The shrine is also popular for two stones called “love fortune telling”. Stones are placed a few meters apart and you have to walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed. If successful, your love-related wish will come true. If not, it is said that it will take a long time before it is fulfilled.

Start from this stone…
…going to this stone

Another highlight was the OTOWA WATERFALL – water streams divided into three. We got a long pole with cup to get and drink water from the streams. But, it is advised not to drink from all three because this is considered to be greedy. Each stream provides a benefit and facing from inside the falls, from left to right, the benefits are: academic achievement, success in love, and longevity.

(L-R): longevity, success in love, academic achievement

We headed out of Kiyomizu-dera to explore SANNENZAKA and NINENZAKA. Both streets are lined with traditional-looking establishments, which made us feel like we were walking along ancient Kyoto. I hunted the following stores based on research prior to the trip: Yatsuhashi Cream Puff (matcha cream puff), Malebranche (okoicha langue de chat, cha no ka), and Shichimiya Hompo (shichimi and yuzu powder).

 

Must-buy in Malebranche!!!!! White chocolate filling in between matcha biscuits ❤

Matcha cream puff

We also passed by a small shop selling strawberries and I knew that I had to buy one… Best decision ever as the strawberries were really sweet!!!

While the walk along Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka took some time, we did not mind because of the quaint vibe. As we went farther away from Kiyomizu-dera, the crowd got thinner so the walk became more pleasant for us.

 

We were supposed to eat lunch in Izuju Sushi, one of the oldest traditional sushi restaurants in Kyoto, but we were surprised to find out it was closed. There was a nearby restaurant with a long line outside so we opted to join the bandwagon. They say that when locals line up for it, the food is most likely good.

While HACHIDAIME GIHEI has 2 floors, the area per floor is just small. We waited for about an hour and a half before being ushered inside, and it was quite cold outside! I ordered Oyakodon set and added Miyama Komoriuta (free range egg brand) to make a tamago kake gohan – fresh egg placed on top of rice which is very popular in Japan.

 

I honestly did not get what the fuss was about although I read reviews that rice was the highlight for this place. The waiting time we spent felt like a waste for me especially since the oyakodon tasted average.

A few meters away from the restaurant, we saw YASAKA-JINJA which was next in our itinerary. Upon entering the gate, there were a lot of food and souvenir stalls. Since we still had some space in our tummies, we bought takoyaki, caramelized fruits, and a big kani stick.

Entrance to Yasaka-jinja

Entrance is free and one of the key highlights in this shrine is the dance stage, which has hundreds of lanterns that are said to be lit during the evening. This place is also known as Gion Shrine and very popular for Gion Matsuri, a summer festival held every July.

We were supposed to get an omikuji but we were told that there is no English translation available. I noticed that there were two kinds of omikuji in this shrine – one for general fortune telling, one specifically for love. I was interested in the latter because I already had the chance to get the general omikuji last year in Meiji-jingu.

Draw a stick – part of the process in getting your omikuji

From Yasaka-jinja, we walked to MARUYAMA-KOEN which was just a few minutes away. The park is very popular during sakura season, especially because of its iconic shidarezakura (weeping cherry tree). Unfortunately, since we were there around early March, it had no flowers yet.

Famous shidarezakura – not yet bloomed

We still enjoyed the place though since there were different corners to explore. We also had the opportunity to see some ikebana displays there.

Our next stop was CHION-IN, where access to temple ground is free but Hojo and Yuzen gardens require a fee. The Sanmon Gate, which serves as the main entrance, is considered to be the largest wooden gate in Japan.

Sanmon Gate (Chion-in)
Happy kiddos

There are two ways to get to the temple ground – climb steps or ride a shuttle for free. We went for the latter option since we were quite tired already from walking since morning. There were different halls when we arrived but Miedo Hall, the main hall, is closed for renovations until 2019.

Our last stop before dinner was SHOREN-IN, which can be walked from Chion-in. When we reached the area with the payment booth, we decided not to enter for reasons I cannot remember anymore. I’d still recommend the place though because I read that they have kachoden (drawing room with fusuma-e – screen paintings). Additionally, they also have a garden with carp pond which one can admire while sitting on the tatami mats.

After our short stop in Shoren-in, we hopped on a bus going to the dinner place. When we got off, J said that she saw a blossom tree near the river so we hunted for it. True enough, there was one tree which was in full bloom but this turned out to be ume (plum blossom), not sakura. Nevertheless, the flowers were really pretty.

We walked to Kichi Kichi afterwards since we had a reservation and we needed to be on time. KICHI KICHI is famous for its fluffy omurice made by Chef Yukimura Motokichi.

Each of us ordered the half-size omurice since the full size was too big for us. The omelet was indeed fluffy and I liked how the sauce was not too sweet. Overall, it was delicious but I wouldn’t jump into concluding that this is the best out there.

We also ordered Chicken and Cheese Cutlet with Mustard Flavor, which was another good call!

Chef Yukimura Motokichi
Famous omurice (half-size)

Chef Motokichi really knows how to entertain his customers, and his staff are efficient and friendly. I highly recommend placing a reservation since they can only rarely accommodate walk-in customers.

Reservation: Click here

Japanese address: 中京区三条先斗町下ル材木町185-4

After our delicious dinner, we went back to Higashiyama area for the HIGASHIYAMA HANATOURO, an annual spring illumination the said district. Popular temples, shrines, and gardens are open in the evening. Shops also extend their working hours to cater to the huge crowd that attend the event.

We were supposed to visit all the temples we went to during this day but we had no more energy. We went back to Kiyomizu-dera and headed to KODAI-JI, which had a colorful lights show in the rock garden. The raked gravel in the garden is said to represent the vast ocean.

We were too tired to commute going back home so we decided to take the taxi (an affordable option if you are 3-4 in a group). Not surprised to find out that we reached almost 30,000 steps from all the walking we did for more than 12 hours. Not bad for our first full day in Kyoto?

 

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)

Japan, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka

Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka

Japan, Day 8: Nara >> Osaka

Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka