Japan, Day 2: Tenryu-ji (revisit)

While planning the Kansai Region trip last year, I read that this temple is at its best during spring and autumn so my expectations were high… and it did not disappoint! Even at the parking area, people were already having their pictures taken.

I bought the ticket for both main hall and garden (¥800) entrance passes, with the temple being my first order of business. No shoes allowed, by the way!

The last stop in my revisit to Arashiyama was TENRYU-JI (UNESCO Heritage Site).

NOVEMBER 22, 2018

While planning the Kansai Region trip last year, I read that this temple is at its best during spring and autumn so my expectations were high… and it did not disappoint! Even at the parking area, people were already having their pictures taken.

I bought the ticket for both main hall and garden (¥800) entrance passes, with the temple being my first order of business. No shoes allowed, by the way!

I liked the area where they have a large sitting hall and you can just admire the view of the pond and autumn trees. It was just so beautiful plus having that sense of inner peace while looking at the surroundings. I guess no surprise why Tenryu-ji is regarded as one of the best Zen temples in Kyoto.

I spent some time there before exploring the rest of temple buildings.

Once finished, I returned to the ticket booth to wear my shoes and then headed to the next area. Tenryuji’s garden was created by Muso Soseki, a famous Zen Buddhist Monk who was also the first head priest of this temple.

During my 2017 visit, I thought that I already saw the whole garden so I was shocked to learn that there was a huge area that I didn’t get to see last time. I also didn’t know that there was an exit from there that would lead straight into the bamboo grove… So how did I not know these things? I remembered that at that time, we were in a hurry to catch the Sagano Torokko Train so our visit was cut short.

Anyway, pardon for having lots of photos after this because I just found everything really beautiful, especially because I was surrounded by a mix of colors (red, orange, and yellow). It was just so surreal!

I hope you enjoyed a bit of a tour in Tenryu-ji’s famous garden during the peak of autumn. ❤

Not sure if my face says it but I am one very happy kid!

Kansai, Day 11: Osaka

J and I woke up early to go to Osaka Central Fish Market. We read that ENDO SUSHI is located there, which is considered as one of the best sushi restaurants in Osaka.

Taxi driver dropped us off near an intersection and pointed to the direction towards the fish market. So we walked and avoided some transportation carts in the area… Less busier than Tsukiji but still needed to exercise caution while walking.

MARCH 16, 2017

Last day of our trip!!! T_T

J and I woke up early to go to Osaka Central Fish Market. We read that ENDO SUSHI is located there, which is considered as one of the best sushi restaurants in Osaka.

Taxi driver dropped us off near an intersection and pointed to the direction towards the fish market. So we walked and avoided some transportation carts in the area… Less busier than Tsukiji but still needed to exercise caution while walking. We eventually found the small restaurant and we were immediately assisted to a table. I got the “first plate” (anago, uni, tai, toro, hamachi) plus an extra order of tuna and salmon sushi.

We went back to our Airbnb after breakfast to do final pack up for our remaining luggage. We had some of our bags delivered to KIX the previous day via KURONEKO YAMATO in JR Namba Station (http://www.kuronekoyamato.co.jp/en/hands-freetravel/kinki/index.html#osaka_wrap). And because of this, we had less luggage to bring during this day. We still opted to leave our suitcase for the day in Kuroneko Yamato so that we can explore Dotonbori without worry.

Nothing much to do anymore in Dotonbori so we went to our lunch place and waited for about 30 minutes for its opening time. Behold, MATSUSAKAGYU YAKINIKU M, a restaurant well-known for its Matsusaka beef. This was recommended by my cousin and I am so glad that we followed her.

This was the most expensive meal I had in Japan so far… But every yen was worth it!!! J and I got the premium course which costs ¥7,800 per person. Cute, funny story here was that one of the staff who assisted us during cooking stared at us then eventually asked us if we were at Honke Shibato the previous night. We said yes with puzzled eyes… Turned out that she was the same staff who assisted us in that resto. 😊

 

Started off with these assorted appetizers… Reminded us of omakase style because it was the chef who decided what to serve for this set.

 

Then we got this first set of Matsusaka beef to grill – short rib with garlic sauce…

 

For the rice/noodles option, we both got this garlic rice…… THIS IS DEFINITELY A MUST ORDER!!! I took small bites so that I could savor this longer.

Garlic rice — nakakaiyak sa sarap!

Then we also had Matsusaka beef sushi which piqued our interest – marbled beef sushi and lean beef sushi…

 

The last set we got was composed of 4 different parts of Matsusaka beef – sirloin steak, flap meat, haneshita, kyukyoku.

The highlight of the course!!!

For the dessert, I chose ice cream with yuzu sherbet flavor and it was damn good!

After lunch, J and I bought mini Pablo cheesecakes to bring home. It was convenient for us to leave our luggage in Kuroneko Yamato because the airport limousine bus station is located nearby. We purchased tickets prior to exploring Dotonbori in the morning to make sure that we would not be late in the airport.

That finally concludes our long stay in Japan… Can’t wait to go back this year! 🙂

 

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 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Kansai, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

After braving the strong wind, we finally saw the famous MEOTO IWA (“Wedded Rocks”). It is said that the larger rock represents the husband while the smaller one is the wife, and this couple is actually a representation of Izanagi and Izanami, the gods who created Japan.

It may not look as majestic as the ones in photos seen online, but they say that the best time to go here is during high tide and sunrise – get to see the sun rising between the two rocks.

Continuation of our Ise-Shima adventure!

After lunch in Ebiya, we went back to the Ujiyamada Station to go to Meoto Iwa. When we arrived at the Futamino-Ura Station, we could really feel the rural life. There was no machine for us to insert our ticket as we headed towards the exit. Instead, there was an old man who checked our ticket. After exiting the station, there was no vehicle even on the main road. It was a good thing there was a local who we could ask for directions going to Meoto Iwa. He only spoke Japanese but his directions using his hands (even including Y gesture to signal the fork road) were very clear.

 

We walked for about 20 minutes before we finally arrived by the seaside. I was expecting to enjoy the scenery but the wind was really strong… strong enough to pull up my hoodie!

We went inside Futamiokitama Shrine, which is generously decorated with frogs of different sizes.

 

Ema with Meoto Iwa design

After braving the strong wind, we finally saw the famous MEOTO IWA (“Wedded Rocks”). It is said that the larger rock represents the husband while the smaller one is the wife, and this couple is actually a representation of Izanagi and Izanami, the gods who created Japan.

It may not look as majestic as the ones in photos seen online, but they say that the best time to go here is during high tide and sunrise – get to see the sun rising between the two rocks. These rocks, connected by Shimenawa rope (Shinto sacred rope), are also considered as a symbol of marriage.

If you are into drainspotting, do not miss the manhole cover in this area which showcases Meoto Iwa.

Drainspotting: sunrise at Meoto Iwa

Only saw this map when we were headed back — shows the route from train station to Meoto Iwa

When we got back in Ujiyamada Station, we had to purchase tickets back to Osaka. We did not purchase this beforehand since we were not sure what time we will finish our adventure in Ise-Shima. We somehow regretted it because ticket price per person was around 2,000 or 3,000+ yen. We also made a mistake of boarding the wrong train (1 minute earlier than ours!!) so we had to pay an extra fee.

The train is called Premium Express Shimakaze. It definitely looked and felt premium than the train we rode in the morning – reclining chair, automated window blinds… We even got a boarding certificate to commemorate our ride.

 

Lesson learned: Japanese trains arrive on the dot unless they announce otherwise. Who would have thought that that train which arrived 1 minute earlier is indeed different from the one we should have boarded. Oh well.

For our last dinner during this trip, we decided to go to HONKE SHIBATO, a restaurant famous for its eel dishes. The restaurant is 300+ years old so their quality is definitely something to be trusted. If you are on a budget, definitely skip this place then. We both got the Osaka Mamushi, which costs ¥2,730 per order. It was my first time to eat eel and their unagi definitely did not disappoint.

Even the cover looks premium!

Close up shot of that delicious unagi!

The staff was really nice and they even offered to take our picture outside the shop. 🙂

Next post is our last day in Japan. T_T

 

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 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Kansai, Day 10 (AM): Ise-Shima

Last day trip outside Osaka before we head back to MNL. Our destination is Ise-Shima, mainly because I want to go to Ise Jingu which is dedicated to the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Hence, it is considered as the holiest Shinto shrine in Japan. I read before that locals wish to visit this place at least once before they die.

January weekends were quite busy so I only had the time today to finally post the first half of our Ise-Shima day trip! Here you go…

MARCH 15, 2017

Last day trip outside Osaka before we head back to MNL. Our destination is Ise-Shima, mainly because I want to go to Ise Jingu which is dedicated to the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Hence, it is considered as the holiest Shinto shrine in Japan. I read before that locals wish to visit this place at least once before they die.

I bought our train tickets back in Manila by going to the English website of Kintetsu Japan. Got our Limited Express train ticket for ¥2,640 (2 pax) so we had an early train to catch for this day. The trip was about an hour.

Upon arriving at Ujiyamada Station, we looked for a bus that would take us to GEKU (OUTER SHRINE) of Ise Jingu. It is relatively smaller than Naiku (inner shrine) but nonetheless, a tranquil and breathtaking place. Geku is dedicated to Toyouke Omikami, deity of three essentials of human life: cloth, food and shelter”.

Further exploring Geku, I saw a couple going up these stairs and eventually found myself in front of a small shrine. Paid respect before leaving for Naiku…

From Geku, we rode a bus that would take us to Naiku. They said that another option is to walk but that would be too long and it us usually done for pilgrims.

Upon reaching NAIKU (INNER SHRINE), we were greeted by this first torii framing Ujibashi bridge.

Fun fact: Ujibashi bridge is rebuilt every 20 years as part of the Shikinen Sengu. The most recent Shikinen Sengu happened in 2013. All shrine buildings and main bridges in Ise Jingu are rebuilt every 20 years, and they source their wood from the trees grown within the shrine grounds. Through rebuilding, it is said that the power of the deity is renewed.

From the bridge, it was quite a long walk before we reach the area to do temizu. Notice how people only walk along the side and not stepping on the center area. If I remember correctly what our Tokyo tour guide said, this is because the center aisle can only be walked by their deities. It was easy to spot tourists because some kept on walking on the center part.

We reached the area where you could do the usual way of doing temizu but I could not pass up the opportunity to try the traditional way…

Here by the riverbed of the Isuzugawa, you can directly soak your hands in the water and rinse your mouth. Temizu is a must whenever entering shrines and temples as it is said that the gods loathe impurity; hence, the need to cleanse the mind and body through this method.

A little bit of walk from here and I saw the prayer hall, where I bought two types of omamori (Japanese amulet that provides luck or protection) for myself and one for our home.

Naiku is definitely bigger than Geku and the place does not feel like the usual shrine. Think of Meiji Jingu but a lot bigger and with longer walks from one spot to another. I definitely enjoyed walking slowly and taking in the sights here.

We finally reached the Shogu, the main palace. This is the area dedicated to Amaterasu-Omikami, Shinto’s most venerated deity, and her sacred mirror is believed to be enshrined inside. Most people are not allowed to enter here but donors and bigtime people are given special exemptions. Locals still pay their respect by bowing and praying.

After retracing our steps back to the entrance, we walked a bit more and reached OKAGE YOKOCHO. I read that this is part of Oharaimachi, the traditional approach to Naiku. The place is a recreation of how towns looked like from Edo to Meiji period.

An interesting thing here is “tabearuki” (食べ歩き), which means that food/local delicacies can be eaten while walking around the area. This is a big deal because in Japan, eating while walking is considered taboo and disrespectful.

We also passed by this shop which had a long line so we decided to join and see what the fuss is about. Apparently, they were lining up for this mochi-like product made of red beans. There was no English product callout or explanation so I am not sure what it is… But when I took a bite of it when I got home, I understood why. Not a fan of adzuki but this one did not have the overpowering bean taste plus it was not too sticky.

Some more exploration in the area and we found a shop that was selling fried chicken as street food. We bought one serving and we were blown away by the taste. I could not remember though the name of the place. 😦

We made sure that we were able to go around the whole area before we decided to get lunch… I realized that the only activity we did in Okage Yokocho was to eat. Oops! We went inside this restaurant called EBIYA (ebi means shrimp) because we were attracted by their menu outside the restaurant.

We both got the tekonezushi set meal, which included a huge piece of raw abalone. I have always been curious on how it tastes especially after seeing abalone in different Korean variety shows. Proof of its freshness was when I squeezed the lemon over it, the meat-like stuff wriggled for a long time!

Meal set J and I got

Raw abalone (gumagalaw pa!!)

Tekonezushi is also known as “fisherman’s sushi/meal” as it is believed that this originated from a meal that fishermen made while out in the sea. It is a local delicacy in Ise which consists of marinated red-meat fish (usually tuna or skipjack), vinegared rice, and garnish. In our case, we were served tuna with Japanese pickles.

Tekonezushi

Next half of our adventure in Ise-Shima is in the next post. 😊

 

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 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

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 5: Kyoto – Osaka

Our first stop for our last day in Kyoto was KINKAKU-JI (UNESCO) – also known as the “Golden Pavilion”. It is one of the famous Zen temples which has its top 2 floors covered in gold leaf. This golden structure overlooks a pond, which is a real sight to see.

Near the exit, there is a spot where one can write in an ema but what we did was light candles. There was a variety of candles depending on which one you want to wish for – career, health, and safety among others.

MARCH 10, 2017

Our first stop for our last day in Kyoto was KINKAKU-JI (UNESCO) – also known as the “Golden Pavilion”. It is one of the famous Zen temples which has its top 2 floors covered in gold leaf. This golden structure overlooks a pond, which is a real sight to see.

Near the exit, there is a spot where one can write in an ema but what we did was light candles. There was a variety of candles depending on which one you want to wish for – career, health, and safety among others.

We decided to have lunch @ KYOTO KATSUGYU – a restaurant famous for Kyoto-style Wagyu beef and aged beef; interesting for us since we were used to pork as key ingredient of the katsu. Another interesting thing about the katsu in this place is how they deep fry the beef for only 30 seconds, which results to medium-rare meat (which is my preferred done-ness!)

After our early lunch, M suggested we go to KYOTO INTERNATIONAL MANGA MUSEUM. Good thing Shu, our Airbnb host, was kind enough to let us leave our luggage in the unit longer than the check-out time. In the museum, most of the manga were in Japanese (obviously). While I could not read kanji, I still felt in awe handling physical copies of manga, especially titles that I encountered from childhood up to present. Before leaving, I bought a few souvenirs to take home, including earphone plugs with Law and Luffy from One Piece.

Time for us to head to Osaka after the short trip in the museum! It was quite confusing inside Kyoto Station because there are different platforms, depending on your destination. When we found ours, we had to figure out which side would take us to Osaka. We asked a kind Japanese lady and while she did not speak any English, when a train arrived, she motioned to us not to get inside because that was not the train bound for Osaka. We had to wait for the right one otherwise we might end up in a different place.

When we arrived in our Osaka Airbnb, we took time to rest our feet and we only went out for dinner.

[Just like in previous posts, I was supposed to share here the details of the Airbnb but unfortunately, host took down the listing already. 😦]

We went straight to Shinsaibashi-suji to check out shops we may be interested to check out on another day. Afterwards, we went to one of the ICHIRAN branches in Dotonbori. The one we went to was a different style because instead of the individual counter, there were tables for groups (ideal for family and friends).

Just like my Ichiran experience in Tokyo, I also enjoyed this one and it was interesting that we could freely talk with each other because of the set-up. We went home after finishing our big ramen bowls because the trip to Kobe would require us to leave early.

And so, Kobe day trip details on the next post! 🙂

 

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 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 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!!!

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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