Monthly Archives: July 2008

Japan trip-Hokkaido is not my cup of tea (I love Shakotan though!)

Cape Kamui, shot with a digital camera. Only!

Cape Kamui, shot with a digital camera. Only!

Cape Kamui in Shakotan. The waters are so clear and blue!!!
Cape Kamui in Shakotan. The waters are so clear and blue!!!
The opposite side of the cape is just as breath taking! (although I was scared shitless by the height and winds)

The opposite side of the cape is just as breath taking! (although I was scared shitless by the height and winds)

 

 

I only enjoyed Shakotan of all things. Sapporo`s weather is wonderful. It is as cool as Genting highlands.

Sapporo crab buffet! Plus, all waiters speak Mandarin to accomodate the hordes of Chinese tourists...

Sapporo crab buffet! Plus, all waiters speak Mandarin to accomodate the hordes of Chinese tourists...

The aftermath...

Sapporo crab buffet: The aftermath...

Sapporo in the night

Sapporo in the night

This summer vegetable pasta is delicious! Check out that soft boiled egg sitting on top of this dish... How did the chefs do that?

Sapporo: This summer vegetable pasta is delicious! Check out that soft boiled egg sitting on top of this dish... How did the chefs do that?

This ramen is delicious! Right under the blanket of spring onions is tender charsiew meat and clear pork consomme. Very delicate on the taste buds and stomach ~
This ramen is delicious! Right under the blanket of spring onions is tender charsiew meat and clear pork consomme. Very delicate on the taste buds and stomach ~
Personally I think this is overrated... Or maybe tourism killed the flavour. I prefer having cup noodles...

Personally I think this is overrated... Or maybe tourism killed the flavour. I prefer having cup noodles...

Milk cream puff from Asahikawa~~~ Almost like ice cream~~~

Milk cream puff from Asahikawa~~~ Almost like ice cream~~~

Oh yeah and the food is a small consolation. Milk pudding at Tomita farm was excellent (despite being overrun with Chinese-HK tour buses). I had 2 servings of melons. The cream puff was light and delicious. Ramen at Asahikawa was good. Crab in Sapporo was worth the trip although it is not recommended to bring your date there if you want to impress her/him.

A moving oven

Norokko train to Furano: A moving oven

The reason why the ride was so hot and stuffy... because were in the BBQ car!!!!

The reason why the ride was so hot and stuffy... because we're in the BBQ car!!!!

Please allow the staff choose the melon slice. An obvious case of the ugly chinese tourist. This is one of the reasons why I avoided signing up for tour packages in Spore.

The sign says in Mandarin: 'Please allow the staff choose the melon slice.' An obvious case of the ugly chinese tourist. This is one of the reasons why I avoided signing up for tour packages in S'pore. Imagine having to fight for a bite of food on the table with those people ...

2 slices of this lovely fruit makes the suffering go away...

2 slices of this lovely fruit makes the suffering go away... slurp

The milk pudding is divine!!! So smooth and light. The curry rice tastes crappy though... with spice overload. I cant tell whether theres more rice or cumin seeds...

The milk pudding is divine!!! So smooth and light. The curry rice tastes crappy though... with spice overload. I can't tell whether there's more rice or cumin seeds...

Five-colored field at Tomita farm

Five-colored field at Tomita farm

The smell of lavender wafting wherever I go~~~ Aaaaah....gh.

The smell of lavender wafting wherever I go~~~ Aaaaah....gh.

Otherwise, Hokkaido feels like a tourist hotbed with probably 50% of its populace made of Chinese/Hong Kong tourists. So bad that even the waiters at the well-known crab buffet restaurant in Sapporo started speaking to me in Mandarin!(actually the restaurant hired Taiwanese) And damn, Furano is swelteringly hot! I`m amazed the pretty flowers have not shrivelled to their roots.

Why I enjoyed Shakotan very much was 2 reasons:

The scenery at Cape Kamui is just amazing!!

The scenery at Cape Kamui is just amazing!!

1) The view is amazing. It is as awesome as the Fireworks dear chihaya san brought me to. I wanted to yell at the top of my voice from the cliff because it`s too beautiful!!! (partially also because of the height and very narrow trail. I was scared shitless that the sea wind would blow me down the cliff) Thanks to Taichirou san, who kindly offered his hand and helped me across the narrow trail (I was scared shitless by the height…), I could enjoy the magical view of Cape Kamui. And he:s also kind enough to take very good pictures of me at the cape and by the Otaru canal. I made a new friend! \(>w<)/

Tanaka Taichiro san and me. The gate to Cape Kamui says Women are not allowed. Probably because the sea breeze might blow their kimonos open? *panchira*

Tanaka Taichiro san and me. The gate to Cape Kamui says 'Women are not allowed'. Probably because the sea breeze might blow their kimonos open? *panchira*

 

Otaru canal~no smell unlike our stinky Singapore river!

Otaru canal~no smell unlike our stinky Singapore river!

 

Yo! Buddha brotha~ A weird looking mannequin in one of Otarus shops...

Yo! Buddha brotha~ A weird looking mannequin in one of Otaru's shops...

Crunchy and sweet, the perfect after lunch dessert.

Otaru: Crunchy and sweet, the perfect after lunch dessert.

Uni donburi and fluffy buttered potato!!!
Lunch in Otaru: Uni donburi and fluffy buttered potato!!!
Otaru souvenir shop has full of interesting gag items like this car decal...Oyaji!!!

Otaru souvenir shop has full of interesting gag items like this car decal...Oyaji!!!

... A parody of Boss Coffee.

... A parody of Boss Coffee. I just love the old man's look~

No Employment Education and Technical skills. Perhaps I have that inner desire to be one too?

A hot favourite of mine... NEET: No Employment Education and Technical skills. Perhaps I have that inner desire to be one too?

2) Because it is a 3hr bus ride from Otaru and the cape is very scary to reach, no travel agency has put it in their packages and probably the insurance companies would want to exclude this in their policies (ie risky). Therefore, very few tourists want to visit the cape. Good! (>w<)b

 Other than Shakotan and Sapporo, I do not find Hokkaido a place worth going to if one wants to experience authentic Japan. So much so that I started missing the craziness of Tokyo and the cold, wet weather of Tohoku. I would rather stay in Nikko for a few more days and chat with the nice elderly there!

(–|||)

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Japan trip: Goshikinuma ponds – Beauty and mud.

 

At the 1st pond of Goshikinuma~

 

All veggie bento lunch on Shinkansen. The horse chestnut and inari beancurd pieces were tasty~

All veggie bento lunch on Shinkansen. The horse chestnut and inari beancurd pieces were tasty~

I set off for Kooriyama via Shinkansen and transferred to the JR Ban-Etsu line which goes past Mount Bandai (Inawashiro station) to Aizu-Wakamatsu station. It’s a wonderful ride because one can enjoy the scenery of thickly forested mountains and rice fields from the train itself. I alighted at Inawashiro station to find a very sleepy town, almost ghostly… From there, I took a half an hour bus ride (abt SGD 18 for one way) to the Goshikinuma ponds. More Mt Bandai to see as the bus winds up the mountain.

After reaching the Goshikinuma visitor center, I set off on the nature trail which the JNTO pdf promised to be 1hr long. First stop was the largest, bluest pond, Bishamon numa.

Giant koi fighting for a bite of prawn crackers

Giant koi fighting for a bite of prawn crackers

It’s waters are a brilliant turquoise and I could see giant koi swimming around, fighting with the ducks for prawn crackers thrown by visitors. The weather was perfect too. Sunny but cool~

Another pond along the muddy trail~

Another pond along the muddy trail~

I searched for the nature trail and found the sign ‘hiking trail’. The trail was a narrow, muddy and entangled with tree roots… (-_-) I began to regret wearing flip flops and a dress.

Yellow and orange colored ponds

Yellow and orange colored ponds

So off I went, gingerly steeping over jagged rocks, mud and tree roots. The mud is thick and sticky. The wetter mud is worse because my flip flops would slap bits of mud onto the back of my legs. After alot of squishing and slapping, one of the hikers remarked that my legs were all spotty. On hindsight, the Goshikinuma hike was really fun if I’d worn hiking boots instead of flip flops. It’s quite a gross feeling to have one’s feet sinking into the thick mud and the mud getting in between your toes.My black flipflops have just dried and they are brown from the dried soil I picked up from Goshikinuma trail. Eewww…. I had no choice but to dump them in the hotel trash bin.

The cool running stream where I washed my feet in

The cool running stream where I washed my feet in

Aaaargh!!!Its so cold, I cant feel my feet!!!

Aaaargh!!!It's so cold, I can't feel my feet!!!

Even salary man visits the ponds...erm...to read business news..

Even salary man visits the ponds...erm...to read business news..

Kirei da!!! I wanted to exclaim with the kids when we found this brilliant turquoise pond

Kirei da!!! I wanted to exclaim with the kids when we found this brilliant turquoise pond

I love the hiking experience despite the muddy and slippery trails. The colorful ponds were beautiful. Even the bunch of elementary school kids in their banana yellow hats were gasping “Kirei da!!!”, which means pretty in Japanese. The fellow japanese hikers were friendly and one of them even advised me to join them by a clear, flowing stream. The water was freezing cold but very refreshing! My legs were shaking after I stepped out of the stream with squeaky clean feet. Unfortunately, it’s back to the mud again…

Brilliantl blue sky and pond~

Brilliantl blue sky and pond~

I also met a very nice old couple who chatted with me. The wife Noriko was very friendly and we took the bus down from the Bandai Ura bus stop back to the entrance of Goshikinuma ponds where they alighted. I continued my bus ride back to Inawashiro station where I stopped by a sleepy cafe to have curry rice for lunch; which is delicious!!!

Delicious curry rice (abt SGD 8)

Delicious curry rice (abt SGD 8)

 I think it’s beef stew curry with melt-in-your-mouth potato. I took the train back to Sendai where I slept like a pig in preparation for the trip to Sapporo the next day.

My favourite red bean + margerine 'koppe'-bun which I eat in Sendai everyday. A pair of red bean 'manjuus' and souvenirs
My favourite red bean + margerine

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Japan trip:Matsushima-Seagulls everywhere

I headed to another recommended tourist spot in the Miyagi prefecture- Matsushima bay to see the famous clusters of little islands. It is also a place where oysters are farmed and the seafood is fresh. I was hoping for a bright, hot sunny day (what is summer without the heat?) but all I got was a cool. cloudy drizzle all day long. (–|||) Not very good for the ice cream business.

Islands of Matsushima- taken from the port. Eew, wheres the sun and blue waters?

Islands of Matsushima- taken from the port. Eew, where's the sun and blue waters?

I bought a boat ticket for 1400 yen (abt SGD 15) which will circle in between the cluster of islands back to port. It was fun especially when the seagulls started flying really close to the boat to be fed with prawn crackers by the passengers. (I was wondering if I could throw a pellet of Xylitol into a seagull’s beak and see what happens) The wind was sooo refreshing and the smell of the sea is lovely unlike the pungent stink of the sea back home….
The wind was superb and I dont care if my messy hair is even more messed up!

The wind was superb and I don't care if my messy hair is even more messed up!

...And the seagulls are rushing to get a bite of the prawn sticks. Not the passengers fingers I hope...

...And the seagulls are rushing to get a bite of the prawn sticks. Not the passengers' fingers I hope...

The passengers and I were zipping between port and starboard to get a glimpse of each island that came to view. It’s amazing how each island looks like a bonsai pot afloat on water. Date Masamune really knows the nice spots to capture for his domain. I wasn’t paying attention to the names of the islands the PA guide was explaining because I was too busy running to and fro trying to snap a nice picture of each island that emerged into view.
This seagull stayed put through out the boat trip when the other seagulls flew away after the prawn crackers were finished. I wanted to call it skipper.

This seagull stayed put through out the boat trip when the other seagulls flew away after the prawn crackers were finished. I wanted to call it 'Kojiro'.

Looks like someone seated on the rock... as the PA guide claimed...

Looks like someone seated on the rock... as the PA guide claimed...

There are holes carved out of the base of this island. Reminds me of mouse holes...

There are holes carved out of the base of this island. Reminds me of mouse holes...

After the boat ride, I was hungry and headed to the nearest restaurant from the port. I pointed at a set meal called ‘Masamune teishoku’… Ah, what a sucker I am for anime/game characters. It was a little pricey, 2200 yen (about SGD 24) but I think it’s reasonable because… there’s 4 big juicy oysters (size of a rambutan) batterfried with bread crumbs, sashimi (scallops, tuna, prawn, squid and octopus), rice, preserved stuff and miso soup with seaweed and fish cake. When I bit into the oyster, it burst with juices dripping out of my mouth. I don’t really like shellfish but this… I could eat this!!!
Masamune Teishoku, very fresh, very oishii...!

Masamune Teishoku, very fresh, very oishii...!

I also went to visit Kanrantei, Date Masamune’s guesthouse which offers a beautiful view of Matsushima bay and its islands. It was given to Masamune by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the building was moved to its present location by Masa’s son, Tadamune.

 

 

Kanrantei

Kanrantei

View from Kanrantei.

View from Kanrantei.

I also went to Zuiganji temple which is built by Masamune Date. The main temple is unlike Nikko where the restoration works are carried out regularly. Paint has already faded from the wooden carvings. However, the inner sliding doors with gorgeous paintings on them were still shining like gold. The gardens and tall cedar trees are breathtaking too.
At the gate of Zuiganji temple with my umbrella

At the gate of Zuiganji temple with my umbrella

built by Date Masamune. It also houses the tablets of his 20 followers who followed Masa in death.

Zuiganji Temple: built by Date Masamune. It also houses the tablets of his 20 followers who followed Masa in death.

Little kids sliding down the steps for fun. Kawaii---(^^)

Little kids sliding down the steps for fun. Kawaii---(^^)

The main hall...with kids running around the corridor...

The main hall...with kids running around the corridor...

Garden and Seiryuden which houses buddhist and historical artifacts.

Garden and Seiryuden which houses buddhist and historical artifacts.

Goddess of Mercy housed opposite of Seiryuden

Goddess of Mercy housed opposite of Seiryuden

Caves with carvings of kannons

Caves with carvings of kannons

One of the many carvings from the caves

One of the many carvings from the caves

After that, I headed to Gobaido hall where it sits on a small island, or to be more precise, a rock. This rock is connected to the mainland by 2 red bridges. The rafters have wood carvings of the 12 zodiac animals (very proud to say I discovered it myself without reading the pamplets, if it ever was written).
Bridges leading to Gobaido

Bridges leading to Gobaido

Gobaido- There are wood carvings of 3 zodiac animals on each side of the shrine.

Gobaido- There are wood carvings of 3 zodiac animals on each side of the shrine.

The bell which is hit with the rope. Not much of a sound. The 3 zodiac animals on the front of the shrine are snake, horse and goat.

The bell which is hit with the rope. Not much of a sound. The 3 zodiac animals on the front of the shrine are snake, horse and goat.

The center wood carving is that of a horse. Unfortunately it is blocked by the sign of the shrine.

The center wood carving is that of a horse. Unfortunately it is blocked by the sign of the shrine.

the boar ^^

My zodiac: the boar ^^

I headed towards the looooooooong red bridge (525m) which connects to Fukuurajima island. But when I reached the mouth of the bridge, I saw a sign stating that a toll of 200 yen is to be paid for access to the bridge. Too lazy to walk…and too stingy, I decided to give it a miss. Anyway the lady selling souvenirs told me all you do there is ‘sampo’ (take a stroll).
The sign at the bridge.

The sign at the bridge.

Fukuurasan bridge and island...

Fukuura bridge and island...

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Japan trip: Sendai’s founder,Masamune Date (MOE!)

I bought a Loople bus one-day pass for one goal: to see Sendai’s founder, the one-eyed dragon,Date Masamune~!!!*Moe daaaa!!!!* The Loople bus is cute itself as it looks so quaint, with wood and brass fittings. The great thing about the 600 yen (abt SGD 6.50) pass is it can be used for unlimited rides and it’s a convenient way to see all of the city.

Even construction accessories are so kawaii!!!

Even construction accessories are so kawaii!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Loople Sendai city bus

The Loople Sendai city bus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiroshige river.

Hiroshige river.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Loople bus~

In the Loople bus~

So the 1st stop was Zuihouden Mausoleum. A replica of Date Masamune’s tomb sits atop a hill. The Kansenden and Zennoden mausoleums (housing Masamune’s successors)were on the other side of the forested hill.

Map of the hill showing where Zuihoden, Kansenden and Zennoden mausoleums were located.
Map of the hill showing where Zuihoden, Kansenden and Zennoden mausoleums were located.
More climbing up the hill. A fork which leads to Zuihoden and to Kansenden and Zennoden

More climbing up the hill. A fork which leads to Zuihoden and to Kansenden and Zennoden

The outer gate to the replica of Date Masamunes mausoleum

The outer gate to the replica of Date Masamune's mausoleum

Zuihoden mausoleum.

Zuihoden mausoleum.

Are you ready? Dates mausoleum is surrounded by markers of his loyal followers who killed themselves when he died.

Are you ready? Date's mausoleum is surrounded by markers of his loyal followers who killed themselves when he died.

Intricate wood carvings and gold leaf. The center is fixed with the emblems of the Date clan.

Intricate wood carvings and gold leaf. The center is fixed with the emblem of Date Masamune, sparrows and bamboo. Sparrow ni narite?

Next up is
Reconstruction of Date Masamune from his remains.

Reconstruction of Date Masamune from his remains.

Famous crescent helm unique only to Date Masamune.

Famous crescent helm unique only to Date Masamune.

Masamune Clan line. Check out the branch 小次郎. (801!)

Masamune Clan line. Check out the branch 小次郎. (801!)

Zennoden and Kansenden mausoleums which are located within the same compound in the other side of the hill.

The outer gate of the Zennoden and Kansenden mausoleums. More climbing...

The outer gate of the Zennoden and Kansenden mausoleums. More climbing...

Kansenden and Zennonden mausoleums. Dunno why only these 2 guys have to share the space...

Kansenden and Zennonden mausoleums. Dunno why only these 2 guys have to share the space...

Next up, Aoba Castle where only the foundations of Date Masamune’s castle remain. The highlight is the statue of Date Masamune mounted on his horse and overlooking the whole city of Sendai.
Moe!!! However on my way down to catch the Loople bus, there were some charming things on the way.
Pretty ajisais, which grow all over the place!

Pretty ajisais, which grow all over the place!

Same slope back down to the Loople bustop. Its a nice walk being surrounded by trees.

Same slope back down to the Loople bustop. It's a nice walk being surrounded by trees.

Creamy Golden Potato. Its made by an old couple who were very friendly. The husband is 63 yrs old but he looked 53!!!

Golden Sweet Potato: It's rich and melts in the mouth. It's baked by an old couple who were very friendly.

Mrs

Isn't the shop cute? This is the shop owner's wife, Mrs Sugawara. They also bake macarons and cookies

The Golden Sweet Potato was a lovely treat and the shopowners were so friendly. The husband even came out to say hello and chat with me. I was surprised when he told me his son is already 35 years old and he is 63 year old!!! He looked 53 years to me. I wonder if sweet potatoes are the secret of his youth…

After the sweet little treat, I hopped onto the Loople bus and headed for Aoba castle where Date Masamune’s statue overlooks the whole city. As usual, more climbing…
The gate to Aoba castle (before it was destroyed) Check out the huge foundations that still remain. How do they make those bricks?

The gate to Aoba castle (before it was destroyed) Check out the huge foundations that still remain. How do they make those bricks?

Until I reached the top of the foundations and saw the whole of Sendai city! Further up was the statue of Date Masamune mounted on a horse. MOEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!
Founder of Sendai. You know?

Lord Date Masamune: Founder of Sendai. You know?

Fuujoshi paying respects to MasaMoe Date

Fuujoshi paying respects to MasaMoe Date

Apparently Date Masamune is not just a brilliant ruler, he is also a culturally refined and intellectual gentleman. At the Sendai City museum, there were several poems written by him for the Tanabata festival. There’s also a poem written by him in Chinese!!! Furthermore, he sent his retainers on a mission to Europe to meet the Pope. This was documented by Scipione Amati and I could read the 1st page of the document as it’s in Italian. His name was written as ‘I DATE MASAMVNE’. Wonder if Date is learned in Latin too… … vvv
It started to rain and I ran to the nearest shelter I could find. A souvenir shop. I bought an umbrella and some souvenirs and went around finding some chow…. And I found this rice cake dessert called Zunda mochi. It’s covered with sweet green stuff which I think is some kind of bean.
Mochi!

Very delicious tea time snack!!!

Touristy photo....hahhahahahahaaha!

Touristy photo....hahhahahahahaaha!

. I hopped back onto the Loople bus to visit the Sendai City Museum which houses all of Miyagi’s archaelogical treasures including scrolls and military gear of Masamune. That’s where I learnt Date not only loves poetry, he could even compose one in Chinese!!! (0A0)
Another cool thing is it also houses a 3 headed demon armor belonging to Uesugi Kenshin.
Worth a trip to get to know more about Sendais history and Date Masamune.

Sendai City Museum : Worth a trip to get to know more about Sendai's history and Date Masamune.

For dinner, I didn’t wanted to go for Gyuutan as it’s too rich for my gut. So I went to Mos Burger to have a go at their chicken burger. It’s way better than the ones in Singapore and they minimise the use of disposables by serving drinks in glasses. It was the most delicious and filling Mos burger I’ve ever tasted.
Mos Hot Chicken burger

Mos Hot Chicken burger

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Japan trip: Out of the city and into Nikko (plus shaking Sendai)

Now I understand why the people who’ve been to Japan prefer the ulu places rather than the bustling CRAZY city. Man, just trying to get to the tourist info section to get my rail pass in Shinjuku station is a killer. I’ve covered a distance of 1.5 km in the station itself only to realise the office is open at 10.30 am. I felt like dying… Luckily the Ikebukuro (1 station away) office opens at 9.30am. And from Ikebukuro I took the Shinkansen to Utsunomiya to transfer to the JR Nikko train.

Nikko is a lovely tourist spot with all the greenery and old historic stuff which the people are proud of. And after killing my knees from climbing the slopes and steps, they have a very valid reason to do so.

Of course, as usual, I couldn’t find  the inn the same way I got lost in Shinjuku. But I find the residents here really friendly and warm. Especially the elderly people who stop and chat with me. Different from Tokyoites. Of course the charm about getting lost is finding something unexpected.

 

Pretty lilies growing near a drain

Pretty lilies growing near a drain

 

 

I got lost but hey, the Daiyawara River rocks!

I got lost but hey, the Daiyawara River rocks!

It was already 2pm when I found the inn and after dumping my backpack, I walked towards Shinkyo bridge (took me 5 mins *pant pant*) to begin discovering the World Heritage sites.
Shinkyo bridge in the evening...

Shinkyo bridge in the evening...

Shinkyo in the day~ First stop.

Shinkyo in the day~ First stop.

Rinnoji, Toshogu, Taiyobyouin. START! And the ascent begins~

Rinnoji, Toshogu, Futarasan. START! And the ascent begins~

The nice thing about Nikko being a tourist trap is the tourists! I came to a fork with 2 flights of stairs leading to opposite directions. The 2 German tourists sitting on the steps told me lots of people took the left direction so I did and I arrived at Rinnoji Temple where 3 great Buddha statues were housed. It was neck-breaking to marvel at the 3 intricately carved golden Buddhas because they’re almost touching the roof and there’s not enough space to step back. Unfortunately, photos are prohibited. And even if I could sneak a shot with my handphone, the photo would be too dark to see.
Rinnoji Temple which houses 3 great Buddha statues.

Rinnoji Temple which houses 3 great Buddha statues.

After Rinnoji, I climbed a slope towards Toshogu Shrine area. And from a distance I can see the 1st gate, a simple torii and a sign carved ‘Toshogu’.

Getting only this far doesnt count. I only wanted to take a picture with the Toshogu Shrine sign, haha.

Getting only this far doesn't count. I only wanted to take a picture with the 'Toshogu Shrine' sign, haha.

Past the torii gate and there’s a flight of steps leading to the first gate and ticket counter. This is only a warm-up session to what’s to come.
Warming up session. First gate to Toshogu.

Warming up session. First gate to Toshogu.

 

Through the gate is the courtyard where the famous monkey carvings and the 2nd gate to the Toshogu Shrine is. Omigod. The founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu, is probably Japan’s version of France’s notorious Louis the 16th. Everything must be spectacularly ostentatious and no amount of gold leaf or artisan is spared. Every inch is worth appreciating for it’s artistic beauty and intricacies.
The stable where the monkey carvings are.

The stable where the monkey carvings are.

See, Hear and Speak no Evil. What about Smell?

See, Hear and Speak no Evil. What about Smell?

Yogic monkeys... (sweat)

Yogic monkeys... (sweat)

The courtyard with steps leading to the 2nd gate of Toshogu Shrine

The courtyard with steps leading to the 2nd gate of Toshogu Shrine

The 2nd gate. Check out the carvings~

The 2nd gate. Check out the carvings~

The Final gate to Toshogu Shrine itself. Picture time!

The 2nd and Final gate to Toshogu Shrine itself. Picture time!

The outer part of Toshogu Shrine. The inner building is so awesome!!! Especially the dragons, on each pillar, are so life-like and gravity-defying. The carvings and ceiling is so awesome I stood there for 10 mins with my mouth open. Too bad photos are prohibited. Darn.

The outer part of Toshogu Shrine. The inner building is so awesome!!! Especially the white stone dragons, on each pillar, are so life-like and gravity-defying. The carvings and ceiling is so awesome I stood there for 10 mins with my mouth open. Too bad photos are prohibited. Darn.

Toshogu Shrine is really a must-see. It’s worth the climb and the ticket. The white dragons that are floating out from under the roof are so delicately carved and so life-like. The flames and clouds were swirling about them and their claws outstretched as they menacingly seem to roar at anyone trespassing the holy ground. The inside of the shrine is even more awesome with the ceiling full of animal carvings and rows of golden dragons over the altar. Unfortunately, no photos. Means I’d have to come back again or buy their photo book.

Next I visited the famous Sleeping Cat which is right over the threshold to a flight of steps leading to the highest point of the shrine area. The climb was hell. Everyone was panting when we reached the top only to see a tree, a bronze crane and a bronze lion. But it was very cool and moist up there. And it seems you can only buy the sleeping cat charm over there.

The Sleeping Cat

The Sleeping Cat

The gateway to a hellish climb.

The gateway to a hellish climb.

More climbing...

More climbing...

When will this ever end?

When will this ever end?

More climbing until we reached the 1st gate...

More climbing until we reached the 1st gate...

...All the climbing for these...

...All the climbing for these...

After burning all the calories, I headed for Futarasan Shrine which was just next to the bottom of Toshogu Shrine. No more climbing. It’s walking time! Personally, the highlights of Futarasan Shrine would be the animal paintings and the cool sword which is as tall as me. The 1st thing I thought of was Sephiroth’s Masamune~kyaa~vvv
Futarasan Shrine courtyard

Futarasan Shrine courtyard

Futarasan Shrine with a few animal paintings of wolf, deer and horse...

Futarasan Shrine with a few animal paintings of wolf, deer and horse...

I paid for a ticket to enter an area with small shrines and small holy springs (ponds). Well, the long sword is worth the ticket. Kyaaa~so kakko ii!!!
Imagine Sephiroths Masamune... ...

Imagine Sephiroth's Masamune... ...

Daikoku-God of Wealth

Daikoku-God of Wealth

I tried this wheel of fortune (Daikoku version) where each spoke has a different type dessert or snack such as dango, cake, chocolate etc. I spun the thing and the cake stopped at the arrow. The chart told me I should be careful. Yep… When I reached Taiyouinbyo, the place was shut. So I continued the next morning after checking out from the inn.
A high caloric Wheel of Fortune

A high caloric Wheel of Fortune

That night, I decided to try some Yuba, a type of smooth soybean skin. It’s more delicate than the ones we have for Yong Tau Foo at home. There’s yuba don, yuba shabu and yuba hors d oevres. The set costs about SGD 11.

Yuba set~ tastes so delicate and light, I feel healthy.

Yuba set~ tastes so delicate and light, I feel healthy.

 

And for dessert, I bought a banana Castella cake from the 7-11. It’s the shape and packaging that caught my fancy.

Dessert!!! I want my banana!!! (Im going to be single for life if all the men in the world see this)

Here's how I eat my banana!!! Just imagine if I were to perform f*llatio (I'm going to be single for life if all the men in the world see this ^^)

Isnt it cute? The cake tastes like ripe banana and the center is made of white bean paste.

Isn't it cute? The cake tastes like ripe banana and the center is made of white bean paste.

Next morning, after a lovely breakfast made by the innkeeper, I checked out and headed for Taiyuinbyo. It was more climbing…
Fruit platter, hard-boiled egg and hot buttered toast

Fruit platter, hard-boiled egg and hot buttered toast

The 1st gate into the main courtyard.

The 1st gate into the main courtyard.

The 2nd gate, guarded by the thunder and wind gods.Fierce fellas.

The 2nd gate, guarded by the thunder and wind gods.Fierce fellas.

After more climbing up 3 flights of steps, the shrine. Its as far as we could go as the path to the top is closed off. Thank goodness...

After more climbing up 3 flights of steps, the shrine. It's as far as we could go as the path to the top is closed off. Thank goodness...

There’s just a large intricate lantern thingy made of bronze links and chains, hanging from the centre of the room.
The closed off path to the top. Yay! No more climbing!

The closed off path to the top. Yay! No more climbing!

 

Finally, I cleared the World Heritage course in Nikko! Too bad there wasn’t enough time to visit Chuzenji Lake and temple as it is a 40-min bus ride from the site. Well, next time… because I love the cool weather and environment here!

Goal! I finished seeing the world heritage sites.^^

Goal! I finished seeing the world heritage sites.^^

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty flowers everywhere, even in drains!

Pretty flowers everywhere, even in drains!

Pretty ajisai bushes everywhere~

Pretty ajisai bushes everywhere~

After that, I went back to the inn to collect my luggage and play with the inn’s dog, Chocolat. It’s time to catch the JR Nikko train back to Utsunomiya station where I’ll transfer to Yamabiko shinkansen heading for Sendai.
I bought a brown rice bento where brown rice mixed with peanuts and black fungi is wrapped in sweet beancurd pockets. It was lovely to chew and tasted really delicious.
Brown rice bento (about SGD 6)

Brown rice bento (about SGD 6)At one station, I saw a Pokemon shinkansen! Jeez, these critters are everywhere! I know ANA has them plastered all over its plane.Pokemon shinkansen: Bobbafett!!!

The shinkansen was so smooth and fast, I reached Sendai in an hour where I checked into a hotel near the station. For dinner, the concierge recommended their city’s signature dish, Gyuutan, cow’s tongue.
Gyuutan set (about SGD 16)

Gyuutan set (about SGD 16)

 

I don’t exactly like to eat barbequed meats so I did not enjoy it so much. I find it too rich for my taste. Each piece is dripping with juice which I think my brother would appreciate. When I bit and chewed, the juice just filled my mouth. It reminds me of eating pig’s tongue which I like in my kway chap.  Only bigger, juicier and a little tougher.

As I’m typing this blog, the whole room started shaking and I really freaked out. Faark!!!!!

It was minutes later the news reported there’s 6.8 magnitude quake in Iwate prefecture. Seriously, I was scared at first and already had the door open. Eeks, Chihaya san had told me the northern Tohoku area is susceptible to quakes. 助けて~(T_T)

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Japan Trip: Square Enix and La Floret Bazaar!!!

21 Jul 2008

Initially I wanted to visit Odaiba but after 2 hectic days of walking with a bad intestinal problem, I decided to go easy on myself.

I had some udon for breakfast and it really has the same taste and texture as Waraku. The price ? 525 yen (about SGD 6)

Who says one has to eat instant noodles in Japan?

I decided to take a spin in Yobodashi Camera, searching for a new camera and travel adapter to buy. The Xacti has reached its useful life. So I bought a Casio 10 Megapix camera for abt SGD 270 (with face capture function). After getting my phone and laptop charged, I made the decision to visit the Square Enix shop which only opens in weekends and public holidays. It’s Monday. But it’s Umi no Hi (Marine Day), a public holiday!!!
So off I went with my map, walking and looking at the tall buildings in awe and stopping passersby for directions,until I reached the Hatsudai area. The long journey makes the goal even sweeter as I skipped towards the ‘ulu’ shop.
Nearer...

Nearer...

Goal! Its the Square Enix Shop!!!

Goal! It's the Square Enix Shop!!! Check out the slime smiling at me!

I entered the tiny shop and voila, I was greeted by a pile of soft toys and all sorts of final fantasy and dragon quest merchandise. I saw caps priced at SGD 120 and tees selling for SGD 60. Totally out of my budget. There’s a small elevated room where all the coolest goods were kept. The first thing that greeted me was this cool costume from Dirge of Cereberus.
Wonder whats the size?

Wonder what's the size?

And an amazing sculpture of Lenneth from Valkyrie Profile… which I did not finish…
Lenneth from Valkyrie Profile!!!

Lenneth from Valkyrie Profile!!!

Then there’s Cloud Strife from FF7 which I’ve never played before…
CLoud Strife from FFVI

CLoud Strife from FFVI

….And Sephiroth!!! OMG, It’s lifesize!!! In the floor of the shop!!! Even the hair looks real enough to comb. Unfortunately he gets stepped on by everyone including me …
Life-sized Sephiroth right under my foot.

Life-sized Sephiroth right under my foot.(^^)

Poor Sephiroth...

Poor Sephiroth...

It’s a really nice place with glass displays of rings, pendants, necklaces, key chains and other metal accessories. I couldn’t help but swipe SGD 110 from my card for those stuff and the sabotender soft toy.
A very satisfied person.

A very satisfied person.

After contributing to Square Enix’s revenue, I headed for Meiji Shrine. It’s a long 10 min walk and well, it’s worth the calories burnt. It cannot beat Kamakura though. If I’d a choice, I’d rather go trawl the bookstores of Ikebukuro. The whole area is so huge! So are the crows.
Crows as big as cats.

Crows as big as cats.

The main shrine

The main shrine

I washed my hands, threw a coin and made a wish.
Then went out to the wishing tree where people were writing their wishes into the forms.
A donation and the form is then sealed in the envelope before placing it in the box.
The fee to get my wishes fulfilled is SGD 1...

The fee to get my wishes fulfilled is SGD 1...

The wish is then placed in the box.

The wish is then placed in the box.

Bored, I made my way to Harajuku, the center of Japan’s teenage fashion.
I had lunch at Yoshinoya and was served by a China lady who thought I was from her country when she spoke to me in Mandarin and I responded. Jeez.
Then I left to join the thronging crowd into the street lined with clothing shops selling the craziest and weirdest fashion for kids.
full of the craziest fashion!

Harajuku Street: full of the craziest fashion!

There are also kids dressed up as lolitas and goths. I decided to seek refuge in Daiso where almost everything is sold at 105 yen (SGD 1.50 )!
It was 1 hr later, until I was standing at the checkout counter when I realised I had left my Square Enix bag at Yoshinoya!!! Oh my GOD!!!
I dumped the basket at the counter and ran back to the shop just in time when I saw a Jap guy walking towards the door, carrying the black Square Enix bag.
I was so relieved at that time when he asked whether the stuff was mine.
On hindsight, he was planning to take it home (i.e. steal it).
But hey, good thing he was more concerned about avoiding a ruckus than insisting the bag belonged to him. (-w-!)
Perhaps the Meiji Shrine trip was worth it after all…somewhat.
I returned to Daiso to pay for the merchandise and followed the crowd until a huge building loomed. There’s a mad crowd in there… in La Foret where Chihaya san suggested me to go.
La Foret. Craziest shopping experience in my life!!!

La Foret. Craziest shopping experience in my life!!!

The mall was thronging with people and it was soooo crazy! The shop assistants were CHEERING, yelling and clapping. They even made huge sign boards declaring hourly special sales. It’s really like cheering the customers on to buy. Consumerism is a sport here!
I stumbled into a shop where the lady assistants were cheering that any 2 items in the shop are priced at 3,150 yen (about SGD 33). It’s crazy because we’re talking about knitted dresses, shoes and pants! I can’t help but bought myself 2 dresses. And the best thing is a pretty lady assistant came up to me and said I’ve made the right choice and that I’ll look kawaii in the dress. I don’t care if she’s lying but it made me feel damn good. (-w-)
I ventured to other floors where it got crazier as I was pushed about by stampeding customers. It’s really amazing to see and hear men and women of the shops yelling and cheering the customers on till their voices were hoarse.
So there, weary from the retail workout, I headed straight to the JR station for a ride back to my hotel to take stock of my latest catch.
about SGD 140

Catch of the day. Total: about SGD 140

 

Tokyo… I doubt even one week is enough.

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Japan trip: Kamakura and Yokohama fireworks gala!

Firstly, I would like to express my gratitude towards Chihaya san, who is the guide and friend I could ever wish for. ちはやしゃん!本当にありがとうございます!鎌倉と花火大会はとてもとてもたのしかった!!!ずっと忘れません。日本に来てよかったvvv
Unfortunately, she has requested me not to show her face on this blog. ><
 
20 Jul 2008 (Sun)
I had french toast+yogurt+walnut bun set  for breakfast at the hotel’s cafe.
Excellent breakfast! Totally had to drink the coffee straight from the bowl.

Excellent breakfast! Totally had to drink the coffee straight from the bowl.

The weirdest thing is they served capuccino in a soup bowl. And the spoon is totally flat and useless for drinking the coffee.
But it’s delicious, expecially the french toast with the syrup oozing from the outside and inside.
Chihaya san came to my hotel in Shinjuku and brought me to Kamakura via JR. It was a quaint town with many traditional houses and foods sold on the streets. Many japanese tourists also visit Kamakura for the sightseeing and the food!!!

First, we walked through the Komachi dori Street filled with shops selling freshly toasted senbei crackers, ice cream, warabi mochi (cool fern jellies dusted in kinako), ume products (preserved plum), croquette and all kinds of souvenirs.

Hachimitsu Ice cream in my hand.

Hachimitsu Ice cream in my hand.

It’s a perfectly hot afternoon as we strolled towards Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. It’s so hot, a cat just slept under a bush by the side of the road as if it were dead. And many ladies were crowding around it taking pictures of this dozing feline. Ah, nyanko love…
Pig Man!豚人!
Munching, smelling and tasting warabi mochi, and as we walked on, finally, the red shrine came into view.
The road junction leading to the shrine.

The road junction leading to the shrine.

The Shrine itself

The Shrine itself~

The cicadas were just deafening! We climbed up to the shrine and after tossing a coin into the box and clapping, we walked around a bit. There wasn’t much to see at the shrine. Probably that’s why the tourism dept. put *Must See!* on the English brochure. A nice guard recommended us to go to see the Great Seated Buddha in Kotokuin Temple. This means we have to make our way back to the JR station to catch the bus. Hungry, we stopped for some croquette. There’s plain, meat, ume, yuzu(mandarin orange), black sesame and omigod, chocolate.

Check out the menu!!!

The croquette shop: Check out the menu!!!Ume and Yuzu croquettes.

The ume croquette is delicious although the ume bits are sour. The yuzu one reminded me of orange flavored mooncake. It’s quite filling though and we didn’t have a proper lunch.
We caught the bus to Kotokuin Temple from JR station. As the weather was so warm, we could get a bit of a shut eye for 10mins. There are quaint little shops on both sides of the road to see for hardworking travellers.
We reached the place and ooh lala, the great seated Buddha came into view. The highlight of Kamakura.

Trying to meditate like the Buddha behind us but somehow its anatomically impossible.

Trying to meditate like the Buddha behind us but somehow it's anatomically impossible.

We explored the surroundings and had cool drinks from the vending machine at nice little rest area with large flat boulders for seats.

Iced calpis and ume drinks

Iced calpis and ume drinks

Tanka poet, Akiko Yosana

By the 1st fujoushi: Tanka poet, Akiko Yosana

 We found the tablet carved with Tanka poet, Akiko Yosana’s poem. It was composed after she saw the huge statue of the Buddha.

Seems she found the Buddha a ‘美男’ (beautiful male). And I told Chihaya san we’ve finally found the world’s first fuujoshi. (´∀`)

There’s even a pair of warashiki sandals made for him!

The worlds largest foot size

The world's largest foot size. No smell though, haha.

Seriously, the Buddha is such an icon, the Japanese entrepreneurs decide to merge Kamakura’s symbol with other icons. Namely, Hello Kitty and Disney character, Stitch.

Hello Kitty Buddha...

Hello Kitty Buddha...

Buddha Stitch...

Buddha Stitch...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We strolled down to Hasedera temple and personally, I think it’s a nice place to end the day in Kamakura. The garden pools are brimming with koi fishes and flowers.

One of the garden pools. Man not included.

One of the garden pools. Man not included.

The koi were scrambling to get to shore. Im beginning to suspect they are piranhas in disguise.

The koi were scrambling to get to shore. I'm beginning to suspect they are piranhas in disguise.

 

But it’s not just the gardens at the bottom. As we ascended the stone steps, we see lots of stone jizos clustering at the 2nd part of the climb. Chihaya san explained that each stone jizo represents an unborn child that has either been lost by accident or abortion. Eeks. No wonder I saw a jizo with a blue baby’s bib around its neck.

Lots of stone jizos

Lots of stone jizos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I can’t help but take picture of a very ‘sian’ statue. I could almost hear it grumble: “Oh here the tourists come again. What’s there to see? Go away.” Chihaya san added : “Mendou kuse na-” (Troublesome…)

Very bored and grouchy statue.

Very bored and grouchy statue.

We reached the shrine housing the Hase Kannon, the Golden Goddess of Mercy.

The Goddess house.

The Goddess' house.

The towering statue is almost 2 stories high, with a long and exquisite necklace draped around her neck and chest. And of course she gleams in the dark with all the gold and bronze. Too bad photography is prohibited.
Chihaya and I went to scale the tip of the hill and although it killed my calves, the scenery and cool breeze is worth the pain.

Overlooking Kamakura beach.Watch out for eagles and windsurfers!

Overlooking Kamakura beach.Watch out for eagles and windsurfers!

We descended the hill back to the garden pools where we started. There’s lots of fragrant lilies on the side.

Smells good!!!

Smells good!!! But I prefer BL. (寒い...)

And at the bottom near the toilet was this strange tree..

Nice cubby hole to stay in...

Nice cubby hole to stay in...

 

 

 

We saw this guy as we headed the dark tunnels where the different types of jizos reside.

Hes very popular with the ladies. We had to queue to get our turn.

He's very popular with the ladies. We had to queue to get our turn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the dark and low tunnels, there’s money jizo, which got the most candle offerings, safety jizo…et cetera. A little scary with its dark, moist and claustrophobic environment but otherwise it’s worth a try.

Off we went for Yokohama for a fireworks gala at the park. On the way, at Kamakura station, we saw the commemorative train for the 40th anniversary of Shonen Jump comics.

Ichigo is on the train!!!

Ichigo is on the train!!!

The ride to Yokohama is a super squeeze. I’ve gotten squeezed to the point I could stand without holding onto anything. Plus in summer, people sweat. And my dress has probably absorbed the sweat of Japan in one day. The crowd is so huge and all are rushing to grab a nice spot before the fireworks gala starts.

Squeezed in a train section for women... with the men.

Squeezed in a train section for women... with the men.

Just look at the human mass!!! Im amazed the escalators could still move!

Just look at the human mass!!! I'm amazed the escalators could still move!

Kiasuism knows no boundaries.
We arrived at the park where the police are starting to move the crowd around. We were very lucky to find a spot at the perimeter of the park. However, we’d wished someone could cut down the trees which were blocking the view.

The Fireworks gala site.

The 53rd Fireworks gala at Yokohama

The wrappers are so cute. The buns are so filling it makes our Da Bao look like Xiao Long Bao.

Niku man (Meat buns / Chinese burger): The wrappers are so cute. The buns are so filling it makes our 'Da Bao' look like 'Xiao Long Bao'.

I am perpetually always feeling the urge to go to the loo after last week’s mutton briyani. So it was one of the many terrible urges which makes my head spin that I had to go to a toilet. Luckily the friendly housewife next to us helped to watch after our spots by draping a towel over it while we searched for the loo. The nearest was a cafe where the queue is 10 persons long as everyone is dying to relieve themselves fully before the fireworks start. So I stood there and waited and drank up the menthol ointment with my nose to keep myself conscious. And when my turn came, the urge went away. Fark. As I went back to the park, the police had fenced off the area at the road junction and people were sitting behind the fence waiting for the gala to start. I saw Chihaya san and I went over to her but one of the organisers refused to let me go to her side.
Here’s what I love about Japan’s pacifist side.
The fence is low and made by tying a pole to two traffic cones. I waited till the organiser turn away before I leapt over the tiny fence. I could even mambo under it if I have the time. Seriously, I can’t pull such a thing off in Singapore where the fences are chest high with bars to prevent a hobbit from doing the mambo. And the best thing was they didn’t even bother to chase and pull me back to the other side.
We ate our dinner of niku man and Chinese yakisoba which Chihaya san bought.
And then, the sky grew really dark and the fireworks began.
Hanabi- badly photographed

Hanabi- badly photographed

It’s spectacular,magical,awesome and touching. It is an unforgettable experience which I cannot convey in words the awesomeness of watching the fireworks bloom and explode in a myriad of colors and huge golden showers! I particularly love the continuous bursting of golden showers which stream down like waterfall, bathing the sky in gold dust. And then there’s the fireworks that explode and stream down like meteor showers but each stream suddenly shoot in another direction like a comet changing its mind on where it wants to go. The fireworks were so marvellous I actually felt like crying then. (TwT) I’m so grateful towards Chihaya san for taking me to see the fireworks. ちはやしゃん、ありがとうございます!感動しました!
The way back was quite an experience too. It’s like a mass exodus of people as everyone made their long and tortuous way to the rail stations. There are rows of stalls to cater to the hungry. At the JR, it’s totally crazy! The stairs to the platforms are totally jammed with people! Again we were packed like sardines and I was wedged among 3 sweaty bodies. (–|||) At least I don’t have to hold onto anything. Chihaya san told me the morning rush hour is even worse. At least there is room to breathe here.

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