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Japan 2016 : Part 7 – Traditional Kyoto Sushi at Izuju

Published by on December 26, 2016

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.

After Kiyomizudera, we planned to walk all the way to Gion for lunch, which is more than 3 km away, but with lots of stuff to see along the way.

But before leaving Kiyomizudera, we spent some time shopping in shops in front of the temple. One particular shop is quite popular, they serve complimentary green tea and allow you to sample all the different snacks they have on offer. One item that was recommended to try was a large wheel of matcha-flavoured swiss roll called Baumkuchen. However, since it has to be eaten within a few days, we planned to buy it at the airport in Osaka. We also bought some rice crackers and matcha chocolates from here.


(baumkuchen)

Turn right from the temple is Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka, a district of well preserved traditional homes converted to shops and restaurants. It is a bit like Bukchon Hanok is Seoul, except a little more friendly and commercialized (and closed to traffic). Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka are actually two conjoined streets, but I’m not sure where one begins and the other starts, just follow the crowds and shops and you won’t veer off track.


(sannen-zaka)

Along the way we tried this popular snack – Kobe beef croquet for JPY 300. I wonder if they really use Kobe beef?


(kobe beef croquet)


(shiba inu!)

En route to Gion, we detoured off one of the side streets to find %Arabica, said to serve the best coffee in Kyoto. They’ve a few branches all over the world, but in Japan they only have 3 joints and they are all in Kyoto. In our time here, we managed to visit 2 different branches (the other one in Arashiyama).


(the coolest coffee bar in all of Kyoto!)

I really like their minimalist décor, and the verdict on the coffee? Yes, it really good, far superior to any I’ve tasted recently. If you are looking for this coffee bar, look for Hokan-ji temple and it is a few doors away.

Further on we saw some geishas taking a ride on a traditional rickshaw.


(Geisha)

Next we turned off yet another nondescript lane with no markings except of a small wooden sign in Japanese. This is Ishibei-koji, said to be the “most beautiful lane in all of Kyoto”. Well, I can’t attest to that claim, but its rather pretty. They took pains to maintain a 17th-century look and feel and it is worth a few snapshots (but keep it quiet, there are people staying here).


(ishibei koji)

At the end of the long walk you will reach Maruyama Park. In the summer months, the park and the temples within are rather lively. After struggling with the directions for awhile, we decided to skip Shoren-In (so far to walk!), and walk around the park instead. At the western end of the park, where our lunch destination was located, we found that there was festival going on in the smaller Yasaka Shrine.


(yasaka shrine)

As with most major temples at this time, there are food stalls abound here.


(looks like some kind of grilled fish)


(Er, salted baked fish…)

We bought this – crab meat on a stick. Somewhere in Japan there’s a giant crab walking around missing a left hand.


(crab meat on a stick. Awesome)

Right in front of Yasaka Shrine is a massive traffic junction, and on the other side of the road is Izuju. At first we lined up the wrong shop, there was this other shop with long line of people waiting. We assumed this was Izuju (since it was very popular) but when the menu was passed along the line for pre-order we realized it wasn’t serving sushi. Doing some post-trip research, I think that other shop is Hachidaime Gihey, serving specially cooked rice with sashimi and other sides.

But anyway, we were singleminded focused on trying Izuju. A nice guy in the bakery pointed me to the shop next door, there was no sign in English! There was also no actual queue, just some old Japanese folks sitting around. An old man pointed the reservation list where you are supposed to write your name with a brush.


(the elderly queue at Izuju)

Since we can’t write Japanese, and their kanji characters have different meanings from our Chinese, we wrote in English. You write from up to down, the number denotes your party size.

We waited for about half an hour with 5 groups ahead of us. Meanwhile we saw Pablo cheesecake across the road, so I went to buy some of their famous cheese tarts.


(Pablo cheesecake!)

They had some winter promotion going one, so I selected two of each flavours of cheese tarts for about JPY 1900. There are 3 flavours – original cheese, chocolate and matcha. Plus the promo also entitled me to a free cup of cookies. During our entire trip, I think we tried 4 different cheese tarts / cakes.


(their Christmas décor is so cute)

Anyway, back to lunch. Finally we got a seat in Izuju, the restaurant is extremely small! Only 5 tables, the rest of the place is taken by the kitchen. This restaurant is 100 years old and is the oldest and most traditional place serving Kyoto-style sushi. They use cured fish and vinegar so it tastes rather different from other sushi we’ve tried. Traditionally, this is because Kyoto is landlocked so the people here had to preserve their fish to last the winter months.


(best sushi we had)

The verdict – Definitely the best sushi we’ve ever tried, my wife said it was the best meal in Japan. Better than the unagi in Arashiyama? Hmmm tough call. But savour the tastes, you will not find it anywhere else.

Next – Fushimi Inari

Japan 2016 : Part 6 – Kiyomizudera Temple

Published by on December 25, 2016

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.

Day 3 in Kyoto started earlier than usual, it turned out to be a cold day. Today, our plan was rather ambitious – we planned to see Kiyomizudera temple, have traditional Kyoto sushi at Izuju and visit Sannen-zaka, Ninen-zaka, Maruyama Park and Shoren-In en route there. After lunch, drop by Gion by way of Ishibei-koji. In the afternoon, while there is still daylight, we plan to visit Fushimi Inari. As I said, very ambitious plan, so that’s why we needed to start early.


(clear weather but cold today)

First thing was to take a bus from our Airbnb to Kiyomizudera (“Pure Water Temple”). The bus stop is quite far from the temple, so be prepared to walk a bit. On the way we encountered lots of school field trip groups.


(early December is the peak time for school trips)

About halfway uphill, you will see the temple far off in the distance, but still quite a long ways to go. But on both sides there are lots of shops selling souvenirs and snacks.


(see the temple up there in the distance? We’re only halfway there)

By the time you reach the temple, you can see how impressive it is.


(the entrance to the temple complex)

There’s an entrance fee of JPY 400 for adults (slight discount for children below 15) but I feel this is one of the most beautiful temples in Kyoto so it is definitely worth the admission ticket.

Inside the temple, you won’t see the grandeur of it until you step onto the viewing deck later.


(lots of souvenirs and paraphernalia for sale)


(this is popular with the china tourists)

Once on the viewing deck, you can see the splendor of the view. Best to visit during autumn colours or spring cherry blossom. That’s the Okunoin Hall on the left side of the main hall.


(view from the main platform)

Another view you must not miss is the view of the main viewing deck from Okunoin Hall.

You can see the timber supports holding up the temple for the last 1,236 years.

If you follow the crowds along the walkway, it will swirl down the hillside to the bottom of the temple where you can see Otowa Waterfall. There are 3 streams where you are supposed to collect with a cup attached to a long stick and drink from it. Very popular.


(see the queue of people to drink from the fountain?)

Further down the path you will see a traditional teahouse open for business, and a pool and rock garden.

(Why anyone wants to have tea outdoors in the freezing weather is beyond me)

Towards the end of the path, you will be led to the entrance of the temple again.

Kiyomizudera and Fushimi Inari are two most famous temples in Japan and very popular with tourists (the latter was voted no.1 among foreigners). If you have limited time, you should pick Kiyomizudera over the dozens of other temples as it is indeed beautiful and quite accessible from public transport (the long walk notwithstanding).

Next – traditional Kyoto sushi at Izuju.

Japan 2016 : Part 5 – Dinner at Kamameshi Shizuka

Published by on December 24, 2016

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.

We had spent the whole day in Nara, it already past 5pm and getting dark. Our plan was to walk back to the station, take the train back to Kyoto and have dinner in Kyoto Station. There are a few floors of great restaurants there that had been recommended by friends.

However, on the walk back to the station, we passed by this restaurant. Earlier in the day, when we were passing in the other direction, we noted the queue was doubly long. Now in the evening, there were considerably less people waiting, but still a queue. We took a look at the menu on display, they served unagi and chicken and rice in a hot pot.

It seems interesting, we were more curious as to why the restaurant was insanely popular. Since the queue was not as long as earlier, we joined in.


(just look at the line!)

After less than 30 minutes, we were seated. Inside was a small dining area – maybe about 5 tables plus a few counter seats. No wonder the queue was long.

Turns out this place (called Shizuka) serves a cuisine called Kamameshi. It is basically chicken or unagi served with piping hot steamed rice. The rice is served in a small steep pot to retain the heat. The rice is steamed with soy sauce so its a bit like our claypot rice.

I ordered the unagi set, and the verdict? Wow, the meal was delicious. The unagi was soft and melts in your mouth. I didn’t think I’d taste a better unagi (until I went to Arashiyama 3 days later…) but the rice itself was also delicious. You’re supposed to cover the pot after you scoop the rice out, to keep the heat in.

After dinner we retraced our steps earlier in the morning back to train station. We saw a shop selling this speciality – sushi wrapped in leaves. This is one of the must-try items in Nara, but we didn’t get the opportunity. Maybe another time.


(its a bit pricey, though)

Right next to the train station is a shopping street, serves for your last minutes shopping in Nara. There’s a Daiso here where you can grab lots of great stuff for JPY 100.

So how did we find Nara? We thoroughly enjoyed it here. It was one of the highlights of our trip in Japan. Most people do a half day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, but I suggest taking your time for a full day trip.

Next – Kiyomizu dera!

Japan 2016 : Part 4 – Ramen Lunch and Kasuga Taisha

Published by on December 24, 2016

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.

Since we started the day in Nara quite late in the morning, we were now pretty hungry. Within the huge Nara park, there aren’t many places to eat, since all the few buildings here are heritage buildings. So if you are planning to spend the whole day in Nara, make sure you eat before you enter the park. Or eat when you finally finish the entire park.


(beautiful autumn colours)

So walked down from Todaiji towards Kasuga Taisha, and there was a row of restaurants interspersed with shops selling knives and cutlery (apparently knives are a popular thing to buy here). The restaurant we entered was very welcoming, but upon sitting down, we found out they were out of ramen. So we tried the next shop.

So we had our first ramen in Japan. The thing is ramen in Japan is that every region has their own speciality. In Nara, the soup isn’t as thick as we’re used to, but it was great nonetheless.


(my first ramen in Japan)


(tempura rice)

The shop had no English name, except for the Chinese characters I can recognize (白銀屋). The front of the restaurant is taken up by a large souvenir shop.

After a hearty lunch we walked further down the street, and we saw this cute café. There’s never a bad time for coffee, as I always say.


(the highly recommended Deer Park Inn)

Deer Park Inn serves great coffee, manned by very friendly staff. The wifi is great, and more importantly, they provide a respite from the cold outside.


(coffee!)


(the café also sells some unique souvenirs)

By the time we finished our coffee and recuperated, it was already mid afternoon and starting to get really cold in Nara. The deer were starting to disappear into the forest. Our last itinerary was to visit Kasuga Taisha shrine. In Japan, when a shrine is called Taisha (‘Grand Shrine’), it means that it is the main shrine in the area and would therefore be big and popular (e.g. Fushimi Inari Taisha).


(the beautiful and serene Kasuga Taisha)

Kasuga is reknowned for home to 3,000 stone lanterns that when lit up during night time, looks ethereal.


(stone lanterns)

At one of the open courtyards, there was a small festival of some sorts happening.

There were lots of counters open, manned by the temple staff. Here you can have your fortune told, or have your name written by a master calligrapher.


(calligrapher at work)

The fortune system is rather simple. You pick a scroll or number from a display, pass it to the lady, she will give you a porcelain or wooden deer (for a fee, of course). The mouth of the deer will be holding your rolled up fortune. Not sure if you get an exchange or refund if you receive a lousy fortune, though.


(find out your fortune. Both in Japanese AND English)

Anyway it was now nearing 5pm, and getting dark and cold in Nara. Time to leave the park. Time for one last photo. I like this pic, it summarized my memory of Nara – a deer framed by a giant torii gate, and autumn colours in the background.


(despite what it looks like, the guy in white is NOT riding the deer)

Next – surprise dinner in Nara

Japan 2016 : Part 3 – Todaiji Temple, Nara

Published by on December 23, 2016

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.

From Kofukuji, we walked across the park toward Todaiji, the main temple in Nara. There is a long distance to walk and there are lots of things to see.

The Nara National Museum is large complex and quite popular, but we didn’t go in.


(Nara National Museum)

There are a lot of restaurants along the main road, but this particular restaurant caught our attention with the queue in front. What was so special about this place?? We would find out later in the day.


(what’s so special about this restaurant??)


(nice lake in Narahimuro Shrine)

One place you should visit in Nara is the Okumura Commemorative Museum. This centre is dedicate to a Japanese who invented a dampening system to reduce vibration during earthquakes. But more importantly, the centre is an escape from the cold, serves free hot green tea, and has a great viewing deck. And free toilets.


(Nara Okumura Commemorative Museum)

There’s a plaque here identifying all the landmarks in Nara. In the centre is Todaiji temple, and behind it is the sacred mountain where all the deers come from.


(excellent view)

Once you reach the walkway to Todaiji, it is lined with souvenir shops. Two popular local snacks you can try in Nara is Day-of-the-Boar mochi and narazuke, which are pickled fruits and vegetables.


(walkway leading up to Todaiji)


(cute deers!)


(this shop is run by a deer)


(MORE deers!)


(This deer is being punished)

The entrance to Todaiji is Nandaimon, watched by two giant Nio Guardian kings.


(Nio Guardian kings)

We didn’t go into the Daibutsuden Hall, but there’s a giant Buddha statue inside. (there’s an entrance fee).

At this point, I sat down on the bench and took out my map to study it. And a deer unceremoniously came and ate my map. BAD DEER!


(Somewhere here a deer ate my map!)

Beside Todaiji is a large park area dotted with many shrines, temples and landmarks, but we were quite hungry and were looking for food.


(two elderly ladies doing watercolours).

Next – Lunch in Nara

Japan 2016 : Part 2 – Meeting the Deers in Nara & Kofukuji Temple

Published by on December 22, 2016

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.

Day two started a little later than planned. Before the trip, I had planned to start early every day, since with sunset at around 5pm, we had limited day light. But almost every day we ended up leaving about 8 am plus, since we were always tired from the night before and also took our time to have a good breakfast.

By the time we reached Kyoto Station, it was past 10am, and were just in time to buy the train to Nara at 10:25am. We took the Kintetsu direct express (JPY 620 one way). If you can, take Kintetsu instead of JR, since the station is much nearer to the tourist district in Nara. This train ride took 45 minutes, there is a more expensive train that takes 35 minutes, costing JPY 1130. Anyway, with our horrible exchange rate, every yen counts.

Along the way, you can see lots of towns and residential areas between the two cities.

Nara, is a rather small city. The tourist district is located on the western side. You probably won’t visit the other side of the city unless you are staying a night here.


(its not a surprise the deer is featured prominently here)


(Kintetsu Nara train station)

From the train station, there is a short stretch to the park. The way is lined with restaurants and shops selling local snacks.

Even before you reach Nara Park, you will see the deers. There are thousands of deers around this massive park. There are deers on the grass, on the road, in the shops, in the shade, every where. Most of them are well behaved, they know how to use the pedestrian crossing (even some Malaysians don’t know this). They also bow to you if you bow first, but make sure you have food to offer them, or else…


(for public safety, their antlers are cut off)

The deers are considered sacred here, so I guess venison isn’t on the menu in this city. The only thing you should feed the deer are these cookies sold everywhere. And where they are sold are where the deers congregate.


(JPY 150 for 10 pieces)

You’ll see them everywhere, so you’ll have many more chances to feed and play with them. And be careful where you step, there’s basically deer poop everywhere.

All the historic attractions are within the huge Nara Park and within walking distance. The park looks beautiful in autumn, and towards the south, there’s a lake.

First stop is Kofukuji Temple. The main temple was under renovation when we were there, so we walked around the complex taking photos.

There is also a small museum but we didn’t go in since no pictures were allowed.

Next – Exploring historic Nara.

Japan 2016 : Part 1 – Arrival, Nishiki Market & Teramachi Shopping Street

Published by on December 21, 2016

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.

And so off we go on the itinerary proper!

So we took off from KLIA2 at almost 2am in the morning (after AirAsia rescheduled my flight TWICE in one month), and landed in Japan about 9am. After settling all our ticketing and transport stuff (check out my transportation guide here), we took a Haruka limited from the annex building right in front of the arrival hall.

Make sure you get into the right compartment, though. Some are for reserved ticket holders and some are for open tickets. And you definitely don’t want to be standing for 1 hour 15 minutes of the journey…


(our Haruka limited express train to Kyoto. Make sure you line up at the right queue)

Upon arrival in the massive Kyoto Station, we exited the station (after getting some info from the very helpful Tourist Centre). If you are taking a bus from Kyoto Station, all the buses stop right in from of Kyoto Station. Make sure you know which line to choose, as some queues can be very long.


(the magnificent Kyoto Station)

Once out into the city, you can see how modern Kyoto can be, as opposed to its reputation as an ancient city. All around the station there are skyscrapers including the stunning Kyoto Tower. Anyway, our Airbnb host gave very clear instructions to us to get to his place, so it was really easy. A tip for taking buses, its very much like in Seoul – every bus stop has a specific name, so just wait for it to be announced on the screen to disembark.

Here’s another thing about Japan buses – you enter from the back and exit from the front. Payment, whether by card or coins, is beside the driver just when you exit.

Finally we got to our Airbnb! Very cosy place in a rather quiet neighbourhood, with a few convenience stores nearby.


(our cosy Airbnb)

There’s a kitchen / dining, small living, and two small rooms separated by screen doors.


(can comfortably fit 4 people, 8 if you cram)

After dropping our luggage, its time to explore the city and look for food!


(out on the cloudy streets of Kyoto)

While doing my itinerary, I went through many versions, but I finally decided to visit Nishiki Market on the very first day. And it turned out to be a good choice. Nishiki Market is a very traditional food market that has been around for more than 800 years.


(first stop – Nishiki Market!)

The great thing about this place is that you can walk and eat, walk and eat, eat and eat…


(not sure what this is, but it is sold all across Kyoto)

This was one of the first thing we tried. The first of many, many green tea-flavoured food / drink during our stay in Japan.


(green tea mochi!)

Another two must-try things here…


(soybean donuts. A must try here)


(beef mantou. Recommended but not really that great)


(Nishiki market is indeed the food centre of Kyoto)


(sake tasting in progress)

Right at the end of the market is a small shrine. Kind of nice to find a quiet, serene place right in the middle of the hectic market.


(a quick sojourn to Nishiki Tenmagu temple)

Joined to Nishiki is a very famous shopping street called Teramachi, supposedly to be most popular in Kyoto. Shopping streets like this are very common everywhere in Japan, where they close off a street for pedestrians and cover it up above.


(Best cheese tart ever? Teramachi)

In Teramachi you can find snacks, restaurants, 100-yen shops (similar to Daiso) and boutiques.

We read about this particular shop selling fresh red bean pastry, but the taste wasn’t that great


(red bean pastry)

After a little too much eating and walking, time for a rest.


(pitstop for coffee and ice-cream)

Since we were in the area, and it was still early in the evening, we took a stroll along Pontocho Alley (2 streets away). They is a geisha district with lots of high end restaurants serving kawayuka (an elaborate Kyoto-styled meal).


(riverside restaurants along Pontocho Alley)

Its rather expensive to eat here, and we had already eaten lots of street food, so we just strolled along here to admire the atmosphere of the place. if you come here make sure to check out the riverside along Pontocho, where the best restaurants look out to the water.


(post restaurants along Pontocho)

After Pontocho we were getting tired, so we took the subway back to our Airbnb. Along the way, we walked past the beautiful Nijo Castle all lighted up.

Next – Day trip to Nara.

Japan 2016 : Transportation Guide

Published by on December 17, 2016

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. To start at the very beginning, click here.

Japan is one of the most advanced societies in the world and their transportation system reflects this. But the challenge for first time visitors is to make sense of the complex train, subway, bus and road networks to save time and money and avoid the hassle of getting lost. The first thing to do before going to Japan is to do as much research as you can. There are many useful websites available, the two that I found the most helpful was Japan Guide and Hyperdia. Japan Guide is one of the best to research places to go and how to get to them. The sections of ‘getting to and around’ each city is very helpful. I used Hyperdia to calculate the fares on subways. And not to for Google Maps, which is probably the most important tool to plan your journeys and travels.

Landing in Kansai Airport

The airport very easy to navigate. Clearing immigration is fast, I was very impressed with the staff who were really helping to manage the crowds. But a word of caution – if you are staying in Airbnb, make sure you write the address and telephone contact of your home or they may not clear you to enter. The address has to be complete in English or Japanese.

JR Pass or Haruka & ICOCA?

It took me quite some time to fully understand these passes, so this what I can explain. If you are traveling between cities a lot, like say Osaka to Tokyo and back, then get the JR Pass. Its quite expensive, but usually 2 discounted rides on the shinkansen (bullet train) will justify the price. To buy the price you need to purchase it online (its available to foreigners only) and redeem it when you arrive.


(ICOCA prepaid card)

I wasn’t travelling a lot between cities, so my choice was the Haruka & ICOCA. Haruka is special ticket from Kansai Airport to a few nearby cities like Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe (these cities are all in a region called Kansai). The ticket can be return or one-way only. The benefit of Haruka is that is a limited express (meaning they don’t stop at every station) and it is slightly cheaper. There are cheaper ways to get to Kyoto, but they involve switching trains at a slightly longer time, and this was not favourable to me as I was carrying large luggage. ICOCA is prepaid card, like our Touch ‘N Go or the Octopus Card in HK. You can use it for buses and most trains. Some convenience stores also accept payment with it.

Haruka & ICOCA is sold separately but better to be bought together as a package as it is slightly cheaper.

To get all these cards, once you exit immigration, go up one the escalator and cross over to the annex building. You will see the JR (Japan Railway) office on your left. Can’t miss it. Once there you get all your passes and can get all your questions answered (but please show your passports for all your traveling companions).

If you are planning to take the Sagano Scenic Railway in Arashiyama, do get them here beforehand as they tend to sell out very fast.

Trains in Japan

It is important to note that there are a few train companies in Japan, with at 2-3 running within each city. JR is the main railway company, much like our KTM. In my time in Japan, I also took Keihan and Kintetsu lines. They all have different stations within the same area, so make sure you don’t enter the wrong station. Their ticketing are also different, so make sure you check if the ICOCA card is accepted.


(the ultra modern shinkansen)


(Super crowded platform at the Fushima Inari station)

Getting To and Around Kyoto

However you get to Kyoto, you will most likely arrive in the cavernous Kyoto Station, one of the most impressive transportation hubs I have ever seen. All trains and subways stop here, as do most bus routes. There is a very helpful information desk right at the entrance with English speaking staff. First thing to do is get the bus route map and subway map from them.

Kyoto being such a large city, has rather limited subway coverage compared to other Japan cities. There are only two rounds running East-West and North-South. The problem is all the tourist site aren’t covered by these routes. So in order to get around the city, you need to use a combination of subway, trains, buses and taxis.

Subway – if you can, use the subway. Its cheap, fast (no traffic lights) and frequent.

Bus – second choice, use the bus. Their bus network is fantastic and the service is truly world class. The downside is the buses are usually crowded during the day time, and although traffic in Kyoto is very sparse, they stop every 500m to 1 km, so it takes a long time to cover long distance.

Trains – Trains function very similar to subways, and is equally cheap. But they have limited routes, so do study how the best to utilize them. But they do travel slower than subways.

Taxis – most people will tell you that taxis are expensive and best to avoid them, but for my family of 4, a short distance ride is almost the same price or only slight more expensive than bus or subway. This works really well if you are really tired and not looking forward to walking 1km from subway to your destination.

Getting To and Around Nara

There are two train lines from Kyoto – Kintetsu and JR. Use Kintetsu, it is nearer to the tourist spots. Once reaching Nara, we walked around the historical area, but there are loop. buses if you want to take them. But I strongly suggest walking, it is not far and you will truly appreciate the atmosphere (not to mention the deers).


(nice guy offering to be tour guide in Nara. But i really suggest you to walk)

Getting To and Around Osaka

On the sixth day we returned to Osaka from Kyoto by taking the limited express train. There are 5 different trains run by 3 companies (JR, Keihan and Hankyu) with varying prices and travel times.

In Osaka, there are two central stations separated by a river – Osaka and Shin-Osaka (don’t get off at the wrong station). Osaka is Japan’s second largest city, and is very much a modern city as compared to the older Kyoto. The subway here is excellent, so I didn’t take trains or buses. I did use taxi once, the rate is almost similar to Kyoto. So plan your journey with the subways, just make sure you have enough credit in your ICOCA card.

Next – we’ll get to the itinerary proper.

Japan 2016

Published by on December 17, 2016

More than a year ago, I booked a trip to Japan as a birthday present for my wife.

At the time, a few of my friends had recently returned from Kyoto and surrounding areas and were telling me it was a must visit – Kyoto is Japan’s most beautiful city. And visit either during the spring cherry blossom or autumn colour season.

So after some thought I book my trip a year ahead. The plan was to land in Kansai Airport, Osaka in the morning, and take a train straight to Kyoto. There in Kyoto I would spend 5 full days. Then I’d return to Osaka to spend 3 full days before flying back to Malaysia on the morning of the 9th day. So in effect, I had 8 days to plan for in a country with the most advanced and complex transportation system in Asia, with English not widely spoken or read. But no matter, every new country is an adventure.

From Kyoto we planned to do a day trip Nara. We also wanted to visit Hiroshima, especially to see giant torii gate floating in the sea. But after studying the cost of taking the shinkansen (bullet train, 95 minutes) from Kyoto, it was just too expensive. The better way was to have taken a much cheaper overnight train (6-7 hours). We had already booked our hotels throughout our stay, so it did not make sense take the overnight train. So we had to scratch off Hiroshima from our itinerary. We also planned to visit Himeji Castle and Kobe as a day trip from Osaka. Himeji is Japan oldest surviving feudal castle and is the most beautiful, featured in the movie The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. But after studying our itinerary, we decided to drop Kobe / Himeji and instead spend the 3 full days exploring Osaka.

So with our itinerary roughly done (and with lots of reference maps and notes in hand), on the 29th of November we set off to Japan.

Posts in this series:
Japan 2016 : Transportation Guide
Japan 2016 : Part 1 – Arrival, Nishiki Market & Teramachi Shopping Street
Japan 2016 : Part 2 – Meeting the Deers in Nara & Kofukuji Temple
Japan 2016 : Part 3 – Todaiji Temple, Nara
Japan 2016 : Part 4 – Ramen Lunch and Kasuga Taisha
Japan 2016 : Part 5 – Dinner at Kamameshi Shizuka
Japan 2016 : Part 6 – Kiyomizudera Temple
Japan 2016 : Part 7 – Traditional Kyoto Sushi at Izuju
Japan 2016 : Part 8 – Gion and Fushimi Inari Taisha
Japan 2016 : Part 9 – Arashiyama
Japan 2016 : Part 10 – Togetsukyo Bridge and Kinkakuji Temple
Japan 2016 : Part 11 – Ryoanji Temple
Japan 2016 : Part 12 – Ginkakuji, Philosopher’s Path & Eikando Night Illumination
Japan 2016 : Part 13 – Tenjinbashi Shotengai and Harukoma Sushi in Osaka
Japan 2016 : Part 14 – Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Japan 2016 : Part 15 – Osaka Castle
Japan 2016 : Part 16 – Umeda Sky Building
Japan 2016 : Part 17 – Umeda & Osaka Station
Japan 2016 : Part 18 – Dotonbori & Ichiran Ramen
Japan 2016 : Part 19 – Kuromon Ichiba Market
Japan 2016 : Part 20 – Den Den Town, Shinsaibashi & Shinsekai
Japan 2016 : Part 21 – Our Last Dinner in Japan
Japan 2016 : Wrap Up

One of the Few by Jason B. Ladd

Published by on November 2, 2016

Some years back, after some concerns about my health and general wellbeing, I started getting into the whole gym and fitness thing. I signed up for a gym, went 4 times a week, started running long distance. First it was 2 km, then 5 km and then 10 km (that was the max, honestly I don’t see myself going any further than that). Getting fitter and slimmer is always better than the alternative, but when it comes to being the peak of physical condition, it is being a Marine.

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Or more specifically, a US Marine Corp. I think many of us hold to that ideal that to be a Marine, you are definitely the very best of an already elite crop of soldiers. It doesn’t just mean being physically elite, they are also trained to be mentally sharp, exhibit comradeship and integrity, etc. I think this ideal is somewhat perpetuated by years of watching movies and TV shows portraying Marines in the many battles throughout history, fictional or otherwise.

Which made me quite interested to read the book One of the Few by Jason B. Ladd, who tells his journey from childhood as an army kid, to a seasoned Marine and his struggles being both a Christian and an instrument of war. The book starts of peacefully enough, detailing his like moving across the United States, and even to Iwakuni in Japan. Then he meets his future wife as a kid, falls in love, gets married. Along the way he joins the army on the way to being a Marine. A pretty average story for an All-American soldier.

But what makes this book different for me is how he intersperse every chapter of his life in this book by asking the relevant questions about life, mortality and God. As his life gets more entwined in both his marriage and his training to be an elite soldier, the questions get tougher and more difficult to answer. Certainly, when faced with a life and death situation, you really start to wonder about the deeper questions of God and life. This is generalizing a lot, but the book goes into very detail on the struggles that he faced and how it relates to his walk with God.

I think because of how he handles this duality in his life, makes this book very different and rather special in the sense that there aren’t many books that I’ve read like this. Many people are interested in a memoir of a Marine, and by adding his Christian journey into the story takes the book on a whole different dimension. One complaint I would make, though is that the story doesn’t take a chronological path, it was quite confusing for me to keep track of the point in his life when reading through.

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