Saturday, December 8, 2012

Flying out of Tokyo Airport, Sayonara Japan

Departure Day. Ugh. 

My flight from Narita Airport was at 10:45 am. I wanted to be in the airport two hours before that. As early as 6:15, I checked out of Nishitetsu Inn Nihombashi and withstood the cold morning breeze of Tokyo. It was a windy walk going to Tokyo station. That was 20 solid minutes of walking. I boarded the posh-looking Narita Express (N’ex). This ride is also covered by the JR Railpass. There were lockers where you can leave your luggage and you’ll have to key in a passcode. I was feeling clingy to my stuff and I didn’t wanna figure out the whole passcode thing so I kept my luggage in front of me.

Narita Express

It was a one-hour ride going to the airport. I watched the Japan scene float by. Played some tunes in my Ipod. Anything to ignore my hunger pangs and to forget that I was leaving Japan.

Be mindful of the stops. Some airlines depart at Narita Terminal 1 and some depart at Terminal 2. The names of the stops are shown on the screen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Back For An Evening in Tokyo Nishitetsu Inn Nihonbashi

I packed my last haul of Kyoto souvenirs in my luggage, bid a warm farewell to the staff of Gojo Guesthouse, hopped on a bus and waited for the next train that will bring me back to Tokyo. My apologies for the crappy pictures. My handy Canon S95 was killed by a deer inNara park and I had to resort to using my Nokia N8.
My heavy luggage and heavy laptop bag
I still had time to choose my bento box. A lot of locals seem to buy these often. So it is not just-for-tourist thing. 

Lunch on the shinkansen

Pocky Almond Crush. Yumyum!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Kyoto Takeaway Thoughts & Tips

Buses are the main transportation around Tokyo. You need to learn how to ride a Japanese bus. Riding the Japanese bus is quite intimidating at first. You are in a foreign land, with foreign characters. An English translation is not guaranteed. So it’d be best if you come ready.

Buy the Kyoto Bus Pass. It is a pretty good deal for JPY 500 – you can ride the bus all you want for a day. You’ll just have to add a bit if you want to go outside the zones (no biggie). I bought mine from Gojo Guesthouse. You get the pass stamped in the bus with the date, and just have to show this to the driver when you get off the bus

Each bus stop has a schedule that is precise. The bus closes its doors before the time so be at the bus stop before that. They have different schedules for weekends. Take pics of the schedules for your reference.

The city center has a lot of buses. They have a map where you can find the bus locations. You may need to cross streets... properly (follow the traffic lights).

In the bus stops, FALL IN LINE. Please. Proper manners are applied here.

Kyoto is a bike friendly city. The bikers won't attack you, but have some presence of mind to watch out for the bikers. You'll hear the bell when there's a biker approaching.

Some bikes parked in the street.
Hiragana reading pays off – insert Hiragana station pic directory in Kyoto

Pasalubong Buying (What to buy in Japan as souvenir)

When I started travelling, I was sweet enough to buy some food goodies for everyone in our department (around 25-30 pax). After two or three trips, my wallet felt the burden of massive pasalubong buying. I just bought goodies for my group (5 pax) to manage the budget. I don’t buy anything pricey, I usually buy local delicacies and some unique stuff I find in the groceries; Like the equivalent of dried mangoes and Choc-Nut here.

Applying my pasalubong-buying approach in Japan is a strain on the wallet.

I didn’t immediately find the popular Green Tea Kit-Kat in the groceries, I didn’t see any in 7-11 either. I found them when I was in Kyoto already – in Calbee stores.

Luckily, these bunch were on sale.
Price of a pack of KitKat Green Tea: JPY 285.

 Green chocolate for you.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Kyoto Food Sightings

Fastfood Chains

Yoshinoya dinner for ¥ 490. I got some combo meal: Rice, Miso soup, beef, salmon and some side. The beef was perfectly tender, the salmon was just so-so. There is something about the Japanese rice that somewhat makes the meal perfect. The drink is a complimentary cold green tea. You can order separate beverages if you want.

Yoshinoya meal
The store layout is very functional. The store has a somewhat depressing atmosphere like the vending machine restaurants in Tokyo. You go there to eat. 

You don't really wanna hang out here
McDo meals are relatively pricey (compared to the prices in Manila of course). But I like their fries better. I had two large fries for my meal. A fastfood meal is not complete without fries.

Mos Burger. Mos Burger is a popular burger fastfood chain that originated in Japan. Maybe something like their vesion of Jollibee? I didn’t really feel the Japanese-touch in the burgers. Ask for the English menu when you order. A burger is a nice break from all the rice combos.

My dinner burger meal for ¥ 780.

The burger was juicy, but forgettable

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hostel Review: Gojo Guesthouse Review

Japanese culture is shown again and again in anime. Eggs in soups, sitting on the floor barefoot/with socks, the chime of the school bell, and the tatami rooms.

I wanted to try staying in a tatami. I was willing to pay the price of JPY 8,000 to 10,000 even for just one night just to try it.  Luckily, I didn’t have to because I found a tatami-style dorm in Kyoto: Gojo Guesthouse. I was quite apprehensive about the place because the website was very basic, but functional - not a lot of frills and whatnots that I usually see in dorm websites. The review in Tripadvisor was overall positive so I decided give it a try. I emailed my request, and I just had no confirm my arrival weeks before my arrival date. Didn’t have to pay any downpayment. If you cancel/change your reservation on the day before arrival, they require 50% of total charge. If you cancel/change your reservation on the arrival day, they charge 100% of the room rate. Pretty reasonable.

Don't miss the "Gojo Cafe" sign

Finding the dorm is quite straightforward:

The guesthouse is near convenience stores. It is a 10-15 minute walk from everything: central area, temples, and other sights. Reaching the guesthouse is pretty straightforward, just 10 minutes away from Gion station. Just pay attention to the "Gojo Cafe" sign or you might miss it.

I got “slightly” lost because I made the wrong turn, but there were some students who gladly helped me find my way.  
The check-in time is still 3pm.  It was still quite early so I left my luggage first, paid for the room (they only accept cash so bring enough yen). I was famished when I reached the dorm so went out to a convenience store nearby to grab some snack.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Happiness and Sadness in Nara

Time to use the Japan Rail Pass again. The trip from JR Kyoto to JR Nara station took almost an hour. I felt the fatigue creeping in my me that day so I played snoozefest with my alarm that morning. It was around 10am when I landed in JR Nara station.

Train heading to Nara

An officemate went to Nara the previous year and I was enchanted with the roaming wild deer in Nara Park. It would be fun to meet a Bambi in person.


Nara Park is a 25-minute walk from JR Nara Station – says the tourist information person. You can also take public transportation going there but why rush? Walking is always part of the adventure.

I made a stop in CoCo Curry House for some filling mid-morning “snack”.

Passed bu KĊfuku-ji Temple. A bunch of Japanese schoolboys offered to take my picture. I forgot to change the settings back to "Vivid colors" mode. 

I was giddy with excitement to see a deer.Weeeeee! <3 font="">
One approached me cautiously. 
Anyone knows what happened to the...horn?

The purple camera case, and the deer...

Friday, November 30, 2012

Untouchable Gold

So I walked and walked to figure out how to go to Kinkakuji from Arashiyama. I got lost and lost because I thought Daikakuji was the Japanese translation of the Golden Pavilion. That epic realization came when I was walking around the streets going to Daikakuji... which was 30 minutes of walking according to the tourist information booth. Booooo.

With empty streets and no helpful Japanese people in sight, I had to rely on the bus routes in the handy Kyoto Bus Guide. I was out of the JPY 500 zone, so I was expecting some additional fee riding a bus, but I didn’t have a choice anyway. In that area, waiting for a bus took quite as long as 20-25 minutes - the bus schedules are still posted and still followed in the bus stops. I headed to the transfer point to ride any bus that's going to Kinkakuji.

Kyoto transfer point.

An elderly man sat beside me during the bus ride. He had limited English. He said he will show me the way to Kinkakuji since he was getting off the same stop - he said that in fewer words. We had a nice "chat" during the bus ride. I mean, I was the one talking and talking, I wasn’t sure if he understood me at all. But he looked so interested in what I was saying, so I told him my Japan itinerary and how I really loved Kyoto so far.

I told him I was from the Philippines. He said: “Wow, good English from the Philippines!” =)

He motioned that we were getting off at the stop. I thought that was it. But he walked with me along the path going to the main entrance. For a moment, I panicked. Should I offer to pay for his entrance fee? But it wasn’t gonna be like that. He shook my hand and told me he had a nice time talking to me.  Nahiya ako magpa-picture!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Detour To Arashiyama

Kiyomizuderadid not fully satisfy my quench for autumn, it was too early to experience the full beauty of the autumn foliage. My other planned day in Kyoto initially included visiting Kinkakuji/ Golden Pavilion and some other Kyoto city sights, but I wanted to try something else. Somewhere to experience autumn again. One of my roommates suggested I go to Arashiyama.

Arashiyama is a district outside the Kyoto city district. To get here, I just had to ask my roommate for directions – that’s why I love staying in dorms!

How to go to Arashiyama (from Gojo Station): (Hankyu Line)

  • Walk from Gojo guesthouse to Gojo station – I think this is just one or two blocks away.
  • Kyoto City Subway Karasuma Line: From Gojo Station(K10), Shijo Station (K9) - JPY 220
  • From Shijo Station, go to Hankyu Railway Karasuma Station.
  • Hankyu Railway: From Karasuma Station, ride train going to Katsura - JPY 180 (until Arashiyama)
  • Hankyu Railway: From Katsura , ride the line going to Arashiyama
  • From the station, you can walk going to Arashiyama District.

BE CAREFUL OF RIDING EXPRESS TRAINS. I rode one and this skipped Katsura station. I was a couple of stations past Katsura before it finally stopped, I had to ride a non-express train back to Katsura. This cost me around 20 minutes of my travel time.
Hankyuu Arashiyama station.

Hankyu Arashiyama station:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fushimi Inari - Torii Galore!

I could’ve just included this in my previous entry, but I feel that Fushimi Inari Shrine deserves a separate blog posts.

If you have a day in Kyoto, please don’t miss visiting Fushimi Inari. You can go and skip all the other temples and pavilion (well, maybe not all of them) but DO NOT MISS VISITING FUSHIMI INARI! Memorize that name now.

Fushimi Inari is one station away from JR Kyoto Station, along the JR Nara line. I used my Japan Railpass to board the train. The train ride is less than 5 minutes; waiting for the train is longer.

You won’t miss the shrine, it is just outside the train station. There’s a bright red-orange temple gate. Everyone wants their photo here.

There is no entrance fee! This is completely free! XD

Red? Orange? Red Orange? Nope, It is VERMILLION.

There are thousands of these vermillion torii gates dedicated to Inari - the Shinto god of rice. Even locals go here regularly, I believe. You can write your wish (again) in these miniature toriis. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Something Orangey, Something Silvery

Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years. You’ve heard about that before? Probably because you also watched Rurouni Kenshin during your younger days :)  Kenshin decided to go to Kyoto to hunt and fight Shishio Makoto. He gives Kaoru an emotional hug as he bids her farewell.

I chose a dorm which is 10-15 minutes away from Kiyomizudera temple. I started walking early, walking at 8:00 in the morning to beat the crowd, with plenty of time to wander around the streets of Kyoto. What I didn’t know was that it was a 10-15 minutes UPHILL walk going to the Kiyomizudera temple.

10 minutes UPHILL my friend, UPHILL. Prepare to huff and puff.

The uphill path was lined by lots of quaint little shops – some were open and some were still closed. My breakfast was gone by the time I reached the entrance.
Shops and students

The temple opens as early as 6:00AM and the crowds were already there at the entrance. These crowds were not foreign tourists, but Japanese students in their uniforms. I am reminded by all those times I spend thinking about what school uniform to copy in cosplay. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tokyo Takeaway Thoughts & Tips

Arrival at the Airport
Exchange your Japan Railpass Order. Since I arrived pretty early, I exchanged my pass on the lower ground level. I think there are other counters open during normal office hours. 

Going to Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki: I was staying in the Asakusa area and the best way to get to my hostel is to take the Keisei train. Take the Keisei Limited EXPRESS – just a little bit more expensive but less stops. Choose convenience over money on this one!

Navigating around
It was quite easy to navigate around with my wheeled luggage. The lifts are working in the subway stations, although I believe these are primarily for the pregnant or elderly.

The subway is PHENOMENAL. It seems like there is a subway option every two or three blocks. There are two subway systems in Tokyo (subway means underground). 

The map is already too much for me to figure out. So I was undecided if I will buy transportation passes for my Tokyo leg. Most discussions discourage the use of these as they will only be the best option if you really have to hop from one area to another. If you plan your itinerary carefully, the passes may not be worth its price. I will refer you to the very helpful Japan guide for more details.

The lower right portion of this map shows the lines covered by the Toei/Asakusa Line and the Tokyo Metro Line/ Ginza Line. Note that this is just the subway map. There are other railway operators, as outlined by the gray line.

I bought a Pasmo card loaded with JPY 2,000. The Pasmo card serves as a pass in the two subways – it excludes the JR loop. It does not give you any discount. It is just for convenience so you don’t have to buy or load your card every time you ride.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Speedy Japanese Ride: Shinkansen To Kyoto

Transportation in Japan is expensive. I guess the biking in Anime series is the really practical choice of getting around. The buses and metro tickets are relatively expensive compared to Philippine and other developing Asian countries. The 7-day Japan Railpass costs like a trip to Hongkong. Scream now. Brutally expensive. But that is Japan. Besides, what is a Japan experience without trying the Shinkansen (bullet train)?

Pricey piece of paper

Time to hit Kyoto. First, I had to find my way from Asakusa to JR Tokyo station. Did that by just asking the staff of Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki. It was quite easy, even with my luggage in tow. The metro stations have working lifts and escalators.

I entered the manned gate of the JR Tokyo station after showing them my valid JR Railpass. Tokyo Station was like an airport. I didn’t get to take a lot of pics as I was busy navigating my way to Toikaido Shinkansen tracks.  
Find those tracks. There are English signs.

You can only use the Japan Railpass for Hikari and Kodama trains. The pass is not valid on Nozomi trains, which is the fastest type of Shinkansen. When checking schedules, exclude the Nozomi trains. I checked the schedule the night before using Hyperdia. I boarded the unreserved cart if the Hikari train, and chose my seat for the next three hours. The unreserved carts are shown in the schedule. More info here: 

Switch your mobile phone to silent. For some reason, Japanese consider talking calls in trains rude.

There's the mobile-phone-to-silent reminder

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hostel Review: Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki

Japan is so expensive! A common reaction when I tell people I've done Japan for 10 days - without going broke. Oh yeah. Japan is pricey alright. But there are ways to trim down costs. Wanna save on accommodation? Stay in hostels!!!

Some would cringe at the thought of sharing a room with a bunch of strangers. I've done it before and I had a blast!

The price of hostels in Japan is almost the same as the hostels in Europe. The difference in price will depend on the location and the type of hostel you want (boutique hostel or basic hostel?). But both will fall around the $30 range. If you find something cheaper, great!

Khaosan Tokyo Kabuki
I wanted to stay in a capsule hotel but most of the staff there do not speak English and most cater to men business travellers. So, no capsule hotel for now. 

I read that the best place to stay in Tokyo is around Shinjuku or Tokyo area. These are near the popular tourist attractions, and a great place to just feel the vibe of the city. However, these locations have really limited hostels – and the hostels are not cheap. So I decided to stay in Asakusa instead. The hostels here are cheaper and it is in Asakusa, which still has some houses in old Japan style.
Asakusa streets at night

Deciding for a hostel was quite easy, I just picked the highest rating hostel in Tripadvisor. It suits my basic needs: Free wifi, hot water, lockers, baggage custody, and near the metro station. They do not have breakfast but that is fine. They have a fridge and kitchen. I survived by eating rice cakes, bread, and coffee for breakfast – all from a convenience store nearby.

If you are arriving from Narita Airport, please take the KEISEI DIRECT EXPRESS to avoid lots of stops. Do print the hostel’s directions posted in their website. I had little trouble finding the hostel.

The location is perfect - near the Asakusa and Ginza lines. At night, you can walk around the wonderfully lit streets of Asakusa, and you can take a pic of the Skytree at night.

Check-in time is in the afternoon so you can leave your luggage while you explore the city. The common room has a bathrrom with toilet and sink so you can freshen up a bit before heading out. No shower though, so you’ll have to survive with basic grooming. The common room is well equipped with various information about touring Tokyo and Japan.
The common room's dining and kitchen area
The famous Japanese toilet

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