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

Friday, November 23, 2012

Get Naked: The Japanese Onsen Experience

The most frightening and exciting done I’ve done in my entire life is solo travelling around Europe.

A close second would be visiting a Japanese Onsen.

Have you ever tried the heated pools of Ace Water Spa? The Japanese Onsen is something like that. You’ll just be doing the entire experience in your birthday suit. I do have a healthy self-image of my imperfect body, but I have this apprehension of showing my body to the Japanese women who have flawless fair skin. I mean getting naked in front of a whole bunch of strangers?!?!?!

The pools of Ace Water Spa
I spent part of my nights researching about the etiquette and procedure in Jakotsuyu Japanese Onsen. This onsen is located in Asakusa area, just near my hostel. None of my roommates have tried an onsen. I asked the reception but all they said is that “it is like a spa”.  I didn’t have any idea what to do so I Googled and found these websites:

I navigated the side streets of Asakusa area to find the Jakotsuyu Onsen. It was dark, and I had to walk in some, obscure streets. I found it.
The entrance
I removed my shoes at the entrance and placed them in the shoes locker. The next step is to buy a ticket at the vending machine. No need to worry about that because the vending machine has an English translation. One regular ticket costs ¥ 450. There are other options which include some towel, soap and shampoo – but I brought mine. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Tokyo Food Sightings

I am not a lover of all types of Japanese food but I LOVE sashimi! I would be completely satisfied with a good dose of salmon sashimi in buffets – I could skip the other dishes. For the katsudon and tempura dishes, nah, am not a fan.
My standard Yakimix plate

In Japan, the servers will greet you with "Irasshaimase!!!" – but not in the annoying intonation as done in Yakimix ( Hey, I love Yakimix! I just find the greeting annoying).

Main Meals
I noticed that most of the “vending machine restaurants” have a small seating capacity for diners. Based on the layout of the chairs and table, the diners do not go here to hang out. You just eat. It is actually quite depressing: it is just you and your yummy food. Good thing the taste makes up for the lack of ambience.
Everyone minds their own noodle eating business

You can have a complete really filling and delicious meal for JPY 300-500.  Their noodles are hand-pulled too!

I hope you can be quite proficient with chopsticks. I was quite skilled before but I kinda lost it. I’m not sure if you can ask for a spoon and fork combo.

 A fastfood serves this Soba with egg meal in Odaiba. I coupled this with the interesting lime green drink. Cost: JPY 880.

I wanted to test if the KFC Chicken tasted the same everywhere. It did. I tried a KFC branch in Shibuya. Tasted the same, price was different. 2 pcs chicken + iced latte + large fries for JPY 920 (*screams*)

Tasted the same. Just more expensive.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Around Anciet-ish Asakusa

I decided to stay in Asakusa after reading various reports in the ever reliable Tripadvisor. I exhausted my brain cells trying to figure out what area to stay in Tokyo. I concluded that the complicated subway map is proof enough that I get to any part of Tokyo as long as I stay near a station. Asakusa was the choice. It offers cheaper dorm rooms compared to those located near and around Tokyo.

The streets give off the Old-ish Tokyo Vibe. There are old buildings or trying-hard to be old buildings.

The tall tower is the Tokyo Skytree

Asakusa is the home of Sensō-ji Temple. Hence the crowd. For the four days that I was here, the crowds always looked like this. Better visit this early in the morning (7 to 8-ish AM).
Kaminarimon (Kaminari Gate)

Monday, November 19, 2012

One Rainy Day In Nikko

I remained loyal to the suggested itinerary of Japan Guide and proceeded to Nikko. I wanted to try a daytrip from Tokyo. Other suggested choices would be Yokohama or Kamakura. I didn’t feel like doing Tokyo Disneyland alone – and Tripadvisor says Disney parks are all the same. The autumn leaves of Nikko lured me. I was eager to experience autumn again.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was, it was a dark and gloomy day when I set out for the JR Ueno station. It was the first day of using my JR Pass - the most expensive transportation pass that I've purchased so far.

 Ueno Station was so ....modern, it looked like an airport. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tokyo Imperial Palace, Shibuya, Meiji Shrine

Tokyo Imperial Palace is the sorta equivalent of our own Malacanang palace. This is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan. The Imperial Palace lies on the former site of the Edo Castle. If you are an avid fan of Rurouni Kenshin (aka Samurai X), you’ll probably be familiar with Aoshi Shinamori and Misao. Both served as defenders of the Edo Castle.
Aoshi and Misao. I used to have a poster of Aoshi-sama in my wall.
From my home base in Asakusa, I navigated my way to Tokyo Station. I decided to get the Asakusa+Ginza Line day combination ticket with cost me ¥ 1,000. Although it was just Day 3, my Preloaded Pasmo card of ¥ 2,000 which I bought in Day 1 was already below ¥ 500. Even though I have a planned route, I still make some mistakes in getting off at the wrong station - sayang sa pamasahe. Mas type ko ride-all-you-can; no other charges if I make mistakes.

The moat around the palace

I think I got better reading the crazy metro map. And I was able to understand the exit map going to the palace. No lost episodes for now. Entrance is free. I took a picture of the palace at the entrance that will serve as my guide.
Tokyo Imperial Palace Map

Friday, November 16, 2012

Just Wild Beat Communication: Gundam In Odaiba

Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. This island is huge, sif you plan to go here, pick out those places that you’d be interested to see. I almost skipped this island because the hostel considers Odaiba as an “overrated" tourist spot. But I decided to proceed because... the life size Gundam was there. 

Going to Odaiba, you have ride the Yurikamome rail. The fare is quite expensive compared to the other metro lines.

How to go to Odaiba from Asakusa:
  • From Asakusa station (Asakusa Line A18 and Ginza Line G19), proceed to Shimabashi Station (A10, G08).
  • Navigate your way to Yurikamome Line. You’ll find signs, or you’ll find someone to ask.
    Yurikamome Railway Area Map
  • Buy a ticket. I had a preloaded Pasmo card which can be used in this line. But considering my history in hopping off the wrong train station, I decided to buy a one day open ticket. I can ride all I want and my itinerary would be flexible with this.
  • Not all machines sell the one day ticket, so find one that has. The day ticket costs ¥ 800. Yeap, that’s another ¥ 800 for one day. Ka-ching!
This one sells a one-day ticket

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another Date With Autumn: Tokyo Metropolitan Garden Square

I was soooo tired when I arrived in my hostel in Tokyo. I left my luggage and used the common room’s computer to send an email to my parents that I arrived in Japan alive. My stomach started to grumble. Time to find breakfast. I headed outside and explored Asakusa. (I’ll talk about Asakusa in a separate post).
Uh oh. The crowds.
There are lots of restaurants and fast food chains around Asakusa. I was in search of something authentic, so I chose a place where the menu is almost not translated. The food pics look good. There was a greeter/ PR person at the door. I have a good background in reading Katakana and Hiragana because I was an Otaku in my teenage years. Well... I thought I had a good background...but my skills did not help me here.

Someone assisted me in operating the vending machine. I inserted the bill in the slot, then pressed my desired order. A meal ticket came out and the staff handed this to the cook. After some time, the staff told me to that my order was ready.

Good thing I was sitting in a corner because I was making a mess of the noodles and the chopsticks. Di ako proficient sa chopsticks usage. The ramen was AWSESOME. Hand-pulled noodles here.
Got the ramen and rice tempura at JPY 580

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Airport Adventure: Japan, Here I Come!

I made a decision to book a non-buget (read: Not Cebupacific) airline for my trip to Japan. I was quite hesitant to book at non-refundable fare from a budget airline because of the Japan visa. The budget airlines have the nicer airport. The not so budget-airlines have the old NAIA Terminal 1.

Time to fly out of NAIA Terminal 1 again.
NAIA Terminal 1 Lobby
This was my longest encounter with an IO:
Immigration Officer: Mam, kayo lang po magtatravel?
Me: Yes
Immigration Officer: Wala po kayong kasama?
Me: Wala (isang tanong, isang sagot mode)
Immigration Officer: Bakit po di nyo kasama friends nyo?
Me: Kasi ako lang may budget at time
IO: Ok mam. *stamps passport*

Minsan, kelangan ng yabang factor. Korek? Okey. Hokey.

My excited and grumbling tummy was sated by a dose of Bo’s Coffee (Php 165) and an overpriced Puttanesca serving (Php 140).

NAIA Terminal restrooms are not that bad. Not world-class, but clean and decent enough.

NAIA Terminal 1 Restroom

Monday, November 12, 2012

Japan Preparation: Baggage, JPY, Japan Rail Pass

Packing: Backpack vs. Wheeled Luggage
I did Europe in a backpack, then switched to a wheeled luggage during the trip.
I did Indochina in a backpack, I survived.
This time, I decided I would use a wheeled luggage. Most travellers didn’t seem to have any issues dragging these things around Japan. True enough, there were lifts and escalators when I needed them. Plus, a luggage has a more “glam” effect than a backpack. Mas bagay din sa boots. :P

I used a separate small backpack for my laptop

Exchanging PHP to JPY (Philippine Peso to Japanese Yen)

After securing my Japan Visa, I started to accumulate all the Japanese Yen. You can also withdraw the JPY overseas but that would just hassle me when I arrive in Japan, so I decided to be hassled here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Japan Itinerary and Budget Breakdown

I used Japan guide primarily in crafting my itinerary. I think I copied 90% of their 10-day guide, entering and exiting Tokyo. Very comprehensive and understandable.

Day 0
Evening flight to HK.
Day 1
Connecting flight from HK to NRT. Explore Shinjuku. Overnight Tokyo.
Day 2
Explore Asakusa and Odaiba. Overnight Tokyo.
Day 3
Explore Imperial Palace. Explore Shinjuku. Overnight Tokyo.
Day 4 (JR Pass Day 1)
Day trip to Nikko. Overnight Tokyo.
Day 5 (JR Pass Day 2)
Shinkansen to Kyoto. Overnight Kyoto.
Day 6 (JR Pass Day 3)
Eastern Kyoto Sights/ Higashiyama Walk
Day 7 (JR Pass Day 4)
Western Kyoto Sights/ Imperial Palace
Day 8 (JR Pass Day 5)
Daytrip in Nara
Day 9 (JR Pass Day 6)
Return to Tokyo. Bum around Tokyo.
Day 10 (JR Pass Day 7)
Travel via Narita Express to Airport. Fly back to Manila.

Budget breakdown:
I spent Php a total of 90,000 for my 10 day trip in Japan – spent in USD, JPY and PHP. The allocation of the budget:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...