Monday, June 17, 2019

Osaka-Kyoto 2019

You know you can't get enough of a place when you want to go back again. To me right now, that place is Japan! Yes, we absolutely enjoyed Osaka and Kyoto!!!  These two seem to be some of the top tourists' destination. And it's rightly so! I have always loved many things about Japan ie. the food,   culture, product quality, design, its craft market and...the fabric! Japan is big on crafts and sewing, so it is literally my paradise. In fact it was a paradise for each of us ie. the husband who's into street food, and the boys who are into gaming. There was something for everyone!

The excitement began when I managed to book really good SQ flights to KIX. Total fare of S$529.80 per adult and S$513 for Darren. That was 3.5 months ahead. It was like a 'I search, I see, I book" attack. Nerve-wrecking! I always get very nervous when I book flights, so luckily Daniel was beside me to make sure I got the dates and time right. Phew! Here we are!

Day 1: JB-Changi-KIX

So our little adventure began on 25th May where we had a transport for hire to take us into Changi Airport from JB. This is very common for the southern folks who don't want to go all the way up to KLIA. If you're looking for one, call 'Ah Seng' at +6016 7210346. It costs RM210 per trip for the entire group. Traffic was pretty smooth on an early Saturday morning. We reached at a good timing to check in and to walk around. It was a pity that the vortex waterfall at Jewel Changi was not open yet. But we had a pleasant exploration at the terminal. 

Their fun began already.


So fast forward 6 hours and 40 minutes flight, we landed in Kansai International Airport in Osaka. The first thing we did was to purchase the Nankai Limited Express Rapi:t tickets to Namba Station, which was for a certain time, and I thought we could get to the train platform in 20 min. Mistake!  I forgotten that we needed to get ICOCA cards. So here's the thing when you want to purchase tickets for children (cheaper), klook and the self-ticketing machines don't offer child fares. To purchase an ICOCA card for child, you'd have to go directly to the JR Office at the airport. And the queue was long! So I had to forgo it to catch our train to Namba in time. I wasn't too worried then because ICOCA cards can be purchased from JR offices in many train stations. 

The Nankai Train to Namba Station.

It took just slightly more than 30 min to reach Namba station, specifically, Nankai Namba Station 5. Something to take note, there are more than one Namba stations! So it really is a MUST to do an extensive research on the whole trip which was what I did. We got a little lost finding the exit from the station which is in Namba City mall, but once we were out, I knew the way to our apartment, thanks to a video on youtube. It really does pay to do your homework!

First scene we saw upon exiting the Namba City mall. We had to go through the roofed shopping street (shotengai) to get to our apartment.

Our apartment which I booked via booking.com, was along a main road, next to Red Roof Plus hotel. It was surprisingly quite spacious for the four of us. And needless to say, Japanese rooms are very clean and well-maintained.  






I love the location! It was walking distance to Dotonbori, Shinsaibashi and Sennichimae shopping streets. The boys were particularly in favour of the location because it was opposite BIC Camera and few steps away from Round1 Stadium. And Family Mart was practically next to our apartment so we didn't have to worry about food because their ready-to-eat meals are really good!

So after we checked in ourselves by following a few simple downloaded instructions, we ventured out to Dotonbori to hunt for our dinner.


The famous moving crab signboard.


It was a Saturday night and crowded everywhere! There were long queues at restaurants and we were getting hungry, so we just parked ourselves at a queue which seemed to be less intimidating.


After our first meal in Osaka, we went to see the famed Glico running man. The moment I was anticipating since I booked the flights! I know it's silly but it seems like a MUST-SEE when you're in Osaka. Why is it so famous? Glico is one of the oldest confectionery company in Japan and it was founded in Osaka. Some of their most popular products are Pocky, Pretz and Bisco. And the signboard is huge! It's not just the Glico running man, it's the entire row of bright blinking signboard lights that make the atmosphere very vibrant. And it's every aspiring photographer's scene to try to capture the best night shot. 





We found Don Quijote/Don Don Donki building at the opposite row that has a cute ferris wheel that goes around the height of the building. 


Mandatory photo shoot.


Saw this super-on kid in full ninja gear. 

Land of takoyaki.

Day 2: Namba area, Dotonbori

Our second day in Osaka was left for exploring the vicinity of our apartment. As promised, we went to BIC Camera, an electronics chain in Japan. I saw a lot of kids making a beeline for the gaming section. Well, so did my boys. It was their paradise. 

BIC Camera opposite of our apartment.



Cute English.

There are plenty of these Bandai gashapons which are capsule toy vending machines, not just in BIC Camera but scattered all over the city. Each capsule is 100-300yen each depending on the toy.

Their loot? Nintendo Switch Super Mario Party and Labo VR Kit. Actually we had to go back the second time because I didnt bring my passport to enjoy the tax-free price. It is quite significant so the boys had to endure a little patience test. But they didnt have to endure at all because our next stop was Round1 Stadium, possibly the mother of arcade and amusement centre. Japanese are really big on gaming and arcades! This building has 11 floors of different categories of sports and games. Xiao! 


We bought tickets for Spo-Cha which allowed us to play on floors 3, 5 ,6, and 7. 

This link has all the information about Round1 Stadium.

Here are just some of the games they played.



There is this really cool capsule where you go in to play a kind of shooting and flying video game.



After a good couple of hours there, we headed out for dinner and more exploration of Dotonbori. Finally I found the mascot of Osaka, Kuidaore Taro the drummer boy! There are a few souvenirs you can get like the tin of cookies, Taro pudding, socks, keychains etc. Everything about him is so bright and adorable. 


We shopped at Little Osaka as well, another popular omiyage marketwhere youd find a lot of Japanese snacks like Glico and Osaka Banana cakes. 


I even saw a little section of Fueki, the cute yellow-dog tub of glue and other knick knacks. Such a torture to resist!


We walked around more and discovered many pretty eateries. 




And on the way back, we luckily chanced upon this rather famous snack shop on the same road as our apartment. We tried the red bean and the sweet potato filling. I prefer the latter.


Day 3: Universal Studios Japan

TisUniversal Studios Japan day! How could we miss this right? The only bummer was that the Express Passes were sold out. It actually saved us a lot of money, so I wasnt too beaten up about it. Picture time.



Minion Park. 

 Saw these father-daughter hardcore Minion fans.

The queue at every ride was long. This was the queue to Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride. It wasn't actually too bad. The queue was always moving albeit slowly. And you'd be entertained by the  show and quiz on the screens throughout the lane.





We took a boat ride along a river with pretty houses. We weren't allowed to take pictures throughout the ride. The boat captain would act like there was danger and true enough, a big JAWS shark head would emerge suddenly from the waters just next to the boat and the captain would pretend-shoot the shark with a fake rifle. Quite cute, haha.

And here is probably the best park in USJ. I really felt like I was transformed into Harry Potter's world. The buildings, the castles, the atmosphere were just so real.







The queue to Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey ride. All long the way, there is always something to see. Well, guess what. The ride MADE ME SICK! The seats went upside down, I could feel it! I had to sit and settle myself for 30 min after that while the boys went for their second ride. I wished I had preserved orange peels. Bluaaaak.



I didnt expect we would be able to manage 4 rides, and the boys took 6 rides in total that day. Not bad! After Harry Potters Park, we headed back to Namba. Actually we should've stayed for the night parades. Ah well.

After we settled the boysdinner, they stayed in the room to play their video games while the hubz and I snuck out for some okonomiyaki near our apartment. We walked through Hozenji Lane just behind our apartment. It is filled with cozy little traditional Japanese eateries.



Pork dish with bean sprout and ginger. 

Our okonomiyaki.

 Day 4: Osaka-Kyoto
Japanese hotels seem to be pretty rigid about their check-out time, which is 10am. No late check-outs, or else there will be a charge for every extended hour. There was no reception or anybody to mind us at the apartment we stayed in but still we adhered to the rules. So guai!

We took the Midosuji Line train from Namba Station 1 to Umeda Station. The plan was to walk from Umeda Station to Hankyu Umeda Station to take the Hankyu train to Karasuma Station in Kyoto. Another complicated train station scenario. Remember, there are also more than one Umeda Station.

We wanted to spend a bit more time in Osaka before moving to Kyoto, so we had to find somewhere to keep our big luggage. 

It feels like we werent the only ones lugging around huge luggages. We saw quite many people doing the same.

Luckily there are many coin lockers around! But dont be too happy. Sometimes, the big ones are all taken. After asking around, we found more lockers and available big ones. 


Self-payment machine where you are issued a ticket with a QR code that is scanned when you want to unlock your locker.

Once our hands were more free, we set out to HEP Five mall. Its such a blessing how things seem to fall nicely. The boys found a brochure on VR Zone at the Kansai Airport when we arrived and it was in HEP Five, the same place I had planned to take the big ferris wheel. Who doesnt like it when everything they need is in one place eh! 

This is seriously hardcore virtual reality. Not the masak-masak type. Even children are not allowed on some of the games.

The assistant briefing the boys on how to play their first VR game.

They said this was quite difficult to play.

Save-the-cat game. Their goal was to save a cat trapped at the end of a plank on a tall building.

Godzilla game.

This was a shooting game, like one of the game in Pixel movie.

The tickets we bought allowed them to play four game each. After that, we took a ride in the big HEP Five ferris wheel although it was raining albeit lightly.



And so we bid farewell to Osaka. Kyoto, here we come!

The showers in Osaka and Kyoto lasted the entire day. But it didnt really matter because there werent much plans for today anyway. We checked into Elitz Inn, also booked via booking.com. I was so glad I chose this inn! Before I booked it, I was worried about staying in two separate rooms because there were only twin rooms available. But I booked 2 rooms anyway because it was a lot cheaper than the other hotels and the location was very near Karasuma station. I had to consider the distance for lugging around a big luggage. I had also requested that both the rooms should preferably be on the same floor and they accommodated my request. Turns out, there are only 2 rooms per floor anyway! So we had the entire floor to ourselves.




 Instruction sheet in English on basic operation of the remote and appliances in the room.




This bathroom is a dryer too. I KNOW! After washing our clothes, I hung them on the rod, turned on the dryer which is the vent on the ceiling, and closed the door. The next day, our clothes were dried. Ta da!


Considering how safe Japan is, and that it was still raining, and that the boys want to stay in their room and play their games, the hubz and I explored the street on our own. Teehee.

For dinner, we conveniently walked to a cozy little noodle eatery next to the inn. Its like a hidden gem. The noodles were awesome. 



  
Day 5: Kiyomizudera, Gion, Teramachi, Shinkyogoku, Nishiki Market

The sky cleared up, yay! We took bus #207 from the bus stop opposite our inn, to Gojozaka bus stop to begin our epic walk. Well, it couldve been more epic if we really followed the walking path on tourist maps but SOMEbody is bound to complain about walking too much. Hahah. 

So our walk began along Chawanzakka lane towards Kiyomizudera Temple. Not much happening here but we started to see a lot of ladies in kimono which I learnt that you could rent a package for a few hours to a day.









We just had a look-see outside the temple before we descended down the lane leading to Ninenzakka and Sannenzakka, the iconic stone-paved street lined with old traditional Japanese shops and cafes. I felt we couldve spent more time taking in the scenery but I was quite turned off by the crowd and the midday sun though it was cool. I did stumble upon this little ceramics shop along the way. 

Crowded!

Entrance into Asahido Craft Shop that sells ceramics.




If only I could sweep one each of these.


Quote a number of shops selling fans.





And this is the Ninenzakka Starbucks, worlds first Starbucks with tatami. We didnt go in for a cuppa because like I said, I just felt like getting out of the crowd. And that SOMEbody wasnt too happy with walking a lot.



  
The SOMEbody.


I missed out on Ishibei Koji lane which I had wanted to see. We probably walked past it without realising! Anyway, we tried to find our way out to the main road with bus stop and the journey was fairly pleasant as we walked past traditional Japanese houses and cute shops.





How do you get out of the car I wonder.







Somehow we managed to reach Gion Shijo street and we passed by this tranquil canal or river  with a smoking area by the side. 

The hubz's happy place.


We walked some more and arrived at Pontocho, one of the popular dining area. These restaurants overlook Kamogawa River. We stopped to hang out by the river a little bit. The water is so clear we could see humongous fishes in it.





Then we continued walking until we reached Shinkyogoku and Teramachi shopping streets. More walking! And I had my shopping list to do here. 

I was determined to come to this secret needle shop at the end of Shinkyogoku. I chanced upon this website when I was googling for sewing crafts in Kyoto and I knew I had to come here. And what a delight it was!

We were welcomed with this calming and private garden. So peaceful here. 




The owner was very nice and personally served his customer one by one. At that time, there was just one customer before me, so after that I kind of had the whole little shop to myself. I bought the No.7 needles and another pack for embroidery, machine-made but nonetheless high in quality.

These are handmade needles. I kind of regretted not getting one. 


More browsing and shopping at Teramachi and Shinkyogoku street.


This could be my favourite shop at Teramachi street. Everything in it was zakka and natural.



Oh my weakness.


Nishiki Market. Makan time!

Scallops.

Fresh seafood, ready-to-eat.







Wagyu beef on stick. THUMBS. UP.


Plenty of octopuses on sticks.

Oyster Bar, at the end of Nishiki Market.

And we were back at the main Shijo street where I found Nomura Tailor, another on my to-go list. 

And more eating!

Melonpan is quite ubiquitous around the city. And they are good! Crisp outside, soft inside like bread.

By now, my boys were already tired and cranky. Hahah.

So we walked back to our inn, ate at the cozy noodles bar next door again, and settle the boys in their room. Then the hubz and I went out on our own again. Its sooooooo nice to have freedom to jalan-jalan without worrying about grumpy kids. In fact, every night in Kyoto, the hubz and I got to pak tor! Its such a luxurious experience. Mothers of young children, you WILL have your day too!

We walked all the way back to the bridge overlooking Pontocho and Kamogawa River. 



Day 6: Fushimi Inari, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

To go to Fushimi Inari Taisha, we took the subway from Shijo Station to Kyoto Station, and then changed to JR Line towards Inari Station which is very near to the shrine. 


Crowded!


Very crowded at the beginning of the gates.

Statue of a fox holding a key in its mouth, at the main gate of Fushimi Inari shrine. The foxes are regarded as Inari's messengers, that's why many fox statues were found across the shrine grounds.







There were many moments of me yelling to the boys, "OK, nobody already, quick take photo!" And they'd quickly turn to pose. Haha.


I think it isnt a big area to explore. We mainly came to visit the red tori gates and hoped to take some good photos but it was near impossible. Everyone who came hoped to take Instagram-worthy photos too but many were disappointed. Some, like us, persevered a bit and I managed to take this prized shot. This was towards the end of the left gate. 


Saw a cute couple dressed up in yukata and kimono.


  
We only spent one and a half hours there as the tori gates path werent very long. And we didnt climb up to Mount Inari. Maybe next time.

Our next tourist attraction was Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. After see all red, we see all green. Like Christmas, haha!

From Inari Station, we headed back towards Kyoto Station, then change to the San-In Line to Saga Arashiyama Station. 

I had an ambitious walking trail plan in Arashiyama, but I had a feeling the boys were not into it. I wanted to visit Otagi Nenbutsuji, a quaint temple at the end of the trail, so maybe next time, again. 

The main attraction was this bamboo grove path. Supposed to be dreamy and serene like those photos on the internet, but in reality, it is crowded. I guess we picked the wrong time of the day to go. It has to be very early, or quite late.










He managed to snag a shot with the prettiest girls in kimono. Folks who passed by commented, "Kawaiiiiii!"

Togetsu-kyo Bridge



We walked across the Togetsu-kyo Bridge and spent some time sitting by Katsura River. The boys played a bit at the bank, tossing rocks. I can imagine the beautiful sight during autumn when the leaves turn reddish. 



Arashiyama Park.





That concludes our sight-seeing day!


Day 7: Fukuchiyama, Daniel's Birthday!

Our last day was reserved for a drive out of town to Fukuchiyama to visit my aunt. Thank God there was a Nissan car rental exactly opposite our inn. How lucky we are! 


We, or rather the driver(s) just had to show our passports and international driving license, which we applied two weeks earlier at JPJ. After filling up some forms and a short briefing on the basic rules of driving in Japan, we hopped into the car, entered our destination into the in-built GPS and off we went. It was a smooth process.

Driving through beautiful mountainous scenery. 

Stopped by for a breather. We breathed in really fresh cool air alright.



Our little car.

We saw small townships and paddy field villages along the way.

After about an hours journey, we reached Fukuchiyama. By our definition, it is a small kampung, like Kluang, hahah. It was quiet, peaceful and totally NOT crowded at all.

Well, we got a bit lost, very close but not exactly there yet. We tried to find her house but ended up at this laundy shop where I entered to ask for help, and the boss offered to bring me there himself. Such hospitality! But I declined politely and copied directions from his iPad instead. In the end, we found her. My aunt was so touched that she cried. She said other than another aunt, no one has visited her at Fukuchiyama. Awww

After we had lunch together, she took us to a patisserie cafe. This is the biggest cake shop in that town. Possibly the only one. You know what they say about Japanese cakes.Its true! Find any cakes in Japan and they are truly light, fluffy and not too sweet. Everything is juuust right.

NOBODY is looking at their mobile phones. Maybe they dont even have one! *gasp*


We hung out a while at her tiny little apartment before heading back to the city.


  
Day 8: Kyoto-KIX-Changi Airport-JB

We checked out at 10am, left our luggage at the inns reception and went out for our last minute shopping at Teramachi, Nishiki Market and along Shijo street. We also dropped by Tokyu Hands for my last minute immersion in arty crafty stuff. I miss you already!



From Shijo Station to Kyoto Station, we transferred to the HARUKA Express train to Kansai Airport. With the ICOCA cards, we were able to purchase the HARUKA train at a discounted price. 

We reached the airport at a good timing for more last minute shopping. In fact, I think I shopped the most here. Luckily I brought extra carry-on bags!

These are some of the must-buy souvenir snacks from Kansai Airport.

My loot!


Fabric from Nomura Tailor.

Misuyabari needles.

Tenugui and handkerchief towels. I can never get enough of these.

Rubber stamps and washi tapes from Tokyu Hands. I forgot to check out their Uni-ball Signo pens, arrgh.

Kawaii fish coin purse keychains from Nishiki Market, Kiyomizu ceramics, Arashiyama bamboo spoons, little money envelope from Tokyu Hands, red torii gate magnet from Fushimi Inari, maneki-neko or Lucky/Fortune Cat charm and lantern with bells decor from Kansai Airport.

Drugstore chain is a big business in Japan. My shopping is pathetic here. I could've bought and tried some of their cosmetics but there were just too many! The canker sore patches and gel works great! I wonder why they are not available here in Malaysia and Singapore.

I felt this was like our best trip ever. Each one of us had something memorable and precious to take home with us, including memories. I wish we can revisit soon!

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