Sunday, August 11, 2013

Japan 2013: Oh Tokushima.

Day 4:

Welcome to Tokushima city
I cannot remember how long it took from Kyoto to Tokushima by bus, maybe three hours? By the time we reached Tokushima, it was already late at night. Then, our Japanese friend fetched us from the station to her home. Tokushima is a quiet city, and one can experience authentic Japanese life here. I think there are not many foreigners living here and during my two days in Tokushima, I saw only two foreigners. This was even at the Tokushima University and no foreigners were seen outside the campus. 

Nice Japanese-style room
In comparison to my hometown in Penang Malaysia, Tokushima issmall city - not crowded and very agriculturally-oriented. Any spare lands available here are turned into paddy fields and just outside my friend's house is a paddy field. After arriving at my friend's home around 10 pm, we went to her neighbor's house to greet them.   

Day 3 in Kyoto snack
Even though we cannot speak in Japanese, we were able to communicate with them in English/Korean (through our Japanese friend cum translator). It was fun talking to them. Most of them already knew about Malaysia through the "Malaysia, truly Asia" advertisement. Awesome! Our Malaysian tourism campaign does really works.

Day 5:

Welcome to Bizan Ropeway...
Next day, we went to the Tokushima Station (we took a train from Bunkanomori) again to meet our other Japanese friend, Hitomi. She told us that she knew a Malaysian studying at her university and I asked her to plan for a meet-up. I am always happy to meet any Malaysians studying abroad because we generally share similar predicaments while living abroad.

(Note: There were a number of Malaysian students sponsored by the Malaysian government at Tokushima university but I couldn't meet them because I was told they rarely mingle with outsiders... Sigh... Wouldn't it be nice if the Malaysian students living abroad mix around more often with other foreigners and Japanese... 우물 안에 개구리로 살지 마세요~!) 

Bizan Ropeway cable car - 1,000 Yen

Beautiful Tokushima
The first place we went in the morning was called Bizan Ropeway. This is a place where one can take a cable car (1000 Yen for a round-trip ticket) up the hill and see Tokushima city from the top. Experience there was so-so as the weather there was rather hot and humid. After that, we went to our friends' university - Tokushima University (moreover, Hitomi had a class) for lunch. We walked all the way there.

Our lunch at Tokushima university
Mmmmm.... (PS. the professor was extremely nice)
Fast forward, we were allowed to take a class with Hitomi. I cannot remember what we really learned but he touched on Business Law and we discussed Abenomics. The reason of Abenomics according to him is to restructure Japanese companies so they are able to be competitive again. I think Abenomics is like a two-edged sword, a populist move to increase export through currency devaluation but not to arrest the advancing debt problem in the country. After the class, the professor who was extremely kind, asked us to have dinner with him at night. Okay, we agreed

Pic taken at Ikuta Shrine (Day 2)
Together with the Malaysian student I just met, we went for dinner with the professor and his students. We wanted to eat Japanese food but we couldn't find a place big enough to accommodate all of us. Thus, we had to settle in a western food family restaurant. Another memorable occasion was when one of his students ordered two large dishes for himself. I guessed he was filling his tummy for tomorrow's breakfast too

I had great experiences in Japan and today was another unforgettable one. Our Japanese professor accompanied us more than an hour even after we had all eaten, until our Japanese friend had arrived back from her part-time job to fetch us. The conversation while waiting at the restaurant was crazily dull. "How to get a girlfriend?" and "What qualities do girls like in a man?". This were among the questions asked by our "interesting" Japanese professor.

Kaori, the musician
Uhmmn... so I said "Sense of Humor?". And the professor came asking, "How to be humorous?". Haha. WTF. I smiled though. Our table was colorful, in the way we spoke in many different languages - Japanese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Korean and English. What connected us were our similar goals in life - mainly to live a good and happy life

Melody by Kaori

"Try" of Asher Book (cover)

When our Japanese friend arrived, we went to a pub to see a live musical performance (see the video on top) performed by her. She was amazing. And after that, we went home and packed our bags for our departure back to Korea tomorrow.

Day 6:

The dyeing process...
On our last day in Japan, the first place we visited was the Dye museum to make our own souvenirs (1000 Yen for a face towel to be dyed later by us) to bring back to Korea. The dyeing processes were simple. First choose the pattern, tie the towel around the sticks with rubber bands for the patterns to appear, dip in the dyeing container, repeat the steps, wash the towel clean to remove the leftover dye and voila, done. 

We were encouraged to dry our towels under the hot sun instead of using hair dryer. After that, we met Hitomi again for a sushi lunch together. I tasted the most interesting Japanese food, the Natto (the taste of fermented beans lingered in my mouth even after countless gulps of green tea) and Uni sushi (made from expensive sea urchin roe but tasted like...). I will never try them again...

Unagi (eel) sushi
I love the unagi sushi (prepared from eel) though. Overall, an authentic Japanese meal. As my friend will be leaving for the airport by bus an hour earlier than me, we went back to the Tokushima station. In my case, with around an hour left to spare in Tokushima, we went to the Japanese Karaoke room.

Big karaoke room...
Karaoke in Japan was another whole new experience for me. It was so difficult to search for songs as all new songs had to be keyed in Japanese. It's better to have a Japanese friend accompanying you in the Karaoke room when you are in Japan and can't speak Japanese.

Many English oldies can be searched very easily but not the latest ones... 
I cannot be Elvis Presley. It will be " a little less conversation".

Journey back Korea...
Karaoke was fun and after an hour or less, it was time to go. The bus journey from Tokushima to Kansai airport was frustratingly slow due heavy rains and traffic jams. Luckily, I reached the airport on time and met my friend with more than enough time to explore the airport. It was indeed a memorable trip to Japan. Sayorana Japan...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Discovering Shanghai and Taipei (soon)

The reason for my updates on Japan lately (the last one will be posted before my departure) was because I wish to get on with my next trip to China (Shanghai, Hangzhou and maybe Suzhou) and Taipei. 

Finish writing about my trip to Japan last June has been one of my main plans to do this weekend. These days, I was quite busy finalizing up my trip itinerary and too many meet-ups to attend. 

Woohoo! Very soon!

Hot hot hot... :(
Effects of global warming, China why you burn so much fossil fuels! ㅋㅋ  
Nice weather, hmmn...
My hometown...

Now, I am free as a bird!!! I will be leaving for Shanghai this coming Tuesday. 3 more days... Yippie! Whenever I think of Taipei, I always look forward to feasting delicious Taiwanese street food at the numerous night markets there that is quite similar to Penang food than Korean food. Happy weekends!

Kobe, Kyoto and Tokushima: Where East meets West

Day 2:

Entrance to Ikuta Shrine
Not feeling refreshed from my late sleep, tea provided by the inn provided enough caffeine to wake me up. Another day, another place to go. Our next destination is Kobe. We took a train from Osaka to Sannomiya Station (This is where the famous Ikuta Shrine is located). Then, after a short walk along Ikuta road, we reached the Ikuta Shrine.

Ikuta Road
Ikuta shrine is one of the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan. According to Wikipedia, it was used as a base for a festival welcoming back warriors from the latest attempt to invade Korea. The shrine is quite small and I don't think it can even accommodate more than a hundred warriors comfortably. Unless they squeezed like a sardin can, it is plausible... 

The lady in red...
By the time we reached Kobe, it was already raining heavily. I love rain. Rain reminds me of my hometown. The smell of freshly mown grass after drizzle is my favorite smell. I always hope one day, when I am successful, I can afford to have a big garden beside my house. Every time when it drizzles, I would be sitting on the bench, looking outwards while drinking hot cocoa. Peaceful and relaxing.   

Shinto wedding ceremony
At the Ikuta Shrine, we were lucky to witness a wedding ceremony. Shinto is one of the very beautiful beliefs still practiced by Japanese. During the wedding ceremony, we saw dances performed by two young performers. The were graceful. After Ikuta Shrine, we visited the Kobe mosque. My friend performed his Friday prayer while I waited for him. Kobe mosque is one of the very few Islamic buildings in Japan that survived the World War II allied bombing in June 1945. Somehow, the mosque was eerily quiet and nobody was around after my friend finished his prayer.      

At the Kobe Mosque
Kobe is not really an ideal destination for people looking to save money. It resembles more like the affluent Gangnam minus the hostess bar than anything. This is a place where expensive Kobe beef restaurants and high fashion boutiques located side by side. Louis Vuitton retail shop in Kobe was fantastic even from the outside. The interior resembled a glittering palace with lots of helpers serving the customer. Anyway, I am a practical guy and I don't like spending thousands of dollars for an identical bag. 

Our Day 2, Kobe City Route
Getting to Kobe Tower...
Here we are... Kobe Tower!
Our next destination was the Kobe Tower. To recap, we walked from Ikuta Shrine to Kobe mosque to Kyu-kyoryuchi (the up-class fashion district) to Kobe Tower. Taking taxi in Japan was a big no-no for us. We preferred spending money on good food than on transportation. Transportation expenses in Japan can be exorbitantly high if compared to Korea.

The admission fee at Kobe Tower

Kobe Tower is one of the must-visit spots in Kobe. The entrance fee is either 600 Yen or 800 Yen that also includes an entrance to the Maritime Museum. We chose the 800 Yen ticket. However, I do not recommend the Maritime Museum! It was really boring! Better save your 200 Yen and buy me a drink. After around an hour indoor in both the tower and museum to avoid the rain, we went on with our main plan of the day - meeting our Japanese friend and her friend from Kuwait.

At the Kobe Tower

We were to overnight at his house today. Our host was kind and extremely friendly, we had a small party at his house (he cooked some nice looking Kuwaiti food for all of us) that night! I even learned from him an interesting Japanese phrase sure to make heads turn. "Hitome boresteh shi mai masta". It means "I fell for you on my first sight".

Yesterday by Kaori

Before we slept, we went to Sento /Onsen (a public bathhouse). I was very reluctant to go there but left without any choices, I merely obliged them. It was my first and will probably be my last in Japan. The water was either burning hot or freezing cold. Not good... not good...

Small gathering
Day 3:

Hi Kyoto!
One of Kyoto's landmark
Kyoto. From Kobe, we took a train to Kyoto. Kyoto is the eighth largest city in Japan. Kyoto is a very traditional city due to its influence as the Japanese capital for almost a thousand years. Spared from heavy bombings by the Allied forces during World War II, Kyoto continues to be main city in Japan to experience Japanese culture.

Kyoto is highly recommended and I love how the city balances modernity while at the same time preserving its heritage. A convenient way of getting around Kyoto? Use the city buses. A one-day pass costs 500 Yen which is cheap considering the bus route covers most places here and a one-way journey by bus is already 220 Yen.

Day Pass - 500 Yen
Hmmn.... what to eat for lunch..
Tempura (1,050 Yen)...
Toei Kyoto Studio Park or Toei Uzumasa Eigamura (entrance fee is rather steep: 2,200 Yen) was the first place we visited in the morning. It is a theme park catering for tourist interested in traditional Japanese streets and buildings. The main highlights of our trip there were the ninja performance (all in Japanese, Damn... cannot understand a thing!) and the ninja maze (It was really fun but sadly, the time needed to complete the maze was too short).

Toei Kyoto Studio Park!
Sayoranna... yawn...

We spent some time over there. Then in the evening, our friend (the Kuwaiti and my Japanese friend) went back to Kobe and Tokushima respectively. Our next destinations are the Shinkyogoku (a good place to buy Japanese souvenirs) and the Kamo river (to see the crowds lazing around at night). At Shinkyogoku, there is a long stretch of street catering for tourists buying Japanese souvenirs. My observation: shops located at the middle of the street somehow sold similar souvenirs cheaper than the rest. Hmmn...

Shinkyogoku - for Japanese souvenirs!

Kamo River

With the Pachinko shops still buzzing with people, we strolled along the Kamo river. Kamo river at night was literally occupied by young couples looking to escape the city heat or hide from their parents' prying eyes. Along the river, there were many high-end restaurants serving foreign cuisines. Our accommodation for the night was at Khaosan Kyoto - the best dormitory I've ever been! Clean, comfortable and the bed even comes with a curtain to block the lights.

Highly recommended dorm in Kyoto!
As my dorm was located on the fifth floor, unfortunately, it has only a shower place and a toilet. Imagine sharing the same shower place and toilet with all the residents of fifth floor. Luckily no two people had diarrhea at the same time... The dorm located on the second floor is much better. It has more toilets and shower places.

Day 4:

Kinkaku-ji - Temple of Golden Pavilion
The first destination of the day was the Kyoto station. As I was carrying a large backpack, and my friend had a hand luggage filled with souvenirs. We had to find some place to store our bags and Kyoto station was also a good place to start our journey. After storing our belongings, we purchased the one-day bus pass again.

First tourist attraction we visited? It was none other than the famous Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of Golden Pavilion (Entrance fee: 400 Yen), an UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can read all the history here. What I like about this place was the beauty of the garden. It was so picture perfect. After Kinkaku-ji, we went to Kiyomizu-dera (300 Yen), a very famous Buddhist temple in Kyoto. This is my favorite and most memorable place in Kyoto.

Japanese students at Kiyomizu-dera


There's also an interesting story to be told. Hehe... While we were going up the steep road to reach the entrance of the temple, I saw some girls wearing Yukata (another type of Japanese traditional attire). Thinking it was another great opportunity to get my first photograph with Yukata ladies. I politely asked them for permission to take a picture of them and us with them. They happily obliged. I think, to them, we were irresistibly good looking.

Japanese in Yukatas
One of my favorite question to ask any locals and foreigners is "Can you guess which country you think I come from?". They answered....... "China"..... I was like "What? Chinese?". Ah never mind... Nevertheless, I spoke a little basic Japanese and this was how our friendships with Japanese strangers began. We accompanied them to take photos (they helped to take our pics while we reciprocated by becoming their part-time photographers).

Oh really, drinking from all three streams no good?
After sometime with them, we hurried off to the Otowa waterfall. "...The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera's main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream's water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy..." I never knew drinking from all three streams were considered greedy.

As there was nothing much to do further up the temple, we returned to the main temple and we met the Yukata ladies again. We exchanged our greetings and I (and my friend) took a Polaroid picture with them. While walking downhill, we went around the traditional streets and we even saw ladies wearing Kimono. Awesome! I bought several packets of Yatsuhashi, a traditional Japanese snack (250 Yen each), for my department staffs and Professors. The taste was so-so but I regretted not buying one for myself.

Ladies in Kimono
At the bus stop after the end of our trip to the temple, we saw the Yukata ladies (at the opposite direction) again. They waved at us and instinctively, we waved at them back. Meeting them was one of my most unforgettable moments in Japan. Sadly, our bus came too soon after and we did not manage to get their phone number or Facebook. Inside the bus, I saw them trying to look for us at their bus stand. It was nice knowing them though we don't even know their names. Very interesting huh?

Ladies in Yukata
Thanks for the memories... ladies in Yukata...

Fushimi Inari

Our final destination in Kyoto was the Fushimi Inari-taisha (entrance is free). A shrine famous for the wooden blocks along the gates. Since we did not have enough time to hike all the way up, we spent our time taking pictures along the gates. This shrine like the many shrines and temples we visited, it was equally beautiful. Statues of foxes were found in many places in the shrine. I was curious but so little time to know and see more. From Fushimi Inari Shrine, we took a bus back to Kyoto station. We were to take an express bus to Tokushima, a small city to meet our Japanese friends. Another city to cover... another adventure...

To be continued....

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"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning" ~Winston Churchill~