Think I’m Sapporo To Be Here. . .? + Flying United Polaris From Tokyo To Denver

Think I’m Sapporo To Be Here. . .? + Flying United Polaris From Tokyo To Denver

 

After 4 days and 3 nights in the saudade of Tokyo, a city that actually lived up and dare I say, exceeded expectations (even though travel never is supposed to go your way, every now and then with rare exceptions like in Tokyo, it sometimes does), some of us had to move on. Saying goodbye to Shayra, Kelly, as well as the friends we made along the way, the rest of the gang headed to Narita Airport for our 3pm Spring Airlines flight to Sapporo. 

Narita Airport is far far outside Tokyo, especially if you’re trying to get to Terminal 3 (which requires an extra shuttle bus, or in my case, a 1.5km sprint which took care of my cardio for the rest of the week), so the wisest way is to give yourself at least an hour and a half to get there. 

Luckily for us, check-in closed only 35 minutes before departure so we were able to rush just in time to get our tickets, check our bags in, and even scan them through security. The upside is that we were even personally escorted by the airline staff to the gate to ensure we’d make it to our flight on time. It kind of reminded me of the time we tried to make it to our flight to Auckland 7 months ago, except this time the only thing I was missing was a wisecracking negative-nancy Uber driver who would keep telling us we wouldn’t make it…until we met a crazy bus driver after landing in Sapporo (more on that later).

After landing at CTS airport at 4:45pm, we quickly reclaimed our bags at baggage claims and boarded 1030¥ Bus 22 waiting outside to take us to our lodgings in the Susukino area of central Sapporo. The drive took about an hour and half due to traffic, but it was made somewhat amusing by our sassy bus driver who kept yelling at his passengers for small infractions (like not moving their bags) the first half of the ride.

  

 

We arrived into the Susukino area of Sapporo at 7pm, checking into our lodgings at Grids Sapporo a few minutes later around the corner. 

Although Susukino is the ideal place to stay as you’re literally in the middle of the largest entertainment district north of Tokyo, it also used to be known (or still is) as a Yakuza-run red light district. If that’s the case still, this has got to be the most sanitized red light district I have ever seen.

 

 

The first order of business, however, was to ensure that Donna could make the most out of her last night of her trip! So we changed the itinerary around and decided to head to Mount Moiwa for views over Sapporo.

To get there requires some coordinated effort. First you have to take the Sapporo Shiden tramcar south 10 stops to the Denshajigyosho-Mae Station.

 

 

Then you can either walk 8 minutes uphill to the ropeway station or take a free shuttle bus that departs across the street from the Higashihonganji-Mae Station. It leaves every 15 minutes.

 

 

Once you get up to the Ropeway Station, head up a floor to buy your tickets. You can ride the ropeway and hike up for free or go all fancy and take the roundtrip ropeway + cable car.

 

 

The ropeway car is truly stunning as they turn off all the lights and you start to see what makes this a worthwhile journey in the evening.

 

 

If you choose to do the cable car afterwards, it’s another line and short wait.

 

 

Once the cable car (or your hike) makes it all the way to the top, there’s another extensive climb involving a few flights before you’ve truly made it. 

Apparently this is one of the rare few vistas where the recommendations encourage folks to go after sunset and not before. And we can see why.

 

 

When I first stepped outside and saw the view, my breath was literally taken away. Maybe it was the wind.

 

 

After lingering here for up to an hour just taking it all in and listening to some choice background music I picked, Donna and I headed back into the city center of Sapporo, hopping on the last cable car to depart at 9:50pm. 

Once returning to the Susukino area, we first swung by the official geographic center of Sapporo, the JR Tower. Although it’s not much to look at from the outside, it’s actually taller than the Sapporo TV Tower if you want those better views.

 

 

Round the corner is the Sapporo Clock Tower, officially designated “third most overrated sight in Japan.”

 

 

Unfortunately for us, we got a renovation effort that began on May 31 until November:

 

 

Then on our way to the TV Tower, we strolled through the 1.5km long Odori Park, which is actually 12 small separate square block parks stretching over 13 consecutive city blocks.

 

 

Odori Park eventually ends at the Sapporo TV Tower, which is a carbon copy effort of the Tokyo Tower and the Eiffel Tower.

 

11:11 - Make a wish!

 

After a few minutes here, we strolled back to the late-night eating area of Susukino and kicked back over some fugu (puffer fish) and other late night munchies for a few hours.

Now as I’m blogging here at 3am in the morning, I just felt the ground rumble just a tad bit and it would just occur to me that what I felt was probably an aftershock, given that horrible earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 had just struck Sapporo just 11 days ago. Nevertheless, after walking around the city a few hours here today and you really can’t tell since Japan has done a tremendous job recovering both from its worst typhoon in 25 years as well as one of its worst earthquakes since 2016. I just hope that the worst is over.

Edit: Just confirmed, whatever I just felt was a legit 4.8 magnitude earthquake!

 

 

The next morning, my senses still intact after eating a puffer fish and sleeping through an earthquake, the few of us left inquired into the possibility of visiting the Sapporo Beer Museum and Beergarden, which I was informed not to spend too long there as it’s not very big and everything is printed in Japanese, but alas it was closed due to the fact we arrived on a national holiday. Although I’m no longer much of a beer drinker, for 300-500¥ you can get a few tastings of all their beer if you want.

After that it was a free day for the rest of us! So I headed back to the hostel check into my flight after as well as study for my upcoming boards. After a month of travel, it’s time that I buckle down and be a doctor again.

 

What To Eat In Sapporo

 

Sapporo Beer

 

Not native essentially to Sapporo, but this is where I had my first puffer fish, one of the most poisonous vertebrates in the world. It’s been over 6 hours and I’m still doing okay:

 

This eel was tremendous:

 

Hairy Crab (alive!)

 

King Crab and Snow Crab Shabu Shabu

 

King Crab

 

Snow Crab

 

Tofu

 

King Crab Sandwiches from Saera (thank you Angela!)

 

Ramen Yokocho (an alleyway full of ramen shops!)

 

Corn Butter Crab Oyster Ramen

 

…and that’s it y’all. Peace out ’til the next monsoon.

 

 

  

Flying United Polaris Business/First Class (2-2-2),

From Tokyo To Denver

 

After a month of traveling and as my feeble 31-year-old bones needed a break, I decided to opt in for a 60,000 mile (discounted  from 70,000 miles) transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards to United.com for a flight itinerary that included a free ANA economy class flight from Sapporo to Tokyo, a free United Polars Business/First class flight from Tokyo to Denver, and then a free United economy class flight from Denver back to NYC.

Since only one of those legs was a business/first class and I was initially on an economy class flight, I technically was not supposed have access to any of ANA’s swanky business class lounges until getting to Tokyo. However, I was still able to sweet talk my way into the ANA business class lounge in Sapporo by flashing them my business class ticket from Tokyo to Denver. After a few clicks in the computer, they let me through!

 

 

Following an uneventful flight from Sapporo to Tokyo, I then checked out ANA’s Business Class Lounge at Narita Airport. They even have their own noodle shop inside!

 

 

Then I was ready for the main event. I took the separate boarding gate to my United Polaris Business/First seat.

 

 

Unlike the cramped the 2-3-2 (2 seats in the wings and 3 seats in the center) Polaris configuration I had experienced 9 months ago when returning from Tokyo to NYC and 6 months ago when returning from Amsterdam to NYC, this flight boasted a much spacier 2-2-2 configuration. However, it was still not the ideal 1-2-1 Polaris configuration that United is currently trying to upgrade their flights for.

 

 

An enormous amount of Saks 5th Avenue bedding awaits you on the Polaris product:

 

 

The amenities kit they provide now comes in a hard tin case instead of a soft bag that I got 9 months ago. The contents are the same: eye mask, socks, ear plugs, toothbrush, toothpaste, a pen, and a trio of Cowshed products including hand cream and lip balm.

 

 

And with a champagne to start things off, we took off on time!

 

 

The meal has much improved since the one I had 9 months ago with a separate Japanese selection everyone was trying to go for.

 

 

Zensai – Meatloaf with eggplant, grilled shimeji mushroom, chrysanthemum flower jelly, sesame tofu, ginkgo nuts

Sakizuke – Grilled salmon, abalone, endive, wasabi, chrysanthemum flower, Japanese ginger julienne, hoshisho, shisho

Kobachi – Turnip stuffed with seafood, grilled yam, wheat starch with dashi, mini asparagus, egg-vinegar sauce

 

The entreé was a yellowtail teriyaki with simmered daikon and carrot, brandy chestnut, served with rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables

 

Dessert – international cheese assortment, signature sundae, brownies, and filled japanese mochi

 

In the middle of the flight while I was studying, the staff even cooked me up a grilled cheese sandwich and heated up a warm minestrone soup.

 

For breakfast, we were served a seasoned mackerel with yuzu sauce, tawara rice, taro, seasonal vegetables, and fruit.

 

We landed on time after 10 hours in the air, where I was lucky to be in the front of the line for my passport to be stamped back into the United States. The fact I still did Global Entry may have been overkill.

 

 

Then using the same strategy as I had did earlier in Sapporo, I sweet-talked and convinced the United Club at Denver International Airport to give me access to their lounge even though my onward transfer flight to NYC was in economy class (I was initially denied). After making the case that I had just flown in on a Polaris Business/First product, they typed in a few buttons on the computer and I was in!

 

 

After a 3 hour layover in the lounge, my onward economy class flight from Denver to NYC was nothing special other than it was delayed by an hour. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

 

- At time of posting in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, it was 20 °C - Humidity: 92% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a

 

What “Tokyo” So Long?

What “Tokyo” So Long?

 

“I compared it to taking my first acid trip: Nothing was ever the same for me. I just wanted more of it. If I had to agree to live in one country, or even one city, for the rest of my life, never leaving it, I’d pick Tokyo in a second.” – Anthony Bourdain

 

After a late night in Kyoto last night, we pushed hard early this morning and took the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Nozomi Train from Kyoto Station to Tokyo Station

Look to your left and you’ll pass by Mount Fuji about halfway during the 2 hour trip.

 

 

Your Shinkansen ticket includes a trip on a local JR train within Tokyo, so if they eat up your ticket by accident, grab an agent to get it back!

 

 

From door to door from our hostel in Kyoto to our hostel in Tokyo, we arrived about 3 hours later to our lodgings at Hostel Chapter 2. We settled in for a few minutes and began our day by taking the Asakusa Line from Asakusa Station to Asakusabashi Station, switching over to the Chuo-Sobu Line and taking that to Yoyogi Station.

A few minutes walk away is Meiji Shrine, one of Tokyo’s largest and most atmospheric.

 

 

If you’re keen on purifying your soul, walk to one of the fountains by the entrance and take a dipper with your right hand and pour water over your left hand. Then change hands and pour water over your right hand. Finally, change hands again, pour water into a cupped left hand, transfer that water to your mouth, rinse, and spit out the water into the trough at the foot of the fountain. 

Then rinse your left hand and the dipper before putting the dipper back on the rack.

 

 

You can also make a wish by throwing a five-yen coin into the money box as an offering. If you want to go all the way, take after the locals by bowing and clapping twice to call the gods, or write your wish on a votive plaque (ema). 

 

 

Japanese wedding processions also take place here all the time, weather permitting. We were lucky to catch one just as it began.

 

 

 

Then from the shrine we walked to Harajuku station and crossed over to Takeshita Street, the epicenter of Tokyo’s teenage subculture and home to the world’s densest concentration of Hello Kitty goods and other forms of extreme kawaiiiii!

 

 

Ironically right about a few minutes walk away stretches Omotesando, a upscale boulevard lined with trees, high-end shopping and swanky overpriced cafes that’s often compared to the < class=”s1″>Champs-Elysées in Paris.

 

 

We walked south 15 minutes along Cat Street to finally reach the legendary Shibuya Crossing Intersection, the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing:

 

 

Up to 1,000 people make a dash across a 6 point intersection in under 60 seconds.

 

 

The easiest place to get that classic photo is from the 2nd floor window of the Starbucks.

 

 

You don’t have to order anything, just be prepared to wait awhile for those coveted window spots, although we were lucky – the moment we got upstairs a couple sitting in front of the window was just about to leave.

 

 

Humanity moving with the grace of a concerto. 

 

 

If you’re in need of a “sight” in Shibuya, you can try to find the tiny Hachiko Memorial Statue that guards the crossing everyday:

 

 

For a pedestrian-only stroll nearby, walk down Center Gai:

 

 

Next door is an all-you-can-ever-want in otaku anime/manga culture at Mandarake Shibuya.

 

 

After an hour here we headed for the geographic center of Tokyo, Roppongi Hills. There’s an opportunity to watch the sunset on the 52nd floor of the Tokyo City View.

 

 

However, I opted instead to catch up with my one of my best friends from college, Todd Spitz, who met up with me after work. We had last seen each other 7 months ago during a layover in Tokyo!

 

 

After sunset we all convened for what is arguably the world’s best pizza at Savoy. It was recently featured on David Chang’s Netflix docu-series “Ugly Delicious” (Food photos below).

 

 

We then returned back to our hostel, making a quick detour to see Sensoji at night.

 

 

The next morning we headed to Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo famous for being home to the enigmatic Fuji Television Building.

 

 

More importantly, at Shayra’s recommendation we went to check out a new MORI Digital Art Installation that takes up an entire warehouse on Onaida. 

 

 

We had purchased tickets a month in advance online, so we went right in and got lost in an an alternate universe:

 

 

This would probably be one of my favorite parts of Tokyo as we could have spent all day there. 

Soon it was almost noon, however, so Shayra went to meet a work friend living in Tokyo, Trish stayed behind to spend a little longer time at MORI, while the rest of us took a cab to Tokyo Station for a quick lunch before taking a nice stroll through Wadakura Fountain Park.

 

 

Right across the street from the fountain park is the 14th century Imperial Castle where you can get great shots of medieval Japan juxtaposed against a modern metropolis. 

The most famous is that of the Edo/Chiyoda Castle Ruins.

 

 

After about 20 minutes here we took the long walk back to the train station to take us to the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.

 

 

Within Shinjuku is the entertainment and red light district of Kabukicho. This is also the area where Bob and Charlotte say their tearful goodbye at the end of Lost In Translation.

 

 

That scene kills me every time I watch it — I had referenced that same scene 8 years ago after my first official monsoon. Why do I feel I haven’t changed a bit?

 

 

If you want something you can only get in Japan, head to The Robot Restaurant. I’m not sure how to define it but for $50-$60 you’ll get a 90 minute show that my friend Todd says “is so un-Japanese, but also so Japanese in that this kind of show can only exist in Japan.”

In fact, most who have seen the show will tell you they can’t explain it in words. You just have to go and see it for yourself.

 

 

The late Anthony Bourdain visited here a few years back and his reaction to the show just made us more excited.

 

 

I mean take a look at the waiting room:

 

 

And the show itself? If MORI was brunch, The Robot Restaurant was our 10 course dinner.

 

 

 

My reaction the entire time:

 

 

When it finally ends, you have only 2 minutes to take your selfies on the floor before they kick you out for the next show.

 

 

After staggering out of the Robot Restaurant without even a drop of alcohol in our system, Shayra and Angela stayed behind to explore more of Kabukicho while Kelly, Donna and I walked 20 minutes over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for their free observation deck over Tokyo on its 59th floor.

 

 

On a side-note, there are other options for views over Tokyo; you can either pay 900¥ for a view at Tokyo Tower:

 

 

…or 2000-3000¥ on the Tokyo Skytree.

 

 

However, in my opinion, the best view is about a 10 minute walk from Metropolitan Government Building at the New York Bar, located on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo.

 

 

Does that location sound familiar? This is also the bar where Lost In Translation was filmed.

 

 

It’s also one of Billy’s favorite movies, so he (as well as Camilla) joined me for a second visit. That’s how much we love this film.

And thus a sense of saudade began. . . . as Camilla is Brazilian, Portuguese is her native tongue, and as saudade is a Portuguese word, AND that we’re in the EXACT location of Billy’s and my favorite film since we first both watched it in 2004, it felt as if the whole universe was coming together once again. WHAT. IS. MY. LIFE.

We needed a photo, but too bad Billy is allergic to being in them. It’s a veteran thing.

 

 

After a few very expensive drinks and having enough of reliving my nostalgia with Lost In Translation, we rendezvous’ed with Luke, Shayra, and Angela for dinner at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant back in the Shinjuku area.

 

 

After dinner we then had a few drinks at a next door pub, headed back to the Roppongi Hills area, had a few more drinks at a karaoke bar, changed there, and then joined Camilla for a proper night out clubbing at Nishiazabu A-Life. They have lockers at the club so we stored all our day clothes and bags there, which was convenient.

Let’s say so much happened at that club that many of us won’t want to talk about it until our 10 year reunion. Some of us even ended up afterwards back at the Tsujiki Fish Market, the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world (and one of the largest wholesale foods market in the world), to get one last glimpse of its famous fish auction for what was supposed to be their very last day after nearly 200 years of service.

Sadly because of that fact, they already had reached their maximum of 120 visitors by 2am. We weren’t even close arriving at 3:30am! With nothing left to do, we walked nearly 16 kilometers through all the aforementioned neighborhoods once again, enjoying the Tokyo night air before finally saying our goodbyes at 6am and heading back to our respective lodgings. 

What a trip. What a city. What an experience. 

And,

“Saudade.”

 

What To Eat In Tokyo

 

No matter what I write, it’ll never be enough for a place like Tokyo. I’ll just let you know what we ate during our weekend here.

 

“The #1 pizza in the world”: Savoy

 

How did we find it? Well from Ugly Delicious, Season 1, Episode 1: Pizza:

 

 

Our experience:

 

Fried chicken at Lawson’s (any will do!):

 

Zurazura Softserve:

 

Ramen (duh):

 

Omurice (aka Omelette Rice!):

 

Sushi (Duh):

 

The trip is pretty much wrapping up, although we’re looking forward to a small extension to Sapporo for 2 days tomorrow!

 

 

- At time of posting in Tokyo, Japan, it was 29 °C - Humidity: 69% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a

 

You Look So Kyoto!

You Look So Kyoto!

 

To preface this entry, Kyoto is more massive than I’d expected. But not the massive as in where every square foot is a temple, going as far as the eye can see like in Bagan. Rather, I was surprised how it was massive more in a dense, in-your-face, modern metropolis.

 

 

Once Japan’s former capital city, Kyoto is not exactly the storied, compact, fanciful, mystical, rural Japan you’d expect from researching what to see here.

Think of Kyoto as a sprawling, dense, bustling concrete jungle that has been built around strictly demarcated and guarded pockets of evocative footpaths, neighborhoods, and temple grounds that are still rich with history.

 

 

That said, to see the “must see” temples require a mad dash around what seemed like the circumference of the entire city sprawl. So our 3 days in Kyoto will never do this city justice — you can spend months here and still wonder if you really saw everything (you didn’t).

However, I feel that our 20-mile long walking (+ a little bus and cab) itinerary we did on our second day here, combined with the tea ceremony and sunset on the first day, along with a free day on our third day would give you the most efficient and best bang for your buck and a good first impression of Kyoto’s beauty before you become fully “temple’d out.”

 

Yes, even this we got "temple'd out" by

 

If anything, it’s also wonderfully nostalgic/saudade to be in the very city that inspired one of my favorite songs to one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies:

 

 

After a morning in Nara, we checked in into our digs at Grids Kyoto Hostel at 2pm, which happened to be located in the Gion area which is known to be Kyoto’s geisha district.

 

Photo credit: Donna Vo

 

After freshening up for an hour, we walked over 15 minutes to Nineizaka area where we had booked reservations for a 45 minute tea ceremony at Camellia at 4pm. Since Kelly was coming in too late to make it to the tea ceremony, we luckily had Camilla — our friend from Brazil that we made all the way back at our hostel in Hiroshima — to take her place. How things just work out so nicely!

Also known as Chado or sado, the slow and graceful movements of the tea ceremony are rooted in Zen Buddhism and originated here in Kyoto. A normal 45 session first begins with a demonstration of the tea ceremony, before giving participants the opportunity to make their own. If you want to take some home, you can purchase your own ceremonial grade matcha afterwards.

 

 

Afterwards we lingered in Nineizara for their famous Kyoto sunset.

 

 

Although we weren’t the only ones with the same idea:

 

 

Linger more after sunset for some truly remarkable mood lighting.

 

 

I think I lingered here a little too long.

 

 

Afterwards Luke, Amy, Natasha, and the last monsooner to hop on our group, Kelly, joined us for dinner in the dense food/bar/pub alleyway of Pontocho Alley, one of Kyoto’s most atmospheric dining areas.

 

 

Although we had first made an attempt to dine at Yamafuku Shabu Shabu, they were completely and understandably too full to accommodate a space for 10 people at the last minute. However, one of the staff members, Yuta, was kind enough to lead us down a 5-7 minute walk down nearly the entirety of Pontocho Alley to another restaurant, Kamehachi Bekkan where they quickly accommodated our group without reservations.

 

 

After dinner, we then headed out for more drinks at lounge/pub/club/hookah bar called ZamZam:

 

 

We then returned to our hostel at midnight for bed, waking up 8 hours later. While Trish couldn’t come out because of her foot, the rest of us went out and made our first stop at Tenryu-ji Temple, the head temple of the Tenryū branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism.

 

 

From there we walked to the photogenic Arashiyama Bamboo Grove & Forest.

 

 

We then weaved quickly back to the main street of Arashiyama and right nearby is a very inspired Kimono Forest:

 

 

We then took a cab to Kinkaku-ji Temple, the famed overly photographed “Golden Pavilion.”

 

 

From there we caught Kyoto City bus 204 and took it all the way east to the Ginkakuji-michi stop and walked up to Ginkaku-ji Temple, the Silver Pavilion.

 

 

After Ginkaku-ji, we exited the temple and walked half an hour south along the entirety of Path of Philosophy, a pleasant stone walking path following a canal lined by hundreds of cherry trees through the northern part of Kyoto’s Higashiyama district.

 

 

At the southern end of the path we stopped by maze-like beauty of humongous Zenrinji (Eikando) Temple, at the recommendation of Camilla.

 

 

Their garden here is one of the most picturesque in Kyoto.

 

 

After 45 minutes there, we then stopped by Nanzen-ji Temple a few minutes down. It’s known for its beautiful entrance that was used as the backdrop for that scene in Lost In Translation (video at the top of this post for your reference).

For example, this is the scene from Lost In Translation:

 

Real life:

 

Lost in Translation:

 

Real life:

 

Childhood memories checked off, from Nanzen-ji we walked past Shoren-in Temple to explore Chion-in Temple via the enormous San-mon Gate.

 

 

It’s free to wander; so head on up, climb those stairs, and be transported to another world.

 

 

Climb up a few flights of stairs for a room and view all to yourself:

 

 

We spent a good 45 minutes here before they closed at 4pm, so we exited Chion-in on the left.

 

 

We then walked across Maruyama-koen Park to follow Nene-no-Michi before once again reaching Nineizaka. This time I didn’t stop for sunset.

 

 

But that sunset was so good. So here’s another one:

 

 

We then reached the nearby Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of Kyoto’s most popular.

 

 

They have a great elevated view of Kyoto here:

 

 

However, they’re undergoing renovations at the top of posting, so the view that we wanted —

 

 

— was this instead:

 

 

Prior to entering the temple, there’s also an underground grotto designed like a maze to your left. If you can somehow find your way in the pitch black darkness to find this special stone, it’s said a wish of yours will come true.

After Kiyomizu-dera, we cabbed it over to Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, our last stop on this itinerary. And how fitting:

 

 

Thousands and thousands of orange archways make up this important Shinto shrine, although the recent typhoon prevented us from reaching the very top. Can’t fight the moonlight. Can’t fight nature.

 

 

Be careful of the mosquitoes here! From there we took the Keihan Line from Fushimi-Inari Station to Shihijo, where we had a Teppanyaki dinner at Kyosikian before calling it a night. Today we walked 35,000 steps, covering 18 miles and 46 flights of stairs!

Tomorrow is a free day where everyone goes do their own thing: shop, study, walk, explore, onsen, relax, and where Billy from our hostel in Nagasaki (and then again in Hiroshima) rejoins us for a night out!

 

Our last few hours in Kyoto at Shisha Cafe Velvet

 

What To Eat In Kyoto

 

Kyoto Hotpot at Kamehachi Bekkan:

 

Kyoto-style Lunch Set:

 

Matcha. Like Match Rice Cakes:

 

Matcha (Mochi) Dumplings:

 

Matcha Almond Pudding:

 

and straight up matcha:

 

Cotton Candy bigger than your FACE:

 

Matcha/Red Bean slushies, with seaweed-wrapped mochi sticks:

 

Feeling antisocial? Nearby our hostel was an Ichiran branch, where you order ramen from a vending machine at the entrance…

 

and then get served that very ramen inside in your own private cubicle from unseen staff:

 

Next stop: I’m returning to Tokyo after 7 months!

 

 

- At time of posting in Kyoto, Japan, it was 23 °C - Humidity: 72% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: clear

 

I Ain’t Nara Scurred!

I Ain’t Nara Scurred!

 

Although Nara was not part of our original itinerary, I decided to add this beautiful little city at the last minute after seeing a possible route through there from Osaka to Kyoto. 

Nara has the largest number of buildings designated National Treasures in Japan as well as being famous for its mercenary deer who wander the streets with abandon in and around Nara Park.

 

 

Beginning with an early morning, we headed out from our hostel in Osaka and took the Hanshin-Namba Line from Sakuragawa Station on Hanshin-Namba Line to Kintetsu-Nara Station. It’s been raining heavily throughout from Osaka to Nara so we’ve been donning our umbrellas and braving the elements the entire day.

We arrived in Nara at around 8:30am where we stored our larger backpacks at the station coin lockers. From there, we walked over to Kofukuji, a temple complex that used to compete for world’s tallest pagoda.

 

 

If it’s worth it to you, for 700¥ you can enter the small National Treasure Museum here to get a glimpse of the legendary 3-faced statue of Ashura:

 

 

We then walked about 15 minutes over to the entrances to both Isuien Garden and Yoshiki-en Garden, which are right next to each other.

 

 

Isuien costs about 900¥ to enter whereas Yoshiki-en is free. Do both or just one; it depends on your love for well manicured Japanese gardens.

 

 

After about 20 minutes exploring, we sauntered over to Todaiji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don’t miss its immense front gate, Nandai-mon, that’s guarded by an army of hungry deer.

 

 

Todaji is home to Daibutsu-den, the world’s largest wooden building.

 

 

And inside Daibutsu-den is Daibutsu itself, Japan’s second largest Buddha statue (and one of the largest in the world) at 15m tall. It costs 600¥ to enter.

 

 

Find a particular column to the back of Daibutsu-den before you reach the gift stalls: there’s a hole at the bottom of this column where they say enlightenment is promised to you if you can crawl through it completely.

 

 

 

To the right of the entrance to Daibutsu-den is a statue of the Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of medicine and healing. They say touching a part of this Buddha and then a part of your body should heal any ailment in that area.

 

 

After about 4 hours walking around Nara, we were having enough of getting soaked by the rain so we returned to Kintetsu-Nara Station and took the Kyoto-bound train 3 stops (about 41 minutes) to Takeda Station. We then transferred to a Kyoto subway train that was waiting across the platform where we rode for 6 stops (about 10 minutes) before reaching Shinjo Station.

Our accommodations at GRIDS Hotel & Hostel was about an 8 minute walk away where we were able to score an early check-in at 2pm.

Time to enjoy the next 3 days in Kyoto!

 

 

- At time of posting in Nara, Japan, it was 30 °C - Humidity: 76% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: heavy rain

 

Osaka-n You See?

Osaka-n You See?

 

After our insanely good Kobe beef dinner at Tor Road Steak Aoyama and having headed onwards from Kobe, we arrived into Osaka at around 10pm and checked into our accommodations at hostel PICNIC.

After taking an hour to freshen up, Donna, Shayra, myself, and Luke decided to rally on a second wind and head back out to the Dōtonbori area — the center of Osaka’s nightlife —  to reunite with Natasha and Amy, who like Luke had just partied with us last night back at our hostel in Hiroshima.

 

 

Hard to believe we could pull off two of these in a row: From flaming shots to glass hookahs to shots of vodka 96% (192 proof!) alcohol by volume to feeding snakes to absinthe to bad karaoke at a maid bar before heading home at 5am once again . . . yeah we had a good night.

 

 

Once again I woke up broken and sad, with only 6 hours of sleep in my system. So cheering myself up, Donna, Shayra and I headed up north to the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, a curiously interesting building entirely dedicated to instant ramen and its creator, Momofuku Ando. Trish had to sit out due to her foot hurting more than usual again, deciding instead to wait it out until she returned home to Vancouver to get it checked.

 

 

It’s free to enter, but you have the option of paying 500¥ for adults and 300¥ for children to have your own personalized Cup Noodles (but the wait in line can take as long as 2 hours!). 

 

 

The rest of the museum is pretty small; Donna and I only spent 15 minutes here before deciding to leave while Shayra stayed behind to brave the lines and get her personalized Instant Ramen.

 

 

From the nearby Ikeda Station, we took the train south to Umeda Station and walked over to the Umeda Sky Building. The observation decks were closed because of the recent typhoon so we had lunch at the food court in the basement, with Shayra and Angela rejoining us just in time.

 

 

From the Sky Building, we then took a quick 15 minute cab ride over to Osaka Castle, a complete concrete reconstruction of the original which had been completely demolished by war. Therefore it’s more of a museum built to look like the original castle, rather than an actual historical site.

While the castle grounds are free (and when we went there was a free dance show), you can enter for the exhibits inside the castle for 700¥.

 

The surrounding trees on the castle grounds still showed signs of the recent Typhoon Jebi.

 

 

After about 30 minutes at the castle grounds, we took a 15 minute JR Loop Train to Tennojiekimae Station for a 10 minute walk over to Shintennoji Templeanother post WWII reconstruction.

 

 

Then from the temple we walked about 10 minutes west to Tsutenkaku, Osaka’s symbol of its post World War 2 reconstruction.

 

 

For 700¥ you can go upstairs to the observation deck, but it’s really a giant glorified gift shop.

 

 

There’s also a small museum on Pocky there:

 

 

Finally, we returned to Dōtonbori for an early dinner.

 

 

I’m now back at the hostel about to hit the sack — gotta recover from the past 2 nights!

 

 

What To Eat In Okinawa

Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き): Fried cabbage cakes that cross a pancake, pizza, and omelette, topped by beef, pork, squid, roe, and egg. Unlike the one in Hiroshima where they cook it entirely in front of you before serving, here they put the basic parts together and you then cook it yourself to your liking. 

 

Kushikatsu (串かつ): Skewers deep-fried in panko and dipped in tonkatsu sauce.

 

Takoyaki (たこ焼き): Fried dumplings with slices of octopus inside:

 

And while you’re walking around the Dontonbori area, you can grab other random bites at various stalls. Our favorite was the slightly overpriced and yet still delicious pieces of crab legs for 900¥:

 

Tomorrow morning we head to Nara and Kyoto!

 

 

- At time of posting in Osaka, Japan, it was 29 °C - Humidity: 75% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: overcast with rain

 

Ko-Bae Beef

Ko-Bae Beef

 

From last night: Hiroshima can now claim one of the weirdest, most discombobulated nights out I’ve had in a while. We started with a quick bite at a random Mexican/Japanese fusion spot that we had all to ourselves, got turned away from an all-you-can-drink beer place because they were closing down early, shrugged our shoulders at cocktail shot bar, walked over to Nagarekawa (Hiroshima’s nightlife street), got paralyzed with too many choices, finally decided on a few drinks at Tropical Bar Revolucion on the 8th floor, took everyone not in our group from that bar out for dancing around the corner, lost a few of those people on the way, had more join us on the street, tried to haggle down cover prices at the door until we finally got free cover at Club G Hiroshima, raged to hip hop until 3:30am, took the last few standing over 2 blocks to a place without an English name (バー眠り猫) for shisha before finally crashing back at our hostel at 4:30am.

But it worked out — from left to right in the photo we have Camilla who’s from Brazil living in Melbourne, me, Donna, Luke who’s from Perth, Amy and Natasha who’s from Portland, Billy who’s from Austin living in San Diego, 2 Germans we met at Tropical Bar Revolucion who also joined us, Alexandria who’s from both Lima and here in Hiroshima, and a random Japanese woman who was collateral damage from being at the right place at the right time for the photo.

 

 

We woke up this morning a little hungover at around 9am, getting in only 4-5 hours of sleep. The same folks we took out from last night — Luke, Camilla, Natasha, and Amy — decided to all join us in the direction of Osaka together. Guess we all still really like one another.

As Natasha and Amy continued onwards on the 11am Shinkansen Nozomi Train to Osaka, and Camilla for Kyoto, Luke joined us as we got off at Shin-Kobe Station at 12pm. From there we transferred over to the Seishin-Yamate train and took it 1 stop to the more south Sannomiya Station for 210¥. 

Dropping off our bags at the large 500¥ coin lockers at the station, we walked first to Kobe City Hall for the free views of the city on its 24th floor.

 

 

As it rained outside, we relaxed at the Comfort Café there nearby for about 2 hours until the skies cleared. We then took our time leisurely walking 20 minutes south to the port and passed by some old preserved European colonial houses for which Kobe is famous.

 

 

By the port we walked through the Earthquake Memorial Park, which recalls the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 where 6,400 people died.

 

 

Kobe Port Tower is right nearby, which serves as the unofficial symbol of the city and was built in 1964 as the world’s first pipe-shaped observation tower. 

If you haven’t gotten enough of skyline views at Kobe City Hall and actually want to pay for it, the port tower’s observation deck has similar but unobstructed 360º views for 700¥.

 

 

After 10 minutes here, we looped around and walked back north, this time through the Chinatown there.

 

 

We then curved up through the Ikuta Shrine park. . . 

 

 

. . . and walked 3 minutes west to Tor Road Steak Aoyama for arguably the best and also most affordable Kobe steak in town. At this point Angela, our next monsooner, would join us for the rest of the trip.

 

 

Reservations at Tor Road Aoyama can be made by sending them a facebook message on their Facebook Page!

 

Photo Credit: Trish Ho

 

And how is Kobe beef when you have it in Kobe?

 

 

Oh my word, I think I just heard a symphony play in my mouth.

 

 

As if I lost my virginity a second time over, I even considered going full vegan after this as I don’t think I’ll have meat like this ever again.

 

 

As I almost was nearly moved to tears before finishing my last piece, it began to pour heavily, complicating our plans to head to Osaka afterwards. However after we paid the bill, the restaurant manager miraculously went outside and materialized a large limousine taxi to fit all 5 of us as we made the quick and dry trip back to Sanniyomiya Station for 610¥ total.

 

 

At the station we reclaimed our bags from the coin lockers and took the 410¥ Hashin Line Train 11 stops to Sakuragawa Station in Osaka.

 

 

Thankfully, our hostel, hostel PICNIC, is a mere 2 minute walk away from the station. And there we joined the next monsooner to hop on our trip, Shayra, as she had just checked in a few hours before. And then there were 6 of us!

Although I don’t feel like I can do a repeat of last night, Osaka is known for their nightlife so…fine. Let’s do it again.

 

What To Eat In Kobe

 

Are you kidding me?

 

- At time of posting in Kobe, Japan, it was 27 °C - Humidity: 88% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: heavy rain