tokyo 2013

After a full 2 months, I’ve finally gone through my Tokyo pictures! Hooray! I didn’t take as many photos in Tokyo compared to Kyoto so I’ll keep this post short. These photos are really only from our visit to Sensoji Temple (金龍山浅草寺) and our dinner at Ichiran Ramen in Roppongi (Yummy! But more on that later.)

Senso-ji (Asakusa Temple)

Senso-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple in Asakusa that’s considered the oldest temple in Tokyo. There’s a street called Nakamise-Dori leading from the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) all the way to the temple. Lined with street vendors with traditional foods, souvenirs, ukiyo-e and toys, it’s quite a sensory feast. Unfortunately, I was too busy ogling over lovely kimonos and looking curiously at the takoyaki balls and Japanese desserts that I forgot to get clicking. So, the photos are going to start from the Hozomon (Treasure House Gate), the second gate that leads to the inner complex.

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Giant lanterns hanging from the Hozomon Gate

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People waft the smoke from the incense towards their heads to receive blessings from the temple deity.

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We were lucky enough to witness a procession while we were there. We never figured out what it was for, but these kids with their patterned tops and candy-cane like sticks with bells and pine branch were so cute! We also saw some women dressed in simple kimonos with powdered white faces float by. The highlight though was the golden dragon that danced through the pathway.

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This pair of grandparents was selling flowers with their granddaughter right by the temple.

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The ceilings inside the temple

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Peeking into the actual worship space

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R- Looking out from inside the temple out to the five-story pagoda

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We saw these giant chrysanthemums along a road parallel to the Nakamise-Dori. I’ve never seen them this huge! My sister and my mom couldn’t help but take a picture with them. Equally adorable is this picture of the pig-tailed girl looking at the Japanese figurines on sale at a store. Just look at the polka-dot detail on the cuffs of her red pants! Cute!

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Ichiran Ramen (Roppongi branch)

Later that day, we headed over to Ichiran Ramen on the recommendation of a family friend. The concept is unique because each person sits at his/her own cubicle to fully enjoy the ramen experience. Slurp the noodles all you want! Here’s how it works. You buy your ticket for all the items you want to eat from a machine outside, then go inside and check which aisles have free seats, take a seat, write down your preferences for the firmness of the noodles and the richness of the broth (among others!) and then wait for your bowl to be served by hands that appear in the space in front of you. Having your own spigot for drinking water at each seat is also a convenient bonus!

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Blue seats are free and waiting for your butt to plop on them!

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Check off your preferences! Firm noodles, medium richness, heavy on the onions, extra noodles, please?

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L- My ramen arrived and the bamboo curtain closes for privacy! R- My mom and dad at their tables.

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The tonkotsu ramen here was really good, and even though the experience is meant to be for individuals, as long as you sit right next to each other, you can still keep a quiet conversation going. It’s definitely an interesting experience and when they come to New York (supposedly in 2014), I would give them another visit. It was a hearty bowl of Japanese goodness. Yum!

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kyoto 2013: day three

I know this last post on our trip to Kyoto is straggling behind, but, as they say, it’s better late than never! (I still have some Tokyo pictures to go through too, but that will have to wait.) On our third and last day in Kyoto, we only had the morning to go around because our Shinkansen back to Tokyo was scheduled at 2pm. That meant we really only had time to leisurely visit one place. So, off to  Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) we went! A Shinto shrine dedicated to Inari who is the patron of agriculture (but also fishing, commerce and productivity in general),  it is noted for its many torii (gates) donated by businessmen praying for good fortune in their industries.

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Entrance to Fushimi Inari Shrine. The first of many torii we would see that day!

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The Fushimi Inari Shrine site map. The place is huge!

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I knew there would be hundreds, maybe even thousands of orange torii (gates) there, but I never realized they went all the way up a mountain! Since we weren’t going anywhere else, we decided we would brave the 2-hour path up and down the mountain. It’s not an easy climb, nor is it torturously bad either, let’s just say you have to be wearing the proper attire. I was definitely wishing I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts instead of my long-sleeved chambray shirt and pants that day!

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There were a number of ways up the mountain, this is one intersection among a few.

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Kitsune (fox) faces! I love that people drew their own versions on their wish blocks!

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I felt sorry for these kids who were going up the trail with their giant backpacks. Most of them looked pooped! And this was only the halfway point.They’re super adorable though!

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My sister among the torii

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There were tons of little shrines on the way to the top

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You could buy some of your own mini-torii at the pitstops and coffee shops along the way

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One of the fountains for cleansing

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It was tiring to climb up and down the mountain, and the shrine at the very top did not look any different from the other ones along the way, so it was a bit anticlimactic in that sense. The journey was quite interesting though. Just being able to see the different fountains and statues, going up the winding paths always somehow sheltered by torii, breathing in the mountain air and just being surrounded by forest and trees was pretty cool. And then, there was also a sense of accomplishment in thinking “Ha, we made it the whole way!” especially as we watched others who gave up at the halfway point and turned back. *chuckles* I don’t know if we’d recommend other people to go all the way up like we did, but it was definitely an experience!

kyoto 2013: day two

Here’s another installment of our Kyoto explorations! I’m going to try to keep the commentary short because I realize that I may have gotten too talkative on the last post, apologies! *whoops* On our second day in Kyoto, we were blessed with a sunny day, which was a relief from the previous all-day-rain-fest. On our itinerary for the day were Nishiki Market, Nijo Castle, Kinkaku-ji (The Gold Pavilion) and Ryoan-ji. Quite a packed schedule, but it was going to be our last full day, and we wanted to make the most of it.

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Looking down Nishiki Market (錦市場), a long alley filled with produce, seafood and food vendors

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All sorts of pickled vegetables

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A store that sold delicacies like pufferfish! (That mobile is adorable haha)

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At the end of Nishiki Market alley was a shrine where I caught this schoolgirl midturn as she looked for her friends.

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Fruits with faces at a small shop outside, so cute!

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Had lunch at this Chinese-style Dan Dan noodle place outside Nishiki Market

Most of the guests at this place were Japanese men on their lunch breaks. They all wore white shirts, unlike here where baby blues, baby pinks, yellows, light purples, and darker checkered shirts are commonplace. Ippudo and Ootoya were only a few doors ahead but we have those chains in New York so we decided to try this place instead!

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Ninomaru Palace at Nijo Castle (二条城)

Nijo Castle is most popularly known for its Nightingale Floors, so-called for their ability to elicit chirps from its wooden planks whenever a person puts his weight on them. The builders constructed the floors of the corridors in that way to render sneak attacks useless. Probably even the most light-footed ninja assassins could not walk across without making the “nightingales” chirp. It was a delight walking through Ninomaru Palace and seeing all the rooms where the shoguns received their guests and other lords. Paintings on the screens were also amazing but since photography was prohibited inside we could only retain the memories in our minds.

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Some schoolkids checking out the nightingale floor construction with their tour guide

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The beautiful Ninomaru Garden at Nijo Castle

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Details on the roof of Ninomaru Palace

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The moat surrounding Nijo Castle. My brother and I pondered if the moat was a Western or Eastern innovation.

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School kids on a field trip heading out of Nijo Castle.

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Kinkaku-ji, The Golden Pavilion (金閣寺) truly looked golden in the afternoon sun!

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More school kids lighting incense at a shrine on the grounds of Kinkaku-ji

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Visitors attempting to meditate on the meaning of the stone garden at Ryoan-ji

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The day ended with us heading out of Ryoan-ji unable to find a taxi to take back to the central part of Kyoto. We ended up taking the bus back to the main intersection of Gojo-Karasuma, a 40-minute long ride spent standing squeezed amongst locals and tourists alike. We didn’t even know at first whether we needed to pay as soon as we got on or on our way out. (It turned out to be the latter). Luckily it was just a flat rate of 220 yen per person and the driver was used to having tourists on board, so he patiently pointed out where we needed to put in the bill to get change and then where to plop the coins in to pay. We only hope the locals didn’t mind having to wait a teeny bit longer than usual for us to get off that bus!

kyoto 2013: day one

About two weeks ago, my family and I went to Japan for the first time and spent 8 wonderful days in the Land of the Rising Sun. Great food, uncommonly kind people and a fascinating culture greeted us there. I tried to learn a little Japanese from some short videos on Youtube that Craig had sent me before our trip (you can watch them here). After watching 11 of these mini lessons, I was feeling quite excited to try my newbie Japanese out. I have a feeling that because of watching all those anime shows with my brother, I have a pretty good Japanese accent (but that just might be me thinking too much of my language skills!) So, with my limited Japanese vocabulary in tow, and with dreams of sushi and ramen, we left for Japan ready for an adventure!

We landed in Tokyo (東京) a good 10 hours after taking off. While most people will think this a torturously long flight, my brother and I thought, “Wow, this is quite a short trip to get to Asia. We should come to Japan more often!” This is of course because we’re used to flying 15 straight hours to Hong Kong before the short 80-minute flight to Manila every time we go back home to the Philippines. That’s 6 hours less spent on an airplane, 6 hours more time spent exploring a new locale!

I can’t quite describe the atmosphere in Tokyo but it was pretty spectacular coming out of the west side of Tokyo Station (東京駅) that night. It must also have been the exhaustion of being in an airplane and then the Narita Express for so long, but looking up into the black sky dotted with skyscrapers with a 1914 building as our backdrop, it seemed magical. (I just looked up the date on WIkipedia and what do you know, Tokyo Station’s doors officially opened on December 20, 1914, same day as my birthday!) My first glimpse of Tokyo felt modern but with an air of tradition that was hard to place. We were definitely not in New York, but I liked it.

My favorite part of our Japan trip though was not the days spent in Tokyo but rather, our short 3 days in Kyoto (京都). Tokyo has its quirks and metropolitan conveniences, but Kyoto had old-world charm and an aura of history that doesn’t seem to fade even with modernity slowly creeping into the city. Somehow it felt like it had frozen itself in time just so we could sneak a peek at what it was like hundreds of years ago. Occasionally you’d spot a maiko or geisha walking around as if floating on air. They really will make your head turn, and this is coming from a fellow girl. I’d imagine a guy’s head would whip around much faster! *laughs*

Here are a couple shots from our first day in Kyoto. It was raining softly the whole day which made the walk we had planned slightly more challenging. Having to carry around an umbrella while snapping photos and stopping into all the quaint souvenir shops along the way was quite a juggling act. It did give Kyoto a moody, mysterious gray tint that made me feel even more like I had gone back in time.

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Yasaka Shrine

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Mother and son walking along the stone-paved roads leading from Yasaka Shrine to Kiyomizu Dera

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Stopped at Tessai-do to look at some Japanese wood block prints (ukiyo-e).

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Most of these wood block prints are 70 years old or older, but the wood blocks they were printed from are much older at around 200 years. We really liked the work of Hiroshige Utagawa whose work is in the box that my mom’s looking through in the photo and we ended up buying two prints from his Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido series. Turns out he’s considered the last great master of the ukiyo-e tradition. I guess we have a good eye for this stuff! *laughs* We came back and picked the prints up later that afternoon on the way back to our ryokan, Gion Hatanaka, so they don’t get drenched after a long day of sightseeing in the rain. When we get them framed I’ll take a picture and share them here too.

There were lots of little shops dotting the stone-paved roads to Kiyomizu Dera. Some sold kawaii Japanese souvenirs, others tea sets, others handheld wooden fans that could sell for as much as $500, others still just sold Japanese sweets or yakitori/kushiyaki. Their presence made what should have been a 20-minute journey last two hours instead! My brother was not so happy about that, there were distractions for the girls in the family left and right *laughs*

Kodai-ji Temple

Kodai-ji Temple (高台寺)

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If you’d rather not walk, you can take these instead!

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I would venture to guess that this woman was actually a tourist wanting to experience Kyoto in traditional garb. There are actually places where you could get a maiko makeover done and proceed to go around town in a kimono with your hair all done up. We didn’t have the time or the energy to do that, but we saw quite a few Chinese couples walking around like that. Seems like a fun thing to try out the next time we’re in Kyoto.

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Part of the Kiyomizu-dera complex

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An intricate lantern at the main hall

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Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) affords great views of Kyoto (it was a bit cloudy when we were there though, whoops!)

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Perched atop a hill, the Kiyomizu-dera is a feat in Japanese joinery. Not a single nail was used in the entire structure when it was built! Mind-blowing considering how big this structure is!

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That night we ventured to Ponto-cho, a narrow alleyway running parallel to the river that was filled with all kinds of restaurants. We had a hard time deciding which one to walk into but settled on this one on the left instead because of those giant leeks! *laughs* We had amazing sukiyaki though, with tons and tons of, you guessed it, leeks on top!

I don’t think my pictures do the whole experience justice, but at the very least they’re glimpses into the many things we saw in Kyoto. And that’s only the first day!