I am really sorry for being on hiatus for the past weeks, it has been a busy holidays for me and my family, because it was our first! Yes, it was our first Christmas and New Year together. Will be sharing our family stories in the coming weeks. ♥
For now, let me share you my first wander of the year…
Spending New Year in Japan can be a little unusual from other countries, since most of them are spending their holidays visiting their first Shinto shrine of the year, which they call hatsumōde (初詣 ). This was my first New Year outside of Philippines and since we live in the Greater Tokyo Area, we chose to revisit Tokyo’s famous entertainmentdistrict, Asakusa.
Most people in Japan are off from work and school starting December 30 until January 3. It is the time of the year when people are cleaning their houses, paying all their debts, buying new charms or omamori, visiting relatives and exchanging gifts.
Upon getting off the train station via Ginza Line, we were surprised that some roads were closed and there were hundreds or maybe thousands of people on the road. Discipline was observed despite the busy event – policemen and road officers were stationed in every corner.
Japan can be considered as one of the modernized country of this generation, however despite the dynamic growth of technology, they still preserve remaining pieces of their past. They value their own history that much and making it consistently sure to pass it on to their next generation.
Take a look at the Kaminarimon Gate or “Thunder Gate” (雷門) strikingly painted in red with giant lantern and two statues of guardian gods – Raijin (left, god of thunder) and Fūjin (right, god of wind).
* This structure was built more than once due to war and fire, take note that the current one was built in 1960 under Edo Period. (Oh yes, Asian History, love it. ^^, )
This will serve as thefirst gateto the main temple, Kaminarimon Gate.
TIP If you are planning to visit the shrine during the holidays, you really have to be patient. I mean it, because you have to walk with hundreds of residents and tourists while following their rules.
Their history, vivid as it may seem, signifies their practices and lifestyle. You will never question its visibility all over Japan. Someday, I am going to wear Japan’s national costume while roaming around the city! Yay! #AddedToMyOwnBucketlist ♥
After entering the gate, look what surprise we found… 👣
Before reaching the temple grounds, you will be welcomed by more than 50 Japanese Souvenir shops. This is one of the perfect spot to get your authentic gifts/memorabilia like magnets, chopsticks, green tea, biscuits, Japanese dolls, small figurines and the like. PS. This street was only 250 meters long but it took us 20 minutes to reach Sensoji Temple due to the massive crowd.
The second entrance gate is called Hozōmon or “Treasure-House Gate” (宝蔵門) which will lead you to the main hall of Sensō-ji. It features three large lanterns and the most prominent lantern is a red chōchin that hangs at the center.
On the left, you will see the five story pagoda or Gojūnotō (五重塔) that contains some ashes of the Buddha. I am totally amazed with the temple’s characteristics and ornament, impressively designed thousand years ago.
As I share more photos, I was reminded that patience is actually a great talent and it will go a loooooong way… 👌👣
Tokyo’s Largest Buddhist Temple
It was not in the photo, but at the side of this hall, you will see stalls selling Japanese ‘omamori’ or amulets, incense and ‘omikuji’ fortunes.
As we enter the Sensōji Temple or also known as Asakusa Kannon (浅草寺), we only spent few minutes to make our wish and prayers, so we can give way to other attendees. Please be reminded that the temple is quite dark and the air is covered with thick incense.
* I am not sure if they allow it or not, but whenever I visit temples, I don’t take pictures inside, to simply pay respect to their beliefs and sacred places.
Since Asakusa has a lot to see, let’s look around…
If you get tired or you prefer to take a break, Asakusa has a lot of food to offer – from fried snacks like chicken, long potato fries, takoyaki, mochi and noodles. (Price Ranges from ¥200-800)
However, I found something fancy…
For ¥200, you will enjoy this healthy coated banana with candy sprinkles and it is too cute to eat, right?
Cheers to JP for having cool and cute stuff! 😂
I got my ref magnet for ¥380.
You should also try getting your O-mikuji (おみくじ)or paper fortune available at the sides of the hall.
How to do it?
Drop ¥100 at the tip box.
Shake a box full of sticks.
The stick you draw shows the number of your omikuji.
Take a paper from the drawer with the corresponding number and see if you are 吉 lucky.
Of course, I tried it too…
My first omikujifor this year was a bit heartbreaking!!! I received a bad fortune which says the following:
“Thunder hit and sound is breaking the sky, it is really dark and terrible. A man of good sense of humor stay within a house closing the gate and doors. All looks really lonesome. There maybe some mistake and misunderstanding in writing a mail to others. Though you do your best with utmost care, troubles may be always your way.”
* Your request will not be granted. Patient will get well. The lost article is hard to find. The person you wait for will not come. Stop building a new house. Stop starting a trip. Marriage and employment are both bad. *
* WARNING *
Do not let this piece of paper decide for your choices in the future.
My simple wish may not come true but no one can stop me from taking wonderful trips and meeting the person I am waiting for. Honestly, there’s no wedding plans on the table. Haha! ♣
If you received a positive omikuji, you can keep it. In my case, since it is not a good one, I folded and tied it to the tree where bad lucks were collected
♦ PERSONAL NOTE ♦
We had the whole afternoon walking and checking some shops for authentic Japanese goods and it felt good to know traditional practices of this country. It wasn’t so bad to be accustomed to a new environment. More likely a breath of fresh air coming from the ancient times with modern clothes. Lels.
So if you’re looking for an authentic Japanese thing to do – do not forget to include Asakusa’s Sensōji Temple in your Tokyo itinerary! 🎌
HOW TO GET THERE?
Asakusa is served by different railway lines such as Asakusa Subway Line, Ginza Subway Line, Tobu Railways and Tsukuba Express.
I wouldn’t miss the chance of sharing tips on how to travel Japan cheaply.
Tourists may come from different cities, so I would recommend you to try Hyperdia, smartphone app that has routes and timetable for railway and aviation in Japan. 👌
Kyoto (京都市) is located in the Kansai Region which is populated by almost 1.5 million people, making the city as the 7th largest in Japan. If you will also recall Asian history, it was once the capital of the Land of the Rising Sun. This city has a big part in Japan’s history and was spared from raids during the World War II.
Let’s see what I found in their city in one day…
As I mentioned during my earlier post about Osaka, I scheduled my trip to Kyoto during the second day. I woke up early, eating breakfast on the subway! Another first.(I am too shy to eat alone in public.) If you are coming from Osaka, you can easily ride a train and reach the city in an hour.
I was coming from Tengachaya Station via Sakaisuji Line Subway, upon reaching Awaji Station, I had to transfer railway line which is Hankyu Kyoto Line. Travel time via subway took me an hour and 30 minutes for ¥680.
Alternatively, if you are coming directly from Osaka Station, simply use the JR Line, look for the green train icon, this is one of the private railway company in Japan. It will only take less than an hour for you to reach Kyoto Station for only ¥560 (one way).
Once you reach Kyoto Station, do not forget to purchase your one day pass in the city. For ¥1200, you can travel around the city using subways and city buses. It includes a map and guide so you can plan or choose where to go.
PS. You can also choose bus only pass or subway only pass, definitely for a cheaper price.
Before I start my tour, I took a moment to sit down and sip some tea…
One of the major specialties of this city is their green tea or what they call ‘matcha’. It is the first place in Japan that planted tea seeds, making it the origin of traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Its taste is very rich and intense, I was able to easily differentiate it from the other matcha I tasted in Tokyo.
One of the major works of Hiroshi Hara is the second’s largest station in Japan (after Nagoya Station) opened in 1997 with 238,000 square meters under 15-story roof. It is Kyoto’s main transportation hub that has a contrasting design to many foreign tourist’s sites in the city. Very futuristic and spacious. You can find shopping malls (Cube Shopping Mall, Isetan, Porta Underground Shopping Mall), hotels, movie theater, bus stations, luggage storage/coin lockers and vast dining options.
If you need assistance, visit their general Tourist Information located at the 2nd floor, they have multilingual officers, brochures in English and computers for tourists usage. I know you’re waiting for this, FREE – WiFi.
If you are sending postcards, Kyoto’s Post Office is outside the train station (Karasuma Gate).
I must say that you can do a lot of things in this station, they have Observatory Deck and Skyway at 11th floor. I took my time to explore the station and here’s what I found…
This tower at 131 meters high is one of the iconic landmark in the city located in front of the station. (Karasuma Gate) The tower stands atop the 9-story building which houses the Kyoto Tower Hotel.
FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE
Kyoto is also known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines, which includes all shrines and torii in Fushimi Inari Shrine. Located just outside JR Inari Station, second station from Kyoto Station for ¥140, one way. (Did I just write ‘station’ three times in one sentence? Lol. 😄)
Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社) is famous for its thousands torii gates and considered as important shrine in Southern Kyoto. Inari is the Shinto God of Rice. Along the shrine, you will see a lot of fox statues, they believed that foxes are the messengers of Inari.
This torii was donated in 1589 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the famous leader I mentioned from Osaka Castle. 🏯
You can purchase a small torii for ¥800 and write your personal wishes/prayers and hang it at the base of the shrine. On the other hand, you can also draw on these fox-shaped wooden structures and write your wishes.
The top of Mount Inari doesn’t show skyscrapers of Kyoto, mostly small establishments, apartments, schools, parks and highways.
On my way down, I took some refreshments and I met an artist…
Khatie, as promised I bought one for you! 👌
It was made of rice flour and I was full the whole afternoon , you won’t see me posting another food on this trip.Yeah, that’s the only food I ate. 😊
Personally, I consider this place, Fushimi Inari Shrine, as one of the best and must-see in Kyoto, aside from the fact that it has FREE entrance, you can really appreciate and visualize Japanese culture and traditions.
I stayed here for two hours, enjoying the very colorful shrines and torii gates, climbing up the mountain, checking for souvenirs (magnets in particular) and chitchatting with Japanese wearing kimono. I wanted to stay longer but I still have to check some other places…
Hop on 🚌
In Kyoto, transferring from one tourist spot to another is quite confusing and tiring. ALWAYS CHECK YOUR MAP, CHECK THE BUS NUMBER AND ROUTE. From my experience, tourist spots are closer to bus stops so I often use the bus during my trip. But you still need to do A LOT OF WALKING.
From Kyoto Station, ride the bus number 100, 206 or 208 and get off Hakubutsukan-Sanjusangendo-mae bus stop.
Sanjusangendo (三十三間堂) is a famous temple made from 120 meters Japan’s longest wooden structure located in Eastern Kyoto. It is well known for housing a 1001 statues of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. There are thousand life sized armed Kannon guarding the 11 feet tall seated Senju Kannon (at the center) with 11 faces and 1000 arms and has been designated as a National Treasure.
My trip to this temple was very exciting and unique, strictly no slippers and no picture taking allowed inside the hall. Be responsible and discipline enough to follow. It was not my plan to go here, but it was great to know, see and read stories of Japanese beliefs (Buddhism).
Originally, entrance fee was ¥600, however with the one day pass I got in for ¥500. Not bad. 👌
From Sanjusangendo, ride the bus 100 or 206. Get off at Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. From there, it will be an uphill walk to the temple.
One of the famous temple in Japan and considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994. It is known for its wooden structure stage, 13 meters above the hillside, which will let you view numerous maple and cherry trees. You can explore and look around the temple for ¥300.
Please be advised that some of the buildings in this area is under renovation.The construction has few but not overwhelming impact on your visit.
A niōmon is a Japanese name of a Buddhist temple gate guarded by two wooden warriors called Niō (Two Kings).
Here’s a map so you can visualize how big the place is…
I’m a traveler who’s not only after pictures, I grab the chance of knowing the history and culture of the country I am into. An hour or two is not enough for this place. Prepare a lot energy because, personally for me, Kyoto is synonymous to A LOT OF WALKING.
You will see a lot of Japanese men and women wearing their kimonos while roaming around the city! So much effort and love for their tradition!
Higashiyama District can be found along the slower slopes of the eastern mountains. You can definitely feel the vibe of traditional old Kyoto. The narrow lanes comprises of small shops selling souvenirs and Japanese specialties for take home. If you get tired from walking along Kiyomizu-dera and Yasaka Shrine, you can take some rest at the cafe or restaurants along the other shops. There are numbers of shops selling their creamy Green Tea ice cream, don’t miss the chance to try!
From Higashiyama District, ride bus number 100 and get off at Ginkakuji.
The Silver Pavilion or what they famously call Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺) is a Zen temple that represents the contemporary culture or what they call Higashiyama culture during the Muromachi Period. They also call it “Temple of Shining Mercy”. It was built as a retirement villa of the 8th Shogun.
Walking all day can be absolutely TIRING, but these was all worth it! Everything about Kyoto is totally amazing, exquisitely preserved and maintained! Can you believe that I was on that ground? It is and will always be a part of every Japanese.
After full restoration in 2008, the temple is now open to the public in full glory. Please do not expect silver foil in it because the plans were halted during the Onin War (1967-1977).
As much as I would like to continue roaming around the other side of Kyoto, I need to meet my airbnb host, EJ Uy, at Osaka Station by 7pm for a dinner.
Please be advised that most of the temples and shrines in Kyoto accepts the last visitor at 4:30 PM only. You better start early if you want to see more.
From Ginkaku-ji, I ride the bus number 100 to reach Kyoto Station. I was almost lost because I don’t know where the right bus stop was, however some residents of this city really knows how to speak in English.
You just gotta give it a TRY asking them.
Time to go back to Osaka, but before anything else…
+ SOUVENIRS +
As a traveler, I always make sure that I have something tangible from the place I’ve been to, something that I can display at home. Aside from the postcards I bought in Inari, I collect Starbucks Tumbler & iconic magnets. 👌 Each tumbler costs around ¥1, 500 (tax included) w/ free coupon.
I also mentioned in my previous article, Tokyo KitKat Chocolatory in Japan offers different and unique flavors only available in a particular city. Kyoto offers new and distinct flavor called Itohkyuemon Hojicha (Hojicha Roasted – Tea Flavor). Special flavor like this may be a bit pricey, I got this box of 12 for almost ¥800.
Some postcards may cost ¥100-300 per piece due to design, but you can also grab box of 12 or 16 cards for only ¥300-400. While on the other hand, magnets may cost ¥250-500, depending on the size.
It was a fun-filled day in Kyoto! My legs wants to give up, but I have to keep moving. As much as possible I would like to share tips and guide for you, traveling around Kyoto can be quite confusing and definitely tiring. Make sure to have the bus guide/map so you can easily travel from one tourist spot to another.
I am grateful that to see this wonderful city even just for a limited time. I am proud of this country in so many aspects. It is very visible that their countrymen is very disciplined and you can see how they embrace their culture and tradition. Wearing kimono and geta sandal (similar to Philippine’s bakya) while paying respect to their temples and shrines is not easy, but they are completely happy and proud of it. They may not be the friendliest folks but don’t hesitate to approach them, they are kind and will definitely try to help you when necessary.
Not everyone in Japan can speak English, but you can expect their officials at the train stations to be of help because they knew business English. As a visitor, I highly recommend you to know some basic phrases and words so you can easily approach them. They will answer in few basic words so you can understand. 🎌 🎌 🎌
I spent less than ¥10,000 for this trip, I think that is a good start for interested travelers to visit Kyoto. I still have to go back and explore the other side of Kyoto! Maybe in 2016. 👌
Aside from the fact that I am half Japanese, of course, I Love JAPAN!
I started visiting Japan when I was 12 years old, my parents processed our papers as early as they can after they reunited in 2002. Basically, I am a resident in both countries.
Living in another country has distinct advantages and disadvantages. As for me, I was raised in a tropical country, the Philippines, and I am quite not comfortable with freezing temperature. Honestly, this is my first autumn and winter experience in Japan. A big luck for me.
For now, let’s talk about the reasons why I love Japan.
1. Availability of Vending Machines.
Yes, you can see vending machines everywhere and this is not your ordinary ‘jidō-hanbaiki’.
What can you get in a Japanese vending machine or ‘jidō-hanbaiki’? Basically, it offers hot and cold drinks, and surprisingly some of these machines also sell ice creams, toys and even hot meals like hot dog, French fries, Takoyaki(grilled octopus) and Onigiri(rice ball). No worries, these machines are managed daily.
Convenience at its finest.
2. It’s not Japan without Hello Kitty!
She is a fictional character born on November 1, in the suburbs of London, England. She was produced by the Japanese company Sanrio, created by Yuko Shimizu.
Hello Kitty stuff toy in Tokyo Solamachi of Tokyo Sky Tree.
Hello Kitty is almost everywhere in Japan. From clothing, toys, bags, shoes, key chains, stuff toy, kitchenware, food and the lists goes on.
To eat or not to eat?
They also have Sanrio Puroland, a theme park that features Hello Kitty, Little Twin Stars and My Melody. It is located in 1-31, Ochiai, Tama-shi, Tokyo for only ¥3,000.
Shall I visit you soon?
3. Craft Haven!
I’ve been making art journals and doodling for a month now, and I cannot deny the fact that ZIG and Kuretake products are easy to find and cheaper.
What can I say? It’s amazingly awesome! In one press or merely the sensor can flush the toilet. If you need some rinsing after urinating, no need for physical bidet, just simply press the button.
You can also increase/decrease its water pressure and sound volume.
Most of the time it is located just beside the ‘throne’, however I found some establishments that simply install it on the wall.
Aside from these buttons, they are also generous with tissue paper and you can immediately dispose it off the ‘throne’. No worries, it won’t cause any clogs in the sewage system.
5. Accessible and Efficient Transportation
Japan’s Rail System is truly one of the best, you can never question its speed, cleanliness and astounding service of efficiency. You can even travel around Japan by simply riding their Shinkansen (新幹線)/ Bullet Train.
They have reloadableSuica Card for passengers, it works as simply tap & go. You can also use the same card when buying at the convenience store or vending machine.
Trains have schedules and always on time, in case there is a delay, there might be suicide or earthquake.
Watch trains, come & go.
You can reload your card or buy tickets here.
If you don’t have Suica Card, you can still buy single journey tickets like this.
6. It’s a 4 Seasons country.
It’s just a four hour flight from the Philippines and you can experience spring, summer, fall and winter. Yay!
Sharing my Sakura experience! Cherry blossom usually starts in late March ’til May. They say that it’s the best season to visit Japan in a cool weather.
Cherry Blossoms when we visited our relatives in Kamakura City.
(My mother will kill me if she see this photo. I love you, Ma!)Cherry Blossoms in 2014
Since this is my first, I still don’t have any pictures of autumn and winter. As soon as I have one, I will update this post. ♥
7. Matcha Lovers!
Matcha (抹 茶) is finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea, it’s widely available in Japan. Most of the restaurants I’ve been to offered green tea rather than water.
Hot Matcha after Sushi. Vanilla ice cream topped with Matcha.
Krispy Kreme’s Matcha Doughnut is ♥
Of course, Starbuck’s Matcha Frappuccino.
Japan has the largest production and consumption of strawberries “ichigo“ in the world. You can find it easily because of its availability throughout the year, although the best season is from January to March.
Strawberry Shortcake, anyone?
How about strawberry picking? Hey, that’s my beautiful cousin!
9. KitKat Assorted Flavors
Yes, I admit that I am trying and eating new flavors every month. They sell each pack of 12’s for only ¥230 – ¥250.