July 16, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 10

It is Day 10 of the trip and our last day in Japan.

At 10am my brother-in-law and I bought the airport bus tickets from the Cashier at the hotel front desk. My travel mates and I bought sandwiches and snacks at a nearby bakery at 11am and hurried back to the hotel since the airport bus comes at 12 noon.

The ride to the airport was faster than when we took it going away from the airport to the hotel on our first day in Tokyo. We arrived at Narita airport past 1pm and was too early to get our luggages checked.

We hung around the lobby area and looked around the shops there. My sister bought traditional shoes and some snacks. I bought a book at a bookstore because I liked the bookmark it came with. :)

At about 2:30pm, the line for Air Canada finally opened up so we checked our luggage (my sister's luggage was over 50 pounds so she had to put a couple of things in my luggage). Then we went through security and had a late lunch.

We didn't board the plane till quarter after four. The flight took 13 hours and there was a lot of turbulence. The flight back to Canada felt so long and by the time we landed, my feet were so swollen that my sandals' straps dug into them, causing some bruising and bleeding cuts.

We stayed for a couple of days before heading back home.

And... that's it for my trip to Japan!

Till next vacation holiday... it's been a blast! ;p

July 15, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 9

It is Day 9 and today is the last full day in Japan.

It is so sad... :(

But, I'll make the most of today! :)

My travel mates and I went to the Imperial Palace this morning. The Palace itself was closed to the public but the East Gardens were open from 9am to 5pm. We started at the Ote-mon Gate which was really impressive (the doors and the stones used). Then we went to the Sannomaru Shozoban (The Museum of the Imperial Collections) where we saw the wedding gifts of the royal family. There are cameras allowed in this museum. Up ahead was a resting area with kiosk. I bought a coin wallet for my father and a handkerchief for my mother. I bought some postcards of the Palace and Gardens.

Afterwards, we passed by the three guardhouses (Doshin-bansho, Hyakunin-bansho, and the O-bansho) and the remains of the Chujaku-mon Bridge. There was another kiosk resting place by the lookout area where I took pictures of portrait photographs of the history of the Imperial Palace and Gardens. We continued along the path and passed by the Gakubu (Music Department) and the Tokagakudo Concert Hall. The architecture on those two buildings were gorgeous. As we left the Gardens through the Kitahanebashi-mon Gate, we passed by the Tenshudai (remains of the main tower).

Overall, the East Gardens were very pretty and I enjoyed the walk through it. :) It was a pity that I missed the Tea Garden. :( Ah, next time when I visit Tokyo...

We started at around 10:30am at the Gardens and finished around 12 noon. We were going to have lunch together but couldn't find a place around the Palace so we split up, with the decision to meet at the hotel to visit Tokyo Tower. I told them that if I don't see them at the hotel by 8:30pm, I'll be going to the Tower by myself first and I will be at the top of the observatory till closing if they decide to go visit the Tower.

They took the subway to go to Roppongi or Shibuya (I couldn't remember which area they were planning to go to first). I took the subway to Akibahara using one transfer point. When I got off the subway, I exited the station at Yodobashi Camera Department Store.

Yodobashi Camera Department Store is an amazing place. :) It was floor after floor of computers, laptops, usb and peripherals, games, toys, model vehicles, puzzles, cameras, robots, anime figurines, and all these electronics that you can't even think of. For a geek like me, it was pure joy!! ;p I bought some souvenirs for my co-workers' children such as lego and model motorcycle. As I was leaving, I saw a tiny robot that I thought my brother would like. I kept that in mind as I left the store to see what else Akibahara had before I spend all my cash in that Department Store (hehe). ;p

I walked around for a couple of hours, grabbing a quick bite at a noodle & rice restaurant (ticket vending machine) and exploring the small stores to look for a t-shirt for my brother (he wanted a t-shirt from Japan) and also to check out the anime figurines and collectibles. Most of the stores that I went to had a lot of female figurines of anime characters in rather scantily clad clothing or lack of. (haha) I didn't see anything I wanted to buy especially since the t-shirts were about 3900 yen and I wasn't too keen on the print. Though there was one t-shirt I thought my brother may like (since I like it myself!) but it was expensive so I didn't purchase it. There was always the robot I saw back at Yodobashi Camera Department Store.

At a couple of duty-free shops, I saw VAIO laptops for really nice low prices. There was the Z-series which only weighs about 3.3 pounds and costs around $749 USD. I would love to get one of those lightweight laptops for traveling purposes. :) I'll have to save up for one...

From the hotel I was staying at, I had grabbed a brochure and map of Akibahara at the concierge desk. I was using this map to search for the store "Tokyo Anime Center" and after searching aimlessly for about half an hour, I asked a couple in their thirties where I would find the store. The man showed me, using my map, where the 7-11 store was and to follow that path to the Anime Center store. I thanked him and continued on my way. After about several blocks I checked my map again and wondered where I was (yes, I was lost...). I heard someone shouting in Japanese so I turned around and saw the same man who helped me earlier. He was running towards me and when he reached me, he pointed at the 7-11 store on my map and gestured at the 7-11 store one block away. In my confusion I had passed by it without realizing and the man saw me walking past it. The man was really nice as he and the woman he was with, walked me to the building. I thanked them profusely but from what I gathered, the woman didn't look too pleased from the expression on her face (kind of distant and cold without smiling) where as the man, on the other hand, was smiling and looked really delighted to be helping out a foreigner (yes, I'm a 4 feet 9 inch non-threatening girl who always look confused and disoriented). ;p

From the map of Akibahara, it appears that Tokyo Anime Center is a separate building altogether but actually, it is in a department building and is located on one floor. If I had known this earlier, then I wouldn't have been lost since I had passed by this building "Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ" before. Tokyo Anime Center wasn't big but it had a good supply of anime souvenirs, mostly Ghibli Studio pieces. I bought a pen for myself and a t-shirt for my brother. It was the exact same t-shirt I saw earlier at another store, but at a lesser price (3000 yen). The image on the shirt had the pirates from "One Piece" anime and a nice slogan. Now, I regret not purchasing one too for myself... :(

I grabbed a Royal Milk Tea at Tully's Coffee House located on the first floor of the building and went back to Yodobashi Camera Department Store. At the store I bought two robots (one for my brother and one for myself) and a Zoro figurine. Zoro is a character in "One Piece" anime and I really wanted the P.O.P. Pop-Neo series version but it was sold out so I settled for another version of Zoro. :( The Pop-Neo version is 4200 yen which is cheaper than the one I saw on-line in USD. Too bad...

During my entire trip in Japan I've been trying to locate CDs by a Japanese artist "Tokuyama Hidenori" but I couldn't find a single one. I've tried four Tokyo Tower Record stores and other CD stores as well but with no luck. Everywhere I go, it is always sold out. I was going to give up altogether but I found a Tokyo Tower Record store in Akibahara. I asked an employee and he had two copies left of his newest 2009 single. I was so excited! I bought them both, one as a souvenir gift for my older sister and one for myself. I also bought Suga Shikao's double cd best of album and a couple of Remioromen CDs. Persistence and patience wins... :)

It was around 6:30pm when I grabbed a quick dinner at a nearby restaurant and then took the subway back to the hotel. I rested and then left for Tokyo Tower when I saw my travel mates haven't come back yet by 8:30pm. I had to take the subway to where the Tower was but it was still a bit of a walk to the foot of the Tower. I went up to the 250m Special Observatory and spent the next half hour at the 150m Main Observatory. The sight was pretty from those heights what with all the lights below and around the Tower. What impressed me most of all wasn't the height or the lights but the steel beams of the architecture. It is amazing that although Tokyo Tower is the world's tallest self-supporting steel tower, it is about 3000 tons lighter than the Eiffel Tower. (yes, I'm weird...) ;p I left at closing time, around 10pm and since there were no sight of my travel mates, I took the subway back to the hotel.

Around quarter to eleven, my sister and brother-in-law came back from shopping and we finished the night packing our suitcases. It is sad... tonight is our last night in Japan. Tomorrow, we will taking the airport bus at 12 noon to Narita airport.

Canada.... we will be returning soon!!

July 14, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 8

It is Day 8 and we are going to the zoo!

It is the first time I’m using the subway in Tokyo and also the Pasmo card. The Pasmo card is really sweet to use. Just pass it over the scanner at the gate and it automatically deducts from the total on the card. Yeah, I know… it’s not that interesting to other people but I never had one before so it’s very cool to me. (hehe) I actually find the subway easier to use than in Osaka except it is busier than in Osaka. Tokyo at all times of the day is really busy for the major lines (the Chiyoda, Hibiya, Marunouchi, and Ginza lines are busy but the Tozai line wasn’t too bad). The ride to the Ueno zoo only took about 25 minutes.

When we were buying the tickets at the entrance, there were signs saying that Ling Ling, the giant panda, passed away in 2008. I was shocked! No panda?!? Lonely Planet, a guidebook on Japan, had panda mentioned in the book. I was so saddened about the news. :(

Nonetheless we had a great time at the zoo.

The elephants were so huge and the young elephant was swimming in the pool. The adolescent spider monkey was making a racket in his area, swinging and showing off his acrobat skills. We came upon feeding time at the vultures area. The king vulture was so dominant. He was fighting over the raw liver and was winning. The bats were so cute. They are related to the fruit bat so they were small. The gorillas were the main attraction at the zoo. The male gorilla was showing off to the visitors. He tapped on the window to draw attention to himself and the pregnant female gorilla was eating eggplant, onion, and carrots. The gorillas were given water bottles and drank from them as people would. It was really adorable when they did that. :)

There were two sections to the zoo. It took several hours to walk through the first section so we didn’t have time to go through the second section properly. There was a monorail that connects the two sections together but it already left by the time we reached the station gate. Walking towards the second section, we passed by a sign which read “Porcupine”. All I saw initially were large trees. My sister was walking in front of me and I glanced upwards briefly. I spotted a large porcupine hanging from a branch. I yelled out to my sister, “Come back here! You just walked past a porcupine!” I must have been loud because the porcupine woke up from his slumber, looked at me, yawned, and hid his head to sleep again. It was so cute!!!! We took photos of the porcupine front and back. He had a cute tail and funny legs from the back view. ;p The only area of the second section we went to was the petting zoo. It had these animals running around freely: a potbelly pig, chickens, roosters, and goats.

Before we left the zoo, we stopped by a souvenir shop to purchase some goods. Then we ate lunch at a restaurant in an alley along the subway station. I ate fried rice and it was delicious, I told the owner of the shop that. She was so pleased that she told the cook what I thought of it. She asked us where we were from and we thanked her for helping us order from the ticket vending machine. Truly, the rice was really tasty! :)

Afterwards, while my travel mates were in a department store, I went to a closeby store "Yamashiroya" which sold games, anime, toys, and electronics. There was so much that I want to purchase but I only bought some souvenirs for friends and co-workers such as bath sponges in the shape of a donut and toast, jelly bean bath soap, and other odd ball items. There were some cool-looking iPod lego-style players and weird music headphones. If I had more time and money, I would love to shop there.

There was still some time to kill in the day before night falls, so we took the subway to Shibuya. I wasn’t too keen to go there since I am not interested in shopping areas too much but I was a bit curious about the district. We got off the wrong exit from the subway station and ended up in a gloomy area instead of the shopping district.

Because we were tired from today’s excursion, we walked around a bit and ate at a noodle place. There was a waiter who helped us order from the ticket vending machine. As we were eating our food, I showed my sister the “Gatsby” facial powder sheets I bought in Osaka. I said to my sister, “This is great! It works so well. I got to buy more before I leave. And look!” I showed her the small print. “It’s made in Japan!” She was smiling oddly and said that the waiter understood me. I glanced over at the waiter (the same one who helped us order the tickets) and his head was down but he was laughing. (boy, was I embarrassed… behaving like a typical tourist… and he was kind of cute too…)

By the way, the “Gatsby” sheets were amazing as they absorb all the sweat from your face, keeping you dry, and they are also deodorized (scented). I gave one package to my brother who said it would’ve come handy a month ago when he was in Peru backpacking. ;p

We took the subway back to our hotel in Akasaka and as we were walking through the subway terminal, the ceiling above us darkened and lit up. The ceiling had the astrological signs all painted across the top. It shimmered and was so beautiful to look at. I took some photos of the ceiling the next night. It is a shame that it was only us looking at the computerized painting. It seemed that no one else was stopping to view it. :( Perhaps, they locals see it everyday so they were used to it? Or maybe everyone is too busy to stop and “smell the roses”?

For tomorrow, we decided to split up and do our own thing but then get together in the evening at the hotel to visit Tokyo Tower. Though I’m not too particular about visiting the tower, it is a landmark of Tokyo that seems to attract a lot of tourists, so I would like to visit there before I leave Japan. :) I can't wait to go to Akibahara for anime and electronics!

July 13, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 7

Day 7 of our Japan Trip ends at Osaka and begins in Tokyo.

We didn’t eat breakfast today as we had to buy the airport bus ticket to get to the Itami Airport. The bus arrives at the stop station (diagonal from the hotel) at 11:20am. The airport bus tickets were easy to purchase. It costs 620 yen to get to the airport. Pretty cheap for a 30 minute ride. :) The bus ride was smooth as it zipped across the city through the highway. We arrived at the airport faster than expected.

As I was going through security customs, I didn’t know that I had to place my liquor in the luggage (this is my first international flight). The customs officer looked at my Sho-Chu Authority tea liquor bag and he still let it go through customs even though he plainly knew it was alcohol. I was totally grateful for that! I would never wanted it tossed out! He must’ve figured I’m a foreigner and let it slide for just that one time. I remembered to quickly place it in my luggage suitcase when we got to the Tokyo hotel.

We boarded the airplane at around 2:30pm and the ride to Tokyo lasted about an hour. The aircraft was really small and cramped. I hit my head twice against the wall when I sat down in my seat and when I got up to get off.

When we got to Narita Airport, we bought airport bus tickets which costs 3000 yen each. It drives us directly to our hotel in Akasaka which is really convenient. The ride took nearly 2 hours but when we arrived at the hotel, the staff came out to greet us. They grabbed our luggage and carry-on and helped us check-in. One of the employees spoke to us in English on how to get around the area and some points-of-interest. The concierge was very helpful as well and gave us some maps and how to get to some tourist sites.

The suite was very nice and roomy. It was a tad bit warm but I adjusted the thermometer. Our two rooms are connected by the hallway but each one has its own door and lock. I had two double beds in mine and nice assortment of toiletries. I love the way my bathtub is in a separate room than the toilet and the showerhead is handheld (just like in the other hotel in Osaka). There are complimentary bathrobes for the guests. They are really comfortable. :)

We had dinner in a Chinese restaurant in the basement of the hotel. It was pretty pricey but we were tired to look around the area. The dishes were delicious though and tea was tasty. After dinner, we walked around the area but it was getting dark. We went to the subway station to see how far it was from our hotel. It wasn’t too far. I bought myself a Pasmo card for two reasons: as a souvenir and also for convenience so I don’t have to fidget for change.

Past the subway station, we came upon the night district where prostitutes roam the streets all decked out in their pearl necklaces and shaded black automobiles sit in alleyways. Businessmen collect on the streets from bars or going to the bars, most usually drunk. It was a pretty weird sight for me as I’m not used to these scenes.

After some time we went back to the hotel and decided to call it a night. Tomorrow is the day to Ueno Zoo. I can’t wait!!

July 12, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 6

Day 6 of the Japan trip… Today is the official last full day left in Osaka.

I went out on my own this morning since my travel mates and I were traveling to different places this day. We decided though to meet at the hotel later on in the evening and go out to eat dinner together for the last night in Osaka. Another reason why I separated from my travel mates was because I wanted to take some photos of the surrounding areas around the hotel, including the roads, alleys, and shopping districts (the independent small shops).

So I set off at around 9am and went strolling around the Namba City Centre. The place was lively as usual with employees outside their shops enticing passerby to come in. There are many pachinko and arcade parlours as well as a large number of eating establishments. I wandered into Kuromon Market where there were many stalls of fresh meat and fruit & vegetable stands. There were seafood everywhere, all fresh – on ice, in tanks, and buckets. What impressed me was the cleanliness of the street market and the amazing signs of a realistic lobster, crab, and fish hanging from the ceiling. It was cool to see them. :)

Afterwards, I went to Muji to purchase socks and pants. I was noticing earlier that my sock supply was running dangerously low. The socks I bought at Muji are so comfortable and the pants I bought that day were cotton, black, and cargo style. I had lunch at the underground shopping mall (noodles and potstickers). Then I went back to my hotel room to change clothes (my new socks and pants). After resting a bit, I went venturing out again. This time, I was headed for Dotombori. I walked along the Ebisubashi street for about 15 minutes till I entered Dotombori. Upon entering, a crab and blowfish sign greeted passerby. Just like the Kuromon Market, the signs were amazing. I spent about an hour in this area because it was very lively. There were many sights, such as the Ebisu Tower, the Walkway, and the eye-catching billboards.

After Dotombori I went to America Mura where I spent my time window-shopping and I sat at the Triangle Park where I relaxed and watched the locals strut by in their odd but cool fashion. Afterwards, I went to Umeda which is north of Namba. My destination was to go to HEP Five and the Floating Garden Observatory.

From the subway station, I ended up going to the Hankyu Department Store from which I exited to get to HEP Five.

HEP Five was INSANE.

I felt like I was trapped. There were hundreds of people squished in together like sardines in a can. We shuffled our way into the building and then shuffled our way onto the escalator which takes us to the 2nd floor. There were security mall officers waving people into lines for the escalator and walkways. It was so tight in there that the only time you escape the line is if you spot a store or café you want to go to. You would quickly leave your position in line and walk fast to your destination. When you leave the store, you would very quickly squeeze your way back into line. I felt very claustrophobic in this building. I went to the 7th floor for Starbucks. Also insane… the line to Starbucks wrapped around the corner. It turns out there is no separate line for take-out and eat-in so I had to wait about 2 hours. Every restaurant and café I saw in HEP Five was long waits. Um… no thank you… I would get my Starbucks at Namba.

I hurriedly got outside since it was hard to breathe in there and it was too crazy for me to enjoy any shopping whatsoever. (I believe I could’ve been the oldest person in that building minus the employees…) As well, the Ferris wheel on the top of HEP Five was closed till the fall season. It was getting late so I decided to forego the Floating Garden Observatory. I took the subway back to Namba and ventured into Den-Den Town to look around. I didn’t see anything interesting that I would like to purchase.

It was around 7:30pm when I finally made my way back to the hotel. My sister and her husband met me at my room around 8pm. We walked along Namba Parks which is just located a few minutes from our hotel. We didn’t go to the top of Namba Parks yet (which has the greenery and nice views) but we went to do some shopping.

My brother-in-law and I bought some liquor at Sho-Chu Authority (the store is located in Namba Parks but on the outside walkway area). My brother-in-law really wanted sake. He asked the employee at the front of the store where the sake was located. The male employee told him that this store only sells Sho-Chu. We asked what Sho-Chu was and he told us that it is more similar to spirits than to sake.

Sho-Chu is a distilled beverage native to Japan and is also called white liquor. It is most commonly distilled from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice. Typically, it contains 25% alcohol by volume (weaker than whisky or standard-strength vodka but stronger than wine and sake). For more information about Sho-Chu, there is a Wikipedia web site on it:

I bought tea liquor which is sweet and delicate, only 6% alcohol. My brother-in-law bought liquor but he has no idea how it tastes like. He bought it because the bottle was in the shape of a stiletto shoe. (haha) The employee was really nice and helpful (and kind of cute). He and this other male employee spoke pretty well in English. I didn’t know which tea liquor to purchase so he brought me and my brother-in-law to the side of the store to try some samples from a cart. Based on those samples, I ended up purchasing that tea liquor. The other tea liquor is 24% alcohol and was it ever strong! ;p I would have loved to purchase more varieties but I couldn’t remember how many milliliters Canadian Customs would allow back, so I just bought the one bottle (300mls).

After shopping till 9pm (the stores close at that time), we went out to eat dinner at Namba Walk (the underground mall). The poor waiter! He had a difficult time with my sister because she wanted only the noodle and potstickers, not the rice and soup. She was pointing and covering the other food items. It was actually hilarious. ;p He had a much easier time with my brother-in-law and me since we ordered the regular set meals. When he came around at one time before we got our food, I was looking up so that I could get the pitcher of water (I was hiding my head from sheer embarrassment). He was wiping the table in front of us and when he saw me, our eyes met, and he smiled. I am not sure I smiled back because I’m positive my face turned pink from embarrassment. Great…. I bet he was telling everyone in the kitchen that some idiotic foreigners are giving him a hard time, one hour before closing. :( Ah… he was cute though… (my sister kept teasing saying “he’s a cutie-pie” every time he walked past us… ah, I was so embarrassed!) ;p

After dinner, we went back to Namba Parks. We went up the elevator to the top floor where there were greenery (flowers, shrubbery, and such). It was really nice, quiet, and peaceful. There were workers below cleaning the walkway and fixing cables. My brother-in-law and I took some photos from the elevator. My sister (who was ahead of me at that time), told me that the staircase on the main floor was barricaded by a gate and lock, so we walked back to the top floor to take the elevator to the main floor.

It was a leisurely nice walk after dinner. What a great way to spend the last night in Osaka!

Tomorrow, we fly out at 2pm to Tokyo where we’ll be for four days. I can’t wait! Ueno Zoo, Tokyo Tower, and Akibahara!!

July 11, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 5

For Day 5 of our trip, we went to the city of Nara, just 40 minutes by rail east of Osaka.

We had a quick early lunch at Café Salon, in the underground shopping district (named Namba Walk). Osaka has such excellent food – even the regular ham and egg sandwiches are amazing. They are also so well portioned for the customer. :)

To get to Nara, we had to take the rail instead of the subway. We were sitting down majority of the way there but by the last two stops before our destination, we had to leave our carriage and move down to the last four carriages. Thankfully, a lady passenger told us that or else we would have been totally clueless as to what’s going on. :( It turns out that the previous carriages were nearly empty so they herded everyone to the last four. It was jam-packed in the other carriage. We couldn’t sit down so we had to stand up. The ride was bumpy on the rail so I had to make sure I gripped really hard on the ring handle.

We arrived at Nara Station by 12 noon and went to the Visitor’s Information Centre to get any additional information that we may have missed at the Osaka’s Visitor Centre in the Namba Station. The lady at the Nara Visitor Information Centre circled three places on the walking tour map that all tourists should check out first. They are: Kofukuji Temple, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, and the Todaiji Temple.

There were deer everywhere! It was kind of crazy how deer co-exist with the inhabitants of the city. Close to the entrance of the Kofukuji Temple there was a vendor cart selling deer food which are circular flat thin pancakes made of grain. I bought one package (there are about 6 pancakes in 1 package) for 150 yen and as soon as I turned my body, the deers appeared out of nowhere and grabbed the food from my hand. I was stunned to say the least. They are quick when it comes to food! ;p

A deer grabbed my brother-in-law’s map from his hand. The deer chewed his map and one of the workers had to remove it. My sister bought a package but she was too scared of the aggressive deers that she didn’t pick it up from the vendor cart. One of the vendors pointed at the deer park area behind the vendor cart, but my sister didn’t want to pick up the food. Eventually she did and we fed the deer the pancakes in the grassy area. We were also amused with other people’s attempts around us. :)

We did not go inside the Kofukuji Temple. We walked around the premises which includes the temple itself and the Five Story Pagoda. We prayed at the shrine (donated one-yen coin, rung the bell, clapped hands twice and prayed) and continued down the path (flight of carved stone stairs southwards) to the Sarusawa-ike Pond. I fell in love with Sarusawa-ike Pond!! There were red-eared slider turtles everywhere! They are so cute and adorable that I took many photos of them sunbathing, swimming, and begging for food from passerby.

We went to the Nara National Museum for a breather where we bought some souvenirs and refreshments. After half an hour, we went back outside. Instead of going to Todaiji Temple first which was north of Kofukuji Temple, we proceeded to doing a hike through Kasugayama Primeval Forest (eastwards of the Kofukuji Temple). The primeval forest of trees are protected by law against logging. It is a wide and beautiful sight just to walk through.

By going through the primeval forest, we reached the Garden of Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The garden is lined with stone lanterns leading the way to the shrine. The stone lanterns are gorgeous with intricate designs carved into them.

We reached the Kasuga Taisha Shrine in no time. Beautiful hanging lanterns decorate the shrine and workers delicately clean them. There were more serene areas within the shrine that one can sit and enjoy the peaceful surroundings while reading prose or practicing calligraphy.

The entire walk around the shrine took longer than what we expected. By the time we finished the walk and went backwards through the primeval forest to the Todaiji Temple (westwards then northwards), it was already 5:30pm and the last admission to the temple was 4:30pm. It was a shame we missed going inside the Todaiji Temple but we did take lots of nice photos of the outside temple and gates. The security officer at the front door of the temple allowed my brother-in-law to go inside the front entrance to take some photos for only five minutes the most. That was very nice of him to allow the photos. :)

It was around 6pm when we headed back to Namba. Unfortunately, we messed up our rail entrance and ended up on the reserved seating train. I realized this after the fact (after we got on the train) because of the reserved green seats triggered that something is definitely wrong here. A woman traveler tried to help us by speaking to the train ticket officer going down the aisle. It turns out we can sit on the train in the non-reserved seats (the yellow seats) as long as you pay the additional 500yen on top of the regular fare. After the embarrassment, we paid our fee and enjoyed the half-hour ride back to Namba Station. :p

We are so tired from today’s excursion. I am sun-burned from today’s walk, even though I am wearing SPF and a light jacket. The sun was so intense. Add humidity level to the scorching heat and I understand why I was perspiring so heavily. I now have a farmer’s tan. :(

Tomorrow is a free day, meaning there is no scheduled trips to certain tourist areas. We will most likely split up and do our own shopping and sightseeing.

It will be our last full day in Osaka. I’m so sad… :(

July 10, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 4

Today, we went to Osakako to visit the Osaka Aquarium in Osaka Bay area.

It was amazing.

But unfortunately, it was raining as soon as the subway approached the Bay area. We bought umbrellas at Lawsons (a popular convenience store in Japan).

We ate lunch at the restaurant on the second floor called “Harbour View”. I had the “special curry hamburger beef with set meal A” which included a potage soup and a drink. It was yummy! I noticed a horrifying trend; I have been eating a lot of curry on this trip. Wonder why? (hmm…)

In the Aquarium, it was tank after tank of these cool species of animals from otters to the jellyfish. The main attraction and star of the Aquarium is the whale shark. It was so cute that I ended up buying a mini stuff plushy of a smiling whale shark. Viewing of the tanks starts at the top of the escalator and you go down from there. Between floor levels, there were signs saying where the area of water is located and its latitude, longitude, and temperature.

Descriptions of animals were also labeled by the tanks. I rented a portable English-speaking guide which hangs around your neck and you listen to a narrator through one earpiece. Unfortunately, my earpiece always fell out of my ear so I gave up on wearing it. My brother-in-law’s earpiece was fine but for some reason, the narrator was speaking in Japanese and not in English. ;p

There was a demonstration by the staff in the seal tank. The seals put on a little show for the visitors by clapping and twirling around. The manta ray was huge, both in physical size and stardom. It had a small shark riding him upside down and the same thing was happening to the whale shark. There are some serious lazy fish out there! :) The sun fish and porcupine fish were hilarious to look at. They are very sensitive to the sun so no one was allowed to use the flash on their camera around those tanks (although I didn’t see the sign till my brother-in-law pointed it out but I swear I only used the flash once). There were turtles in one tank but they were sleeping and hiding so it was hard to take photos of them. The octopus with their suckers against the tank wall was so funny to look at. ;p It was so difficult to get any good photos of the whale shark till the last floor. I took some really nice photos (finally!). The Japanese crabs were freaking scary to look at. They were huge and had some really long legs. Definitely not cute nor cuddly… The last exhibit was the jellyfish and they were so odd yet wonderful to look at. I took a video clip of one tank of jellyfish that changed their colour every few seconds or so.

My travel mates and I parted ways at the end of the Aquarium walk. They wanted to go back to Namba to shop while I wanted to explore more of the Osaka Bay area since I already paid for the one-day metro pass. We started out to the Aquarium at 11am and we finished the tour around 3:45pm. Fortunately it stopped raining but was still muggy and damp.

While they headed back to Namba, I bought a ticket for the 50minute Santa Maria Cruise around the Bay area. It was really nice and comfortable. I sat inside the ship but I wanted the top of the boat (the seats at the top were soaked). There was a family of three sitting in front of me speaking in my dialect. I spoke to them during the cruise and they told me of the places they’ve been to already such as the Trade Centre.

The Cruise ended at quarter to five and since the sun hasn’t set yet, I bought a ticket for the 15minute Ferris wheel ride. It was cool to be so high up and looking down. The Ferris wheel (according to the sign) is the tallest Ferris wheel in the world. Now everything will seem so small in comparison. (haha)

Afterwards, I went to the Tempozan Marketplace which is a three-storey complex of shopping stores and restaurants. I went to a 100yen store at the Marketplace but I didn’t like what they had. Actually, I think the one-dollar stores in my home city are better.

At around quarter past six, I took the subway back to the hotel in Namba. By the time I got back to the hotel, it was 6:50pm and my travel mates were not back yet from shopping, so I went out to dinner by myself at the same place as last night. I had the dumpling set meal. It was delicious but so spicy that I am currently drinking my fifth cup of Chinese tea to settle my stomach.

Tomorrow is another huge and tiring day for us. We are traveling to Nara for a full day trip via the rail system. This should be interesting. It’ll be the first time for us to travel by rail. Cool… deer park, here I come!!

July 9, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 3

On Day 3 of the trip, we went to Osaka Castle.

At first I was apprehensive about using the subway since there is no subway line in my home city. But I was worried about nothing. The subway system in Osaka is pretty easy to use since everything is colour coded and labeled in English. Even the announcer on the subway carriages spoke in both languages.

The walk to the front gates of the castle was long but had nice scenery. There were many people around jogging and such. The gates were massive and there were these stones called "Elephant Stones" not because they resembled the animal, but because it was so huge!

There was a Fuji photo booth and you can take a photograph of yourself and have your face imprinted on either a samurai or a lady in a kimono with the background of cherry blossoms or the castle. It cost me 1000 yen but it was worth it. The picture came out really well, though it was funny to see me looking rather "tall". :)

We went to a souvenir shop and bought some souvenirs for our friends back home, such as postcards and pens. Then we ate at a restaurant which was joined together with the souvenir shop. My travel mates had a bit of an issue with ordering their lunch since no one spoke English, my brother-in-law was pointing at the set meals but they mistaken it for double the set meals ordered! Instead of 1900 yen, it came out to 3800 yen. My order was simple: one curry shrimp dish and one cola. :) I was drinking the Asahi beer my brother-in-law bought and it was really good. I am not a beer drinker but there was no aftertaste and very smooth.

The castle wasn’t as impressive as I have hoped, even given the reviews on the Internet. The surroundings were better, I thought, but the displays inside the castle were nice. There were lots of video reenactments about the lord of the castle and history pointer via big-screen video about the wars at the castle.

There were seven floors to the castle. Floor 1 was just the museum shop. You cannot go to any other floor first other than Floor 5 (the starting floor for our trip) which was via the elevator (coincidentally you cannot use the elevator for any other purpose). There were specific staircases for going up or down from Floor 5. You couldn’t use your camera or recording device on floors 3 and 4 because those two floors housed the artifacts from that time period. Floor 7 is the Observation Deck which gave us great views of around the castle. It was very windy when we were taking in the view on Floor 7.

I got myself a commemorative stamp on Floor 2 and my brother-in-law and I tried on costume vest and warrior hat from that time period. It cost us money to try them on but it was worth it. The hat I chose was so heavy that I could barely lift my head and keep it steady. It was definitely hard to pose in it! The pictures were hilarious! Instead of looking like a serious warrior, I looked the opposite instead. :)

The tour of the castle was finished by quarter to four. We went back to Namba and while I explored the city centre, my travel mates shopped in the underground mall (located in the same area as the subway system called Namba City and Namba Walk). At 7pm we met up for dinner at one of the restaurants in the underground mall. The set meals were pretty well priced and everyone’s dishes seemed delicious. I had pork dumplings (potstickers) and they were fantastic!

After dinner, they went shopping again in the underground mall and I decided to explore some more in other areas around Namba. Personally, it is hard to see in the dark so it was more of an excuse to walk off the late night dinner calories. ;p

It is now quarter past eleven and I got to get some sleep. Tomorrow is another long day. We are planning to go to the Osaka Aquarium. I can’t wait!!

July 8, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 2

It’s Day 2 of my Japan trip!!

I slept from 12:40am to about 5am. I had such a peaceful slumber. Nice and air-conditioned. :) After 9am I went to the hotel desk lobby and asked where to find the closest visitor’s centre which is only right outside of the hotel in the subway station by the escalator. I got great maps of the area and the lady at the counter explained to me a discount ticket for the aquarium and she told me which subway lines to take and which transfers and how to buy them. I asked about other areas such as Den-Den Town and Muji (department store). She told me how to get there but since it’s Wednesday, many stores in Den-Den Town (Electricity Town for electronic gadgets) are closed.

Afterwards, I went to Starbucks and decided to explore the Namba Centre where we were last night. The daytime was so different than the nighttime environment. It was still hot and humid but the area was so much more bustling with people, bikes, small cargo trucks, et cetera.

I met up with my travel mates at around close to noon in the hotel lobby. At around noon we ate ramen at a close by shop (it was located exactly across the street). It was really good. The egg and noodles were delicious. I didn’t touch the meat because it was fatty and it won’t agree with my stomach. Otherwise, good place to eat and with English menu. After eating lunch, I took them to Starbucks where my sister had a frappucino with black jelly.

Then we went to Muji and Tokyo Tower Records. Muji is located across floors B2-B1-1-2-3 (lowest to the highest level). The stationary were located on Floor 2 with household items such as kitchenware. I didn’t go to Floor 3 so I had no idea what it had. I bought some 105 yen pens and bamboo pen. Floor 1 had women clothing which I bought two undershirts. Floor B1 had baby and maternity clothing as well as men clothing. Floor B2 was the area for eating and buying small food & snack items as well as drinks. My sister and her husband bought a lot of things (candy, tea, & drinks) but some were gifts for co-workers back home. I got some specialty teas and a brown sugar & coconut milk candy made in Hokkaido. I’ll have to try it soon (sounded yummy).

We went to Tokyo Towers located across floors 4-7. J-Pop is on Floor 4 so we went there, or more specifically I went there and they were kind of dragged along. :) I asked the information desk for Tokuyama Hideanori and Remioromen but the cd of Tokuyama was sold out. He showed me the areas where Remioromen cd and dvd were. I bought a Tokyo Tower Record pen and Remioromen DVD “Wonderful & Beautiful” Concert and some of their cds. We went up to Floor 5 where my brother-in-law bought a Michael Jackson cd (Floor 5 had English music).

Afterwards we went to the Takashimaya Department Store which is located in same building complex as our hotel. It is huge and massive, spread across basement levels to Floor 7. The shopping there was intense. To list briefly what I bought: two sandals, pens and bamboo bookmarks, Japanese traditional shoes, Remioromen and Gackt cds (Gackt cd is for my sister back home), two bath towels (one is for my mother), a rabbit decorated handkerchief, and bamboo knitting needles for my mother. I've noticed there are no paper towels in all restrooms. People use handkerchiefs in place of paper towels. I'm sure I would put to good use of my new purchase. :)

I happened to pass by a couple making Japanese traditional shoes on Floor 5. I was watching them make the shoes and was curious about it. I tried on a pair and it was so comfortable. I watched the man make a new pair of shoes for me (threading and tying the fabric, hammering the sole, et cetera). It was so cool how he threaded the fabric into the wooden shoe and neatly tied it underneath the sole. It cost me about 5200 yen. What a great deal for this handmade shoe and it’s a remarkable memory of this trip. :)

I have to say, I absolutely love the department store’s way of doing business. The staff has everything scrutinized to the tiniest detail - from greeting customers, to answering and helping customers, to wrapping up your purchases with ribbons even when they’re not gifts, making sure my shopping bags weren’t cluttered (they actually rearranged all my bags to make them easier for me to carry), and going out of their way to making my shopping experience enjoyable. Even when I purchased a 150 yen pen, they still saw to it that it was wrapped up nicely in a gift bag with a ribbon and made sure that I placed my receipt and change back into my wallet before they handed me my purchase.

My sister told me about the tax rebate on the 7th floor of Takashimaya Department Store. You can only get your taxes (5%) back on same-day purchases and you must provide your passport. The receipt of my rebate was stapled to my passport for customs.

We ended up eating at a Chinese restaurant (551 Horei) a few blocks from the hotel. It was pricey but the food was good. I ordered mabo tofu and it came with egg drop soup. My sister and brother-in-law ordered chicken with cashew, pineapple with beef, and hot & sour soup.

It is now 11:20pm and I am so tired. Tomorrow, we are planning to go to Osaka Castle and surroundings. Hopefully the weather doesn’t rain on us.

July 7, 2009

Japan Trip - Day 1

My oldest sister and her husband picked me up at 5:30am and we arrived at the airport around 10am. The only parking available was really far from the main entrance of the train to the airport. The train cabins were spacious and the ride to the airport only lasted for about 5 minutes.

The airport was huge, really busy, and extremely confusing. We boarded the plane at around 12:30pm and I got the window seat, which I regretted quickly because I couldn’t get out when I wanted to.

The economy seats were really tight and cramped. I didn’t feel nauseous (motion sickness), only hot because of so many bodies crammed in a confined space. I watched some movies during the 13 hour flight. The scenery from the plane was very nice and my brother-in-law took some photos of them.

Our plane arrived in Tokyo, Japan around 2:30pm (Narita Airport). We thought our luggage will automatically be transferred to the connecting stop which was Osaka, but it turned out that we had to pick them up and go through the luggage claims again. We went through customs and got our two index fingerprints and photograph taken. The connecting flight to Osaka (from 5:35pm to 7:10pm to the Itami airport) was really smooth and the staff was extremely friendly and courteous. The ANA plane had a quick take-off and a hard landing. The view of the land below was gorgeous.

We boarded the airport bus at Terminal 12 for Swissotel Namba Nankai after an employee showed us how to purchase the airport bus tickets. When the bus stopped at the drop-off point, I didn’t know whether it was the correct location or not since it was dark outside so I couldn’t see properly. I asked a stranger sitting next to me and he confirmed the location of the hotel.

Navigating through the intersection was amazing because the green light for pedestrian walk was simultaneous in all directions. There were so many people even at around 8:30pm. We located the hotel easily and the staff spoke English extremely well. They are so very polite and helpful.

After settling into our comfortable rooms, which are very spacious, clean, and air-conditioned, we went walking around the area for a good place to eat. My brother-in-law spotted a rice restaurant named “Sukiya”. They had an English menu and the prices were really cheap. My curry beef rice bowl was so delicious!

After the late dinner, we walked around a bit and saw a lot of pachinko parlors, convenience stores, and bars. The alleys were paved and no vehicles drove on it as well as they were brightly lit up so it didn’t feel like it was 10pm. You walk for a while and forget that the sky above you is pitch dark.

Around 10:30pm we went back to the hotel and I gave a call to my sister back home with a prepaid phone card. It took a while for me to figure out how to use it but it eventually worked. Well, it’s now 12:50am and I got to go to sleep now. I haven’t slept at all on the plane because of the time difference. I will comment about what went on for the second day in Osaka later.

July 6, 2009

Today is the day!!

It's quarter past 4 this early Monday morning and I'm waiting for my siblings to pick me up from my house to go to the airport.

The internet connection at the hotel is so expensive, charging about 10 dollars CDN per day to use. I bought myself an International phone card already so I highly doubt I'll be using the internet at the hotel.

My brother came back from Peru. He told us that he nearly fell to his death while mountain climbing at 1000m mark and then again at the 2000m mark. The ledge fits only one person at a time so there is no one to help him when he slipped. He had to hoist himself up. Fortunately, he put those workouts at the gym to good use. ;p

It sounded like he was glad to be home. He really likes those "vacations" though. I dunno... my vacations are 4 star hotels. (hee hee)

See you around in 2 weeks!


July 5, 2009

1 more day left!!

oh, the day is just ticking away...

i am 95% packed and just need to recharge my cellphone, camera, ipod video, & j3 mp3 player.

i was going through the week plans today and tokyo is going to be jam packed with things to do in just 3 days.

ouch... we may have to do some really fast shopping in shibuya and harajuku. i still want to see the pandas in ueno. :)

i should honestly be sleeping now as it's 1:40am.

'night all...

July 4, 2009

2 more days left!!

I have started packing and now I think my luggage is too heavy.

I emptied out the contents and the empty luggage feels kind of heavy. My brother-in-law will be bringing over his scale at home tomorrow so I can weigh it. The maximum without penalty is 50-60 pounds on the airlines. I will be using a smaller luggage as well just to relieve some weight and for souvenirs.

Everything I need for the trip I have purchased. Hopefully I'm not forgetting anything. :p

Wow, it's coming up so quickly...

July 3, 2009

3 more days left!!

Okay, it's official.

I'm doing a countdown till the day I leave for Japan.

I'm so pumped and excited, yet at the same time, I'm so freaking out. I don't feel prepared at all though I think I am.

Three more days, baby!

(...oh yeah...)

July 2, 2009

4 more days left!!

Wow! Just 4 days away till I go on my big trip!

I'm so excited. I can't wait.

My mind is already on vacation. At least, that's what I've been telling my co-workers. hee hee

(... counting down ...)

"JUNGLE CHANNEL 56" ~ please adjust your atenna