Thursday, January 01, 2009

Falling in love with Central Japan

Preamble: Being on tour really has its pros and cons. You get to see the main sights but do not have enough time to truly soak in the atmosphere and culture of Japan. This was my sketchy itinerary of what you can and have sufficient time to see in 10 days in 日本.

Day 1 – Osaka 20th Dec
Arrived @ the Kansai Airport and proceeded to Nara district’s Todaji Temple. This temple houses a large bronze Buddha figure and is the largest wooden building in the world (Daibutsu-Den Hall). The short walk into Nara Park is slightly perilous due to the deer shit all over the place. This is reindeer land with some kawaii deer but the stench of the shit x__X Temple is a designated World Heritage site.

Deers galore at Todaiji Temple. Really cute once you get used to the smell

Proceeded to Shinsaibashi with the usual long stretch of shops. Shinsaibashi is Osaka's default shopping strip and all the major departmental stores can be found here. There is a huge Matsumoto Kiyoshi (pharmacy) that carries all sorts of personal amenities from shampoos to lashes, razors, health drinks etc.

Hotel: Osaka Ramada
Hotel Review: Fantastic hotel with fluffy blankets, great toilets, good room size and nice breakfast. Also, this hotel provides you with 6 types of pillows to choose from; the ultra-soft to the green bean pillows for the hard core.
Weather: 4-11c

Day 2 – Kyoto 21st Dec
Day started off with Nishiki Market; a wet market selling seafood like Alaskan crabs, sea urchin, prawns etc. The crabs here cost S$60-120 so you can just imagine the size (think Discovery Channel’s The Deadliest Catch ^^)

The Kiyomizu Temple (Pure Water Temple) is situated at the foot of Mt’ Otawa and takes a fair bit of walking to get up there. Just a quick walkabout and off to a cold soba lunch and thick traditional macha tea. Temple is also a World Heritage site.

Kiyomizu temple gates and the view from the temple

The 1st tourist trap that we went to has got to be the Nishijin Textile Centre. Here you can see the traditional kimono show in all its luxe materials.

Lovely ladies in their kimonos

Gion Street - Home of the Geishas. Nothing to scream about as the weather was gloomy and all the geishas were presumably hiding indoors. The buildings here are very old and the street would’ve been wonderful to walk along on a sunny day. Geishas do not allow you to take photos with them or of them and will insist that you visit their geisha house instead.

Hotel: Hotel New Hankyu
Hotel Review: Rooms are small but comes with free Broadband Internet. Breakfast is so-so but Isetan is located right across the road.

Day 3 – Kanazawa 22nd Dec
Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Temple) is a World Heritage site. The park which encompasses this temple has excellent landscaping but I would’ve have enjoyed it better should the weather not have been so cold. A 600-year old tree exists here.

The beautiful Golden temple in Kinkakuji Temple and its 600-year old tree

Bus-ed to Fukui’s Tojibo Cliffs. Apparently this is Japan’s No.1 suicide spot as the crashing waves will ensure a swift and painless? death. When we got here, the wind must’ve been blowing at 60-80km/h. The umbrella practically flipped and you’d get blown off your feet quite literally.

Aapparently an apparition appeared in my tour guide's photo of this place

Hotel: ANA Crowne Plaza Kanazawa
Hotel Review: Possibly the best hotel on this trip. Rooms are big and breakfast is good. Hotel is located next to shopping malls and restaurants.
Weather: 3-9c

Day 4 – Kanazawa 23rd Dec
2nd tourist trap is the Sakuda Gold Leaf Company in Kanazawa. This place manufactures the gold leaf paper which Kanazawa is famous for. Apparently if you drank gold foil, your skin would be sparkling. Tried the gold leaf tea and felt compelled to buy things from the shop after.

Gold leaf tea and a room completely pasted with 24k gold leaf

The Higashi Chaya district is a Geisha district in Kanazawa. Mainly for tourists; you can go into a famous Geisha house for tea, manjyu and a look-about. Their freezer here is deep underground, making use of the earth's natural cool air.

Omicho Market is another wet market that sells fresh fish, crabs and sake. By the time we got to the market, I couldn’t feel my fingers as they were too numb from the cold so gloves are a must this time of the year.

Deadliest catch - giganormous crabs

A pity the weather was so dark and gloomy when we got to Kenrokuen Park - supposedly the prettiest park in Japan. Trees have cone shaped structures to fend off the snow. Would’ve been a white Christmas Eve if it wasn't raining so heavily instead.

Day 5 – Takayama 24th Dec
Once we got out of Kyoto, it started to snow in Kyoto (snowstorm in many parts of Japan the night before) and coaching into Takayama, we were greeted with thick snow. What a winter sonata moment!

Shirakawa-Go village is also a World Heritage site. Wada House has heavily sloped roofs to allow the snow to sit and fall in winter. All houses in this area are well-preserved.

Rainbow spotted and my first sign of snow!

En route to Shirakawa-go

Hotel: New Green Hotel
Hotel Review: Old hotel with new facilities like sensor lighting. Has onsen.
Weather: 0-3c

Day 6 – Shirakawa 25th Dec
Merry White Christmas!!! Proceeded to the Shirakaba area amidst heavy snowfall to Lake Kawaguchi. First time skiing and it’s not as easy as it seems. Lots of falling down and trying to control the skis but waking up to a white landscape outside your window is a-bloody-mazing.

Ski Resort!

Frozen lake and the view from my window

Hotel: Shirakawa Ski Resort
Hotel Review: Big hotel with tatami sitting area and western beds. Toilet comes in 3 sections; the wash basin, toilet in separate room and shower/tub in another room.
Weather: minus 0-3c

Day 7 – Atami 26th Dec
Initial plan for the day was to head to Fuji-Q for the 5mins world’s longest roller coaster ride but the winds were too strong so the rides were shut down for safety reasons.

Fuji-Q and Mt. Fuji

Instead, did some sightseeing at the 4th station of Mount Fuji and headed to Gotemba Premium Outlets for retail therapy. Stuff is still expensive and not really like the outlet malls in the U.S. Coach is crazily overpriced here and Samantha Thavasa carries very old designs. Notable shops are the Adidas, Nike, Beams outlet.

I have no recollection of the hotel which we stayed in for this night as the bus ride up to the hotel nearly killed me. The roads were severely winding and the whole ride was intolerable. Dinner was a set meal and beds were tatami-style. Room didn’t look very enticing at night but the gorgeous view of the Sea of Japan in the morning was worth the crazy ride up.

Day 8 – Tokyo 27th Dec
En route to Tokyo we stopped in Yokohama. Did a quick stop @ Yokohama Chinatown before heading to Odaiba and Venus Fort Shopping mall. Mall is not very interesting although it has a big Burberry Blue Label shop.

Thereafter, to Ueno Market in Tokyo to stock up on snacks. Since it’s the end of the year, locals are also stocking up on snacks and tidbits.

Hotel: Hotel Metropolitan, Ikebukuro
Hotel Review: Average hotel with free Broadband. Rooms are not very big but breakfast is very good. Adjacent to a shopping mall and to Ikebukuro train station.
Weather: 3-9c

Day 9 – Tokyo 28th Dec
The part of the trip where I was really looking forward to, was heading into the heart of Tokyo. Since it was a Sunday, we wanted to check out the cosplayers on the Meiji Bridge @ Harajuku. Was there too early so wound up walking along Takeshita-Dori and finding the H&M in Harajuku.

Takeshita-Dori is somewhat like Far East; for teenagers, punks and hip-hop wannabes. The kids here are very well dressed; displaying the differences in Japanese fashion; the punks, cosplayers, ganguro girls etc.

H&M is INSANE! You’ve got to queue just to get in and the whole place is packed to the brim on all 4 levels. I don’t remember having to squeeze inside H&M in Shanghai but the way people were buying; WHAT RECESSION?!

Madness outside H&M and Shibuya

Shibuya. Famous crossing seen in a lot of J-dramas where the flood of commuters cross in X-directions. The best spot to view this chaos would be from level 2 of Starbucks inside Tatsuyas. Tokyu, Seibu, Shibuya 109 and OIOI can all be found here.

The most well known temple in Japan is the Asakusa Kannon Temple. Shops line the street in front of the temple, selling foods etc. Crowd control here is non-existent especially close to the end of the year when locals all come to pray for good luck.

Asakusa at sunset

Ginza is not as glitzy as it’s made out to be. All the big labels have homes here including H&M (more insane queuing)

Day 10 – Tokyo 29th Dec
Took a train: Yamanote Line to Shinjuku. Checked out Takashimaya, Tokyu Hands and Isetan here. This Isetan has a famous supermarket that was just recently revamped and Muji, Samantha Thavasa are all nearby.

Bus-ed it to Harajuku again to get to Omotesando. Finally managed to check out all the shops I’ve so often seen featured on hypebeast and superfuture. Brands like A.P.C, Supreme, Undercover, Visvim, BAPE, X-large, X-Girl, Chrome Hearts, WeSC and Marc Jacobs all have homes here. The largest Louis Vuitton shop in Japan is right across the road from Omotesando Hills and TODS, Dior all occupy their own buildings.

A 3-storey Samantha Thavasa exists at the traffic junction in the middle of Omotesando.

Louis Vuitton and yes, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. It's Beyonce & Kimura Takuya in the same advertisement for Samantha Thavasa. Weird!

Day 11 – Narita 30th Dec
Tokyo Disney Sea. Can someone say M.I.C.K.E.Y.M.O.U.S.E. already? Disneyland/Sea just makes you feel like a kid again whenever you go there but patience is a much needed virtue here. Rides take up to 3 hours of waiting unless you take the fast pass and food also requires queuing. Only managed to take 2 rides; Raging Spirits (rollercoaster) and a mellow Sinbad ride before I threw in the towel on all that waiting. The Legend of Mythica (carnival) @ Disney Sea is spectacular though.

Tickets to DisneySea and at the entrance

Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Magic Lamp

Medieval Island and the awesome float from the Carnival

So right now I’m writing from the hotel room in Narita, waiting to leave in 5 hours to the airport to board my 10h flight home. It’s been a long 2 weeks; what with a bout of sickness at the beginning and not being able to enjoy a lot of the foods here.

Hotel: International Garden Hotel, Narita
Hotel Review: Located 15mins from Narita Airport with English speaking staff. Popular with air crew.
Weather: 3-10c

日本、私は絶対に返されます! 待ってよ!
Posted by fongie on 1/01/2009 04:28:00 PM in , , ,