Tag Archives: Japan

Kyoto: Nishiki market, Pontocho and the “Seine”

24 Feb

The first half of our first full day in Kyoto was spent booking bus tickets for Takayama. We walked from our machiya to the shopping street.

Wow, we spent like 1 hour waiting for the travel agencies to open and another 1.5 hours checking from agency to agency if they sell tickets for the bus we wanted. We ended up getting more expensive bus tickets because that was all they carried. Well, only 1 agency sold bus tickets and for just 1 bus line.  But all that waiting and walking around allowed us to explore the shopping streets of Kyoto. First stop, the Nishiki market.

It’s mostly food and things related to food like designer chopsticks and bento boxes. There are all sorts of pickles, fish (really cheap unagi), candies, pastries, 4000 yen melons. Think of something you’d want to eat in Japan and you’ll probably find it here. We weren’t able to take a lot of photos because we were too busy drooling over the food.

What surprised me is the small temple at the end of the street. It reminded me of going to mass in the middle of the mall in the Philippines. So is that an Asian thing?

Just another block or so from the end of Nishiki market is Pontocho.

The traditional district (more like street) for nightlife (read: geishas and tea houses). It was a nice street because of the cobble stones and of course its history. But nothing much to see here except for geishas going about their work and a lot of restaurants. There’s a kabuki theater here too.

Then we got some drinks for one of the numerous vending machines on the street and settled on the banks of  “the Seine” to people watch. We don’t know what the name of the river was so we just referred to it as  “the Seine”. Looked like other locals had the same idea as we did. We saw a lot of people with their bento boxes enjoying the sun and the river and just chilling out.

It was such a nice, relaxing morning in Kyoto. I still don’t know what the name of the river is but I love it to bits. We felt like tourists but also strangely at home. We felt like we’ve seen a lot but it was only the first part of the day.

If you’re planning on visiting Kyoto and have time in your hands, I definitely recommend this walk.

Uronza in Kyoto. A kyo-machiya.

16 Jan

One of the challenges when traveling to Japan is looking for good but not too expensive hotels. The choices on the Lonely Planet were so-so (and a bit expensive) so I had to google for Kyoto guesthouses. Guesthouses are usually old Japanese houses that they have converted to some sort of bed and breakfast minus the breakfast. Or  you can also say it’s a more adult version of a hostel.

I stumbled upon Uronza’s website one day and decided there and then that this is were we are going to stay in Kyoto. We were going to spend our nights in a Kyo-machiya.

From Uronza’s website:

A Kyo-machiya is a traditional Kyoto-style house in which ordinary Kyoto people live. It has several typical elements such as Koshido (a wooden lattice), and Mushikomado (a windows in the shape of an insect cage). The characteristic layout of such houses, long and narrow, is called unagi no nedoko (eel’s bed). All machiyas were built with traditional construction methods.

Entering a Kyo-machiya, most people feel a sort of nostalgia, the feeling we usually have about the dear old home. Your eye will be caught by the Doma, a long interior passage connecting the street and the inner part of the house. And, after walking one more pace, you will step into the Hibukuro (it’s more than seven meters…about 25ft. high.), a stairwell conveying an inexpressible feeling of openness.

The walls are made of real wood and earth, not plywood or mortar. Partitions such as sliding doors, called shoji and fusuma in Japanese, and folding screens (byobu) create flexible, multi-purpose spaces.

It doesn’t matter if you visit a Kyo-machiya for the first time or have visited many times before, it has always the atmosphere that will make you feel hokkori (a word, used in the Kyoto area, meaning ‘to rest’, ‘to relax’, ‘warm’).

That’s the small garden in the middle of the kyo-machiya.

The set-up is just like a house. So the facilities are shared. But we don’t mind. The place was super clean. They close between noon and 4pm to clean up the place. The toilets are awesome.

The seat is heated, there’s a remote, there’s a toilet seat cleaner and the sink is on top of the toilet’s water reservoir. Very green thinking. You flush using “used” water. Great water saving technique.

This is our first room. It’s at the back of the house just after crossing the garden. We were a bit apprehensive about making our own futons. But the owner showed us how to do it and it was easy peasy.

Taadaa…

There’s no breakfast but there is free tea and coffee. There’s also free internet. The owners also do a tea ceremony every Wednesday night in the living room.

After 2 nights in Uronza, we spent a few days in the Hida region. Then we went back to Kyoto and stayed here again. But this time we were in  a different room. It was bigger and was on the main part of the house, just on top of the living area.

We were just across from our old room. Does the circle window look familiar?

The decorations in the room were sparse but impressive. Not bad for only 2500 Yen per person per night. I read somewhere that you shouldn’t put your bags in these alcoves because they serve as decoration pieces. So our bags were strewn all over the place.

The place is a bit far from Gion and the Kyoto station but it’s just a few blocks away from the Nijo-jo and the shopping streets. So from the station you might want to take a bus to the hotel but once you’re there you can just walk around Kyoto and drink in the sights.

I would highly recommend this place for those planning to visit Kyoto. Especially if you are on a budget.

More info on the prices and on how to get there at the Uronza website.

Touch down and Arashiyama

7 Dec

*Warning: Photo-heavy post.

“I can’t believe we’re really here” was my first thought when we arrived at the Kansai International Airport (KIX). I was half expecting manga characters coming to greet us Youkoso! right off the plane.

But no, it was like a normal airport. Immigration was a breeze, no nasty questions. They took our photo, prints, stuck a barcode to our passports and we were free to explore the land of the rising sun. Sweet!

So off we went to get our JR day pass.

First stop Kyoto. First challenge finding which platform to go to. We reached the right platform just when the train was pulling away. What a way to start the day. We had to wait for an hour for the next train – which made us late for our check in time (our Machiya closes between noon and 4pm for cleaning). So we had to leave our bags at the train station and go straight to Arashiyama. It was the perfect timing for our first day in Japan.

Arashiyama is a small town west of Kyoto. It was like a half an hour (or less, not sure) train ride from the city center. Most people go there to see the bamboo forest. It was a very nice introduction to Japanese ‘culture’ and I’m glad we started our trip with this.

Of course we too went there to see the bamboo forest. Parang Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon lang ang drama.

“Toto, we’re not in Paris anymore!”

A downside of Arashiyama being beautiful is that it’s packed with tourists. When we were there, there were at least 3 groups of students on a field trip and more Japanese (adult) tour groups.

Aside from the bamboo forest, the town itself is super kawaii. There are tons of shops along the street but it still keeps it “old school” vibe.

we called this the ninja tuktuk

japanese school kids

We thoroughly enjoyed our walk around Arashiyama. There are other things to see there aside from the forest. Temples, parks, shops. If we didn’t just come from a long-haul flight we might have stayed longer and checked out the monkey park, the temples and maybe even the boat ride along the Hozu river. But we were sooo tired and we saw what we came for.

And just like that, it was time to go home. And do a bit of “siesta” (read: 6pm to 8am the next day).

Bye Arashiyama!

How to get there from Kyoto:

JR Sagano line from Kyoto station. 15 mins. 230 Yen. Stop: Saga-Arashiyama.

More information here.

What ninjas do on their downtime

1 Dec

image

Watch tv while snuggling on the couch.

Why we didn’t need a JR pass and budget planning

1 Dec

When we were still young and weren’t married yet we’d never plan anything but the dates whenever we’d go on holiday. We’d just show up at some random hostel and check in. It also helped that we only traveled to not too expensive places. But now that we’re married I prefer to do it the adult way. Take note of the ‘I’. I want to know where I’m going to sleep that night without having to haul 10 kilos of backpack throughout the city – especially if we’re traveling to an expensive country (read: Japan).

If you follow my blog, you already know that Filipinos need a visa to go to Japan. Check out this post here to know more details. One of the requirements for the visa is the full itinerary with hotel reservations.

This fact helped me convince the husband to book the hotels waaaayyy in advance. That didn’t stop us from booking only 3 weeks before the trip though – it’s the backpacker soul rebelling. This also meant that we needed to know where we’ll be going on each day for 2 weeks. That meant mega planning. Checking the fastest routes between cities, checking train schedules, checking hotel availability, checking things to see and how long we’ll stay in a city, etc. etc. All of that of course without exploding our budget.

After going over the cities we wanted to go to, we started on to the next important aspect: the train pass. Should we get a 7/14 day JR pass?

We noticed that 1/3 of our fixed expenses would go to transportation. So we wanted to get the best deals possible in order to lessen the transpo costs.

Here’s the breakdown of the places we went to (that needed the train or bus)

KIX -Kyoto JR day pass 2000
Nankai/Subway/JR Special Rapid Service 890/230/540 1660
Kyoto – Takayama JR/Hida 5460/4220 9680
Nohi bus 4175
Takayama – Shirakawago Nohi bus 4300
Shirakawago – Ainokura Local bus 2500
Takayama – Kyoto Hida/JR 9680
Nohi bus 4175
Kyoto – Nara JR 690
Kintetsu 610
Nara – Osaka Nankai/JR 150/540 690
Kintetsu 540
Osaka – Koyasan Nankai 2460
Osaka – KIX Nankai 890

The ones in bold are what we got and the prices are in JPY. As you can see, the only JR trains we used was the one from the Kansai. Airport to Kyoto and Kyoto to Arashiyama and back. For the other towns other train companies were cheaper and sometimes faster. The time difference between the JR trains and the other ones were not huge. Usually just 15-20 minutes. I’d rather buy a mochi with the money saved than pay for 20 minutes.

The bus was comfortable enough and the trip to Takayama would have taken the same amount of time on a train.

So we did get a JR pass – but only for 1 day. There were other trains from the airport into Kyoto but it’s such a hassle to change trains when you’ve just arrived to unknown territory. We did need to wait for an hour because we missed the train by an inch.

Hyperdia.com was very helpful in our search for transpo options (I even downloaded the application) and so were forums on Japan travel. We were very pleased with our transpo budget. It could have been waaay less than planned because I saw a bus for Takayama that offered 2900 JPY per way only – but no one seemed to know where to reserve/buy tickets and when we asked our hotel owner if he can book for us, he said there were no seats left.

So anyway, my advice is not to jump on the rail passes until you’ve figured out where you want to go. Maybe if we did Tokyo and Hiroshima, a JR pass would have been worth it. But who knows. I’ll have to check that for our next trip. *Insert evil grin here*.

Next question: Ryokan, Machiya, Hotel, Hostel – where to sleep tonight?

Finally!! Japan!

22 Nov

view from our 100 year old machiya in Nara…beats the Hilton 100x over

Almost a year ago I posted that the husband gave me a trip to Japan for my 30th birthday. We were supposed to go in March of this year during our 5 week trip to Asia. But a few days just before our flight, the tsunami happened, then the nuclear thing happened. We sort of waited a bit before canceling our trip. Waited a bit = the night before. I think we were hoping that the nuclear thing was not real or something.

Anyway, long story short – we didn’t push through. We didn’t even get a refund because our airline didn’t cancel flights and it would have cost more to rebook than just not go (the risks of promo fares).

And so I thought that that was it for Japan. Until a few months ago when we were planning for another vacation. The husband wanted to go to Peru and do the Machu Picchu thing – with the camping and hiking, the works. Hello!!! Too much effort on my part so the idea was nixed. We’ll need to “train” more for that and found it wiser to push it back to sometime next year – or in 2 years – or when I can afford the helicopter ride straight to the summit.

So the search went on and on until the husband found super tickets for Japan with Lufthansa. We’ve planned for this year to be Japan year and lo and behold – the travel gods were smiling upon us once more. 550 Euros round trip. It was a steal. We bought them that day…and started to re-plan our previous itinerary. The original trip was only for 9 days. This time, we were going for 15 days. So a whole lotta changes and possibilities were up in the air.

Our final itinerary is this:

Day – Place

  1. Arr. Kyoto – Arashiyama
  2. Kyoto
  3. Takayama
  4. Ainokura
  5. Shirakawa-go, Takayama
  6. Takayama
  7. Kyoto
  8. Kyoto
  9. Nara
  10. Nara
  11. Osaka
  12. Koyasan
  13. Osaka
  14. Osaka
  15. Dep. Paris

I wanted to spend more time in Kyoto because there’s more to see than Osaka. And this trip was concentrated on the Kansai area. Our point of entry was Kansai International Airport so for us it made more sense to spend time around the place. No expensive Shinkansen tickets. We didn’t need the JR pass either (but you’ll find out why soon). Besides, we only had 2 weeks and it’s obviously not enough to see all of Japan. So Tokyo will wait until the next trip.

Looking back, it was a well planned trip. We saw most of what we wanted to see and experience. So no regrets.

More details (and photos) on the next post.

Uniqlo and Naruto

9 Feb

Two words I’ve never thought I’d say in a sentence together.

When I was still working in Makati, most of my teammates were so into Naruto. They’d avidly wait for new Naruto episodes every week while me and my other friends wait for Grey’s Anatomy episodes.

I didn’t realize how big Naruto is until I saw it on the Uniqlo site.

It’s so weird because I just started watching Naruto episodes (yes, from the beginning) and I’ve been shouting “Believe it” after every conversation with the husband…so I guess it’s safe to say I’m hooked…

And I want the Believe It shirt. Too bad it’s only for guys though. The price is so-so. I’m sure you can find the same ones in SM for half the price, but it’s not Uniqlo though. 😉

I don’t think I’m gonna be seen in the streets of Paris wearing Kakashi’s face on my chest though. I just thought it’s funny..with the timing and all…

 

The Naruto Uniqlo collection is available at the Uniqlo flagship store at the Opera. To see more designs, click here.

Uniqlo

17 Rue Scribe

75009 Paris