Osaka Late Winter/Early Spring 2016 Part 2 – Nara

One day trip to Nara (奈良), and one day trip to Arashiyama(嵐山).

Nara is a tourist magnet. There are the deer, Todaiji (東大寺) – a Buddhist temple, and Kasuga Taisha (春日大社) – a Shinto shrine. Deer looked different from my last trip there may years ago in a summer – weather’s cold and they got a layer of fur. Couldn’t see the white spots clearly.

Winter deer

Winter deer

Getting to Nara from Osaka was easy. Since we were staying at Namba, we took Kintetsu Railway, took around 40 minutes to get there. Another way to get to Nara is by JR train, which operates from JR Osaka Station.

We did all the touristy things, i.e. visited the deer park and Todaiji in the morning, had lunch, and visited KasugaTaisha in the afternoon.

Todaiji - huge Buddhist temple

Todaiji – huge Buddhist temple

Huge Buddha inside

Huge Buddha inside

Simple lunch in Nara

Simple lunch in Nara

Kasuga Taisha

Kasuga Taisha

Evening - time to leave Nara

Evening – time to leave Nara

Osaka Late Winter/Early Spring 2016 Part 1 – Osaka

Took this trip early 2016, I was basically “tourguiding” an enthusiastic shopper to Osaka. Most of the time was shopping at different department stores and shopping centres. There were some sightseeing and of course eating. Shoppers still have the need to eat.

Out of the restaurants we went to, there were two which I liked the most.

手羽先の羽 (Te-ba-saki-no-hane) was one of them. I won’t say that this is the best yakitori restaurants I visited, food was nice and the price (of food and especially beer) was good. It’s a short walk from Nankai-Namba station (south-most of all the Namba train stations).

edamame and beer~

edamame and beer~

Skewers, yum---

Skewers, yum—

Chicken wings

Chicken wings

Karaage (Fried chicken)

Karaage (Fried chicken)

 

Another one was 大衆酒場 まる和  (Tai-shuu-saka-ba-ma-ru-kazu). It’s located on the right of Namba station where LOTS of small restaurants were. Lots of food and drinks to choose from. Menu only in Japanese which maybe a bit difficult for visitors though… perhaps Google translate can help with ordering.

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My favourite fish

My favourite fish Hokke

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Apart from eating, onsen is a must especially in the winter. I left the shopper at a department store (twice) and went to a Sentō (銭湯) – public hot bath house where people pay to enter. Most of the sento’s provide the basics, this one- 湯源郷 太平のゆ – located at 木津市場 Osaka-Kizu Wholesale Market was really nice. There were indoor and outdoor hot baths and Jacuzzis. Weekday late afternoons would be my recommended soaking time. Weekends a bit too crowded. Remember to follow the onsen etiquette! (This etiquette guide is quite comprehensive http://www.sentoguide.info/etiquette)

Sento entrance

Sento entrance

There were also a few restaurants at the wholesale market where the sento located. We visited 2 of them. One was a curry-udon restaurant (大和), only open for breakfast and lunch (0500-1400), the set meals were gigantic… It was just breakfast…

Huge beef omelette on udon with bowl of rice, enough for 3 people...

Huge beef omelette on udon with bowl of rice, enough for 3 people…

Outside the udon restaurant

Outside the udon restaurant

The other was right outside of the market under the flyover, 板前居酒屋 ゆうや Izakaya Yuuya we had the sashimi rice (for breakfast), quite nice and cheap~~

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Sashimi rice~~

Sashimi rice~~

Spring 2015 trip to Tokyo/Kusatsu Part 6

And it comes to the last day of the trip. Holidays always short.

Our plan was to ride a bus from Kusatsu to Karuizawa, then Shinkansen (high-speed train) to Ueno (in Tokyo), then airport train to Narita International Airport. Turned out ok but quite expensive.

The hotel took us to the bus terminus next to the onsen street in Kusatsu, then we bought very interesting bus tickets.

Bus ticket size is A4

Bus ticket size is A4

Karuizawa is a town north of Tokyo, very popular summer escapade for Tokyoers. Even in summer temperature averages at 20 degree Celcius. In winter, people come here to ski.

Karuizawa Station

Karuizawa Station

A lake in the middle of the outlet, with a view of the ski resort at the back

A lake in the middle of the outlet, with a view of the ski resort at the back

It would only be a brief stop here for us – but as there’s an outlet, shopping became unavoidable, even for a short period of time!

Shops shops shops

Shops shops shops, not for us though.

After walking past all the labels and had a quick lunch, we headed to the train station for train to Ueno. The train ride took about an hour.

Shinkansen. Haven't rode on one of these for over 10 years.

Shinkansen. Haven’t rode on one of these for over 10 years.

We were approximately 2 weeks ahead of the sakura season, but Ueno was getting ready – 2 huge fake sakura trees was placed at the entrance of Ueno Park (上野公園), the renowned park for viewing sakura. For us, Ueno was the spot for our last-minute shopping. There’re all sorts of shops there.

Fake sakura trees...........

Fake sakura trees………..

And that was the end of our Spring trip to Japan in 2015.

Spring 2015 trip to Tokyo/Kusatsu Part 5

Already the 2nd last day of this trip (way too short…) Our destination was the Kusatsu Kokusai Ski Resort (Kusatsu International Ski Resort). It’s a ski resort in winter (mid-Dec to mid-Apr) and a “green” resort where people can play golf or grass-skiing in summer. There’s a shuttle bus running between Kusatsu Bus Terminus and the Resort and some of the hotels had their own shuttle bus to the Resort too.

Kusatsu Kokusai Ski Resort

Kusatsu Kokusai Ski Resort

Morning weather

Morning weather

Decorations at the gear rental

Decorations at the gear rental

The weather in the morning was good for snow sports, but it turned rainy and foggy in the afternoon and according to my sporty friends, it was getting slippery and exhausting so we left at around 2:30pm.

Afternoon weather

Afternoon weather

We had an early lunch at the ski resort, which wasn’t good (as expected, canteen-style food). So the first thing to do when we arrived at the busy onsen street was to eat. There were a couple of soba places, time for our first soba this trip. Soba was awesome.

Soba for late lunch

Soba for late lunch

After late soba lunch and a bit of souvenir-shopping around the Yubatake (湯畑), weather again became superb. Totally unpredictable.

Such nice weather later in the afternoon

Such nice weather later in the afternoon

Yubatake under the blue sky

Yubatake under the blue sky

The foot-onsen (hot spring) at the Kusatsu Hotel was an enjoyable experience after all the sports and shopping. It was quite hot though.

Seemed that we had a long day and it was finally time for dinner at a yakiniku place – Yakiniku Agatsuma (燒肉吾妻), located right next to the Yubatake. They offered inexpensive set menus as well as daily recommendations. The charcoal was so hot that it cooked the meat in an instant and we finished our dinner in around half an hour. Probably the way business done there, could serve more customers… Have to admit the meat was nice and was very suitable for barbecue.

Daily recommendation was steak

Daily recommendation was steak

Burning charcoal, cook the meat in blink of eye

Burning charcoal, cook the meat in blink of eye

Spring 2015 trip to Tokyo/Kusatsu Part 4

After 3 days of fun in Tokyo, time to head to the onsen area – Kusatsu  (草津).

There were not many direct transportation methods from Shinjuku to Kusatsu, coach seemed to be the only way. We took the JR bus from south of Shinjuku station. After over 4 hours (with only 1 stop) we arrived at Kusatsu.

Off we go to Kusatsu!

Off we go to Kusatsu!

The hotel’s courtesy bus picked us up from the bus terminus, we arrived at the Kusatsu Hotel. Built in 1913, it’s a wooden structure, pretty hotel. After 3 nights of tiny hotel rooms, we finally got to sleep in big hotel rooms.

Room at Kusatsu Hotel

Room at Kusatsu Hotel

Weather’s still quite cold in Kusatsu, but that area has a lower temperature all year-round, average max 20 degree Celsius even in summer.

After settling down, we went out to visit Sai-no-Kawara Park (西の河原公園), which was located right next to the hotel. It wasn’t the best timing to visit Kusatsu, as the public onsen at the Park was under restoration. It’s a huge outdoor onsen that could fit over a hundred bathers at the same time. Well. We walked around the Park for a while anyway.

Sai-no-Kawara Park (西の河原公園)

Sai-no-Kawara Park (西の河原公園)

Shrine at the Park

Shrine at the Park.

There were a few small onsen ponds inside the Park

There were a few small onsen ponds inside the Park

After that we headed to another major tourist attraction – Yubatake (湯畑), which is the symbol of Kusatsu. Magnificent structure.

On the way to Yubatake, about 10 minute's walk from the Park

Decor in Kusatsu, on the way to Yubatake

Yubatake

Yubatake

Hotspring water inside those canals

Hotspring water inside those canals

Another angle of the Yubatake

Another angle of the Yubatake

Next stop was a public onsen – Otaki-no-yu (大滝乃湯). There are a few public onsens scattered around town, Otaki-no-yu is one of the more popular ones, with a few onsen options. We tried the “awase-yu”, which was 4 springs with different temperatures ranging from 38 to 45 degree Celsius… I could atmost go to the second one which was approximately 42 degrees. No photos here since it’s an onsen. I enjoyed the onsen shower more…

Kusatsu is different from many other onsen areas we visited. It’s quite a busy town, with many restaurants. So we didn’t book the accommodation plans with dinner. This night we went to an izakaya (casual drinking restaurant) named Mizuho, and their food was fabulous.

Great food and wide range of shochu to choose from

Great food and wide range of shochu to choose from

Night view of the Yubatake, looked smokier at night

Night view of the Yubatake, looked smokier at night

Spring 2015 trip to Tokyo/Kusatsu Part 3

It so happened that for 2 consecutive days we went to “best dating spots” – the day before it was Daiba, now on the third day of the trip we went to Yokohama (where the port area is a famous dating spot).

There are a few railways that connect Tokyo and Yokohama, which is approximately 30 to 60 minutes away depending on the departing Tokyo area. Our choice was departing from Shibuya, taking the Tokyu Toyoko Line(TY / 東急東横線) to Yokohama – Tokyu Rail offers a discount ticket, round trip from Shibuya to Yokohama plus 1-day unlimited use on the Minatomirai Line (みなとみらい線, in Yokohama) for 860 yen. Like Shinjuku, there are a few different railway companies running in Shibuya, and the station itself also spawns like a multi-storey spider web. So it’s important to follow the direction signs!

Day trip ticket, don't lose it!

Day trip ticket, don’t lose it!

We took the train all the way to the end, Motomachi-Chūkagai Station (元町・中華街駅) where the biggest Chinatown in Japan is located. Took a walk and had a not-so-nice meal, we walked pass a cemetery and headed to the Harbour View Park (港の見える丘公園). View from there was the industrial part of Yokohama.

Must-have architecture in all Chinatowns around the globe

Must-have architecture in all Chinatowns around the globe

View from the park up the hill

View from the park up the hill

Since the 1-day train ticket on Minatomirai Line was for unlimited use, we got back to the station and took the train to Bashamichi Station, to start our tour at the port area. First stop was the Red Brick Warehouse, which used to be warehouses and now became shops.

Top: Red Brick Warehouse by the harbour. Bottom: View of the harbour

Top: Red Brick Warehouse by the harbour. Bottom: View of the harbour

We walked pass amusement park (or parks), the Cup Noodle Museum (which we wanted to go but it was closed for the day), and the Nippon Maru (a sail training ship). Apparently the evening/night view of the port area should be magnificent, seemed we arrived at Yokohama a bit too early that day. Waiting for sunset would be too much.

Ferris wheel. Huge

Ferris wheel. Huge

This roller-coaster springs out from bottom of a pool

This roller-coaster springs out (or enters?) from bottom of a pool. Was not running so no idea which direction it goes.

Baby roller-coaster for kids

Baby roller-coaster for kids

CLOSED!!!!!

CLOSED!!!!!

Nippon Maru, sail training ship

Nippon Maru, sail training ship

Manhole cover with Nippon Maru

Manhole cover with Nippon Maru

Time to go back to Yokohama Station area (again by train of course) for ramen! We found a ramen place at a back alley near the station, they served great ramen!

Ramen place on an alley

Ramen place on an alley (left)

This ramen's good

This ramen’s good

This day was actually the last day of our stay in Shinjuku, Tokyo. How can we not go to the golden street alleys, or Golden Gai, in Shinjuku before leaving the city! It’s a small area in Shinjuku/Kabukicho area with numerous tiny bars. We went to an upstairs bar through a steep staircase that could seat 10 people, already quite big in the area. Hosted by a Korean girl, it was a joyful night.

Steep staircase to a tiny bar

Steep staircase to a tiny bar

Our final stop was the west exit from Shinjuku Station, just to check if there were still ramen trucks. Only one left now.

Ramen truck @ Shinjuku Station West exit

Ramen truck @ Shinjuku Station West exit

Spring 2015 trip to Tokyo/Kusatsu Part 2

First thing on our second day was to go to Tsujiki Market (築地市場) for a sashimi rice breakfast – since we are not morning people, we settled for the outer market, which was pretty good enough, after all we were not there for wholesale or wet market groceries.

Tsujiki Market (築地市場)

Tsujiki Market (築地市場)

Huge bowl of sashimi rice

Huge bowl of sashimi rice

Apart from sashimi rice, around the narrow streets of the outer market there were other many other shops selling seafood produce, cooking utensils, kitchen stuff, etc etc etc… And there was this cafe where the coffee was good!

Oysters, managed to had 2 even after the huge bowl of rice...

Oysters, managed to had 2 even after the huge bowl of rice…

Nice coffee

Nice coffee

This is the cafe, on a main street

This is the cafe, on a main street

Tree decorated with scrubs!

Tree decorated with scrubs!

From Tsukiji Market, we walked to Shinbashi (新橋) Station to take the expensive Yurikamome (ゆりかもめ) monorail to go to Daiba (台場). That 7 stops rail ticket costed 320 yen, more expensive than from Shinjuku to Tsujiki Market. But it does have a nice view of the harbour.

Walking map from the market to Shinbashi Station

Walking map from the market to Shinbashi Station

Gigantic complex with many lifts at the Shinbashi area

Gigantic complex with many lifts at the Shinbashi area

Our initial plan was to visit the Rainbow Bridge and Gundam Front at Diver City (near Tokyo Teleport Station) then would go to Tokyo Skytree before heading back to Shinjuku for dinner. However it was a foggy day, and seemed the fog grew thicker by the hour. Remembering our last visit to Uramashu Observatory during our last trip to Sapporo, we ditched our Skytree visit.

Since we had all afternoon at Daiba, we visited Fuji Television too, but it was closed that day… So we headed to Diver City, where Gundam Front Tokyo located. For those who have no idea what Gundam is — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gundam

At Fuji Television complex

At Fuji Television complex

Gundam statue, 1:1 scale, so it's 18.5 metres tall

Gundam statue, 1:1 scale, so it’s 18.5 metres tall

Dinner was back in Shinjuku, at a yakitori place known as けむり, in the Kabukicho area. We had lots of skewers and 21 beers (!!) plus 7 or 8 small bottles of sake (!!!), costed 21,000 yen, very reasonable price. Food was yummy too.

All sorts of yakitori (skewered poultry items)

All sorts of yakitori (skewered poultry items)

Japanese cucumbers are very delicious

Japanese cucumbers are very delicious