Osaka & Kyoto Free & Easy (part 2)

Saturday, 17th March 2018 – Miyama Folk Village

Strangely I awoke early and my wife and I went for a crisp, cold morning walk over the bridge, leisurely taking in the sights and taking photos of the river and mountains and trees. The hotel served a lovely delicious breakfast. It was sad that we had to leave soon after that. We dragged our luggage over the bridge to the shopping street lined with shops selling confectionary and food and scores of touristy souvenirs.

Back to old school handkerchiefs
A friend gave me this gift

I was seized by a crazy idea: to buy some Made in Japan handkerchiefs and wean away from using tissue paper. Not for any noble reason like saving the earth, but on a whim, to do something different, something old school. This has been happening. Recently I bought fountain pens and ink and started writing my journal with them. For sure it slowed down my writing!

Three drivers in this Toyota – international license needed.
Rural traditional Japanese guesthouse experience off the beaten track
Jasmine, Jenny, Deborah, Eunice, Karen
Walking in the cool weather by the river
Posing at the village’s main bus-stop
There are 39 thatched roof houses in this village
Great shot of three by the river
Eunice and Peter loves this postbox

We lugged our luggage to JR Saga-arashiyama Station and transited to Kameoka Station where we went to a car rental to for a 6 seater Toyota MPV to drive to the tourism center for lunch and then to the Miyama Folk Village. We struggled to find the Matabe Minshuku guesthouse we had booked online, and walked and inquired around, when it was a mere 20 feet from where we had parked. The host welcomed us in and showed us around the tatami floored traditional farmer’s house. We distributed ourselves (male snorers, male non-snorers, and ladies) into the three rooms. As it was still evening, we explored the village with its rice-fields and unique houses with their gassho zukuri (praying hands) thatched roofs.

Sukiyaki dinner
The husband and wife team showed us how to eat sukiyaki the Japanese way
Sayonara – the last bow before bed

At night, we were served farmers’ meal of chicken sukiyaki (casserole) and assorted pickles with rice . The chicken was probably a kampong chicken or an old female hen (with unhatched eggs in its body). The flesh was hard, and the casserole included many pieces of chicken innards. The meal included the ayu – a small freshwater fish of the salmon family, of about 5 inches. It is reputed to be sweet, the tastiest of all river fishes, and usually grilled, and could be eaten completely bones included.

We turned on the heaters as it was a very cold night we experienced. I was glad I had more than enough to keep myself warm in addition to the heaters.

Sunday, 18th March 2018 – Maizuru Port Center & Amanohashidate

Breakfast with music followed by Sunday reflection

We had a poor farmer’s breakfast. That said it all. It was the Lord’s day and we had a time of worship. We sang the song, How Great Thou Art, and we reflected on Matthew chapter 4 (the temptation of Jesus) and broke into groups of two to share and pray for one another. Short but blessed time. We packed up and drove off to the next stop: the Maizaru Port Centre. There we had an unforgettable, inexpensive seafood lunch.

Maizaru Port Centre
Wide selection of seafood available
Crab galore – sweet and inexpensive
Sashimi galore – cheap, cheap
Exotic shrimp roe
Oysters and scallops

In Miyazu, we met a 40ish owner is the 13th generation owner of the 300-year old ryokan. He brought us around and gave us a sense of the history and legacy of the ryokan. Evidently, he was proud of what he did. We were given a room on the ground floor with a beautiful garden view.

300 year old ryokan with a lovely garden view
Posing with the young 13th generation owner in front of his ryokan

Soon we were off again to the Amanohashidate View Land, a monorail or chairlift up the steep Mt Monju to view one of the top three scenic spots of Japan. Debatable, in my opinion. Anyway when you look down from the top you will see Amanohashidate (“bridge in heaven”) a three kilometre long sandbar isthmus that spans the mouth of Miyazu bay.

Beautiful view of the Amanohashidate (bridge in heaven)
Our great leader Jasmine, stared upside down to try to see a dragon!
Going down by chair lift
Pausing along the 3km land bridge sandbar
These trees are really old. We tried to help.
At one end of the 3km sandbar – a good 45 minutes walk

Later on, we went down and hiked the narrow sandbar, which was forested with nearly 8,000 pine trees, some of them showing their ancient age and their interesting unique shapes. We had hoped to find some restaurants at the other end but the eateries were all closed. We decided to walk back and the eateries where we departed from were also closed. We went around hunting for food and ended up having MacDonald’s for dinner! Ironic: flying all the way to Japan to eat American fast food.


Osaka & Kyoto free and easy (part 1)

Before the trip my main concern was the weather. How cold would it be? I was afraid I would be ill equipped to cope with cold weather. I prefer hot weather to cold. To be safe, I packed in three cashmeres, a woolen, several long sleeves, a long pants with fleece lining, a down vest, a jacket, a light windbreaker, gloves, a scarf and a beanie. During the trip, I had to play around with the layers day by day, and at different points in the day. It worked. However, the one thing I forgot was an umbrella. On the third day in Osaka, I bought a Made in China foldable for a few Singapore dollars.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018 – Flight to Osaka

We met at the airport at 12 noon and the flight was at 2.30pm. We arrived at about 9.20 pm. We actually lost a day in travel but saved $200 because this SIA ticket was cheaper than the overnight one. From the airport, we took a train to Hotel Nissei, Osaka where we would stay for two nights. Late supper was in an eatery that happened to be open at that late hour along a shopping street. Nothing remarkable except very friendly, young waiters.

First meal in an Osaka restaurant along a shopping street near the hotel

Thursday, 15 March 2018 – Glimpses of Osaka

Hotel breakfast was buns, hardboiled eggs, and mayonnaise mashed potato with hot coffee and tea which was fine by us, but by the second day I was happy we were changing hotels – the queen-sized bed was the size of a super-single and it creaked. We started off at 9am and explored around the hotel for a while chalking up an hour or so in a Daiso nearby. Then we went in search of an unagi (eel) restaurant near Hommachi Station (M18). It was deliciously inexpensive. Thick, tasty grilled tender flesh over fragrant Japanese rice. It’s a chain restaurant: Unatoto.

Kenny, Daniel and Jabez outside Daiso
Succulent unagi don
On the road train around Osaka Castle grounds
White plum blossom
My darling wife blossom
Bright pink plum blossom
Deborah and Jacob


God’s creation close up
Guards at the entrance of the Osaka castle gates
Outer ring of the wall around the palace park

We then headed to Osaka Castle Park and there we were transported around the grounds in a road train. We were not keen on entering Osaka Castle, as the we have been to quite a few castles before. We wanted to look at the plum blossoms in the park and that we did.

Khoon, Daniel, Peter & Eunice, Karen at Japanese crepe dessert cafe
Jasmine (planner), Jabez, Kenny & Jenny, Deborah, Jacob
Fantastic looking, great tasting crepe

We explored a few covered shopping alleys at Barbara shopping area for an hour or so. Tea was tucking into fantastic Japanese crepe together at a cafe, and observing how uniquely fashionable the passersby were, especially the ladies.

When the weather is hot all year round like in Singapore, comfort takes priority: Polo shirts, T-shirts, bermudas, blouse and skirts. In a cold country, there was so much more you can and have to wear: hats, scarves, gloves, stockings, boots, jackets, layers of clothing, vests – it was fashion galore.

We searched for a few second-hand shops but the pre-loved clothes were all branded stuff and were too expensive. A couple did spot and purchase for their young adult sons a few Paul Frank limited edition T shirts with cute monkey prints at prices you would pay for a brand-new jacket. This was a revelation for me!

The night is young at this famous shopping area
Well known icon of the Osaka night shopping streets

From there we went to that famous street with that huge Dotonburi Glico signboard of a runner hitting the finish line, and a gigantic crab with pincers that move. We walked around there to soak the atmosphere, enjoy street food like takoyaki (octopus balls I call them) to look for our dinner, which was for me a forgettable ramen (wheat noodles with toppings). We slowly walked back to the hotel through the shopping alleys and my wife hunted for cosmetic products my daughter requested. It was a long day. We walked thousands of steps and many kilometres.

My first impressions of Osaka are that it is clean but drab with buildings that are old and boring, and in dismal shades of grey, brown and neutral colours. The grey and cloudy skies of autumn only accentuated this feeling of monotony, darkness and gloom. How do the Osaka people (15 million) survive the winters and autumns? I guess their shopping streets give some relief with their bright colours, lights (especially at night) and variety of designs.


Friday, 16th of March 2018 – Kyoto Arashiyama and Sagano bamboo forest

In the morning, we went to a street (near Nissei Hotel) with many shoe wholesalers. Unfortunately, there was nothing interesting to buy and we moved out of our hotel at 11am and travelled to Arashiyama to be at the beautiful Sagano bamboo forest. We checked into the Arashiyama Business Hotel, a smart hotel with lovely views of the bridge and river.

Arriving at Arayashima – lovely calligraphy
Lovely room with a view of the bridge
Searching for the bamboo forest
Get the pics before the crowds come
So lost in photo taking! Who is missing?
A “couple” shot is mandatory is such a romantic place
We just had to take this shot with the Japanese girls
The best udon and tempura we have eaten

We quickly went off to search for the bamboo forest. It was a 30-minutes walk before we reached the beautiful forest. Surprisingly there weren’t that many people. Perhaps the earlier drizzles had dampened visitors’ enthusiasm. Anyway, we spent close to an hour taking pictures, and more pictures and more pictures. The path of the bamboo forest led away to houses on both sides of a path that led into the main tourist thoroughfare. There on the main street we walloped the best udon and tempura of the trip.

A beautiful forest lies within this building!
It is called a kimono forest. Ingenious.
A wefie

As darkness fell we went to the kimono forest, a creative collection of gorgeous cylinder-shaped lighted-up pillars displaying kimono designs that edged both sides of the path to the tram station. I thought it was such a great idea that Singapore should adopt somewhere for tourists to shoot videos and take selfies. Should not be kimono but maybe orchid patterns  of all kinds.

We ended the evening in the single men’s room with fellowship, tid-bits and thanksgiving. It was comforting that this hotel had such lovely rooms.

The two single men: Daniel & Jacob.

More to come in future posts.

Early train to Busan

I was not keen on visiting the DMZ. Boring, I thought. My wife and I were attracted to an alternative proposal to go to Busan on the 29th October 2017.  (Yes this is a belated post of a last year’s travel experience). So off we went on an early train from Seoul to Busan. We were relieved that there were no zombies on the train. We got off there and hopped onto a bus that would bring us to the famous and popular tourist spot Gamcheon Cultural Village. This village is an example of the power of the arts upon living spaces. Artists moved into a depressed area to take advantage of cheaper rent and their creativity and art uplifted the surrounding physical environment and gave a community in decline, some progress and hope. It is now a “must-go” place for tourists. The village is a mobile phone photographer’s paradise.

At the entrance of Gamcheon Cultural Village: Yenny, Joy Lian, Eunice Lian, Jenny, Y.K., Kenny
The must have shot that’s evidence you were there
I’m climbing on the upward way, new heights I’m gaining every day
Enlarge my world O Lord
Lots of lovely colourful spots for photography
Having a coffee break at a cafe with a nice view

After a whole morning exploring the village we made our way to the local market for seafood lunch. After all, Busan is a seaport. Seafood for sure is the must-eat food of Busan. After asking around several restaurants and weighing the pros and cons we settled on a restaurant along the main entrance into the local fish market. It was a satisfying meal, especially the crab. Oh, the crab which has legs that has more meat than the body. Sweet meat, from the fresh, sea waters of the eastern sea.

Seafood set
Korean shashimi: frankly, I squirmed
Snow crab
Delicious finale: rice fried with crab juice and seaweed
At Haeundae beach in the evening before heading back to Seoul