Chronology of Japan holiday trip – Nov 2010

Incheon Airport

Incheon Airport - Korea

Departed on 6-Nov from Changi via Korean Air. We had a transit at Korea Incheon airport before arriving at Narita on 7-Nov, 11:25am .  The service on Korean Air is rather good. If not better or equal to SIA standard. After all the immigration process at Narita airport, quickly booked the Limousine bus (3,000¥ ea.) to take us to hotel. We were able to catch the next bus minutes before it arrived at pickup bay.

Stay in Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa (near Shinagawa station) for one night. After checked-in, we went to Ginza for shopping/sightseeing. This hotel provides free shutter bus service to Shinagawa station every half an hour, also daily two trips to Tokyo Disneyland. It also has a Japanese style-garden.

From Shinagawa station, took JR Yamanote Line (山手線) to Yurakucho station (有楽町駅). then short walk to Ginza shopping belt.

Japanese ramen

Saw a small demonstration. From the banner, roughly guess some workers were laid-off. Nevertheless it did not hamper our mood. Since it was on Sunday, there are streets closed to traffic. Ginza, likes the shopping belt in S’pore Orchard, but in larger scale.

Visit some of the stores like; Tokyo Kyukyodo (東京鳩居堂), Itoya, Bic Camera…etc.

Ginza night scene

Had ramen dinner, at about 5:30pm. Sky’s already dark. Sunset is around 4:30pm during autumn/winter time. After have a stroll in Ginza to enjoy the nite scene.  Went back to hotel at about 8pm (already quite tire) as tomorrow we’re heading to Kyoto early.

8-Nov, had early check-out hotel and head to Shinagawa station by the hotel bus service. However, the JR pass exchange office opens at 9am. After 7D JR pass was exchanged, booked the shinkansen/bullet train tickets to Kyoto. The ride on shinkansen is fantastic, spacious, clean and efficient. You could bring food and eat during the ride, but make sure you keep your seats clean, throw your thrash at designated bins. One thing I observed that most office workers are wearing black jackets. So a sea of penguins around you at rash hour at major train stations….haha.

Japan bullet train passing thru station

Menu and paying machine in front of ramen shop

Arrived at Kyoto station, 12:48pm. 5 min. walk to APA hotel; http://www.apahotel.com/hotel/kansai/03_kyotoeki-horikawa/english/index.html. After settling down, we had lunch at JR Isetan 11F, a ramen alley.  You won’t get tire of eating it as they’re different taste from store to store. In many parts of Japan train station, you pay first at the paying machine located in front of the store.

After lunch, we did a bit of window-shopping before we went to Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) by local train. Initially we boarded an “express” Nara Line (特急奈良線). Luckily I discovered before it moved. By confirming with the station stuff, we board the right train. It should an “ordinary” Nara Line (普通奈良線) which stops at every station. The Inari station is two stops away from Kyoto station. Since it was an JR local train, so it already covered by JR pass.

"Torii" Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine

The shrine had a long trails of torii erected/donated by the wealthy merchants/manufacturers. Most of the temples or shrines in Japan, had this purification fountain near the shrine’s entrance, take one of the ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both hands. Then transfer some water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water beside the fountain. You are not supposed to transfer the water directly from the ladle into your mouth or swallow the water. In due respect, always follow this procedure whenever we visit a temple/shrine. Some temples require you to take out your shoes when stepping inside. It was an eye opener to see such a sight of this shrine.

We moved back to Kyoto station, and took some pictures of Kyoto tower, then went shopping at underground Porta mall. It was a maze moving around underground as you may lose your reference point. It is linked to the Kyoto subway station (K11) which runs the Karasuma Line (烏丸線). The subway stations in Kyoto and Tokyo are given with station no., it’s easy to travel around. Subway ticket are bought with machine.

We had our dinner at one of the Japanese restaurants located at the underground mall.

On the way back to hotel, we bought some snacks, bread for breakfast as well as one day bus pass for tomorrow activities. Had encountered a not so nice experience with APA hotel. The aircon will only blow ambient or hot air, but not cool air. Make a complaint to front desk, they proposed to open the window. But this was not acceptable as it was rather noisy from the traffic.

Drums of preserved vegie - Nishiki market

9-Nov, woke up early to go to Nishiki market alone to have a glimpse of market activities alone. This market opens at 9am, but I were there at 8am. It runs parallel with Shijo-dori. Most of the shops were yet to open for business. However able to capture some shops activities. Adjacent to it there is shopping arcade, open from 11am. Had a short breakfast at McDonald before heading back to Kyoto station by bus to meet my wife at 10am.

The bus service in Kyoto is very efficient. You board the bus from behind and pay your single trip flat fare of 200¥ or show your bus pass. If you are going to use the bus system the whole day, a day bus pass (500¥) is more economically. Each bus stop displays the time-table when will the bus arrive. It is amazing accurate. The interval is roughly between 6-15min, depending of the servicing route. So you could plan the duration of your visit to places of interest, and hop-on the bus to another place. I think Singapore bus system is still a long way to go to reach such level. Another thing I observed is the bus driver will switch-off the engine while waiting at the traffic junction. Nice isn’t it, to have a green & cleaner environment.

Rock garden - Ryoan-ji

We went to Ryōan-ji (龍安寺) by train and transferred by bus. This temple is famous with its tranquillity”rock garden”, or “Zen” garden.  Got to take  out your shoes before entering. Later we walked around a big pond beside the temple. 

We had buffet lunch before we visit the famous 金閣寺 Kinkaku-ji, “Golden Pavillion” temple. It’s something you got to do is to return your bowls/plates/cups with tray after your meal. Guess this this Japanese culture. 

Kinkaku-Ji temple - one of Kyoto famous site

It was a right timing with a low sun-light shined on it and you could really see its golden spectacular sight! Also tried my luck of throwing coins into a bowl. I managed to hit two! That’s shown how lucky was I.

Just snapped some shots before we went to Takashimaya shopping mall at Kawaramachi, which also near to Shin-Kyogoku (新京极)shopping arcade where we had our dinner at one of the Japanese cuisine restaurant. Did our laundry at our hotel 11F, the guest public bath area.

10-Nov. Visited these places: Nishi Hongan-ji (西本願寺), Nijō Castle (二条城), Kyoto Imperial Palace and Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺).

Interior of Nishi Hongan-Ji temple - kyoto

Praying moment....Nishi Hongan-Ji

From our hotel, it’s a short walk to Nishi Hongan-ji temple. Admission is free.  There are two great halls for devotees to pray. There were chrysanthemum flowers on display in the compound. They are beautiful. The imperial seal was made up by this flower with 16 petals. This temple is not so crowded as other temples. So you could relax and take your time to enjoy the stay.

Wall of Nijo castle - Kyoto

At 10:30am, we took a bus to Nijo castle. It was built by a shogun and completed in 1626. It was a fortified castle with all sides surrounded by two rings of water and high walls. But this castle is not as grand/famous as Osaka and Himenji castle. We patronised a makeshift food stores for our quick-lunch at the castle.

Imperial Palace - Kyoto

Due to short of time, we took a cab (abt 800¥) to Imperial Palace as to meet the scheduled English public tour at 2pm. To get into the palace, you need to apply a pass on-line or via imperial household agency office on-site. You should be at the gate 15 min. earlier before it starts.

Imperial Palace garden scene

It was a magnificent place to visit, to know how the imperial royal family lived. But it’s rather small as compared with the Beijing imperial palace. Understood the original palace was burnt down couple of times before it was restored to current state. However, they still kept a block of rather old building. It also has a nice garden. However, during the tour, there was this security man, kept counting no. of people. Guess no one is left behind after each tour.

Evening scene of Kiyomizu-dera temple - Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera temple - Kyoto

Geisha of Gion - Kyoto

The tour last about an hour. After that, we moved to Kiyomizu-dera temple by bus. You need to walk abt 500m from the bus stop. Near the entrance of this temples, there are 2 rows of shop lying along the street. From the temple, you could view the skyline of Kyoto city. Not a nail was used to build this temple, like the Temple of Heaven (天坛) in Beijing. Here we enjoyed the sunset view. {Insert pic rice cake} In Kyoto, we normally see this rice cake anywhere, and we understood it’s only made in Kyoto, a speciality during the autumn season. But it can’t kept for too long (normally two – three days). So we do not buy any to bring back to S’pore.We left about 6:30pm, to Gion (祇園) area which is not far away from the temple, two bus-stop away. There are exclusive restaurants along the street of Hanamikoji dori (花见小路通). Here you could see geisha walking in/out of these restaurants. Via special connection, guest could hire a geisha to entertain in a private room in the restaurant.

We search for a shop, so-called “Green-T”, selling unique T-shirt, 3,800¥ a piece) for a while. We managed to find the shop. Not easy to find. This shop is located inside a small quiet shopping complex. Bought a few pieces.

Wow, today we had visited so many places in a day and also the last day in Kyoto. Due to short of time and felt tire, we just bought some cup noodles and soup, deep-fry chicken and inarizushi from convenience store & had our dinner in our hotel room.

Sunset of Kyoto city

During the stay in Kyoto, the sky were very good. Most of the time, there were sunshine and short overcast days, and no rain. Most of the sites that we visited, are an UNESCO world heritage site (not possible to visit all the sites within 3 days, you might need at least 5-6D). Sometimes we also saw ladies wearing the Japanese traditional clothing kimono 和服 visiting the temples. 

11-Nov, said goodbye to Kyoto and headed to Mt Fuji area by shinkansen. Reach the Mishima station at about 10:45am. 

Tried to check-in the hotel, but the room was not ready. So we left our luggage at the hotel and headed to Mt Fuji, Gotenba site, by riding the JR Gotenba line. We had a short lunch at Mishima station. It is common sight to see ramen shops in train station. These ramen shops are unique, with no seat. So you eat while standing. But it’s cheaper.

Gotemba Premium outlets - Gotemba

But that day Mt Fuji was covered thick clouds. Could not get a good shot at it. So we went to this Gotenba Premium Outlet, which they had branded goods selling at discount price. Surprisingly it was crowded. From the Gotenba station, you could board the free shuttle bus to the outlet, at 20 min. interval. While my wife is shopping, I roamed around that area…trying to create the Mt Fuji picture, but unsuccessful. We headed back to Gotenba station.

Street scene - Gotemba

I roamed around this town alone just to capture the lives of this town, while my wife stayed around the train station. We had 中华料理 dinner near our hotel, http://www.fujimishima-hotel.jp/. Next time I shall  visit the Mt Fuji five lakes area.

12-Nov, we moved back to  the same hotel near Shinagawa station. Since we arrived quite early, we got to leave our luggage behind with bell captain and headed to Disneyland. Unfortunately we missed the last shuttle bus. So we took the local train, transited at Tokyo station to the Disneyland. Not that difficult. But got to walk quite a distance to make the transfer.

Disneyland castle - Tokyo

Arrived there just after 12 noon. Not allow to bring in my tripod. Argued with the customer service office for reasoning. However, they never give me an satisfy answer. Shit…! I got to rent a locker which costed me 500¥ (S$8). Next time I should bring my little gorilla tripod.

Disneyland's performers - Tokyo

It’s a fantastic theme park. Even on Friday, it was so crowded with visitors, and it got two different theme parades a day. I guess this theme park is making tones of money.

Disneyland Toy story

People had already seated along the parade route 1 1/2 hour earlier before it started. Those in the front are required to sit down. I was standing beside a guard rail and not blocking anyone view were also not allowed. I was a bit piss-off when the crowd control marshal insisted me to sit down. I just could not understand the logic that I was not blocking anyone’s view. It should be flexible. I could only accepted if I was blocking someone’s view. Nevertheless I just stood up when I got to shoot pictures.

Light show - Disneyland

After the parade, had a short break. We managed to take some rides, like the western train, safari boat and Mississippi river boat. Yes, there were long queue, but it took about 15 min. waiting in the queue, before you got your ride. We had “smoked” turkey leg for our dinner. In fact half a day is not enough to tour the theme park, would recommend that you spend a day. There is Disneysea beside this theme part. Shall visit next visit to Japan.

The fireworks started at 8pm, which was rather late to my opinion. Since I did not have the tripod, and the hotel last shuttle bus was leaving at 7:45pm, I decided to give it a miss and headed back to hotel to do our laundries. And we also needed to wake up early next day to visit Nikko. This time we got our room, 971, facing north where we could view the Tokyo tower.

13-Nov, woke up to catch the early train to Nikko. We bought some bread from the station for our breakfast. My wife really like the chocolate buns (105¥ for two)  sold from convenience store.

You need to make two transfers from Shinagawa to Nikko, one at Tokyo station, into shinkansen line, and at Utsunomiya station (宇都宮駅), into Nikko line (日光線). Whole journey takes about 2 hr. We had a short coffee break at Utsunomiya station while waiting for the Nikko line train to move. Nikko line runs every 45 min.

Lake Chuzenji - Nikko

Arrived at Nikko station at 9am. From the Nikko station, you still need to take bus. A day bus pass is 2000¥ to go to  Lake Chuzenji, 中禅寺湖. With this day pass, you could hop-on/off unlimited of times. Beside the lake, there is a famous water falls Kegon Waterfall (華厳滝). This waterfall is infamous for suicide by Japanese youth. It will be frozen during cold winter. These two places are covered under by the Nikko National Park.

Duckie boats - Lake Chuzenji

Rock cliff - Nikko

It took us about 50 min. to reach Lake Chuzenji. We strolled a short distance around the lake, Enjoying the magnificent scenery, captured some photos. Also you may have a chance to watch craftsmen doing some wood crafting. Then proceed for lunch at around 12pm, in one of the restaurants around the lake.  Then walked to the waterfall. Paid a fee and you could take the lift going down 100m to a viewing platform. The access path to the view platform is not easily accessed for older people. From this viewing platform, you could really enjoy the waterfall, as well as the surrounding area. On the right-side of the waterfall, there is a rocky wall towering into the sky vertically. We left the place back to Nikko station. On the way, down the slopes, the curve bending road is rather frightening and challenging. You would also feel the bus would going over the bend, but with his experience, you’re in safe hands of the driver. Originally we had the intention to visit another site, Nikko Tamozawa imperial villa memorial park. But due to traffic jam and it closes at 4.30pm, so we decided to give it a miss.

Nikko is a nice place for relaxation. Its tranquility, onsen and beautiful scene. Next time should plan to stay a nite or two.

Japanese carp - Takanawa Hotel's garden

14-Nov, woke up slightly a bit  late. After having breakfast, we took a short walk in the hotel garden and shoot some photos.  Later we planned to visit Sensoji temple  in Asakusa. Took the Toei Asakusa Line (都営浅草線) train from Takanawadai station, 8 min. walk from our hotel. However, strange thing was all passengers got to transfer to another same line at Sengakuzi station.

Sumida river side walk - Asakusa

My wife had her breakfast at McDonald located near the Asakusa station.  Then we walked along a park along the Sumida River. From here you could see the Sky Tree Tower (under construction, to be completed by December 2011, with the public opening in spring 2012). In the picture, the golden colour is the Asahi Beer Building. Does it look like beer in a glass?

Kaminarimon gate - Senso-ji temple

Rickshaw puller - Asakusa

 After passing thru the Kaminarimon Gate, There are two rows of shops leading the temple, also known as Nakamesi Shopping Arcade . Did a bit a shopping at this place as it had this unique style first time we ever seen in Japan. It was crowded but everything was in order. In this area, normally you would see cart/rickshaw pullers, mainly Japanese young man, pulling passengers, they were also giving brief history of Asakusa development. Guess it’s not cheap…but we rather preferred to walk our way out at Asakusa.

There were so many things to see here whereby we had no time to visit the Shinagawa Intercity Flea Market at river east, at Konna Area.

Tokyo Tower

At 2:30pm, we headed back to hotel to get my tripod for the night scene at Tokyo tower. Just a short ride to Hamamatsucho station. From the station, another ten min. walk to the tower. We had our bento dinner (bought earlier) at one of the small park near the tower while waiting the tower to light up. It lighted up at about 6pm. Then at about 7pm, the upper part of the tower changed into light-blue colour, with the flood lights shinning into it. There is a building block with shops at the base of the tower. Look alike with the Paris tower.

Well, today would be our last nite in Japan. Tomorrow we will fly home, 9:20am, via Incheon Airport, Korean Air.

At Shinagawa station we bought Narita Express train, 6:05am tickets to Narita Airport, and also requested the front desk to book a cab for us for tomorrow early morning, 5:30m.

15-Nov, woke up at 4:30am, clean up and have a quick simple breakfast at hotel room. After checked-out, took the cab to Shinagawa station. It costed us about 2,000¥ just for a short distance of 0.8km. It so expensive because, just like S’pore got to pay extra between mid-night to 6am.

Reached Narita Airport 7:18am. The check-in was very well organised with many counters servicing passengers. Even there is a long queue, it took us less than 15 min. waiting time, still have sufficient time to go thru security check and immigration.

Home sweet home!

In summary, we did really enjoy this well planned trip. Did lots of walking in this autumn period. What a cool feeling, temperature between 15-17°C in daytime, night-time just a few degrees lower. It also helped to burnt-off our calories. Of course you could only know the surface part of the Japan culture in such a short trip. So planning to visit more to Japan, especially during the sakura season.

What impressed me most are;

  • the air quality.
  • the cleaniness, especially the toilets, trains, streets and public areas.
  • efficiency of the public transport, it’s punctuality. It’s rude to talk on mobile phone in the train/subway.
  • during the rush hours, a sea of people wearing black.
  • tight security in major train stations. Could see security personals standing on raised platforms at strategy locations.
  • many temples in Kyoto.
  • and last but not least, the nice scenery, nice people…etc

{insert pic} {insert pic} {insert pic}…coming

Note: Will inform you when I posted my creations at later date….. due to some technical issues with post processing application. So please be patience.

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