Japan 2013: Kobe & Dotonbori

DAY 2 IN JAPAN

My first day in Japan mostly involved travel. We arrived at our hotel at almost 5:30pm. There wasn’t much time except eat dinner and do a bit of walking around. I was so tired… didn’t really feel all that well that evening. So DAY 2 was my first FULL day of walking, eating and sightseeing.

KOBE: Chinatown and Ramen!

It was a very cold two degrees outside. I wore between 2-4 layers of clothing; but it still felt a bit cold. We wasted no time and headed straight to Kobe to visit Chinatown (Nankinmachi and Motomachi areas). I saw an arch that is all too familiar in any Chinatown. Of course, I had to take a picture.

There were also a lot of shops lined up, ready to be explored!

We ate at a nearby Ramen place for lunch. It had a vendo machine outside where you could select then pay for your order. A slip of paper will come out; and that’s what you’ll hand in to the cooks inside. I ordered a bowl of pork chashu ramen and it set me back a mere 780 Yen (cheaper than some local ramen restaurants). The bowl was pretty huge but I finished it. It was so delicious! Perfect comfort food for the cold weather.

the vendo machine where we placed our orders and instantly paid for them. no need for waiters!
the interior was just one deep hallway where customers sat next to each other.
if you think this tastes as good as it looks, you’re absolutely right!

There was around two hours to kill after lunch; so of course I went shopping! First thing I bought (which I didn’t really plan on)… a Canon EOS M mirrorless camera. This is one of my wish list gadgets; and my brother suggested I check it out. The tag price had quite a huge difference already compared locally, the added discount for travel tax made it even cheaper! It was the right decision to purchase it right then and there. The seller gave me a free 4GB SD card to boot.

I bought the white Canon EOS M model with both lenses and flash attachment.
the store where I bought the camera from

After doing a bit of shopping, we took a taxi and headed to Europe Town (Kitano Ijinkan Foreign Residences). As the name implies, the tourist spot featured a couple of Western-style houses and structures that are really pretty. We didn’t really have time to go in; so I just took pictures. It seemed like I wasn’t even in Japan!

We then walked to the station heading back to Osaka; and I saw some more pretty sights, including a really pretty set-up for a Starbucks branch.

cute Starbucks branch

IMG_4809

MIDOSUJI: An Apple Store and A Beard Papa

Back in Osaka, we split up. My sister-in-law and I walked along the Midosuji Avenue, hunting for the Apple Store. We were buying an iPad Mini for my mom. Along the way, we stopped to buy Beard Papa Cream Puffs, which were absolutely wonderful (warm on the outside, cool and creamy on the inside). I don’t know why the franchise here in the Philippines doesn’t have the same quality.

Jackpot! found the Apple Store where we bought an iPad Mini
Beard Papa: best cream puffs I’ve ever tasted (so far)

DOTONBORI: Sights and Food Food Food

We walked back to Dotonbori where we stopped by H&M, walked along the many shops calling our name, ate authentic takoyaki and waited for the Glicos sign to light up in the evening. Beautiful!

just one of the many huge and colorful shop signs around Dotonbori
yummy shrimp takoyaki
infamous Glicos sign in the evening

Afterwards, we had dinner at a famous local restaurant. I had some beer and ate okonomiyaki. At this point, my stomach was really full with all the scrumptious Japanese food I had! It was a great final meal to cap off a tiring day.

okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake with  a whole lot of stuff inside
okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake with a whole lot of stuff inside. you top it with sweet or spicy sauce and a drizzle of mayonnaise for added flavor. it really went well with the beer.

Next up, I’m venturing on a solo trip; and I promise to share the experience.

Previous Post – An Overview
Up Next – Kaiyukan Aquarium/Shinsekai

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Japan 2013: An Overview

I would just like to mention that this is my 100th post… and my first post for the year 2013. A small hooray is in order. “hooray!!!” Now that that’s out of the way, you may read on…

Japan is one of the places that you just HAVE TO go to. I always hear about how different it is, how getting lost is common and how communication is especially difficult. It sounds both terrifying and exciting for someone like me who loves to travel.

When an opportunity to go to the land of the rising sun came, I knew I just had to take the trip (expenses and all). I promise myself to go someplace new each year and Japan is hands down my ULTIMATE destination for 2013. I plan to share as much of the whole experience as I possibly can; so my special trip is going to stretch across a number of entries. Let’s start!

Before I write about my day to day adventures, I would like to cover the basics of my trip… how I got there, where I stayed… That kind of stuff. From this, hopefully you’d get to pick up a couple of tips when you do plan to take your own trip to Japan.

THE TRIP: Osaka It Is!

I was tagging along with my brother and sister-in-law to a food and bakery expo in Osaka; so that’s where my trip centered around. I went around Osaka and areas nearby. Even with almost a week allotted for this trip, our itinerary was pretty packed! Tokyo is a long way away. Going all the way there would not be practical; so I’ll reserve that for another time.

THE PREPARATION: Avoid Panic Packing

Upon deciding to go to Japan, I had to research about the weather when I get there. March is the time when winter slowly transitions into spring; and so it’s significantly cooler compared to our tropical climate. Having never been to a country so far north from the equator, this meant I had to start from scratch and buy everything I needed.

I started building my fall/winter wardrobe early, scouring December and January sales at Mango, Forever 21, Aldo and Terranova. I also bought HeatTech basics from Uniqlo. Sweaters, turtlenecks, jackets, boots, gloves, socks and leggings are essentials for cool weather. It’s best to buy stuff little by little instead of plopping down thousands in one time. That way I won’t be overwhelmed by the clothing expenses on top of travel expenses.

this is PACKING awesome! #osaka2013 (March 2, 2013 1:33pm)
From my Twitter: “this is PACKING awesome! #osaka2013” (March 2, 2013 1:33pm)

Two to three weeks before the trip, I started planning what I would wear daily. I did this to avoid packing unnecessary clothes that would just occupy luggage space. For a six-day trip, I prepared 7 days worth of clothes plus extra tops just in case. A week before, I started putting everything in my luggage. This allowed me a week to add or reduce clothes as I see fit. This way, I won’t pack like a maniac and forget stuff the day before I leave.

THE FLIGHT: Flying Cathay

Given that travel time to Osaka would take longer, I don’t regret spending a bit more money to fly Cathay Pacific. It was my first time with this airline; and we went on connecting flights from Manila to Hong Kong to Osaka. There is definitely a difference (as compared to local airlines) when it came to the plane itself, the food, the service as well as the in-flight entertainment. The seats were more spacious. We were given blankets. I also came directly from a shoot the day before; so I needed a flight that allowed me to sleep comfortably. It was well worth the few extra dollars.

THE TEMPORARY HOME: Toyoko Inn Nanba

Photos of Toyoko Inn Osaka Nanba - Hotel Images

Hotels aren’t really that big a deal for me. Since I will spend more time outside than inside, all I need are clean sheets, a clean bathroom and a comfy bed. I got all that at Toyoko Inn Nanba. My room is a small one; but it was for only about Php3,000++ a night. With free breakfast and free WI-FI, that’s a pretty good price point given the location.

Pictures of Toyoko Inn Osaka Nanba - Hotel Photos Pictures of Toyoko Inn Osaka Nanba - Hotel Photos These photos of Toyoko Inn Osaka Nanba is courtesy of TripAdvisor

THE WEATHER: Between Two and Twenty Degrees

My trip was from March 4 to 9; and in that week the temperature transitioned from really really cold to moderate.

I was practically freezing upon arrival at Kansai International Airport. I underestimated the weather, wearing only one layer of clothing. After checking in, I piled on the clothes but it still wasn’t enough! My feet were freezing in the two-degree weather. I ended up buying a thermal shirt and leggings. It really helped in the first few days. I’m just glad the temperature gradually progressed to a more comfortable 17-20 degrees as days passed by. It just goes to show that no matter how ready you might be, you may still be surprised once you’re actually there. But hey, it’s part of the unpredictability of travel.

THE TRANSPORTATION: Confusing But Effective

The Osaka Railway System looks this crazy. Who wouldn't get lost with that?
The Osaka Railway System looks this crazy. Who wouldn’t get lost with that as a guide?

Our main mode of transportation was the subway/trains. We had a local accompanying us while going from one place to another, so he was a really huge help. But he himself still got a bit confused by the subway system, asking other people along the way. (I find the Hong Kong and Singapore Subway System easier to grasp and understand.) Still, you gotta hand it to the Japanese. Their transport system is very effective and efficient. All the trains have arrival times set to the minute. There are almost endless combinations to get to your destination; because everything is connected in one way or another. It’s confusing; but still brilliant. In Filipino, pinag-isipan nang maayos (well-thought of and planned well).

It’s also convenient. You just get an ICOCA card, load up (it reached around 4000 Yen or less than Php2000 for me for the whole trip) and just tap to get in and out of the stations. As a bonus, the stations each have their own personality (some are old but with character, while others are very modern), the trains have cushioned seats… sometimes even heated seats. It definitely made travel comfortable and hassle-free.

THE SIGHTS: A Really Photogenic Country

I believe Japan, as a whole, simply looks good in pictures. There are a lot of sights worth taking a snapshot of, even something as random as a walkway or a street. Case in point:

first subway station we went into
one of the many stretches of shops around Osaka
this is an installation along one of the walkways
another stretch of shops, this one in Kobe

Even the food — real or fake — are so pretty! Can you tell which is which?

FAKE. food displays outside the restaurant.
REAL. pancakes from 3 Brothers Cafe
REAL. expensive but oh-so-delicious strawberries.
REAL. authentic karaage from Tempozan Market Food Court.
FAKE. i have no idea what this is, but it’s some sort of dessert

Even at the convenience store, I couldn’t help but take pictures!

a display of drinks.
one of the many food items available at Family Mart, a popular convenience store.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s no wonder I had a great adventure in Japan. Almost everything I encountered is unique from other destinations I’ve been to. Simply put, the whole trip was just AWESOME!

Up Next — Kobe/Dotonbori