Japan 2013: Beautiful Kyoto

DAY 5 IN JAPAN

At first, going to Kyoto was just an option in my itinerary. But after some convincing from people who’ve been there, I decided to go ahead and book a one-day tour of Kyoto via JapanICan. I went alone (yet again) for this day; but I did not regret it. Kyoto is an absolutely beautiful city. And considering that we just went to six out of the many, many temples and castles there, I wouldn’t mind going back to explore more of the city in the future.

I will share highlights about the places we went to. Below them is a gallery, which will show you just how pretty and well-preserved the historical sites are. I love how Japan values its heritage. Seeing such a rich history up close at this day and age is rare. I really loved the escape this short trip gave me. It’s definitely a stop you should make if given the opportunity to go to Osaka, since Kyoto is just a 30-minute train ride away.

NIJO CASTLE

Our first stop was Nijo Castle. This is a castle that served as lodging for the Tokugawa Shogun in the 1600s. Here, we were able to walk by the many chambers that go deeper and deeper depending on your ranking. Each room has intricate wood carvings and paintings on the walls. Most of what I saw are already reproductions because the originals are being preserved. However, we got to see some original wall paintings as well.

What I remember most about Nijo Castle is its “nightingale floors.” The floors of the corridors squeak like birds whenever anyone steps on them. This protects the occupants from sneak attacks or unwanted visitors. It was so cool hearing such a sound as we were walking through the castle.

KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (THE GOLDEN PAVILION)

Our second stop was Kinkakuji Temple. It’s a huge garden complex with The Golden Pavilion as its main attraction. It’s a Zen Buddhist Temple that has been built and rebuilt in the past century. It has an amazing landscape design, with an almost flawless view from all angles. It was pretty surreal seeing it in person, like I was transported into a painting.

KYOTO IMPERIAL PALACE

Our last stop in the morning was Kyoto Imperial Palace. It is the former ruling palace of the Emperor of Japan. It is a massive area with a number of structures that we only had glimpses of from the outside. It has the Emperor’s Habitual Residence, the Imperial Library, the Court Room, among others. Entrance here is pretty strict. We had to fill up forms with our information. We also had to walk in pairs and were escorted by guards while going around the grounds.

HEIAN JINGU SHRINE

After lunch, we proceeded to Heian Shrine. It’s a Shinto (belief that everything has a kami or spiritual essence) shrine with a huge garden within its grounds. Here, we saw hanging ema. Ema are small wooden plaques where wishes or desires are written upon and left in the shrine in the hopes that they may be fulfilled. They also sell protective amulets and talismans at the shrine. It offered us a glimpse into the beliefs of this ancient Japanese practice.

SANJUSANGEN-DO TEMPLE

Next, we went to the Sanjusangen-do Temple. It is a Buddhist temple whose main deity is a huge Thousand Armed Kannon in the middle. On its left and right side, there are 1,000 life-size statues of the Thousand Armed Kannon. On top of that, there are also 28 statues in front of the Kannon that serve as guardian deities. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple; but it was pretty mind-blowing to see all those intricately made statues in one room.

KIYOMIZU TEMPLE

Our final stop was the Kiyomizu Temple. It is a Buddhist temple which is atop the hill. What’s most interesting about this structure is that there is not a single nail used constructing it.

On the way up to the temple, there are a number of shops and stalls where tourists could get their fill of Kyoto souvenirs. We were allowed to go around on our own before going back to the bus. And with that, we made our way back to Osaka.

Here’s just some of the sights I could share from this brief Kyoto trip.

After a long day of sightseeing, I had breakfast for dinner at Brothers Cafe. Yum!

spam, eggs and pancakes for dinner at Brothers Cafe
spam, eggs and pancakes at Brothers Cafe

And with that, I packed my bags that evening and left Osaka bright and early on DAY 6. This, after all, had to end some time.

All in all, Osaka was a truly epic, unforgettable trip. I do not regret plopping down some savings to finally travel to Japan. The sights, the culture, the food… everything summed up to a unique and exciting experience.

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Japan 2013: Kaiyukan & Shinsekai

DAY 3 IN JAPAN

I felt both excitement and dread for day three. I was about to go solo and check out Kaiyukan Aquarium. I’ll just meet up with everyone else for dinner afterwards. Despite all the horror stories of getting lost in Japan in my head, I just had to suck it in and do it. Thankfully, it wasn’t a traumatic experience.

KAIYUKAN AQUARIUM

I got off at Osakako Station and walked to Kaiyukan Aquarium. The weather was comfortably cool; so a couple of blocks walk wasn’t too much of a hassle. The streets were pretty much deserted… very few people with a number of stores that were closed. It was weird for me since it was a weekday.

looking towards Osakako Station. i took pictures in case i got lost on the way back.
looking towards Osakako Station. i took pictures in case i got lost on the way back. i know… paranoid.

Once I got there, I went straight to the aquarium and bought my ticket. Entrance costs 2000 Yen for adults (around Php800).

Kaiyukan Aquarium -- huge and unique structure
Kaiyukan Aquarium — a unique and beautiful structure

The place is HUGE, needless to say; and it housed thousands of species of marine life. They had dolphins, penguins, stingrays, sharks, turtles, giant crabs and so much more. What’s great is that these animals are encased in huge aquariums where they could swim freely, with coral reefs and rock formations that simulated the real ocean. Here are just some of the awesome things I saw:

TEMPOZAN MARKET

It took me around two hours to explore the aquarium. After shopping for some souvenirs, I headed to Tempozan Market to have lunch.

Tempozan Market entrance
Tempozan Market entrance

I had some karaage at the food court and it was delicious!

chicken karaage with rice and veggies
chicken karaage with rice, coleslaw and potato salad

Since I had a couple of hours to kill before meeting up with my companions, I looked around and found some more stores which sold great Japanese souvenirs. There were also a couple of unique shops that sold vintage items.

this store sold vintage Coca-Cola merchandise, among others
this store sold vintage Coca-Cola merchandise, among others

My last stop at Tempozan was the Giant Ferris Wheel. It offers an amazing view of Osaka at a maximum height of 112.5m. One ride costs 700 Yen (less than Php300), which is really worth it.

view from below the wheel
view from below the wheel
Kaiyukan Aquarium and Osaka Bay
view of Kaiyukan Aquarium and Osaka Bay
view of Tempozan Bridge
view of Tempozan Bridge

Before heading back, I made one quick stop at Milky for some ice cream. I know it’s cold; but I just had to try this one.

choco chip cookie soft ice cream
choco chip cookie soft ice cream. yum!

SHINSEKAI: Three restaurants. One big dinner.

I successfully met up with my other companions (yes!) and we headed to Shinsekai for dinner. It was sort of the Old Osaka and it is said to have some of the best local food. We walked around first and took in the sights.

Since we couldn’t decide on one thing to try for dinner, we settled on just eating all of them! I was in for the food trip of my life when we ate at three different restaurants, starting off with kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers), followed by sushi, topped off with some blowfish.

With full stomachs, we headed back to the hotel to rest. My solo trip was a success. I didn’t get lost in the craziness of the Osaka Railway system. As a bonus, I tried as much local food as I could in one night.

Next up, seeing Hello Kitty, Snoopy and Elmo at Universal Studios!

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Snap Happy with iPhone 4S

I recently gave myself a Christmas present:

What can I say… I’ve been lured by the temptation of a Php5,000 cash out plus a postpaid plan upgrade for a brand new iPhone 4S 16gb delivered to my doorstep. All it took was a phone conversation plus a three-day wait. Simple and quick. Thanks Globe!

It’s been with me for almost a week; and I’ve been tinkering with it a lot. It’s fast and responsive. Siri is absolutely brilliant (save for some times when it’s down). The 8mp camera is simply awesome. I’m in love.

Out of all the features, the camera is getting most of the abuse from me. I’ve never used a cellphone camera this  much before. The quality is really great. I can’t stop taking pictures. Plus, with the help of some amazing apps, I’m able to take even better pictures with some editing and effects.

I know that I’m hardly a photographer; but I’ve been taking so many photos, I’ve decided to start a blog for it. I call it iSnap Happy: Photographic Exploits with Me & My iPhone. It’s a showcase of snapshots I took with my iPhone, using applications such as Camera+, Multi-lens and Snapseed. I also post some of my conversations with Siri. It’s a fun photoblog and I hope you stop by.