23.11.2012 - 08.12.2012
We arrived Haneda airport around 10.30pm on Friday. Lucky for us, my aunt was there to pick us up. Otherwise we would need to rush down to take the monorail before it ends its operation for the day. Aunt and uncle were driving to the airport for the first time as usually they take the train service or go to Narita airport instead. Pity them looking for the way to and fro the airport. Reached Oaks Hostel in Asakusa to stay for the night. Our room was not bad, we got our own shower and toilet in the room, plus there's a TV, heater, slippers and kimonos. Two of us were sleeping in bunk beds which was slightly cheaper than twin bed.
Next morning, we walked to Ueno train station to exchange our JR Pass. The pass was bought from Malaysia and we need to exchange it at the train stations in Japan to be able to use it. I couldn't recommend enough of this JR Pass as it was really useful and cheap during our two weeks trip in Japan, travelling from Tokyo to Kagoshima to Nagasaki to Osaka to Kyoto and back to Tokyo. Seem like a handful eh. JR Pass also covers train to Ibusuki in Kagoshima and train to Huis Ten Bosch in Nagasaki. Also covers intercity train (JR line) in Tokyo and Osaka Loop Line. A convenient way to travel since we just need to show the pass to the station master and we are able to enter and exit as many times as we like during the period stated in our JR Pass.
Ueno train station itself is a must visit, a lot of shops and restaurants here. We bought some buns and drinks from a mini mart there. Coincidentally the buns that we picked were all filled with custard. Urgh! Not that I don't like custard, but too much of custard and sweet things for breakfast seems abit...
Well, most of anything that we ate in Japan is sweet.
Just a short walk from the station is the Ueno park and Ueno Zoo. We walked to the Ueno park which is just a short 15 minute walk. The park is lovely, full of trees with colourful autumn leaves. Lots of people brought their family and kids there too. It's my first feel of the autumn season. All the different colours of green, yellow and red leaves makes a great autumn feel.
The zoo nearby is also one of the attractions there famous with the pandas. As we had an appointment with my aunt, we didn't manage to cover all the area in the huge park. We rushed back to the station to meet my aunt at Shimbashi station getting out at Karasumori exit. We went to aunt's house to get her bicycles to cycle around Tokyo town. My cycling skills were not that good and if at that time in Tokyo you saw someone screeching a yellow bike in a crowded area, perhaps that's me. We cycled to a temple nearby and then to Tokyo tower.
The Tokyo tower, it feels to me, have some similarity to Eiffel Tower in Paris. If you buy a keychain or souvenirs replica of the Tokyo tower, it would probably get mistaken for the Eiffel Tower. Didn't buy any though. At the building below the tower, the ground floor is filled with souvernirs and the second floor is mostly for food and games.
We then cycled to the Imperial Palace, about 15 minutes from Tokyo tower. The Imperial Palace grounds was huge, we parked our bicycles at a corner near a station and walk over to the Palace. The palace was well guarded by lot of guards all over the place. We went to the free entry zone area. Even at free entry zone area, you will need to get a token before getting in. The token need to be returned back to the guard when exit. The guards need to count the headcount I think, of people coming in and going out of the palace grounds. Need to be wary of anyone lurking around to harm the royal family perhaps.
While walking back to get our bikes, we were scared for awhile thinking that our bikes were lost and gone. Phew! It was just too hidden in the corner that we parked our bikes.
At night, we were suppose to head to Shiodome but instead we lost our way and found ourselves in the busy street of Ginza. Lots of branded goods were sold here. Colourful lights and beautiful decorated shops were commonly seen in this area. No money to shop for branded goods and both of us were not too keen in shopping, had us wandering around the streets window sight seeing and ended up going back to our hostel early since it was getting cold. At that time around 7pm, it was already pitch dark. The sky started to get dark at around 5pm. For our dinner, we tried their mini mart food, getting their cup noodles, snacks and drinks.
Woke up early for our Hakone trip the next day. We took the JR line to Shinjuku to buy our Free Hakone Pass at 5000 yen. Wonder why they call it free since it was not free at all...should be called 'Unlimited Hakone Pass' or something like that. The FREE Hakone pass of 5000 yen can be use for two days but only one time entry and out from Shinjuku. Means that you will need to stay a night in Hakone if you want to fully utilise the two day pass. Anyway, we went there for only a day. The pass can be use for unlimited travelling using Odakyu line and various mode of transportation in Hakone. From Shinjuku we took the Odakyu Line train heading to Hakone Yumoto (journey almost about an hour and half). Then from there we took a bus to MotoHakone-ko. Once we reached, we were greeted with awesome view of Lake Ashi and the surrounding hills.
Both of us strolled along the lake, enjoying the scenery and having pack lunch at the lake side. We bought some 'yong tau fu/lok lok'-like kind of food from a 7-11 store. Yes, yong tau fu/ lok lok selling in a 7-11! A white colour food which I thought was a steamed pau was actually a soft fish paste which can be either fried or eaten with steamboat ingredients. Regret didn't take a photo of it. Full and satisfied, we continued to the Ancient Cedar Avenue Trail and later to HakoneMachi-Ko. While we were at the Ancient Cedar Avenue trying to find our way to HakoneMachi, we were abit unsure of the way and asked a group of old folks that we met along the way. The folks tried to converse with us in Japanese which we understand abit by their body language and my very limited japanese vocabulary. Lastly a lady in the group said 'IshioNi' which I think meant let's go together. And so we follow the group until they boarded their tour bus which left us again lost of direction to HakoneMachi. The folks didn't even tell us to NOT follow them anymore. Haha! but at least we were near our destination with just about 5 minutes more walking. We found the boarding location to the pirate ships that took us to Togendai-Ko. From Togendai-Ko we boarded a ropeway to Owakudani which was also called the hell valley where you can see the smoking volcano and eat the famous black eggs there. After that we got on another ropeway to Sounzan and then to Gora. The queue to the ropeway was long and both of us were waiting in the cold weather outside the building for the queue to get in the ropeway line. Once we reached Gora, we boarded the train back to Hakone Yumoto and then back to Shinjuku.
Throughout the day, although mostly we travelled in all modes of transportation but it was definitely not a boring trip. We saw a lot of things, met a lot of people and saw a lot of incidents. One incident was in a train where a child of about 7 years was shouting 'Baga' repeatly to her parents all the way from inside the train to the moment they left the train. =='
The weather was cloudy that day and we didn't get to see Mount Fuji when we were in MotoHakone. Back to Shinjuku, an area always bustling with people and cars and lights, we headed to the famous intersection in the middle of the area. Couldn't decide what to eat, ended up in Yoshinoya eating their beef rice set. People there do really eat fast. Makes us abit slow in comparison.
Tokyo Disneysea was waiting for us tomorrow. Gotta get to bed early.
We bought the Disneysea tickets a few days before in a mini mart. Didn't understand the language in the kiosk as all were in Japanese, we then request the help of the staff to buy the tickets. Same price but minus the queue in Disneysea. Okay, there was not a long queue in there on the day itself, probably due to we were there early. Once we got in, we practically rushed to get the fastpass for our chosen rides. We headed first to the 'Journey to the center of the earth' ride to get the fast pass. Fast pass printed time still have another half an hour to go. We then headed to the '20,000 league under the sea' ride. Waiting time only 5 minutes, so we went right in. This ride was normal and nothing exciting. Stormrider was a much more fun ride. After that we got back to the first ride. Heart practically skip a beat when the carriage we were in speed upwards and out the mountain, then down the hill. It was fun though.
My friend tried the 'Rage' ride which had a 360 degree turn by himself. I was waiting like a mother waiting for her child outside the ride sitting on the bench provided outside. ^^
Not long after, it began to drizzle. Caught many of their shows for that day and the one I like most was the 'Big Band Beat' musical show. It was awesome. clap! clap! To get into this 'Big Band Beat' show, we queued in the cold rainy weather for almost an hour. Shivering with our rain coats and umbrellas, finally we got into the warm auditorium.
Outside it was raining heavily and we were shivering in the cold outside. We got ourselves something to eat and hot drinks which was like giving coal out in winter. A warm feeling! After getting warm, we started to head to the Mediterranean Harbour for the fantasmic show but however, due to the weather, the show was cancelled. Disappointed! We left the theme park after it got dark as it still continued to rain and we were cold and wet. Long for a warm shower then.
Checked out from Oaks Hostel the next morning and went to my aunt house to keep our luggage there while we went out again until it was time to get on our night train to Kagoshima Chuo.
We kept ourselves busy for the day by first visiting the Tsukiji fish market and later walking around Shiodame, Shin Okubo (korean street in Tokyo) and lastly Ameyoko.
Wonder if Tsukiji fish market is abit overrated as a tourist spot? Once inside, I felt like I was in the middle of the traffic. All different vehicles moving in all directions. I scared I will get crashed and smashed like a tomato over there. And since we were too late for the auction which starts around 5am and abit too early for the fish market area which opens around 9am, and feeling like we were blocking all modes of transportation there, we briefly strolled along their shopping and food street and left the area. But hey, Tsukiji market got a map of its own and a brief history on the leaflet that we got. An area too big that we even got lost trying to find the initial exit that we got into or is it our directions are really that bad??? Anyway, found the exit, met my aunt and on our way to other areas of town. To Shiodame which is full of high rise buildings. We initially wanted to see the actions from the big clock over there but the time does not matched with ours. Give it a pass. My aunt brought us to eat sushi in a cheap restaurants in the same area. Quite cheap, 2000 yen for 3 persons and we were full to the brim. Next we went to the Korean Street at Shin Okubo. The street was full of Korean restaurants, shops and all Korean stuffs. Objective: To look for an item requested by my sister... My sister just went to Korea and she asked my aunt to help her look for Korean things in Tokyo's Korean street...Nice!
Lastly to Ameyoko, full of fresh products from sea and vegetables to snacks and other food and fruit items. Enjoyed the experience seeing and tasting all kinds of different foods in the market there. Before we headed for the train station, had a shabu shabu dinner at aunt's house.
We use the JR Pass for our night train. Only Nobi-nobi seats or cubicles are free using JR Pass. It's a two tier stretch of cubicles. It's just for a night, so what the heck! Our night train looks quite comfy although after the ride I felt nausea. We boarded the Sunrise Seto at 10pm to Himeji and change train to Kagoshima Chuo at 5.25am. Reached Kagoshima Chuo station at 10.49am. We checked into our hostel while waiting for my aunt to join us. My aunt couldn't use the JR Pass, so she bought a flight ticket to Kagoshima. All of us, following the map got lost while heading to Sakurajima port. Felt like we were walking in huge circles but lastly we reached the port after seemingly endless directions given by passer-bys. A young lady was even kind enough to walk us through a few streets to ensure we were on the correct path. We finally reached the Sakurajima port and boarded the ferry to cross over to Sakurajima island. Sakurajima is still an active volcano and continues to spew ashes in the air. The volcano was beautiful. Once reached Sakurajima, we paid the ferry fees which was about 150 yen and walked around the area nearby. We found an onsen nearby and got in. First time experienced going to a public onsen here. Felt uncomfortable at first but when all the others are doing the same, it doesn't feel too weird. After we were done, we rested awhile before heading out to the larva trail and then the foot bath. Walked until it got dark and boarded the ferry back to mainland.
The next day, Ibusuki was on the list. Yay! Boarded a nice and cute train to Ibusuki from Kagoshima Chuo station. When we reached Ibusuki, we boarded a bus to take us round the area. We first got down at 'Healthy Land' where all the public baths were but unfortunately all the onsens was closed on that day. The reception at the gym told us to try the sand bath nearby. We walked in the directions that she directed us and got down to the sand bath center by the seaside. This sand bath center was not quite popular with tourist as it was quite secluded. The lady there said we were the first Malaysians there. She said normally only locals would go there and tourist would go to other popular sand baths areas. It's fine with me as the place is not crowded and we had fun being buried in hot sand by the seaside. I can feel the warm of the sand and my pulse was getting faster in other areas of my body as well. 10 minutes is the maximum you can be buried under the hot sand.
Got out and waited for the bus to take us to Nagasakibana which was the tip of the Satsuma peninsula. Another place worth going to. Breathtaking view and calm surroundings. I bought some souvenirs from the shops along the area. Even got a present from an old aunty in one of the shops. Arigato! Friendly lady. Took the bus again this time to Tosenkyo to try the famous noodles restaurants there. Indeed a unique experience as the ramen were put in running cold water circling around the middle of the table, then dip in shoyu to eat. Plus point a heater besides us to keep us warm.
We were back out at the bus stop to get the last bus back to Ibusuki station. As we still had some time before the train came, we indulged ourselves in another foot bath outside the station. Heaven for our tired legs.
Nagasaki station was attached to a shopping mall and it greeted us in colourful Christmas decorations. Found our way to Casa Noda Hostel and we were excited when we were shown our room. We had a fantastic view of the sea, comfy beds plus our own shower and toilet. Me and my aunt slept in the twin beds room and my friend who was supposed to sleep in the dorm room got in to sleep with us due to the noise in the dorm room.
Must try their famous castella cake in Nagasaki. Well, how is one not going to try castella cake? It's all over the town. Everywhere you go, you will see castella cakes selling in one shop or the other. While we were exploring around Nagasaki town, we met a trapeze performer for the circus at Huis Ten Bosch, which we were going there the very next day. What coincidence!
Huis Ten Bosch was everything it claims it's about from the moment we stepped in to the station. Great place! Won't mind coming here again. Beautiful sceneries, attractions, lots of shops, and the main point is the night lights at the flower gardens. A performer singing old ballads adds to the great atmosphere. Romantic! We had champon noodles and dumplings for our dinner there. The 3D illumination at the building in front of the flower clock was another great show. We were in awe! Fireworks too! We went back happy and satisfied.
The following day, we toured Nagasaki town visiting the famous Atomic bomb musuem, Peace statue park, spectacles bridge and the Glover garden.
Breakfast was toast with jam and boiled eggs provided by our hostel. Chatted with few of the other guest, one being a Japanese working part time in the hostel trying to learn English and another Italian guy studying in Nagasaki trying to learn Japanese. And with my aunt being a Malaysian living in Tokyo for 20 years conversing with an Italian guy in Japanese feels abit weird. After that, we went our separate ways with my aunt heading back to Tokyo while me and my friend headed to Osaka.
We took the 7.30am train from Nagasaki station to Osaka station. In between we changed train at Shin Osaka station. Once reached Osaka station, we followed the directions to our hostel at J Hoppers. A clean hostel but the downside was you got to carry your luggage up the stairs and we were staying at 5th floor. phew!! It was sunny in Osaka on the day that we arrived. We make use of the good weather to visit the famous Osaka castle and Shitennoji Temple.
Nara is about half an hour from Osaka. The place has a lot of deers wandering freely around the park and shrines. In Nara, we visited the Kasuga Taisha Shrine and the famous Todaiji Temple.
After two days in Osaka and we were off to Kyoto. Kyoto was once the capital of Japan. We were lost that day in Kyoto trying to find our hostel. We called up the inn and got ourselves to Gojo station but we still couldn't find the inn. Ended up the owner of the inn came out to where we were to bring us there. Jiyujin Inn is a nice and comfortable inn. A comfortable stay there. In Kyoto, mostly all the attractions are temples. One of the more famous ones is the Kiyomizu temple.
The area of the temple is huge and during autumn, the trees are a pretty sight. When we were there, there were a lot of people and students, abit too crowded for my liking.There were people fanning incense smokes in their faces, people drinking from the hill water, ringing bells and making wishes, and also not forgetting the legendary love rocks there. A variety of charms were available for purchase at the shops. I too do not miss the chance to pray and make wishes there. Dropped a coin the container, rang the bell and pray for a MIRACLE!
Last day in Kyoto, we walked the surrounding area of our hostel before boarding the train back to Tokyo. In Ueno, there was a building where they sold all kinds of stuff in cheap price. It's called Takeya if not mistaken. The foods and snacks sold on the ground floor were much cheaper than those sold outside in mini marts or even supermarkets. We spent a lot there buying snacks home. Caught up with my aunt and her family for dinner that same night having bbq meals. The banana cream pie that they recommended sold at Victoria Cafe was delicious. Wonder if have the chance to taste it again?
Last day at Tokyo and we decided to go for an island excursion to Enoshima. Before that, a brief stop at Kamakura to visit the shrine and shopping streets. At Enoshima, you must try the meal with raw anchovies. Delicious and you can't get any fresher than at Enoshima. The anchovies are eaten with wasabi, shoyu and rice. Also a lot of other varieties to eat it with. Most of the restaurants there sold this item. After a full stomach, we walked to the end of the coastline until we reached the place where the cave entrance is. We didn't go in due to time constraint but while walking there, the view was definitely breathtaking. A sight to behold.
An earthquake strucked in the east coast of Japan, in Sendai, tremors felt in Tokyo, but we were down south heading back to Tokyo and we didn't feel a thing. Narita airport has been closed down until further notice but luckily Haneda airport was still open. We could still go home.
This trip was an enjoyable one. Thanks to my companion for the wonderful memories. Although at times we might have been at each other nerves but I really enjoy travelling with you. Love you lots.