Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sakura Mankai: Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe Trip Part 2

This is the second part of my Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe Trip, a continuous from previous post.

On the third day, we finally had the chance to explore Osaka by train. Of course, Japan has an efficient train system, but it’s a bit tricky. In Osaka alone, the train network is built upon a combination of Subways, Japan Railway (JR) line, and a few of privately-owned railways line. And these lines are connected at some point, making most area in Osaka accessible by train.

We bought Osaka Amazing Pass for 1 day for 2300 yen. This pass gives us unlimited use of subways and city buses. But it not just that! We also get free or discounted admission to various tourist attractions!

Today's first stop was Osaka Castle. The garden just outside of the castle area is known as Nishinomaru Garden. There’s a lot of Sakura here too, so I was truly happy as I haven’t had enough of Sakura just yet!

The castle itself stands magnificently on rock mount surrounded by moats and stone walls. The original castle has actually been destroyed and what stands now is a reconstruction. The interior is completely rebuilt and now it has been converted into a museum, housing a different showcase explaining the history of the Hideyoshi era, one of the greatest Samurai in history. With a comprehensive collection such as dioramas of Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s life, miniature models of the Summer War of Osaka, and a folding screen telling the story of the battles fought - by the end of the tour, I was pretty much samurainized~

Too bad they don't allow taking picture inside the castle. But one that left a big impression for me was the Samurai’s armour used during the era. It was somewhat creepy but fascinating at the same time. I couldn't look at the scary-looking mask for too long without having goosebumps. Well, they were made to be frightening, to scare the enemy. But the armour was a fine work of art. It seems like iron mongers, fabric expert, metal crafters and painters works together to create this stunning work piece. Just amazing.

No, no, this is not the real Samurai armour like I've mentioned above;
just a worker doing his job in samurai costume :D

We spent quite sometimes here, taking time reading the summary of everything we could understand. It was a blessing in disguise that there wasn’t much written in English, otherwise we could be spending half a day here. I found the life story of Hideyoshi was quite intriguing, how he rose from a commoner to a ruler.

And on the top floor of the museum, you can get outside to have a nice view of Osaka and the park beneath. For a while, I could imagine how it feels to be a king, watching over my own province and planning which region we should conquer, hehe. And this is the place where you can get a close-up look of the gilded shachihoko, a mythical creature, a fish with the head of a tiger.

And oh, there is also an area where you can dress up in a kimono, try on a Samurai helmet (look like the kind of what Lady Gaga had for red carpet) or some armour and then have your photo taken. But we had to let it pass.

Why in the world did I not capture even one picture of  shachihoko? T__T

Japanese bride and groom doing a ritual

After touring the castle, we had a taste of yummy Tako before we head to our next stop: Dotonbori! Dotonbori is a long shopping street, aligned with so many eateries, arcades and shops. It’s a busy, noisy, grubby-looking area; always full with people. Totally a hot spot for foodie and shopper. Although I was told that I could get cheaper stuff here, but the price is still a bit pricey for me T__T Nevertheless, Dotombori is a must visit place and I wish I could come at night too, just to see Osaka nightlife under those neon lights, heh.

Dotonbori street

Compulsory picture spot: Glico's running man!

We tried the Okonomiyaki here: Japanese savoury pancake or Japanese pizza. The base consists of shredded cabbage and batter, added with variety of ingredients like seafood or meat, and then cooked on an iron griddle ("teppan"). Then topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, shaving of smoked bonito “katsuobushi” and a sprinkle of dried seaweed. Delicious!

Our seafood Okonomiyaki! Yum!

Next, with a full stomach, we did the Dotombori River Cruise. The cruise took us to see all the landmarks building along the river. The tour guide, though I couldn’t understand a word he said, I could tell that he was funny since other people were laughing every time he speaks. Honestly, it could be a bit boring but remember that happiness spread like disease? The crowd were sporting especially when we were asked to do a series of clap at the end of the cruise. So I guess it was pretty fun? :D

Dotonbori canal

Since we didn’t get to ride the Tempozan Ferris Wheel, we compensate it with Hep5 Ferris Wheel. I know it will be nothing compared to the Tempozan’s but since we got to ride it for free, so why not? The ferris wheel is located at the top of the building, which makes it more exciting when you reach the top of the wheel. The view was okay but not spectacular. Life is too good here, there’s nothing that can disappoint me too much. Then, we went for a round of bowling (yes, yes, this is random I know) and dinner to conclude the day.

Hep5 Ferris Wheel and the view

Bowling time!

On the fourth day, my poor legs were dying because something happened to Mr H’s wifey, Mieyra and I had to explore the city by train, just the two of us. It was unexpecting, but lucky we had learnt how the train system works here just yesterday, so it was not a problem. Rather than worrying about getting lost, I was really excited and was mentally and physically prepared. We decided to go to Shitennoji Temple. Getting on the right train was easy but figuring out which exit you should take when we had to switch lines was tricky. But thanks to Mieyra’s basic Japanese (important word here: migi = right, hidari = left, doko = where) and poof, we were at the temple.

Managed to reach Shitennoji 's neighborhood, victory!

Shitennoji is the oldest temple administered in Japan (build in 593) but of course it has been rebuilt over the centuries, so it doesn't look that old. The temple complex is big with five story pagoda in the center. People say it was overrated (we took it off our itinerary because of the bad review on internet), but I personally thought that the temple is beautiful. And it was interesting how well they preserved the area in contrast with the urban city that surrounding it.

The main pagoda

And then we got a call from Mr H that his wifey is alright and that we could proceed with our original itinerary which is Kobe! The drive from Osaka to Kobe took us about 40 minutes on the crooked road. This city is known for its urban development, so it’s no surprised that our view was filled with somewhat European style of housing and buildings.

We first went up to Mount Rocco, to the Rocco Garden Terrace. It is a complex facilities consisting of cafe, restaurants, small shops and observation deck to view Kobe city. Near the area, there is a unique-looking observatory spot called Rokko-Shidare Observatory. It is a work of art and was designed by an architect, Hiroshi Sambuichi. Inside the observatory, there was a path spiraling down to a wind room with an opening in the ceiling and a small pool of water. Honestly, I was far away from understood (I'm not even trying!) the whole point of the wind room (and how the whole system work for that matter!) while I was at it, so I was looking at the details halfheartedly /sigh/. But check this fact out:

“The water collected here in the summer and autumn months will freeze in the winter. The ice will then be cut into small blocks and transported into the core of the building, where it is placed in small airtight compartments under the seats of a bench. Here it will stay throughout the summer, cooling the hot air, whilst slowly melting and dripping into small pools carved in the stone floor. Finally, it will evaporate back into the atmosphere, closing the circuit.” (www.arcspace.com)

So this explains why there was a pool of water in the wind room! And also the fact that the outer structure is comprised of numerous metal hexagons, designed to attract frost in the winter to give the image of a frosted leaf. Coolio~

At Rocco Garden Terrace

On one of the observatory spot with Mr H

Rokko-Shidare Observatory

In the wind room

Next, we leave the mountain to visit Kobe Mosque. The mosque is the first one built in Japan, built in 1928 and opened in 1935. It survived the bombing during World War II in 1945 and the great Kobe earthquake in 1995 that nearly flattened the whole city. We took the chance to perform Asar prayer here. It just feels so good to be in there....

Kobe mosque

Across the road is a grocery shop, Kitano Groceries Store, that stocks halal goods and a number of halal restaurants. We had our dinner at Naan Inn and it was amazing! If you know how it feels after few days consuming fish and seafood and sticky rice and dried seaweeds, there is no word to describe my feeling to finally having chicken for dinner. And it;s not just chicken, it’s Tandoori! It was a food fest for us!

Siti Norhaliza was here in 2006!

And finally, you can’t say you've been to Kobe unless you have a proof picture of Kobe Port Tower. Since it was already late, we head straight to Mosaic Shopping Complex. Why? Because it’s the best place to snap a picture with the tower in the background. And the scenery here at night is really beautiful. And it was good too that we came here with full stomach because there are a lot of restaurants here! If not, the seafood buffet dinner might be a little too hard to resist!

At Kobe Harbour

One kawaii / flower face picture wouldn't hurt, hehe

With the picture of Kobe Port Tower, we end our day four and head back to Osaka. 

To be continued on the next post, my last day in Osaka! Till then, be good people!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sakura Mankai: Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe Trip Part 1

When I decided to spend a good five days in Osaka with my younger sister, I really have lots of doubt. Firstly, I was worried about the cost. Being in the top 10 world’s most expensive city to live in, I already know that my cash will flows like a river there. And knowing me, I am not one that can survive with a cup of Maggie mee or just bread. There is no such thing as eat light, heh. And secondly, I have never travel out of the country without my parent. Though I can depends on my younger sister to navigate our way with her basic Japanese, it could hurt my pride  i cannot trust her completely the thought of us getting lost in a non English speaking country still scares me! 

But we have Mr H, who have been living in Osaka for more than 10 years and have been so kind to be our guardian! He help us planning our schedule and all, so I don't have to worry about getting lost or the language barrier. And after months of calculating and borrowing saving, we managed to have enough to survive in Osaka for six days and five nights.

We choose to travel with Malaysia Airline. We checked in at KL Sentral - it was very convenient; we don’t have to worry about our bags after that! Had a quick dinner there before heading to airport by KLIA express. Our flight was at 11.45 pm; I was already feeling sleepy even before we depart!

Where we were staying

Mr H's wifey!

Flight duration was 5 hours. We safely landed at Kansai airport at 5.30 am but the queue at the immigration was terribly long and we only managed to claim our luggage almost at 7.00 am. Once we got out of the airport, I felt like getting back in because it was too cold outside! It was around 8 degree and my blazer was not enough to keep me warm. Fortunately, the first place on the itinerary was Rinku Outlet. And that Banana Republic was on sale! We managed to find a good spring coat!

At Rinku Outlet: Before the mission searching for spring coat started

There were three main attractions here at the bay area: Santa Maria Cruise, Tempozan Ferris Wheel and Kaiyukan Aquarium. The Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel - used to be the world’s largest and tallest ferris wheel – however was closed for construction (why now why T__T). So we went to have a ride on Santa Maria, a replica of the ship Christopher Columbus used on his first voyage to discover America. The whole journey takes about 45 minutes and it took us to view the buildings around the Osaka Bay Area. It costs 1600 yen for Santa Maria and 2,000 yen for adults to enter the aquarium but we bought a combine ticket for both for 3200 yen.

Santa Maria Cruise

Mieyra longing for Tempozan's ride

Kaiyukan Aquarium is just next to Santa Maria Bay. It was one of the largest aquariums in the world. The buildup was pretty neat - the tanks were categorized according to different regions/theme and the path was spirals along these tanks, so people get to see the same tanks from different depth. There were lots of coral fish, a super friendly stingray, hammerhead shark, reef sharks, spooky giant crab, turtle, dolphins, playful seals, urgh, what else, what else, erm, penguins, a few different type of jellyfish. But I must say that the biggest attraction was the whale shark; I mean to get to see it up close was really an amazing experience. Though I have to admit that I felt sorry for such a big creature which belongs to the ocean gets stuck in this aquarium. It must be feeling very lonely. I heard there used to be a pair – I wonder what happen to the other one? Other than that, we also get to see (and smell too!) otters and giant capybara! And there was this shallow pool where you can touch the sharks or stingrays.

In front of Kaiyukan Aquarium

As for the last one, we went to visit Umeda Sky Building, the seventh tallest building in Osaka. It is 173 meters tall and has a Floating Garden Observatory on top of the building where you can admire the city view of Osaka. Because we got there almost during the sunset time, so the view was very nice and peaceful. I wonder how beautiful it would look at night, with all the lights illuminates from the city.

Umeda Sky Building

The view from the Floating Garden Observatory

Hanshin Expressway going through Gate Tower Building

Another view from another side

Initially, we planned to conquer just Osaka but after some revising of the itinerary, we also include Kyoto (and Kobe!) in this trip. We went to Kyoto on the second day, about an hour drive from Osaka. It is well known for its cultural and imperial remnants, so I was a little more excited than I was yesterday because I love visiting cultural place.

Our first stop was at Kinkaku-ji known as the Golden Pavilion, possibly the world's most showy retirement cottage built by Shogun Yoshimitsu Ashikaga. Then it was turned into Zen temple after his death by his son. The top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf and it shines under the sun. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history; the recent one was in 1950. So the current structure was rebuilt in 1955. 

At the entrance of Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion temple


Beautiful Golden Pavilion and its reflection in the water

There was a path that leads to head monk’s former living quarter and to the garden, which hold a few other spots of interest including Anmintaku Pond that is said to never dry up, and statues that people throw coins at for luck. And people did throw a lot. There was a time when I looked at my sister and I know she had the same thought. We could have better breakfast with those! Just kidding.

Next stop was Philosophy Path, a path that follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of sakura trees at both sides. It is one of the best spot to watch hanami (cherry blossoms) and April was just a perfect time to see them bloom. You see, I'm not even a fan of sakura but with this jaw-dropping scenery, I wouldn't be surprised if anyone said they will fly thousand of miles just to see flowers. I mean, seeing it up close at its peak, it was such a spectacular view. It’s the fact that it only blooms once a year and its fragile state that easily falls when the wind blow, makes this experience thousand times worth a picture. I'm just glad that I wasn't there to watch this beauty fade. It would be heartbreaking!

The Philosophy Path

There will never be enough of sakura picture, no matter how many times I push the trigger

The path actually begins around Ginkakuji temple area (The Silver Pavilion), our third stop. The temple was built by Yoshimasa Ashikaga (the grandson of the founder of Kinkaku-ji) but no, the temple is not covered by silver. There were plan to coat it with silver but was never carry out. Though the temple itself wasn't as impressive as the Golden Pavilion, I thought the garden was more beautiful here. The path is hilly and while we at the top of it, it give a very nice view of the temple. After we toured the garden, we had some green tea at a tea house within the temple area. It tasted like fish; I couldn't finished it.

At Silver Pavilion

The garden

There were many shops along the streets before approaching the temples selling food and souvenir. We tried a few different street foods here; some was good, some was just, ehhh? My sister had this sakura flavored pancake (yes, in the spirit of hanami we should give it a try) but nope, nope.

The last one was Kiyomizudera temple. I love it here because it’s huge and there were a lot of thing going on. Forget those pavilions, if you only visit one temple, this should be the one! The temple is best known for its wooden stage, is believed in bestowing good fortune with numerous ways to appeal to the gods, so there are a few spots. But the most interesting one, in my opinion, would be the Otowa Waterfall, which is located at the base of Kiyomizudera's main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream's water is said to have a different benefit such as longevity, academic success and a fortunate love life. 

At Kiyomizudera's entrance
Sakura over here, sakura over there ( ^__^)

The main hall and the stage was built without any nails

The visitors burning incense

Visitors drinking sacred water from Otowa Waterfall streams

I heard there are a lot of Maiko-chan (apprentice geisha) in Kyoto but we didn't spot any! We went back to Osaka after that and have sushi for dinner.They have this smoked shrimp with cheese sushi and it taste too good, I could have them forever! 

And that conclude our second day activities. This post is getting too long, I will have to continue on the next post! Thanks for reading!