東京の散歩 – Tokyo Walkabout

We began our morning bright and early, but the queue was still outrageous at the massively overpriced Skytree. I know it looks pretty cool, but the price tag really was not. Over 2000 yen to go all the way up. Each. Comparing it to our attraction spends in Kyoto, we weren’t too keen on paying it. So we just took pictures to make it look like we were there. Sandwiches, wraps and pastries for breakfast and then back on the subway to Akihabara for some serious window shopping…

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I think I went into every shop in Akihabara looking at Gameboys only to not buy one. I just think too much and then can’t commit. So many deals! We visited every arcade, every comic shop, we were there for hours. I even managed to convince Tiernan to take another pirikura (sticker photo, プリクラ). If I manage to find a way to scan it, I’ll put it up. I dressed up like a frilly version of an anime-victorian character. Tiernan dressed as himself. I am addicted to taking pictures in booths. If I could have done that everyday I really honestly would have.

Akihabara is just as much the techno hub as it always has been. Pricesare pretty reasonably. Although not excessively cheap a lot of things were still cheaper than Ireland and New Zealand. Naturally, the range of manga is astounding. If I lived in Tokyo, I would probably never leave Akihabara. Japanese pop-culture is just great.

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Alas, after lunch we did have to move on. We needed to get to Roppongi Hills before sunset so we could get a good view of Tokyo Tower. It costs about 1500 yen to go up. Still on the pricey side, but what are you gonna do. You need to see Tokyo, right? Although we took a wrong turn it was reasonably easy to find and didn’t disappoint with the view. We camped out on a bench for about a hour. I had to champion my inner vertigo and things managed to go ok. We couldn’t work out Mt Fuji, however. That was probably the sight Tiernan and I were most looking forward to. Either due to haze or sunset glare, we just couldn’t work it out (I haven’t put up a picture of the Fuji side, because none of my picture were any good). I guess that means we have to go again and head out of the city next time 🙂

Ahh, it’s Godzilla!

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After scoring my beloved night-time shot of Tokyo, we decided to make a last mission back to Shibuya, which was not at all on the way. We went there on our first night in Tokyo to meet one of my Uni friends who is now living in the burbs with his wife and lil twin babies! But we just didn’t have time/were having too much fun to take photos.

Leaving Roppongi Hills, it was so cold! I was really under prepared for the weather. I mean, I knew it was no Manila, but I just didn’t understand how I un-acclimatised I’d be. I decided to follow some signs to a different subway station. It didn’t say how far away the station was and it turned out to be more than twice the distance away. So we were cold, hungry and walking! Fortunately, there was some of the most amazing Ramen of the trip in Shibuya. Shibuya just has good food in general. It was two-for-two. Two great dinners. Two huge thumbs up.

Another thing I loved about Shibuya, and incidentally I also lack photos of, was this crazy toy-dog pet store. Now I don’t mean that the dogs were toys. I mean tiny wee living actually really dogs. I died of cute and Tiernan tried his hardest to keep me away. I was doing sums in my head about how to get a puppy back to Manila. I failed.

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So after a long day of walking and subway-ing it was time to go home. Our last night in Japan and our last night together before Tiernan went home to Ireland. Very sad, but tired and glad we had such a good trip. Set up a last funny shot of us in our yukata in the ryokan. Looking awesome!

Man something else I want to talk about is how nice Japanese communal baths are. I was lucky because every time I went for a bath it was empty. But it is like having a huge spa-pool (jacuzzi if you’re American) to just bathe in. And all to myself. It’s utter luxury! I wish I could have one at home.

And that’s the end of Japan. I am leaving Manila for good on May 16 so I will be busy packing, cleaning and closing. But I am hoping to get around the city and take some last videos and photos to cover all the life aspects I missed and create some memories. It’s been a long year full of interesting things, but now it’s time to go home to Ireland. See you soon!

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上野公園と動物園 – Ueno Park and Zoo

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Considering how rainy it had been the day we went to Disneyland, it was amazing how sunny the next day was! We stayed close to home for the most part. As we were staying in Homeikan Japanese Inn (Ryokan). I’m OK giving it a shout out, even though they stay was kind of disappointing (didn’t get the garden views they advertised for a start). Anyway, Homeikan right next to Tokyo University so it is a short walk or one subway stop to Ueno Park, which is beautiful.

We strolled from Ueno subway station around the outside of the lake to the shrine in the center. It was surrounded by some interesting and delicious looking food stalls. There was also a place where the two main lakes joined. These crazy fishes were slithering across the concrete barrier from one lake to the other. The were all slapping the water as though they were talking to each other. I wonder which fish decided to go over first… because they had to find out there was a second lake somehow!

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Half way around the lake we discovered a smaller lake with paddle and row boats! Naturally we took one out and Tiernan rowed me about for an hour. It was hilarious and nice. The cherry blossoms were falling from the trees and parts of the lake were covered in fallen blossoms. It was also utter chaos because there were so many people out boating in such a small spaces!

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When we were done rowing we decided to visit the Ueno Zoo. It is Japan’s oldest zoo and is split into two parts which are joined by a monorail and bridge. Some of the areas are still looking tired, but Ueno Zoo is undertaking a series of renovations to making the enclosures closer to the animals real habitats. That’s something I can really appreciate. Many of the animals we visited while charging around looked happy – and that’s the main thing.

It was great to see some animals I had not seen in person before. Particularly the Pandas! Kawaii!

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Sorry about the poor image quality. I am running out of space on my wordpress account so I am just uploading low res versions.

伏見稲荷大社 – Fushimi Inari-Taisha

Founded in 711 and moved to its current location in 816, Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the oldest site we visited while in Japan. I just can’t fathom 711. I can’t even imagine it – that’s how far in the past that date is. I know that the place would have looked very different at that time. The main shrine wasn’t built here until the 15th century. But still – old.

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We took the train down from Gion and walked up to the shrine, which sits at the base of a mountain. We entered through a side entrance and walked around to the main archway. I was over excited again. This was because I couldn’t wait to get amongst the hundreds of ‘tori’ (鳥居) archways that the shrine is famous for. They are brilliantly red and wind their way long a 1-2 hour walk into the mountains.

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The site is quite complex. It begins with a main shrine. After a walk along tori-lined paths you reach the inner shrine. The further in you go the more smaller, personal shrines you find.

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Kitsune, foxes (), are very heavily represented here. They are considered to be the messengers of the Shinto spirit Inari, whom this shrine is named for. Inari is the patron of fertility (and rice), tea (and Sake), agriculture, industry and prosperity/success. That’s probably why millions of Japanese flock to Fushimi Inari-Taisha over the New Year period. On our lovely evening in April, there weren’t as many tourists around. The main shrine was still fairly busy, but once we walked up into the mountain the people essentially disappeared – perhaps they were on a tight schedule and didn’t have time to walk all the way up?

This was also the part of the trip where I found the most respectful tourists. Everybody, of course, wanted a photo alone with a long path of red arches disappearing off behind them. In little clusters everyone would stop, take turns taking photos, and then hurriedly move on. I really want to thank everyone who visited that day. They were all awesome.

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We could have been alone! And, indeed, sometimes we were! We wandered back down to the train station just as the sun was going down, super glad we took plenty of time here. Visiting it last was also an advantage because a lot of people must have been heading to find dinner or finishing their toursiting for the day. There is no fee to enter the shrine complex, but you can throw a coin to make a prayer or purchase a tori to hang with your wish on.

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By the time we got back to town the sun was really gone. We wandered around the Gion area to accomplish our last task – find a Maiko or Geisha. It didn’t take long. They are simply gorgeous, aren’t they?

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With all our major tasks completed we caught a 6.30 p.m. back to Osaka and began packing for the great move to Tokyo!

金閣寺と銀閣寺 – Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji Temples

After the bamboo forest we took the Sagano Line back to Emmachi, stopped for doughnuts, and then walked the 20 minute walk (most of the way, anyway) to Kinkakuji – the Golden Pavilion. Probably the place I was most keen to see in Kyoto, the Golden Pavilion is one of the first things to show up in any Google search of Kyoto. It is a simply beautiful Zen temple to the northwest of the city, sitting on the shore of a glassy pond.

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There are so many beautiful, historic places in the Kyoto area that, rather than protecting individual monuments, 17 sites make up the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.” Somewhat interestingly, the structure that stands today was built in 1955. A monk went crazy in 1950 and burned down the previous structure. If you check out the Wikipedia article you will see that the previous temple looked a little different.That is probably the most notable burning, but there have been others. When a place has been important since 1397, it’s going to see some damage. Similarly, the Osaka Castle you see today is also a modern reconstruction on a historic site. Nevertheless, Kinkakuji is a very special, beautiful and – of course – extremely popular place.

We then made use of our handy bus passes (which we picked up at the Information Center at Kyoto Station). We hopped on the 204 and headed to the northeastern side of the city to Ginkakuji – the Silver Pavilion. Not as clearly silver as the Golden Pavilion is gold, I think I actually loved it more.

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You can tell by my happy face.

We walked up the cherry blossom-lined road to the temple. Passed girls in their yukata taking selfies and photos of each other (they attracted a bit of attention). It was a very beautiful Spring day all round!

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Ginkakuji is also a Zen temple. It is nestled in the side of a hill amongst thick green forest. The temple is slightly younger than our first temple of the day. Ginkakuji was founded in 1490 and is very similar to Kinkakuji in design. Former Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa designed the temple after Kinkakuji, which had been founded by his grandfather, Yoshimitsu.

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The builders never got around to completing the silver foiling, so the temple has a lovely exposed wood look. As a complex, I really love it. The whole place is beautiful. I felt very Zen indeed. It was awesome because we had umm’d and ahh’d about going in since we had some much to do in just one day. Then we went for it and it was great! I would even recommend Ginkakuji over Kinkakuji.

After three amazing sites and a lot of walking around we were desperate for some ramen. We weren’t disappointed by this little restaurant a ten minute walk out of the tourist zone. Boy do I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant. It was quite, cheap and soooooo good!

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Entry costs/info:
Kinkakuji is 400yen per adult
Ginkakuji is 500yen per adult
The 204 is the bus that runs between both sites
Emmachi station is where we hopped off the train. There are buses that take you up the road if you’d prefer not to walk. All the ones that passed us were packed solid.

Sagano Bamboo Forest

When travelling in Kyoto, the Sagano Bamboo Forest is something you want to do very early or very late in the day after the main tour groups have gone through. After seeing the peaceful shots on the Google bot I was really overwhelmed to find a million people there.

The Bamboo Forest is one several lovely, free things to do in Kyoto. We got to Kyoto at about 9.30 a.m. (kind of late in tourist terms) after arriving by train from Osaka. We prompt changed onto the Sagano line and went directly to Saga-Arashiyama station to begin our day.

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We opted against being pulled along and took the five minute walk to the start of the path. This is definitely a place you should visit very early in the morning or very late in the evening. After looking at pictures I had expected a picture of peace and solitude, but there were so many tourists that the place really felt small. The actually forest is not really that big – maybe a five minute walk along the path – even if you’re taking your time. Still, it’s very beautiful.

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Since it was almost lunch time we were keen to get in a few more sights and returned to the city after only a half hour. Biggest regret, not continuing on up the hill to the Arashiyama (Iwatayama) Monkey Park – because monkies!

The Osaka Systematized Good-Will Guides Club

I agree, the club name is humorously long. But the Osaka Systematized Good-Will Guides Club (henceforth OSGG) was a very awesome experience for Tiernan and I while we were in Osaka. They’re a non-profit, no-fee tour guide service (although there are a couple of things you should pay for, see the end of the blog). Considering the exorbitant cost of day tours in Japan, it’s nice to know there is an economical option that is not only locally operated, but also completely flexible.

It didn’t even matter that there were only two of us. After filling out the online form on the OSGG website, our trip plan was circulated amongst the 55-strong membership base and a guide volunteered to show us around.

osaka train

Spritely retiree Mike met us in our hotel lobby at 8.55 am on a Monday morning. We were going to do a tour I had designed; beginning with a 10 am visit to the Asahi Brewery. One hung-over Tiernan in tow (told you it wasn’t me), Mike marched us smartly to the subway to purchase our day passes for the train.

The Asahi Brewery is in Suita, an area just north of Osaka City on the Hankyu-Senri Line. You could probably call it the suburbs.

asahi brewery tour

It’s odd for me to go to a brewery since I don’t really drink. But as I had never been to one before, the chance to go was quite novel. I was completely fascinated by how cans get their lids on and how boxes get folded and packed. I am absolutely convinced that we will all be replaced by machines one day.

Now, there is no filming inside the brewery and the tour is conducted completely in Japanese (with an English brochure). I had to assure Mike that it was no problem we couldn’t understand the lady because we just wanted to see the machines.

That said, I completely recommend this tour because not only is it a pretty interesting factory, but you get free beer at the end of it. Like three beers each. And at 10 am that is probably the maximum you need.

You will need to book in advance if you would like to visit the factory as they do not accept walk-ins at all. Mike took care of the booking for us.

For Mike, it was his second time to the factory. The last time, he said, he went was with a film crew. He was puzzled as to why they would go considering there was no filming. He seemed to enjoy his beer, too 🙂 Definitely had more than Tiernan and I together!

namba restaurant okonomiyaki

With our stomachs lined with golden bubbles we were all feeling a lot happier. Mike said he would like to take us for Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き, Japanese Pancakes) – which I love and Tiernan had never tried. So off we went to the station again and ended up in a wonderful little restaurant near Namba station. The Okonomiyaki is cooked on the hot plate at your table. I can assure you, it was fantastic.

Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake and an Osaka specialty. Okonomiyaki means ‘as you like it’. Naturally, you can have whatever you like in it. The main bulk is made up of Okonomiyaki-flour, yam, egg, and cabbage. Delicious meet or tofu is then added. After it cooks they add mayonnaise and lovely Okonomiyaki-sauce which creates the hearty meal you see here. I don’t have a sauced photo, because (as usual) I ate it and forgot about the pictures…

okonomiyaki osaka cooking

okonomiyaki osaka

After lunch, we took the train back to Tanamachi Yonchome station and walked up to Osaka Castle, which you can read about here. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go together to Dotonburi as we had planned. We had so much fun it was 4 p.m. before we knew it. Fortunately, Tiernan and I did manage to get there on our own later that day around dinner time.

Osaka Walking Tour Itinerary

9.00 am Leave accommodation (ours was in Tanimachi Yonchome) This is by all accounts a late start for a tour, but it will allow for breakfast and snoozes 🙂
10.00 am Arrive and begin the tour at Asahi Brewery in Suita
11.30 am Leave Asahi for Namba
12.00 pm Sitting down for some Osaka-special Okonomiyaki
1.30 pm Leave the restaurant begrudingly
2.00 pm Arrive, full and rearing to go, at Osaka Castle for a walk about the grounds
4.00 pm leave the castle for Shinsaibashi and Dotonburi
Eat, drink and be merry there until you feel like heading home

Osaka Systematized Good-will Guides

You will need to pay for your guide’s travel costs, entry fees and lunch – because you’re nice that way. Even after those costs it is still a lot cheaper than the day tour companies you can find online. With their USD 150 per person fees. What are you even paying for?

As our guide was a volunteer guide at Osaka Castle as well, we didn’t have to pay any fees at all for him while we were there. The whole cost was about 1500yen (€20) for our guide. Our own food and transport was probably another €10-15 on top of that. Cheap as chips as we say in NZ.

Website: http://osakasgg.org/eng/index.html

 Okonomiyaki Recipe

I could write up my own recipe, but Jun’s is awesome. So let’s use his. You may also recognise the sound track from some of our Ireland videos.

心斎橋と道頓堀- Shinsaibashi and Dōtonbori

Shinsaibashi as an area is Osaka’s main shopping district. It has all the well-known designers (of Dior and Chanel fame etc) as well as some high-street-esque stores. The main draw-card is a seemingly endless arcade with mostly boutiques and more unique shops (ie. the stuff you go to Japan to buy because you can’t get it elsewhere). For those looking for manga, there is a Mandarake just over the road in Amerika-mura – the same area as the catcafe!

Mandarake Osaka       Shinsaibashi Osaka   Shinsaibashi Osaka

I didn’t take too many pictures because I was, you know, shopping. I found some stockings covered in galaxies, a huge range of dolly clothes (as in the fashion, not for actual dolls) and some amazing-looking crepes – none of which I bought.

We also visited Dotonbori, a long stretch of road well on the tourist trail for Osaka. Once a hot bed for pleasure, it is now a hot bed for crabs and other edibles. Tiernan and I kept up our tradition of only eating food we can order from a machine. We found a place full of Japanese people – going with one of my favourite pieces of advice for tourists to eat where the locals are eating – and went in. Hooray for Ramen (ラーメン)! I can’t get enough. I even want some right now.

It was pretty nice having to take to take your shoes off to sit down on the raised platforms. I liked the style of the local people in a hurry who kind of just leant on it, rather than take their shoes off. Or, in one case, took off one shoe and left the other, shoed foot on the floor. Anyway, it was fast and delicious. As you exchange your meal coupon for a number, it is advisable to learn your Japanese number 1 thru 10 so you know what to listen for.

tiernan and Ramen Rachel and Ramen Tiernan and Ramen  Ordering Ramen Tiernan ShinsaibashiDotonburi

Of course, the last stop in any trip for Rachel and Tiernan is the local Irish Pub. Murphy’s Osaka was the first Irish Pub in Japan. It opened in 1991 and is still serving up Guinness today. Coincidentally, it is owned and operated by Mick, the brother of one of Tiernan’s neighbours. It’s the only pub I have been to where you take an elevator to the 6th floor and come out in Ireland. It really is a fantastic little place with loads of Irish hospitality in an extremely Japanese context.

We stopped in on a Sunday night at 5.30 p.m. and although we only left at 10 p.m. it definitely felt a lot later! Let’s just say someone needed help getting to the station – and that someone wasn’t me.

Tiernan Murphy's Pub Tiernan Murphy's Pub Music Murphy's Pub Murphy's PubMap

Here are the numbers:

1 一 (ichi)

2 二 (ni)

3 三 (san)

4 四 (shi/yon)

5 五 (go)

6 六 (roku)

7 七 (shichi/nana)

8 八 (hachi)

9 九 (kyū/ku)

10 十 (jū)

0 〇 (zero)