Monday, December 30, 2013

Japan Day 4: Hiroshima

Day 4 and we finally made it to Hiroshima! After spending the night at McDonalds, we woke up early, freshened up and hopped on an early train to Hiroshima. 

Cheeky DH took a photo of me sleeping at McDonalds. Very very challenging with the music blaring 2/47, but hey what can you do?
My first feeling when we got to Hiroshima was how different it was from Tokyo. It was warm and I actually walked around without my jacket on. And it was a bit laidback compared to Tokyo. Our first stop was to the A Bomb Dome. The bomb which obliterated Hiroshima city in 1945 dropped directly above the A Bomb Dome, which is why majority of the structure remain intact. Visitors can't go in the building area by the way.

Us in front of the dome. 

Next we went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum by way of the Peace Memorial Park.

The walkway leading to the Museum

A bit of a warning if anyone is planning to visit Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Museum. It is a very, very, very depressing place to be. You'll learn about the history of Hiroshima and the bombing and there will be displays of what remained after the bombing. I actually shed a few tears while walking around the museum, looking at the displays and reading the description. You will see actual human skin peeled off from a victim's body because of the blast. You will also see displays of clothes covered with blood. My personal feeling is that no matter how horrible the Japanese were during the war (heck they tortured people in my country too during their occupation of Malaya) but the entire population of Hiroshima did not deserve to be obliterated. What is more horrifying is that the effects of the bombing could still be seen today, 68 years after the bombing. There were people born with deformed limbs because of the radiation. It's truly devastating. 
Miniature of Hiroshima before the bombing
Miniature of Hiroshima after the bombing
A child's tricycle and helmet found after the atomic blast. Because his parents didn't want him to be buried alone, they buried him with his tricycle. This was later dug up for display
The Memorial Hall where the names of the bomb victims are displayed

After the sobering and emotionally draining experience in Hiroshima, we went to a happier place, Miyajima for lunch. Hiroshima is famous for its oysters and Miyajima is the best place to sample Hiroshima's oysters. Miyajima is an island which can be reached by hopping on 10 minute ferry ride. For JR pass holders, the ride is free (normal fare is 170 yen).

The famous torii (gate) welcoming you to Miyajima. A famous place to visit in Miyajima is the Itsukushima jinja (Itsukushima shrine), which we didn't visit. We only went as far as the torii guarding the shrine. 
A local kindly took our picture overlooking the torii. Arigato!

We were starving by the time we got to Miyajima so the first thing we did was to look for a place to eat, but not before we fooled around with a couple of deer. I love Miyajima. It's a lovely place to spend the afternoon. It's a small town which you can finish touring in one afternoon. The centre of the town is filled with souvenir shops and food stalls, and deer! Very friendly ones too!

For some reason this stall attracted us. This cool dude sells grilled oyster at his stall and the smell of oyster on the grill was to die for. It had all kinds of grilled oyster from plain ones with no dressing to mayonnaise and cheese. We tried the mayonnaise & cheese, garlic and herb and also chili ones and they were all so good. There was also a stall operated by the same dude which served freshly pressed lemon juice and grapefruit juice. We tried both and they were delicious! I think almost four lemons/grapefruit were pressed to fill one glass, add a little sugar syrup and soda and were were in lemonade/grapefruit heaven. 

At first we tried the garlic & herb and mayonnaise & cheese and thought that we would stop by other stalls to sample their food. But the taste of the yummy oyster still lingered in our mouths that after we walked around sightseeing and looking for souvenir, we went back to the same stall for more of the dude's grilled oysters. 

And we ordered all these LOL. And to make our dining experience even more awesome, the dude gave us a free plate of grilled oysters. Probably because we already ordered so much. And they were cheap!

By the time we finished walking around it was almost sunset and we had to make a two hour journey by train to Kyoto. So with a heavy heart we left Miyajima. Miyajima was definitely on the top of my favourite places to go in Japan. No doubt. 

Sunset in Miyajima

Me exhausted on the shinkansen on the way to Kyoto. Another one by cheeky DH :P

Friday, December 27, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me!

So last Thursday was my ehem 27th (read 34th) birthday. It was a pretty low key day for me. My good friends from the office took me out for lunch at Acme Bar & Cafe at Troika. It was my first time dining there and the food was quite good. I haven't been seen one of the friends who transferred to another department early this year, so lunch was a good time to catch up on all the latest gossips LOL.

Later that night, DH took me to a Japanese restaurant in town. I've been wanting to try this restaurant but never got around to do it. So what better excuse than my birthday to check it out? I ordered the sashimi set and for RM110, it also comes with appetizers, a mini tempura, miso soup, chawan mushi and dessert.
These are our appetizers. And they were all so good! I loved the presentation too. The one in the glass was the salmon jelly, which was soooooo good. DH also got a complimentary appetizer of salmon salad which was also so good. 

Now I don't normally like and wouldn't touch chawan mushi with a ten foot pole, but this one was really good. It was silky and smooth I can taste so many elements in my mouth. I would definitely order this again.
And here's the star of the show. My sashimi platter. So many good things going on on the plate. I saved the salmon and tuna for last coz those were my favourite. There was octopus and yellow fin and something else I forgot. Everything on that plate was awesome. My only complaint was that there were only two salmon slices on the plate which was not nearly enough for me. 

DH's niku soba was also good. And in a huge bowl which was a big plus. I had some of the broth and it was yum!

Now this is Goma or black sesame ice cream. This I would order the next time I come here. I've never tried goma before. I find it weird that they can turn something like black sesame into ice cream but I loved it! RM18 is pretty expensive for a scoop but it was worth it. I had to restrain myself from licking the bowl LOL. For Japanese food lovers, check this restaurant out. It's pretty pricey than what you normally get from kaiten belt restaurants, but the food is worth the price you pay. Trust me.

All in all it was a great birthday. I loved spending it with DH. He really does pamper me which I adore. He had already given me a pair of diamond earrings earlier this year and spent so much on our Japan trip so I know better than to expect another present. And I know that he's planning something pretty big for me next year and I can't wait to see that happen. I've had so many ups and downs this year and this dinner was a good end to one heck of a roller coaster year. 

Thanks for reading! Toodles!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Japan Day 3: Mt Fuji and (almost) Hiroshima

It was day 3 and we woke up early to a crisp and cold morning in Kawaguchiko. We had booked a full day tour of Mt Fuji and were really excited to see the mountain up close, so we had a quick breakfast and quickly jumped into the waiting bus that would take us around Mt Fuji area. We started with going back to Kawaguchiko Station to pick up a couple other people for the tour. I loved this train station. It's small and cute, but very cozy. Our tour guide, Erico, spoke very good and clear English and we loved her. She had a lot of knowledge about Mt Fuji and the surrounding area and it was a joy hearing her speak.

We started with Fuji Sengen Shrine, an old shinto shrine which is the starting point for climbers wanting to climb up Mt. Fuji using the Yoshidaguchi trail. The path leading to the shrine was lined with beautiful stone lanterns and cedar trees. In the shrine compound runs a stream which clear water flows from Mt. Fuji itself. There was supposed to be a humongous torii at the entrance of the shrine but it just so happened that it was under restoration. The shrine itself was quite small and only the front area was open for visitors. We saw some worshipers tossing coins and making their wish. Outside the shrine there was an area where worshipers have to purify themselves before they perform their worshiping rituals using water flowing from the mountain. As DH and I wouldn't be worshiping we contented ourselves with taking in the beautiful surrounding. It was the beginning of autumn in Japan and the leaves were just starting to turn into their beautiful autumn colors.

From the Shrine, we made our way to 5th Level of Mt Fuji. The 5th Level is essentially the middle point between the starting point and the summit and it has become quite the tourist attraction. There are plenty of souvenir shops at the 5th Station if you're thinking of bringing back some trinkets and souvenirs back home. And it was the nearest that we could get to Mt Fuji itself. We spent quite some time there taking photos and it was freezing cold!!! But the view from the station was breathtaking. Here are some of them.

This dude I love

After taking photos, our guide took us to to the trail leading up to the summit. It was quite an uphill climb and the trails was covered with black rocks, which I assume to be lava rocks. It was then that I decided that one of the things I have to do before I die is to climb Mt Fuji to the top. Who's with me? :D

And then back to K's House we went for our lunch. Lunch was not included in the tour package so we had to make our own arrangements. We had forgotten to buy bread in the morning so we decided to have Maggi. Perfect! Since we would be making our way from Mt Fuji to Hiroshima on the night train, we packed our bags and checked out but left our bags at the hostel to be picked up later.

After lunch, we went to the Aokigahara Lava Forest and the Wind Cave. The forest was kinda spooky and I wouldn't recommend going alone without a guide. You might get lost. But the forest is also kinda beautiful in a mysterious way. The ground and the roots of the trees were covered in moss. Because the soil is hard because of the lava, the roots of the trees have to grow above ground. It was really quite magnificent. There was also a deep cave, possibly formed by the flowing lava when Mt Fuji erupted. We didn't spend much time there as we had to go to the Ice Cave at Narusawa next. This Ice Cave was pretty magnificent and beautiful. In olden times, because of the naturally formed ice in the cave, the locals used the cave to store perishable food products. And it was cold! The trek was also pretty slippery so be very careful as you make your way down, although there were bamboo rails to hold on to. At one point we actually had to crouch down to make our way further inside. It was quite an adventure. Outside the cave there was a tourist information centre where we bought some postcards to bring home. At one corner, I noticed that there was a stamp pad. I didn't know what it was until I saw another one like it in Kyoto. It was actually a commemorative stamp where you can stamp your travel book/notes to remember the places in Japan that you visit. We missed out on this one, but after that I was always on a lookout for the next stamp.

The inside of the cave was covered all over with ice

We had to crawl through this supper narrow tunnel. Cool stuff!

From the Ice Cave, we went to Lake Motosuko. This lake is famous for being the lake that you see on the back of the 1000 yen bill. We didn't spend too much time here as it was the last stop for the tour and it was getting late. Once we reached the hostel, we quickly grabbed our bags and hopped on the transfer van to the train station to catch our train to Hiroshima. We had some time to kill at the train station so we grabbed some light dinner and hot coffee. From Mt Fuji we had to make several transfer stops at Otsuki, Shinjuku and Yokohama to get on the sleeper train to Okayama and then the Hikari bullet train to Hiroshima. We had already booked our tickets on the sleeper train and I was really excited to get on it.
At Lake Motosuko

But alas, it was not meant to be. The transfer time from Shinjuku to Yokohama was only 6 minutes and the train from Otsuki to Shinjuku was late! So because the train to Shinjuku was late, we had to run catch our sleeper train to Yokohama but try as we might (there were some Amazing Race running action going on here), we missed the train! And it was the last train of the day. We were looking quite forlorn and lost that a couple of Japanese locals asked us what was wrong. We told them our predicament and these gentlemen were kind enough to do a search on their mobile phones to find out what our  next options were. It was decided that there was nothing we could do that night but wait till morning to get on the first train to Hiroshima. One of the gentleman by the name of Yoshi asked us to get off the train with him at Shin Yokohama and figure out what to do next. We asked him if it was safe to sleep at the train station and he told us that yes, it was quite safe but he wouldn't recommend it because of the cold weather. He found us a McDonald's that operated 24-7 so that was where we spent the night LOL.

Despite the setback, us missing the train was a blessing in disguise. We made a new friend! Turn out Yoshi is a CEO of a pretty big company in Japan! And he was so nice and down to earth and we loved him! We didn't make a deal about missing the train as there was nothing we could do about it anyway. We did some research on Hyperdia and found out the train timetable the next day and slept off our exhaustion at McDonald's. We were quite surprised that the staff at McDonald's actually let us sleep there. Amazing people these Japanese!

So that was the end of our day 3 adventure.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Japan Day 2: Mt Fuji

We woke up early on the second day, had breakfast (we bought some bread at Lawson) and made our way to the bus station in Shinjuku. My luggage still had not arrived that morning. Luckily, the night before we went to Akihabara and found a Uniqlo there, so I bought one top, a few pairs of socks and some other essentials. And since all my itineraries were in my luggage, I had to reprint the bus ticket confirmation for our trip to Mt. Fuji. So hopped on the train to Shinjuku we did, and we got there early. So we exchanged our confirmation slips with our actual bus tickets. Our bus was due to depart at 12.30 p.m and there was plenty of time so we walked around Shinjuku to find a place to have lunch. And lo and behold, we found a kebab stall! Hooray!!! Pretty expensive for kebab I have to say (600 yen for a kebab!) but we were to hungry and too happy to have found a halal place to care. After lunch we boarded the bus and made ourselves comfortable. The journey to Mt. Fuji took approximately 2 hours (plenty of time to sleep) but we were too excited and didn't want to miss our first glimpse of Mt. Fuji so we stayed awake the entire journey. Good thing that I had brought along a book for this trip. Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hours Bookstore is an interesting read by the way.

First glimpse of Mt Fuji from our bus

We got to Mt Fuji at 2.30 p.m and checked in. The room we booked was quite big with an attached bathroom. But the thing that we were very happy with was the view. It was gorgeous!
We slept on tatami mats. Cool stuff!

How can you not fall in love with that view? 

The weather was really good that day. Apparently it was one of the best weathers they've this year as we were told by the receptionist at K's House Mt Fuji. If you ever plan to go to My Fuji, I highly recommend staying at K's House Mt Fuji. The staff speak excellent English and very helpful and the place is super cozy. The hostel also offers free pick up from Kawaguchiko station. We were told that my luggage still hadn't arrived but they did receive a phone call saying that it would arrive that day. Since we had plenty of time before sunset, we decided to explore the area. I had read about a cable car at Mt. Kachi Kachi which you can ride and get a full view of Mt Fuji so we decided to check it out. It was quite a walk to the cable car station from our hostel but it was such a lovely day that we really enjoyed it.
Gorgeous autumn leaves

View of Lake Kawaguchiko from the cable car

Mt. Fuji! Isn't she gorgeous? 
Hello us!

Almost sunset at Lake Kawaguchiko

At Mt. Kachi Kachi there were binoculars, the ones where you could insert coins in them and you could see Mt. Fuji up close. And really, what we saw was breathtaking. A majestic mountain with its top capped with thick snow. We had such a wonderful time on top of Mt. Kachi Kachi that we were loath to come back down, but since it was nearing sunset and it was getting colder, we reluctantly descended. On our way back to the hostel we stopped by some shops and we found strawberry cheesecake Kit Kats! Kit Kats of wonderful flavours are pretty popular in Japan and this was the first time we saw one. So of course we grabbed a box, and they were delicious!

Strawberry cheesecake Kit Kats

By the time we got back to the hostel it was dark, and we were greeted with the good news that my luggage had arrived. Yay! 

We had worked up quite an appetite but since the night was still young (sunset was at 5.30 p.m.) we quickly freshened up and made our way to an onsen nearby. I have been wanting to check out an onsen in Japan at least once, and the dude at the hostel told us that there was one just behind the hostel. An onsen is basically a Japanese hot spring bath. It took a lot of convincing for hubs to get on board with the idea, but he caved in the end. We made our way to the onsen and got ourselves ready. Some rules on the use of onsen:

1. No tatoos allowed
2. You must be in your birthday suit in the onsen. No swimsuits allowed
3. You must shower before you dip into the bath
4. If you want to bring a towel, bring a small one. And you must never dip the towel into the bath. It's considered unhygenic

It was quite an experience taking a bath at the onsen. It was really awkward being in the company of women in their birthday suits, but putting that aside (I averted my eyes the entire time LOL), as soon as you step into the hot bath, all you want to do is close your eyes and enjoy it. The water was quite hot (40 degrees) but it was very relaxing. You could feel your tense muscles slowly loosen up. I met a couple of ladies (one from Australia and one from the UK) and they have been going to the onsen almost everyday, and I can understand why. To be honest, I didn't want to get out of there but I knew I had to at some point. When I got out, DH was already sipping his green tea at the lounge and when I asked him about his own experience, he told me it was something that he'll never do again. I'm guessing the whole birthday suit rule freaked him out LOL.

Before we left the hostel we asked the receptionist if there was any halal restaurant nearby and lucky for us, there was one Indian restaurant. We had a lovely dinner of naan and tandoori. It was a bit pricey but worth it. We had the set meal, which was big enough for two and finished the whole thing. It was a really good end to a really good day. 

Japan Day 1: Tokyo Photos

We found Ultraman!

Nakamise street market leading to Senso-ji at Asakusa. A really nice place if you're looking for souvenirs to bring home

Catching our breaths

Senso-ji. We didn't go in though

Me and my travel buddy at Shibuya

Us at the famous Shibuya Crossing. We crossed the road three times LOL!

Hachiko at Shinjuku

Our first proper meal. Halal tempura at Shinjuku. We got conned by a local on our way there. See previous post :P