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Geishas, Pumpkin Lattes, and Chicken Hearts.

I lied in my last post, unless “really soon” means two months later? I’m so sorry about that… Let’s get to it anyway.  Why do I keep naming my posts in threes? Well, it’s just so interesting right? I think so at least. When I last left my posts about Kyoto, I had went to the Golden Temple, ate some yummy ramen, and explored Kyoto Station. Well now I was ready to head off into Gion, arguably one of the most famous regions of Kyoto. fb_img_1451365497396.jpgGion is famous for being one of the main areas where geishas live and work. Though the geishas of today are not like those of the past, they are still women who are performance artists. It is not very likely that you will find a geisha or maiko (geisha in training) wandering around Gion. If you’re lucky enough to see one (like I was!) they’ll be rushing around, hoping not to be spotted and swarmed by tourists. It’s kind of scary to be followed around, like some sort of semi-celebrity, so I don’t blame them for running. I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a beautifully dressed girl in a blue kimono. She nodded at me and I at her, and she scurried down an alley before anyone else saw her. Probably one of the coolest experiences of my trip, though it was fleeting.fb_img_1451365500702.jpg
Gion had a wonderfully old school charm to it. Old wooden buildings, small shops. I wandered through the streets happily, after downing a sweet caramel pumpkin latte from Tully’s.
Which was probably tastier than a pumpkin spice latte, I haven’t had one in years now so I’ll compare this fall… I looked through the shops in Gion, buying some konpetti and the traditional Kyoto cookies made from cinnamon called yatsuhashi/bridge cookies (that are amazing!). I just enjoyed being a tourist. I loved Kyoto and how it felt being there, I did everything I wanted to do and then just sat down and people watched for a bit. I was on the edge of the Kamo River, watching the sun go down under a willow tree. The buildings lit up and I felt like I was in a fantasy world. It seems to cheesy to write something like that but I really did feel content with my life.

fb_img_1451365517448.jpgI wasn’t just waiting for nothing though, a friend from highschool was working in Kyoto and she agreed to meet with me for dinner. She took me to Fushimi Inari and we saw all the cool torii gates, as well as some cute cats and a tiny lizard. It was an interesting experience because it was night-time and the area is not brightly lit but it was still cool. We saw many shrines and small foxes. I would’ve liked to eat some kitsune udon while I was there but I’ll save that for next time I’m in Kyoto…

fb_img_1451365554621.jpgWe finished up at Fushimi Inari and then headed to an Izakaya for dinner. Izakaya are Japanese bars, but are kind of like a snack and alcohol bar. It was all fairly inexpensive for several drinks, a delicious cabbage dish (that was refillable and free!) and many fried foods. I had stuffed peppers, chicken skewers, and even chicken hearts. Not my favourite thing but when in Japan… Haha. We settled up the bill and hurried back to Kyoto station so I could make my train back to Osaka on time. A short ride later i was back in Osaka and I hit the motherlode of kitkats in the station. I figured they’d be good gifts to bring home and also it was going to be my last time in Japan for a long time so I might as well spend the money I had.

I saw lots of people in Halloween costumes too which was nice, people in Japan love Halloween! It was refreshing to see a country love a holiday that much. After rushing to the subway, I made the last train back to Doubutsuen-mae, and then back to my hotel.fb_img_1451365535906.jpg

I was thankful for a lovely solo trip and I enjoyed spending my last bit of yen on things in Japan. I know I’ll be back in Japan one day but since I don’t know when that will be, I can reflect and know that I did enjoy exactly what I wanted to.
So ends my trip posts. I haven’t been on any trips since being home, and I’ve been home nearly six months. I’m itching to go somewhere new, and I hope you’ll stick around for it.

Coming next are some posts from home and I hope you’ll enjoy them too. Thanks for sticking with me!

Until next time,
B.

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Temples, Traditions, and Ramen

Early Sunday morning I hopped on the subway from Dobustsuen-mae to Osaka station. I tried grabbing some delicious ebi-mayo rolls but the closest conbini was sold out… I settled for some pastries from a bakery in Osaka station and then made my way to the train.

A ticket from Osaka to Kyoto was only $6. I didn’t expect it to be so cheap and I was pleasantly surprised. I was kind of lost waiting for the train but the signage was abundant and I had enough WiFi to give me some google maps directions to exactly what train to get on. We pulled in to Kyoto station just after 11am and I was speechless.

fb_img_1451365423762.jpgKyoto station is HUGE! I wandered around for a bit, not really knowing where to go. I wasfb_img_1451365427726.jpg by myself, with a few goals in mind of where to go, and that was it. I looked for the kitkat
store with no luck, grabbed a pumpkin milk tea and then went outside. It was a warm autumn day and I was so happy. The station was bustling with people, all eager to explore the city like I was. I purchased a $5 bus pass, which  was good all day for any bus in the
city. I had three places in mind to go to in Kyoto and all day to do it. The only set plans I had were not until the evening, where I’d meet a friend for dinner and Fushimi Inari.

I set off on my first bus, to a place I’d dreamed about going for almost a decade. The bus was long and full to the gills, but I was so excited. I had my kindle with me so the journey was easy enough, and before I knew it the bus was emptying at our stop. I walked quickly up the road to see a bunch of small shops and restaurants full of life. The temple was across the street in a wooded area. I paid my $5 entry fee, completely worth  it, and made my way inside. Kinkakuji temple, or the Golden temple, completely took my breath away. I was shaking, nervous and excited. It’s completely ridiculous to feel that way about a temple but this place was beautiful. This place solidified my love for Japanese architecture and allowed me to grow as a person. I went from a teenager who wanted to go to the land of anime to a young woman eager to see more of the world.fb_img_1451365445815.jpg

It was all thanks to my friend James. He had been to Kyoto during his exchange year in Japan. We sent emails all the time and the pictures he sent me were burned into my mind forever. I was kind of teary eyed looking at the temple, I took my time, took it all in and took many pictures. Kinkakuji has been on my small bucket list of places to go for years, it was possibly the first entry on that list and I finally made it. I wandered the temple grounds, basically floating from place to place. I bought some mementos but I knew this place would be a part of me forever.

After a thoroughly enlightening experience, I wandered slowly back down the street. I stopped in the shops along the roads and looked at all the souvenirs they had to offer. I wasn’t really in a shopping mood, and that’s an odd feeling for me. I was completely and utterly happy. I fb_img_1451365480169.jpghopped on a bus back to Kyoto Station (my centralized point) and decided it was time for lunch. As I ascended the many escalators in Kyoto Station I was treated to a wonderful performance by a high school orchestra. Not only were they really good, they were also playing Disney songs. I sang along and sat and enjoyed the show before heading to Ramen Street. Ramen Street is a name for a section of the department store in Kyoto Station. Famous enough to have its own name but I didn’t think it was the greatest. The restaurants all seemed to serve the same stuff and they all had varying lengthy lines out front. I figured I couldn’t go wrong with ramen in Japan so I just picked one that looked appealing and bought my ticket. Turns out I was not wrong, and I enjoyed the second best ramen I’ve had  in Japan. Nothing beats that creamy delicious ramen I had in Shinjuku though… After filling up, I headed back out to Gion, where I’d explore the historic area of Kyoto, maybe catching a glimpse of a Geisha…

Originally this was only going to be two posts but to save your eyes I’m going to make a 3rd post. It’s hard to believe I was only there for 2 days but my last trip to Japan was one to remember. Sorry for the delay in my posts, lots of stuff going on at home so I’ve been a little busy!

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Next post really soon!
Until next time!
B

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Kyoto

On one of my last weekends in Busan I decided to step out of the country. I really don’t know when I’ll head over to Asia again and I needed to strike this one city off my bucket list before I left.
Kyoto has been on my list of places to go for almost ten years. One of my best friends went on an exchange to Japan in the tenth grade and they had went on a field trip to Kyoto. When I opened the email and saw Kinkakuji I knew I had to go. It was one of first times a picture took my breath away… So I decided to treat myself to a trip to Osaka.

fb_img_1451365380797.jpgI had a long weekend at the beginning of October so I took a few days to myself and then flew out of Gimhae in the afternoon on Saturday. Each flight with Air Busan required me to board the plane by staircase, and there’s something glamorous about that for some reason, no matter who is shoving you… I loved flying Air Busan because the staff was friendly, the snacks were good, and the flights were painless. Immigration getting in to Osaka was easy too. I was feeling good getting into KIX. I decided to take a risk with WiFi this time going to Osaka.

Now usually when I go to Japan I rent a WiFi router from SoftBank. I have had no issues with it and it’s fairly inexpensive. Since I was only going to be there two days, I decided to try one of the free WiFi apps they advertised in the terminal. This was a blessing and a curse. Blessing: I didn’t spend $40 on a router, nor did I have a temporary charge of $400 on my card (they do this for security purposes). It also allowed me to enjoy being alone and the sights and sounds of a beautiful place. Why did I enjoy it so much?? The curse: it rarely worked. It was as if I had to stand in one foot and hop up and down to keep a signal. It didn’t cost me anything but it also did not benefit me too much. I was okay on my own but if you need a constant connection, you should not use the app TravelJapan Free WiFi. Yes it was free but it was not convenient in Osaka or Kyoto. Maybe it’d be better in Tokyo but I really had a hard time. Luckily I planned ahead and wrote down the important directions.

My hotel in Osaka was sort of traditional. It was a hostel type building but I slept on a tatami floor. I had a tiny room to myself, perfect for me, and it was quiet and relatively clean. It was kind of old, but the staff was really friendly and helpful. I stayed in a place called Backpackers Hotel Toyo. It has a great location in Osaka, only 2-3 stops from the Dotonbori/Namba area and also located near Shin-Imamiya station on the JR Line. The hotel was super close to the Dobutsuen-mae subway station. Lots of conbinis around and I even saw people with Donki bags but I didn’t have enough time to scour my area of town.

After finding my hotel, I dropped all my stuff off and headed back out. fb_img_1451365415554.jpgTaking an afternoon flight only allowed me a few hours in Osaka, but I made the most of them. I left my hotel just before 8pm and was in Namba, lost and confused, just after 8:15. After wandering around and shopping, I found my way to the familiar Shinsaibashi area. I grabbed a few tsum tsums for my collection (limited edition Halloween ones!!) and then spent far too much money at Donki. I can’t say enough good things about Donki. It’s my favourite store in Japan.

After I was all shopped out, I headed back to my hotel not before stopping at Family mart. Japan is obsessed with Halloween and I was excited to grab a bunch of goodies while I was there. I tried lots of pumpkin flavoured things… It had started to rain so I hurried back to my hotel and settled in for the night.

Conbini food in Japan is amazing and I was so happy be reunited with my ebi mayo rolls. Mmmm.

fb_img_1451365386668.jpgNext post I’ll detail my day trip to Kyoto, which was amazing in itself. Chicken hearts, creepy foxes, little lizards, and the Golden temple await you!

Thanks for your patience and happy new year!!! I hope your holidays were amazing and please look forward to some new posts for the new year!

Until next time,
B

 

Here’s a Kyoto teaser pic…fb_img_1451365465476.jpg

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Day Three: Shibuya Scrambling.

Tokyo a go go day 3Day three started out not-so-great. We left the hotel later than expected, I didn’t get breakfast like I had planned, and we decided to adventure out of the Tokyo lines into an area just for Pork cutlet . We were on the hunt for a restaurant recommended by my friend’s friend, and we had made the trek out there in the summer heat, hoping for something great. Well, we did finally make it after getting a bit lost, and we found out the restaurant was closed for summer vacation. (Mushashikoyama will always be somewhere I’ll have to go eventually) There was no way we could have predicted this, and I was a bit more than disappointed because I was starving. All I wanted was a meal! Thankfully we decided on another place, this time in Shinjuku, and we set off.

wpid-img_20150731_133355.jpgI had stopped in a Lawson’s to get a snack (Ritz sandwiches and some chocolate almond milk) and I found some raspberry kitkats, so this seemed to be a good sign. The day was not going as I thought it would’ve, so I was feeling a bit
discouraged. We made our way to Shinjuku and again got wildly lost. I was starting to wonder why people even liked Shinjuku. We kept gettingwpid-img_20150731_134245.jpg stuck over on the other side of Shinjuku. It wasn’t until Saturday that we’d find the cool part of Shinjuku, so I still held a bit of a grudge towards it. We were looking for a port cutlet chain Tonkatsu Waco (I think), We finally did end up finding it, after nearly giving up, and it was inside the department store we were wandering
wpid-img_20150731_142237.jpgaround in front of (cursing Google Maps). We had our overpriced, disappointing tonkatsu, and some weird yam slurry that made me gag, and we were on our way. I decided we would try to make Shinjuku worth it, and we headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. Check out my post on that here.

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After exploring part of Shinjuku, we hopped on the subway and went to Ikebukuro. I was really excited to see Sunshine wpid-img_20150731_172415.jpgcity, and also find the Milky Way Cafe. We made our first stop the Milky Way Cafe, which was an adorable star themed cafe. I had my sign’s dessert: a Taurus. It was some sort of ice cream yogurt parfait that was delicious. Megan’s came with dry ice and it was really cool. We enjoyed our desserts after a disappointing beginning of the day and then set off into Ikebukuro. I was so excited to see everything, we hit up a few stores and I took Megan into Tokyu Hands. It was a cool experience. It was after looking around that we went into Sunshine City.wpid-img_20150731_173038.jpg

Sunshine City is a big mall that is home to the Pokemon Center MEGATOKYO! It was an awesome Pokemon store, the third that I’ve been to, and it was probably my favourite. They had everything! I was a bit sad they sold out of the magikarp plushes, but what can you do? I picked up a thing or two from the capsules, and then we were off again. I stopped by the wpid-img_20150731_180930.jpgDisney store in Sunshine City, and we wandered through lots of shops. We decided to take a rest at the Starbucks close by, hoping to charge our phones. Unfortunately Japan is a lot more stingy with their outlets than Korea is. We were unable to charge anything, so we cut our losses and headed towards the subway.

It was then that I realized the KitKat Chocolatory was in Ikebukuro. I decided that I’d wpid-img_20150731_181638.jpgregret not going, so I dragged Megan with me to the store. I don’t know what I expected but from videos that I had seen, I thought this place was going to be huge. It turned out to be a tiny department store counter! I ended up picking up a few flavours of Kitkats that I’ll elaborate on in a later post, but I was kind of disappointed by the store. We got on the subway after stocking up on Kitkats and made our way to Shibuya.

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I was really excited about Shibuya because I really wanted to see Hachiko. We got the obligatory pictures, and then wpid-img_20150731_200236.jpgwalked around a bit. Shibuya is a really cool area with lots of shops. We even went in the famous Shibuya 109 building. Unfortunately things in Japan tend to close pretty early, around 9pm. I wish that they’d stay open a bit later, especially on a Friday night! We decided to head back to Akihabara a little early as our feet were tired, and after a day of ups and downs we just wanted to rest.wpid-img_20150731_205113.jpg

We stopped at the convenience store on the way home and I had a delicious shrimp/mayo roll, and some other snacks. Convenience stores in Japan are awesome and you can get delicious cheap food for low prices. I also grabbed some snacks including a Black Thunder ice cream bar. If you’re ever in Japan make sure to try a black thunder bar. It’s cookie based and it’s delicious.

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After showering, I called it a night and headed to bed. The capsule was extra comfy that night for some reason, and I was out for a solid 8 hours. I was going to get McBreakfast the next day, I was sure of it.

Until next time!
B.

Here are some more shots from inside Sunshine City!

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This is a post in my Tokyo a go go series.
Find the main post here!
Go back to Day One!
Look at what I did on Day Two!
See where I stayed in Tokyo.
Check out Day Four!

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Tokyo-a-go-go day one! Suki? Ya.

Day one GOODMy trip to Tokyo started off like any other: I woke up at 5:30am in order to make it to Gimhae airport for my 7:20am boarding time. I had naively thought that I could sleep a bit longer, but after seeing the boarding time I decided to play it safe. Thankfully two of my friends had got on the same flight to Tokyo. One would be traveling with me, Megan, and the other, Gillian, would be going to Ishigaki. Ishigaki is a remote island off of Okinawa, and it’s said to be one of the happiest places on earth. We got settled at the gate and waited to board with our Dunkin Donuts breakfast sandwiches in hand. I was a little less nervous because I had been to Japan before (Osaka in March). We boarded right on time, and I settled into my window seat. Now to be honest, I prefer aisle seats. I like being able to get up when I need too, and being able to organize myself when we can deplane. I chose a window seat both times because I love flying over Japan. You fly over the entire country and you get to see everything! On the way there, I was totally surprised that Japan Airlines had in-flight entertainment and served a full meal. I watched a movie (The Longest Ride) halfway and I enjoyed our selection of sandwiches.
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Getting through immigration was shockingly fast and easy! I remember waiting nearly an hour in Osaka, but at Narita I only waited for my companion to fill out her customs card. It was so fast, we got her baggage super quickly and before I knew it we were buying our tickets for the Skyliner!  Narita terminal 2 seemed to be a bit smaller than KIX, but we found the Softbank Counter, rented a wifi egg, and then bought a 3-day subway pass and Skyliner ticket for only $35. The Skyliner is a super quick train (Narita – Ueno in 42 minutes) and usually costs about $25 per ticket. We got the one-way ticket and a 3 day Tokyo Metro/Toei subway line pass for only $35. It was really a steal because the subway pass alone is $10 a day. We grabbed some snacks for the train and then hopped aboard.

We were in Ueno and facing the beast that is the Tokyo Subway system before I could even think. Thankfully Ueno is a straight shot down to Akihabara, where we would make our home for the next few days. I love capsule hotels and I had stayed in one in Osaka, and this capsule hotel was something else. I will dedicate a post just to it, that’s how great it was! We dropped our bags at the hotel, because we still had a few hours until check in at 4pm, and used the time to get out of the Tokyo humidity. Note to anyone: Tokyo/Asia in general is HOT AS HECK in the summer. Super humid and makes EVERYONE sweaty. A lot of the Japanese people I saw carried around sweat cloths with them to keep themselves dry, it was that bad. I created basically our entire itinerary for our trip. Megan is pretty passive and didn’t have any specific places she wanted to go. I appreciated the free rein but at times I felt a little worried that she may not enjoy the trip as much as I did. Either way, I hope she enjoyed the places I took us to.

The Tokyo Subway system is divided into a few lines, and some are privately owned. This made it pretty frustrating as we bought the pass, as I said before, and it wasn’t good at every stop. We made the mistake of walking to a JR Line subway stop, and were promptly rejected. We walked to the Hibiya line and got on the train there with no issues. Now, like Korea, they have an IC card that you can load with fares and I believe they are good for every subway line, but I’m not certain. We purchased Suica cards because our first spot was only accessible on the JR line. I figured it would benefit us in the end to have the ability to use both, but I preferred using the Tokyo Metro/Toei subways because they went everywhere and they were pretty cheap. I’ll be writing a post also on using the subway in Tokyo and Korea, it’ll be short and sweet but to the point.

wpid-img_20150729_141237.jpgOur first stop, after the hotel, was Tokyo Station. I was hunting for Character Street, a place filled with various famous Japanese based character stores. There is a Hello Kitty store, a Studio Ghibli store, Rilakuma, Gudetama, etc and the one I was looking for was the Pokemon Store! The Pokemon Store on character street near Tokyo Station is the ONLY store where you can get Pikachu in a Tokyo Train uniform. This was goal there, and I grabbed a smaller sized one for 900 yen. I also ended up grabbing an adorable Pikachu in a dress for myself, and some milk tea flavoured cookies. We walked around Character street for a bit, popping into the shops that peaked our interest. We also made a stop in a souvenir shop where I grabbed some spicy pepper flavoured Kitkats. It was after this that we found a resting spot, drank some water (or in my case, tea) and planned our next mode of action. One thing to say is that there is a severe shortage of benches/public seating in the underground area of Tokyo Station. We ended up sitting in a closed off area of stairs, and an elderly couple had to lean against some wpid-img_20150729_190024.jpgrailings. We had made a joke often of “What’s a girl gotta do for a bench?”. Pretty funny, but kind of annoying. Sometimes you just need a place to sort yourself out or get off your feet for a minute.

Our next destination was the Muji store in Yurakucho. Little did I know, it was the flagship store! This store was a short walk from Tokyo station, and it was my first time in a Muji store. Now Muji is known for their storage drawers and such, but it really is an incredibly cool store. Everything is really minimalist, and it reminded me of an IKEA/H&M hybrid store. If you’re ever in Tokyo, take a look around, it’s a pretty cool place. We had a snack in the Muji meal portion of the store, and even tried a sample of prawn curry (that was so delicious and we both bought some!) and I grabbed some facial cotton that I found on a recommended to buy list. After we finished at Muji, we headed next door to Loft. This store was pretty interesting. It seemed to have anything and everything. I purchased an eyeliner, and then we made our way back to Akihabara.

By the time we got back, we wanted to rest a bit before heading out again. We headed out for dinner at 6:30 and made wpid-img_20150729_191316.jpgour way to a fast-food type restaurant called Sukiya. Sukiya is a place that one of my favourite Youtubers, Alli Speed, goes to when she is in Japan. She always has the cheese gyudon bowl and I made sure to try it when I was there. How can you go wrong with meat, cheese, and rice? Needless to say it was delicious, cheap, and filling. It’s also open 24 hours so you can get your fix any time of the day. After we were full, we made our way through parts of Akihabara. I made sure we stopped in my favourite store, Don Quijote. I love Donki so much, and I bought quite a few things. After a slight detour to look for a camera battery, we made our way to our final destination: Tokyo Tower.

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Now Tokyo tower was a little but of a journey away from Akihabara, and it was still pretty humid at 9pm, but we made it. I would totally recommend Tokyo Tower because it is beautiful and gives an amazing view of the city. We went at night on a slightly unclear day, but still had a great time. The lower viewing deck is only 900 yen to go up to, and I actually preferred going down one flight to the area with the lookout windows. It was really cool because they had it all lit up with lights, making it look sort of like outer space.  We spent some time there, grabbed a few souvenirs, and then were on our way back to Akihabara.
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After a snack run to the Family Mart across the street from our hotel, we were in for the night and ready for or second day in Tokyo.

I hope you enjoyed this first day summary!!

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Until my next post!
-B
Here are some linked blog posts that I discussed in this post:
(links to come)
Main Post
Tokyo Metro Tips
GRIDS hostel Akihabara