day 7: osaka, japan

We left Kyoto in the early morning to head to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, which is one of the largest aquariums in the world. Too bad I found this aquarium to be a total disappointment. It had several floors, but I just kept seeing the same massive tanks…just on a different floor, and naturally, different angle. Nothing too exciting. I think the Monterey Bay Aquarium is better by far.

I guess the one good thing about getting there early was that we managed to catch the penguin parade, and my partner in crime was stoked. It seriously made his day!

After the aquarium, we went up the Tempozan Ferris Wheel and since I’m a chicken, we didn’t go in the one that moves. The height itself scared me enough! I managed to get some decent shots from it. Hooray.

As the sun went down, the aquarium lit up. Penguins…again! And then there was a street performer…and I learned that my boyfriend REALLY REALLY enjoys street performers. We were there the entire time…

Afterwards, we went to check into our somewhat posh “Western” style hotel (good thing we got it during their flash deal).


day 6: kyoto, japan

Sadly this was our last day in Kyoto. We woke up and went downstairs to have breakfast at our ryokan.  As you can see we each got many small dishes, and we were stuffed.

We took the crowded bus to Sanju-Sangendo Hall. What we didn’t know that today was Coming of Age Day which is a pretty big holiday in Japan, I assume. It was relatively packed which didn’t make viewing the 1001 statues of Kannon fun at all. Literally it was baby steps the entire way through the hall, and sadly no photography was allowed.

Our next stop was the Kiyomizu Temple. This was the temple I was most stoked to see in Kyoto because during my research prior to this trip, I had seen such beautiful photos of it. This temple was also very crowded, and there were many young ladies dressed in kimonos.

And of course when we were walking back to the bus stop, we picked up some snacks. The streets that lead up to the temple is pretty freaking amazing. I wish we had more time there to explore because there were just so much to see and buy!

Our next stop was Nijo Castle which is a castle that was built in 1603 and housed the first shogun of the Edo Period.

Our last stop as far as sights was the Kinkakuji Temple or the Golden Pavilion. I’ve read about this temple when I took Asian art history back in college so I had much anticipation to see this in person, finally! The top two floos are covered in gold leaf and it was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiimitsu.

Afterwards we dined at Izuju which prepares Kyoto style sushi; this establishment is about 100 years old and is located in Gion. Since it was very hard for people to transport fresh fish into Kyoto, they had to figure out a way to keep fish edible and “fresh” after it got into the city.

This is Hanami-koji Street at night where the restaurants, teahouses and geishas are. We never got to make it here in the daytime unfortunately so these are the only photos I got to take of the street.

While we were exploring Gion, we spotted a long line for a dessert spot called Gion Tsujiri. Since there was a wait, we figured this place must be good! The one thing about Japanese desserts is that I personally think they’re not as sweet as American desserts. We ended up getting some cookies on our way out too!

day 5: kyoto, japan

There’s just something about Kyoto that I find awfully soothing. Perhaps it’s the peaceful, uncluttered streets in the mornings, or the fact that I genuinely feel as if I’m in a different world as soon as I step foot outside.

Kyoto . . . a place of culture, so I’ve been told. The narrows alleyways and adorable, anime-like warning signs can be found around a bend. Telephone lines paint the skies to create an abstract work of art. Bicycles are left unchained because it is a seemingly safe place. And ryokans can easily be found here.

One of the best things about Japan, in general, are that vending machines are everywhere. There’s nothing like purchasing a warm beverage to hold onto while taking a stroll in the cold, winter mornings.

When we got to Arashiyama, I was pleasantly surprised by how scenic it was as soon as we passed all the shops that paved the way to the wooden bridge. I must have stood there taking photos for a while because I was taken aback by how beautiful it was.

And the most anticipated place I’ve been so excited to visit was the monkey park; the entrance was a short distance from the bridge. Now I’m not exactly the most fit person (trying to change that), so the hike up was a bit of a workout for me. On the other hand, the hike for Brian was quite easy. I kept telling myself that this hike is worth it for the monkeys, and as soon as I saw a few stragglers monkeys, I got amped up to get to the top where all the monkeys chilled at. You can tell how excited I was because I took A LOT of pictures. And I mean, A LOT. We also spent about 2 hours up there!

If you ever get a chance to visit, just don’t stare at the males in the eyes (there are plenty of warning signs about this among other rules). I was scared pointing my lens at the monkeys, but it seemed fine.

After lunch, we visited the Bamboo Groves. It’s only about 1/3 of a mile long, and I thought we would walk through it quickly since I wasn’t too interested in it, but it’s actually pretty amazing in person.

Our last stop in Arashiyama was the Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street.  It was quite a trek to finally arrive here, but it was well worth it. The street is lined with traditional homes and stores. Unfortunately for us, most of the shops were closed; I’m not sure if it’s because we got here an hour before the sun was to set or if it was a seasonal closure (as in, not travel season).

When we got back, we were finally able to check into our friendly ryokan, Matsubaya Ryokan. If you’re ever in Kyoto, I highly recommend staying at a ryokan. It feels so much more cozy than a hotel (hotels in Japan tend to be quite small). The staff is very friendly and welcoming. I like the fact that there’s a tea table and tea provided! They even provide yukata (traditional Japanese robes for sleeping)! Awesome!

After a short rest, we ventured out to Miyagawacho, an entertainment district on the banks of Kamo river as large as Gion. I thought the restaurants would close late (as in, past 8pm), but I was wrong. We ended up finding this ramen spot that was open, thankfully. I got their most popular ramen, and the soup-base was different. I’ve actually never had anything like it before . . . it was thick and filling.

day 4: kyoto, japan

Rise and shine. Kyoto here we come! We woke up bright and early in order to check into APA Villa Hotel Kyoto-Ekimae and to make it to our mandatory tour at Kyoto Imperial Palace. On the JR Rail, we passed by Mt. Fuji and I snapped a few quick photos before taking my cat nap. It’s so comfortable sleeping on the rail; wish airplanes were this comfortable!

We dropped off our things at the hotel and made it to our tour just in time. It was a little bit of a rush, but good thing the palace was only a short walk from the subway station. I don’t remember anything from this tour because I was busy taking pictures . . . great listener I am!

After our tour, we went to the Nishiki Market, which is a long, covered street with cheap eats, souvenirs, etc. This is where, for the first time, I ordered food from a machine. I obviously couldn’t read Japanese so I randomly picked one of them. Ha.

Our hotel for one night because we had changed our plans somewhat last minute and added an additional day to Kyoto and our ryokan was fully booked, sadly.

After we rested for a little bit back at our hotel, we hit up Pontocho which is this ancient alleyway packed with bars, clubs, restaurants, karaoke and Geisha tea houses. A perfect place to spot Geishas! This alleyway was awesome . . . it was extremely narrow and just had so much character to it.

day 3: tokyo, japan

A wandering day, I would label this. Since the Tuna Auction area was closed to the public at the Tsukiji Fish Market, we didn’t need to head out at 4am to be one of those lucky 150 people that would have the opportunity to see the event. We ended up heading out later into the morning to get some sushi for breakfast. It sounds odd, but this was one of the best meals I ended up having in Japan.

Shops after shops pave the way to our eating destination, and of course, it was packed with people. No surprise there. As we got to what I assume to be the tuna auction area, naturally there was a strong fishy odor. Nothing I’m not used to since my parents used to drag me to San Francisco’s Chinatown often when I was an adolescent.

We picked a random spot to eat at since the two popular restaurants I had on my list of eats had an intense line (Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi); I heard the wait on average is about 2-3 hours. Once inside the restaurant, we scooted our way to our seat. It’s a petite spot with only about about 10-15 counter seats. It was nice and cozy, and by that I mean . . . so cozy that hit a few people on the way to my seat; I was more careful when exiting though.

The portions were surprisingly large for the amount we paid. Definitely cannot get that back at home. Also, they gave us a generous amount of uni and last time I had uni, I didn’t have fond memories. This time wasn’t any different and I felt so terrible leaving some behind.

After we finished, I took some pictures of the exterior of the restaurant so if I’m ever back in Japan, I’ll remember this was the spot where I had delicious sashimi. As I was putting my camera away, I noticed a ridiculously good-looking, fashionable couple next to me and I whispered my analysis to my boyfriend. They must have heard me because the next thing I knew, the man turned to us and said, “Excuse me, but do you know what uni is?” DAMN IT. I thought they were foreigners (as in, didn’t speak English). So embarrassing . . .

Afterwards we visited Kokyo Higashi Gyoen (Imperial Palace Garden) where there wasn’t much to see. I wish I had skipped this one.

After killing some time there, we headed to Ginza to meet up with Jonas. Since the palace was so boring, we ended up showing up a little early, but didn’t want to go too far from our meeting spot since Jonas didn’t have wifi! Ha.

We wandered around a little and decided to find a cafe to rest at. The first one we found looked a bit overpriced, so we found a random one called Berry Cafe which happened to be on the 7th floor. With a cheesy name like that, we thought we couldn’t go wrong! When we got to the 7th floor, we were in for a surprise. It was hands down the fanciest dessert place I have ever set foot in. And later on during our trip, we found out our petite slice of fruit pie wasn’t overpriced at all (around $10); in fact, fruits in Japan are just ridiculous pricey.

We tried to find a spot to eat for dinner and ended up walking from Ginza to Shibuya, which isn’t that far of a distance…but it feels like walking for miles when my feet were aching! Haha I finally ended up getting some decent shots at the crossing since it was busier than when I first visited. We found some random restaurant near the crossing, it wasn’t too shabby. The menu was in Japanese so we took pictures of the food display and showed our waiter. 🙂