Tag Archives: Memories

A Japanese Adventure: “An Icy Delight” …

Wow! It’s been a couple of months (I think) since I last blogged about the amazing Japanese adventure.. 🙂 It’s time to get back to it!

The next stop was perhaps THE best stop of our trip…. none other than Fuji-san … aka Mount Fuji!

I’ve forgotten our awesome tour-guide’s name… but she made great use of our long bus ride… by educating us on the mountain structure and regional landscape, a little Kanji-analysis, some awesome origami (yes, we made Mt. Fuji!) and telling use some mysterious stories…
I can’t believe I don’t remember the story.. I’m going to have to chase my sister on this! (Stay tuned!)
By the way, in the snaps below you’ll notice that in my (not so well-done) Mt. Fuji origami pieces, the white layer at the top (which represents Mt. Fuji’s snow-capped peak) is always different in size. While you may be tempted to think this is because of my ridiculously poor origami skills (and you’d be right) .. it is also intentionally different because it represents Mt. Fuji at different times of the year (more snow on the peak in winter).. 🙂

The weather was definitely a step up from our earlier hot and humid days… It was still humid but cooler… and we had no idea just how cold it was going to get.. 😉
We had been told that our first stop was going to be the ‘Ice-Cave’.. and we were pretty excited when we finally got off the bus and saw the sign “Narusawa Ice Cave Entrance”.

Our guide once again took us through the flow of the ice-cave and warned us that there would be some narrow tunnels and that we’d really have to kind-of crouch and scoot a bit. We were also ‘advised’ to take a hard heat to protect our fragile heads….

Of course I didn’t take a hard hat and I ended up exactly as the warning sign said I would:
(The sign also won the award for cutest warning sign ever… haha… :D)

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And so off we went.. descending into the unknown.. 🙂

Our guide carried a giant thermometer to show us exactly how fast the temperature would fall (mercury-based thermometer and not a digital one.. )

It’s a short way down and yes it does get quite low at times.
Little tips:
1. If like me, you are not used to the cold, you may want to carry some gloves. Why? The bamboo supports are COLD too and slippery! So gloves might help you get better grip. You don’t want to slip and fall down…
2. It get’s cold pretty quick. The temperature fell almost 20 degrees in the little walk! At the bottom of the cave, surrounded by ice… it was 3 degrees celsius! (Yup, for me.. coming from a 40 degree climate… that’s COLD!!)
3. Obviously.. carry a nice warm jacket.. 🙂
4. Wear comfortable and solid shoes.. maybe hiking boots.

It was an amazing experience… my nose turned red and I was freezing! I didn’t have a warm jacket so I was wearing a thick sweater on top of a light hoodie… yeah.. it didn’t feel enough.. 🙂

We then took a little breather before heading off to another cave: The Wind Cave!
Our Mount Fuji adventure had just begun… there was a lot more to see… trekking between the sites took some time and allowed us to take in the amazing natural beauty around us.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the trek!

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A Japanese Adventure : “Shabu Shabu and Shibuya”

With our spiritual batteries recharged we then headed to another selection of local cuisine for lunch .. This time we were going to try some ‘Shabu Shabu’.

Background:
Shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ , also spelled shyabu-shyabu?) is a Japanese dish featuring thinly sliced beef boiled in water. The term is an onomatopœia, derived from the sound emitted when the ingredients are stirred in the cooking pot. The dish is related to sukiyaki in style: Both consist of thinly sliced meat and vegetables and served with dipping sauces, although shabu-shabu beef is sliced much thinner and cooked piece by piece by the diner, whereas sukiyaki arrives from the kitchen completely assembled. Also shabu-shabu is considered to be more savory and less sweet thansukiyaki, and is a more expensive dish with finer vegetable ingredients and better cuts of beef.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shabu-shabu)

The restaurant was quiet and dark, lit only through mild lamps… which was great.. very relaxing. Now.. please note that I can barely fry an egg so this was a unique experience for me…ie. being able to ‘cook’ your own food 🙂

At the center of each table (between 4 people) was a giant hot pot with boiling water (and I think there were some mild spices in the water). We were brought a plate of lean beef strips and a separate plate/bowl of vegetables. The idea was that first you boil the vegetables (you can pick what you like… you don’t have to boil everything) .. then using your chopsticks you take one beef strip at a time (you can put many in if you like) and put it in the hotpot… letting it boil (turning from the raw red to the darkish brown) before pulling it out and eating it along with your vegetables.
Yup… that’s the extent of my culinary descriptive capabilities. 🙂

The experience was awesome… and the food was delicious… and even though I’m not big on beef, I loved every bite! 🙂

With our bellies full our next stop was “Shibuya Crossing” …
(Actually it was a specially arranged Tea Ceremony after which we went to Shibuya crossing… however, since we weren’t allowed to take pictures or make a movie at the Tea Ceremony … i’ll cover that separately in another blog post)

Background:
Shibuya Crossing is the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. It represents the towering neon lit Tokyo that travelers expect. The traffic lights at the crossing have a 2 minute cycle. Cars from various directions eat up more than half of the time. Thousands of pedestrians all cross at the same time from five directions. When the crowds meet in the middle chaos ensues. It’s a spectacle that’s repeated every two minutes all day and most of the night until the crowds finally thin out after midnight when Shibuya stations closes.
(http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/shibuya-crossing)

I don’t really have any words to describe it. The number of people, the buildings, the signs…. it’s overwhelming.

Actually using the crossing only takes maybe 20 seconds (ie. crossing from one side to another when the crossing lights are green)… but it’s not about actually crossing the intersection… it’s about just standing there and taking it in: the sheer number of people crossing each time and the way it’s set up with the giant neon ads, billboards, tv screens, etc. I hope these pictures do it at least an ounce of justice. It’s something you have to experience for yourself. We were there during the day time so we didn’t really get to enjoy the night light from the neon sign boards.

And believe it or not… my opportunity to make a video was interrupted by emails from work! In the middle of the crossing! It’s my mistake.. I should never check my phone when I’m out on vacation… Lesson learnt… 🙂

We then had some shopping time in Shibuya. Here’s a panorama of a very small part of the shopping area around Shibuya
IMG_5958The coolest thing happened when we were walking back to the bus… we found a ‘Kawaii’ fruit vendor by the side of the road! The fruit/veggies were fresh and amazing… and after having snacked on vending machines, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and have something healthy for a change:

 

Depleted explorers but contented shoppers we then headed to dinner…. stay tuned… more Japanese cuisine.. 🙂

 

 

A Japanese Adventure: The Little Things …

Akihabara was amazing, energizing and refreshing… I loved every minute I was there.

You hear a great deal about Japanese culture, and you can experience it, wherever you are in the world, through their unique media culture but it’s a whole other experience when you are actually there, surrounded by it. You understand the scale of certain subcultures and how fascinating they all are.

I realized that there were certain things that as a tourist you had to do to truly experience these aspects of Japanese culture that you only caught a glimpse of when you were back home.
Here are a few, regardless of whether you are a fan or not:
– Actually go to a manga store and buy a manga
– Explore anime and buy one that you think interests you
– Visit a themed cafe (like the Gundam cafe in my last post)
– Buy KITKAT! (Coming up in a blog post soon)

Keeping this in mind, and having visited the Gundam Cafe, we decided to take a walk to ‘Mandarake‘ to try to check off the anime/manga exploration.

Background:
Mandarake is an anime/manga paradise. Manga, both new and pre-owned, anime collections, and more importantly… collectibles! Tons of figures, posters, artwork, etc.. for fans of any franchise. (http://www.mandarake.co.jp/en/shop/)

A very unique experience indeed! I was a little in shock (and awe) and didn’t take many pictures.. instead spending more time appreciating gaping at the shelves and shelves of goodies.. 🙂
What’s a little surprising is that despite floors and floors of manga you’ll find it very hard to find any manga in English… perhaps a small single shelf in a corner.. with maybe 5 manga on it… 🙂 … So unless you are a fluent in Japanese, it becomes a little bit tricky. The same goes for anime..
Since I’m not fluent in Japanese I wasn’t able to pick up either from Mandarake (I did pick them up later in the trip.. stay tuned.. 🙂 .. )

If you’re like me then though you might enjoy hours and hours of browsing stores full of amazing collectibles you still prefer actually walking outdoors and breathing in the culture… the environment, the sunset, the people, the atmosphere. Although Mandarke was fantastic, simply walking from the Gundam Cafe to Mandarake and then walking the way back to Yodobashi camera was great… 🙂

Our dinner stop for the night was a touch of Mediterranean cuisine at ‘Al Mina’.
Mediterranean cuisine: Healthy + Delicious… always a good option.
The salad, appetizers, and grill were awesome… make sure you try the ‘Banana-Date-Honey Smoothie’ … 🙂

That was it for the day… almost…

On the way back we caught our first glimpse of some of the unique KitKat flavors in Japan:

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Stay tuned for a post just on  KitKat awesomeness… 🙂

 

A Japanese Adventure: Welcome to Tokyo!

Tokyo! Finally!
We reached The Akasaka Excel Hotel Tokyu hotel a little tired… but excited!
While in Kyoto there had been a sense of peace and calm all around… Tokyo was different. Even though it was a little late and relatively quiet, there was a vibe of energy…

The hotel was quiet, with a 24*7 mini-mart downstairs and a direct connection to a shopping mall to the right… and as expected, there was ‘Kawaii’ merchandise in the lobby to purchase.. 🙂

The room was comfortable and spacious, at I was more than happy to get a chance to recharge and prep for the next day.

The next morning my first objective was to explore…… breakfast! I have to be honest and say that it was actually a little disappointing, especially after the amazing options back at our hotel in Kyoto (Tokyu Hotel). It’s not that it was bad… it’s just that it was.. ordinary. IMG_5465

Although it was fairly early, we decided to explore the connection to the nearby shopping mall. Nothing was open at that point but that didn’t stop us from taking some snaps.. 🙂

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With the rest of the group up and about, we set off to our first stop in Tokyo: Isetan department store. Unfortunately, I was too busy browsing to take many pictures. It’s massive! Floors focused on fashion, ceramics and more! Although I didn’t pick up anything (I was hoping to pick up an Apple Watch at the Apple store inside Isetan but I decided to pass), my sister found some great items!

I didn’t spend much time at Isetan because, together with a couple of other members of the group, I walked to a couple of nearby stores (outside Isetan) searching for sports merchandise. Walking and sightseeing is much more fun than browsing department stores! (Or so I thought till I went to some unique stores later on in the trip .. 🙂 …. )

One place I regret not trying:

After a mini-shopping spree at Isetan, we headed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building to enjoy an awesome view from the top.
Background:
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (東京都庁, Tōkyō Tochō) in Shinjuku is often visited by tourists for its free observation decks which provide good panoramic views of Tokyo and beyond. The 243 meter tall building has two towers, and each houses an observatory at a height of 202 meters. It had been the tallest building in Tokyo until it was overtaken by the Midtown Tower in 2007.”
(http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3011_tocho.html)

The view was definitely enjoyable but it was difficult to take pictures without reflections in the glass:

It finally gave us a bit more insight into the size and scale of the city….. massive!

On our way out we stopped at the Tourist Information Center where I finally got some decent pictures and more importantly, picked up a map of Akihabara (post coming soon!)..!

Coming up in the next post: Lunch at Turkish restaurant:  Bosphorus Hassan and finally: Akihabara! 🙂

 

A Japanese Adventure: Heavenly Bites and Nagoya Delights

After our flashback into the past – Ninja Style – we ‘stealthily’ made our way to lunch at ‘”Chitoseya Nishikiten”…
A combination of a hot pot and unbelievably delicious bento (even better than the previous one)!

The bento had a mix of chicken, fish, some delicious salad and seaweed… and every item was delicious. The dessert was perhaps the best dessert so far: Mango Pudding!… Soft, sweet and flawless. The hotpot was thoroughly enjoyable, but I have a limited appetite, and after polishing off the bento, I couldn’t bring myself to wrap up the hotpot. It’s supposed to be eaten in stages… they bring in noodles later on to add to the hotpot… I was completely full by then. Others in the group though, couldn’t get enough of it. 🙂

The restaurant was very comfortable, the service was great (as it was everywhere), and the meal gave us the energy we’d need very very soon… for our next stop…. Nagoya Castle!

The walk from the bus to the actual castle takes about 10-12 minutes… and the view is great.. the castle is like a hidden gem, peeking out from between the trees… the walls apparently designed to keep even climbers out…

The castle is absolutely gorgeous… it’s hard to grasp how such structures were built in the past…

Although there are multiple levels at the castle, we didn’t go through all of them.
Our main goal was to get to the top and enjoy the view… (as well as the souvenir store that is always at the top floor of such sites).. 🙂

I picked up a couple of unique souvenirs (which I shall discuss in a separate post on souvenirs)… 🙂

The elevators to go up to the top and back are usually crowded, but not unbearably so.There is a lot to enjoy, not just the view. As always everything is ‘Kawaii’ and you can’t help but pick up a little memento.

As we made our way back down and to the bus… I couldn’t help but stop at the snack store to pick up a little treat to cool off…

Yup… some shaved ice with strawberry syrup… an absolutely essential treat for every outdoor excursion.. 🙂

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I’m breaking up my adventure into tiny little posts so that I can relieve it piece by piece. From Nagoya castle, we headed to Nagoya station to take the bullet train (Shinkansen) to Tokyo! 🙂
(The Shinkansen (新幹線, new trunk line) is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen)

I’ll cover our first experience taking a Shinkansen, (even our first visit to a Japanese train station) in the next post!

 

A Japanese Adventure – Shopping Districts and Moroccan Cuisine

After exploring and appreciating the historical and spiritual sites in Kyoto, we finally got our first taste of a little ‘commerce’… at ‘Teramachi-dori’ or Teramachi Street in Kyoto!

 

Background:

“Teramachi-dori is one of the most famous streets in Kyoto city. This street has a variety of characteristics, and a calm ambience. There are many good stores from south of Kyoto City Hall to north of the center of Kyoto. These stores can be both tasteful and traditional, but on the other hand, there are also a number that offer modern styling for Japanese people.”
(http://thekyotoproject.org/english/teramachi-dori-teramachi-street/)

The variety of shops/stores is impressive… you can find a little bit of everything.
Snacks, more vending machines, coffee shops, clothes, technology (I picked up a lighting cable for my iPhone), arcades, a cinema, and more…

I think this was perhaps the first place where I really got lost in the atmosphere and forgot to take pictures 🙂 … Just spent the next few hours walking, browsing, doing a little shopping and appreciating the energy.

My only regret is that I didn’t visit these two places:

I can’t believe I missed a coffee shop and a book store!!
I did stop at an anime/manga store later on, and as expected in an entire store full of manga there were only a handful of english volumes… which is a pity given the number of tourists.

Interesting point on bookstores: They are specialized. The smaller bookstores specialize in specific categories, so a bookstore would only sell art books, or only sell law books, or only sell engineering books, etc etc..
At least, that’s what I’ve been told but it would be good if anyone could confirm that for me. 🙂

The greatest takeaway of the night:

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Yup! Turns out at ‘ABC Mart’ (http://www.abc-mart.co.jp/english/rekishieng.html), Converse is much cheaper than back here in Dubai… and there was a sale on! Picked up a couple of pairs of editions I’d been looking for for quite some time.

After a long long time browsing this endless shopper’s paradise, it was time for dinner!

Oh! By the way, a note on ‘stamps’: So in Japan, stamps are used instead of signatures, so if you have a common tourist name you’ll be able to find it in a stamp form! Stores have them ready.. so Keep a look out! 🙂


 

Dinner was at a Moroccan restaurant… and needless to say… we were starving! It’s that summer humidity which totally saps your energy and whets your appetite.

We were greeted, as always, with some deliciously refreshing cold water, followed by soup, an incredible salad and the main course.

The highlight of the meal for me was the tea… sweet and delicious! I was totally ready for another cup… but it was time to head back to hotel and recharge. A long day finally at an end and many more adventures to follow.


 

Stay turned, the next blog post will cover the NINJA MUSEUM! 🙂

 

A Japanese Adventure: Towering Brilliance and Bite-Sized Beauty

After having petted and fed deer, and after having found some unique souvenirs (special post on that coming soon), it was time for another Japanese lunch!

Now, I have to confess, I don’t remember the name of the restaurant.. which I feel quite guilty about and I’m going to have to do some research… research done… itinerary consulted…  it was called: “Matsumotoya” .. 🙂 (Couldn’t find an appropriate web site/link)

It’s a restaurant as well a snack and souvenir store. They had a sign out front, with our name on it… literally! What a lovely welcome.

It was refreshing, and quiet.. just what we needed. The food was simple and delicious. I savoured every bite. It’s amazing how much you can grow to love a cup of cold water after the outdoor adventures!

Verdict: Bento = Fabulous! Loved every bit of it (and yes, I helped myself to what my sister didn’t finish off.. haha!)

There was quite a bit to see in the store. As always everything was ‘Kawaii’! 🙂

The beauty about Japan, and this came as a surprise to us, and to those we told after our trip, a lot of this snacking and shopping is not particularly expensive.. in fact, coming from Dubai, you may find a lot of goodies that are much cheaper than what you’d pay back home.

After lunch, we headed to the Horyu-Ji Temple!

Background:
Horyuji Temple (法隆寺, Hōryūji) was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku, who is credited with the early promotion of Buddhism in Japan. Horyuji is one of the country’s oldest temples and contains the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures. It was designated a world heritage site in 1993. (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4104.html)

Prince Shotoku (574-622), a member of the imperial clan, exercised political leadership from the end of the sixth century to the beginning of the seventh century….[…]…He created Japan’s first constitution, known as the Seventeen-Article Constitution, which established rules for officials engaged in political affairs. For example, it stipulated that officials serving in the imperial court must obey the orders of the reigning monarch and that there must be fair trials. Prince Shotoku also devoted his efforts to the spread of Buddhism in Japan, building many temples and dispatching envoys to China. (http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/explore/history/q1.html)

It’s actually just a 5-10 minute walk from the restaurant and on the way we came across a little untouched beauty:

The temple is an architectural, historical and engineering marvel… of that there is no doubt…
One can only wonder at how they were designed to be able to withstand natural disaster and the passage of time… it seems the only weakness that all ancient wooden structures we have come across is… fire.

Our tour guide, was helpful as always, making sure we went through the brochures and guides we were given, and making sure we understood the significance of each structure, each statue and each site.


We also visited a museum area, however, photos were not allowed, and words cannot accurately describe the well preserved artifacts: statues, tools, clothes, tablets, and structural models – a fascinating experience!

As we made our way out of the temple we stopped at one my favorite Japanese delights:
A vending machine! 🙂  Unfortunately, the pictures aren’t clear due to the lighting used in the vending machines – they add a bit of a flicker.
– Interesting things to note: ‘Fanta Melon’ – never seen that before!
– I asked a Japanese group member for a recommendation of a drink to try… Something ‘Japanese’ and they recommended ‘Calpis’ ..!
I did try it and it was refreshing and delicious!

Background:
Calpis (カルピス) is a Japanese uncarbonated soft drink…[…]…The beverage has a light, somewhat milky, and slightly acidic flavor, similar to plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt or Yakult. Its ingredients include water, nonfat dry milk and lactic acid, and is produced by lactic acid fermentation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calpis)

Our next stop was a shopping district followed by a delicious Moroccan dinner… which I’ll cover in my next blog post.. 🙂