Tag Archives: Moments

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)

IMG_6055

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!

IMG_6084

 

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:

IMG_5682

Stay tuned for a post just on  KitKat awesomeness… 🙂

 

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.. 🙂

IMG_5351

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:

IMG_5020

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.. 🙂

A Japanese Adventure: Exquisite Traditional Lunch

From the Kiyomizu-dera we headed to our first Japanese meal of the tour.
We weren’t entirely sure what to expect. All we’d been told was that it would be vegetarian (vegan actually) and that the meal would be based on the dietary habits of ‘monks undergoing training’… mysterious and intriguing.


 

The name of the restaurant was : “Kangaan Fucharyori“.
We passed through a quaint and welcoming little garden, filled with Chinese statues.
I wouldn’t have been able to identify them as such, but our tour guide, Hiroko-san, mentioned they were Chinese and we could identify them also by the ’roundness’ in the design of the faces.

The food had already been prepared and as we took our seats, the feast began!
The serving style was quite unique:
– It was an 11 course meal
– Each dish served per table contained 4 pieces (the number of people seated at each table)
– The expectation was that each person at the table is to take his piece of that dish and put it in his plate. The empty serving dish would then be taken by the server and replaced with the next dish, once we were ready.

Yes the purple orchid in the picture above is edible… it was quite crispy and delicious! 🙂


 

Overall:
– Every single dish was unique. I’d never tried any of them before.
(except the watermelon served as the sweet dish :-))
– Some dishes were great while others were a little bit bland. Not a single dish was ‘bad’ or ‘unpleasant’ in taste. They were all enjoyable.
– My favorite was probably the orchid.

I am glad to say that I actually tried 12 out of the 13 courses.
There was just one (sweet chilli – not spicy) that I chose to pass on to my sister, not because I couldn’t eat it, but because she had already eaten hers and wanted more! 😛

The experience was fantastic and I’d like to thank the tourism authority who had helped support our visit to the restaurant. I’d also like to clarify, this is a bit fancy and pricey and is based on the dietary habits of monks in training. Monks don’t actually come here and eat this 13 course meal every day… 🙂

I couldn’t find an official site but you can find out more about it on several other blogs/reviews which have been written on it. (Such as on this TripAdvisor Review)

As someone who loves meat and has completely different dietary habits, this was a once in a lifetime experience; one I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.

Here is a snap of the menu of dishes we were served, in case you’re curious:

IMG_4183

And here are the final snaps from Kangaan:


Our next stop after lunch was the Golden Temple as well as the Rock Garden, both of which I shall cover in the next blog post! 🙂

New Beginnings…

Starting over isn’t easy … and probably never has been.

Sometimes it’s about letting go … of people, places or pursuits.
Sometimes it’s the only way to get your bearings …  after having drifted away.
Sometimes it’s a response to changes or circumstances … that were just not in your control.
And sometimes it involves having to admit failure … and learning from it.

Starting over isn’t easy … but sometimes it’s necessary.

20130917_082538

This little diary of quiet observation, converse footsteps and lost dreams … is me … starting over.