I Left My Heart in Japan

by: Ambung

I and hubby went to Japan for the second time on June this year because we fell in love with the country when we went there the first time the year before. It was unplanned, but when hubby had his leave schedule approved  we decided to go to Japan again.

After having flown for almost 7 hours, we finally stepped foot at Narita Airport. Yayyy it ‘s good to be back here. After we were done with immigration and baggage claim, we lined up at Japan Rail (JR) counter to exchange our vouchers for (real) JR Passes (ours were 7 days passes). We bought the vouchers in Kuala Lumpur as JRP must be bought outside Japan. By showing this pass we could freely travel around Japan for 7 days consecutively by all JR lines including the shinkansen bullet train (www.japanrailpass.com).

We took a ride on Narita express train to Tokyo station for 2 hours, then transferred to shinkansen platform to go to Kyoto, my most favorite city in Japan. About 2.5 hours later, finally we arrived at Kyoto Station. Well, for me, Kyoto has something which people won’t forget once they experience it. I heart the city very much. Really. It is said that if you have a chance to visit only one city in Japan, let Kyoto be it. Clearly, it is the perfect picture of ancient Japan. A home of geisha, traditional wooden/bamboo houses, local handicrafts, and of course historical places such as shrine, temple and castle from hundreds time ago.

We crossed the diagonal crossroad in front of Kyoto st. and then we strolled through karasuma dori to reach our place to stay for the next 3 nights, Matsubaya Ryokan (www.matsubayainn.com). It was 1 PM and too early to check in, so we dropped our luggage there and wasted no time starting our first day trip. It was Kiyomizu Temple we headed toward. We caught a bus to Gojozaka, the stop near Kiyomizu. Kyoto is a small city and you can easily navigate around it. I think the best way to go around Kyoto is by bus or bicycle. I would have been glad to try the latter if hubby hadn’t instantly rejected the idea :(  So not an adventurer he is.

Kiyomizu

I would say Kiyomizudera is a must-see site. The temple has a grand wooden veranda so we can see Kyoto downtown from the deck. Not only does it have beautiful construction, the surrounding scenery is also breathtaking. I heard that the best time to visit is in Spring, when cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

The place was too crowded that day so unfortunately we couldn’t get perfect spot to capture its beauty. At 3 PM, we left the temple and go back to the Ryokan as we had to check in and do the payment. On our way to the bus stop (we took the other path, Kiyomizu-zaka), we passed lots of shops along the street offering local crafts, souvenirs, and snacks. And a cone of green tea ice cream was such a perfect treat to sooth the afternoon heat.

The Veranda and Green Tea Ice Cream

After freshening up, we were off to Gion, a geisha’s distric. What I love doing here was strolling around small alleys where we could see traditional wooden/bamboo houses. Just exactly like houses I saw in the movie, Memoir of A Geisha. Too bad, I was unlucky this time, I did not see any geisha around. So we just spent time walking around the neighbourhood, stopping by couples of shops, and ending up in Lawson mini market where I bought some snacks and sweets. Then we decided to go back to Kyoto station for having dinner there.

It’s always been our problem to easily find something to eat in Kyoto. Confused by large number of local choices, we decided to eat in okonomiyaki restaurant.

Day two. We were supposed to wake up early to catch the first shinkansen to Hiroshima, instead we walked out of the ryokan 2 hours behind the plan. sigh. It was my husband who came up with an idea of visiting Hiroshima, the city which has an important role in our independence. Hiroshima is 3 hours shinkansen time from Kyoto. The most convenient way to travel around the city is by street car ( tram).

I think if people come to this city without knowing its dark history, they won’t believe that this place was once totally destroyed by atomic bomb 65 years ago and suffered from the radiation for years after. This city now is a home of modern buildings and seems quite bustling.

As ironic as it sounds, I guess the main reason many tourists come to Hiroshima is to visit The Atomic Dome and Peace Memorial Park. The first thing we saw was the dome, then walked along the riverside, we reached the park. The most touching spot is a statue called Children’s Peace Monument. There’s a story of a little girl who suffered from the radiation and the one thousand cranes she had to make to live longer. She successfully made them, but unfortunately she died afterward because of leukimia. :(

We did not take a long time here as we also planned to go to Miyajima island, not far from there. It’s only 30 minutes by local train and about 7 minutes crossing the sea (honestly I’m not sure whether or not it is a sea :D ) by JR ferry. We were welcomed by a huge red gate (torii), the largest one in Japan. It is said the best view of this torii is when the tide is in so it looks like floating on water. Again, we were far from lucky :D

Just right after we stepped out of the pier, we saw couples of tame deer, some were walking around happily greeted visitors but most of them were just lazing around under the trees. They were adorable. Then we walked through the path and passed one alley full of restaurants and souvenir shops. We stopped at a restaurant for a lunch and resting our feet. We ordered tempura udon and conger eel on rice.

It was 4 PM and we wanted to catch the bullet train before 5 so we could arrive at Osaka Station at 8 PM. We planned to have dinner around Shinsaibashi area, the famous shopping area in Osaka.

Arrived in Osaka station then we got on a train to Namba and planned to walk from there to Shinsaibashi. To me, walking from Namba to Shinsaibashi through the underground passage way was really confusing. So we went out and strolled the aboveground. We passed Ebishu street to finally reach Shinsaibashi. Along the way we found many stalls selling okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Very inviting indeed, but all we looked for was a restaurant or a place serving big meal. We were totally starving and demanded no snacks.I ended up eating pasta :D

On our way back to the station, I set foot in the famous drugstore, Matsumoto Kiyoshi. I was tempted to buy many but realized that I should bring all of these to Tokyo later, I postponed my haul then. I just bought one bottle of Kose softymo cleansing oil. :D

On the third day, our plan today was playing in Universal Studio Japan, at Osaka. So about 9 AM we were off to USJ. It had been a long queue when we arrived at 10.30 AM. A bit late since today the park started opening at 10 AM.

Noticing that many people flocked to Space Fantasy, the newest ride, we followed the crowd and took a queue , a very long queue to be exact. And while we were lining up, rain was dropping. Not a nice way to start the day at a theme park. However, this ride was awesome! It really was worth the queue.

Due to more-than-one-hour time of queuing at some high demand attractions, besides Space Fantasy we only managed to ride The Amazing Adventure of Spiderman and Back To The Future. Oh we also watched 2 shows, Terminator 2:3D and Backdraft. Apart from Hello Kitty, I was not really into those characters in USJ, so today I successfully saved my shopping budget :D

We left the theme park at 5.30 and decided to go back to Kyoto. Before that, we made a brief stop at Universal Citi Walk Hard Rock Store to buy some tees and had a big cup of frozen yogurt at Golden Spoon.

Back to Kyoto, we had a take away sushi for dinner and desserts from Lawson mini market. Last night in Kyoto and I had mixed feeling. Exhausted, sad, and excited.

And once again, I left my heart in Japan, or to be exact, Kyoto.

I still have lots of story about my visit to Tokyo. So wait for the next article!