Japan Tastes

Japan: My first trip to the Land of the Rising Sun

No bones about it—Japan is the most enchanting country I have ever visited. No other way to describe it. It is the only country, so far, that I yearn to come back to—YEARN! While I do go back to Hong Kong and Singapore from time to time, it’s usually to either shop, watch a concert/musical or visit friends who’ve relocated there. But Japan…I just want to explore every nook and cranny of that country, and then come back again every time the seasons change.

The stunning Osaka Castle

Every moment spent in that amazing place was just priceless. I remember an interview with an industrial designer a few years ago, and he said that what separates the third/developing world from the first is in the way the country is designed. Design is all-encompassing—you see it in their transit system, architecture, the brands associated with the country, how they style their food, and even in the way the people dress themselves. Never have I experienced what he said more clearly than in Japan. Their identity as a nation is more pronounced compared to the other countries I’ve been to in Asia. They are in a league of their own.

One of the first things my friends and I noticed off the bat (apart from the fuh-reezing winter cold) was that the Japanese are a subdued bunch. We took the airport limousine bus from Kansai Airport to Herbis Osaka, and the entire trip we were the only people talking. We weren’t talking loudly, per se, but it seemed that way because the others were whispering! Yup, day one and already we stuck out like sore thumbs. :D

Day two was no different. We went to have coffee in the Starbucks beside Hotel Monterey Umeda—we stayed in probably the only Venetian-themed hotel in the city—and again, we were quite the commotion. We were the only people talking in the cafe. The only other sound was a piano concerto playing in the background, which reminded me of Haruki Murakami because his characters would always discuss, at one point, a love for classical music. The three of us chose that day to wear color, too, and we soon found out that the people here love their neutrals. We were surrounded by a sea of black, grey and beige.

Because our flight arrived past nine in the evening Japan time (they’re an hour ahead), we just spent the evening exploring the Umeda area where our Hotel was. Our main agenda was really to curb our growling stomachs so we ended up in a small restaurant, where we had our first taste of authentic Japanese soba.

Hot soba for a midnight dinner!

The latter part of the evening was spent walking around Umeda, which was pretty quiet because almost all the establishments were already closed for the night. In a way, it was a welcome start to our Japanese adventure. The cold weather alone took a lot of getting used to—I was shivering the moment I stepped out of the bus—and I guess we needed a quiet night to take it all in. :)

To cut this entry short (because I know I can go on and on and on when I’m super excited), I’ve decided to list down my favorite Japan moments. Here they are in no particular order…

1. Stalking Geishas in Gion, Kyoto. I swear, they are like ninjas. Don’t let the dainty slippers fool you—they walk pretty fast. :D

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It was drizzling by the time we arrived in Gion, but the rain only enhanced the charm of the place.

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2. Seeing the Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto’s famed Golden Pavilion. It’s a World Heritage monument and is a must for a first-time visit to Kyoto :)

Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto's famed

Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto's famed

Make sure you explore the entire compound. The temple may be the highlight, but the place has traditional Japanese buildings that are a sight for sore eyes :D

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3. Making our own okonomiyaki. Also known as the Japanese Pizza. We were pretty hungry after walking around Kinkaku-ji so we decided to park in one of the restaurants near the area and we got to make our own okonomiyaki.

Made our own Okonomiyaki a.k.a. Japanese pizza!

Made our own Okonomiyaki a.k.a. Japanese pizza!

Check out our masterpieces:

Made our own Okonomiyaki a.k.a. Japanese pizza!

Made our own Okonomiyaki a.k.a. Japanese pizza!

4. Navigating Japan’s subway and JR transit systems. Turns out I’m a geek when it comes to navigating around new places—I was the designated navigator of our trip (we each had our respective roles—Bea was the interpreter and Marlon was the gadgets-slash-entertainment guy), and it was really fun planning out our routes and itinerary, and actually getting our touristy asses where we needed to be without getting lost…so yay me! :D

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I loved how efficient their transit system is. Wish we can have something like this someday in the Philippines. That would be really awesome.

5. Ordering food in an izakaya (Japanese pub) in Dotombori. The menu was in Japanese, had no pictures, and the waiters spoke not a word of English. We had the most delicious meal anyway. And this was my favorite restaurant experience because the waiters were so nice and they probably found us as funny as we found them :P

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Turns out this place specialized in yakitori, which is not so much a full meal as an accompaniment to beer and sake. This pork-and-something-else dish was sooo frickin’ good!

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Because of this particular night out, we became sake converts, too. It sure beats the hell out of vodka. We also found out that the locals like it with Oolong tea, but that night we decided to drink it pure.

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6. Experiencing the nightlife in Dotombori. This is probably the most vibrant part of Osaka. Everybody here is dressed to the nines—it was survival of the flashiest!

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Walking around the place was fun—especially if you love to people-watch—and it had less busy side streets that were quite charming, too :D

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7. Discovering Nara-koen. Nara really just blew me away. The place merits an entire post  so I will just post a few photos..

Running to make the group shot!

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8. Experiencing the deersOne thing about Nara-Koen is that there are more deers than people in this neck of the woods. I know deers are gentle creatures, but the sight of so many in one place freaked me out a little. But only for about a second because they were too cute. Haha.

There are more deers than people in this neck of the woods!

There are more deers than people in this neck of the woods!

Deer chasing a local for deer biscuits!

9. Shopping. Retail therapy is best experienced in Japan. :P

Antique store along Sanjodori

Souvenir shop where I got my Japanese doll!

Bought the one on the left for my mom :D

Cute Japanese dolls

10. Last, but definitely not the least—seeing sakura and plum blossoms for the first time.

Sooo pretty!

Our flight from Osaka wasn’t until eight in the evening so we decided to check out Osaka Castle.

Love the park here! :)

We didn’t even make it inside the place because we saw a park where cherry and plum trees were beginning to bloom. This was totally unexpected because they weren’t supposed to bloom until March, but they made an early appearance anyway. :)

Plum blossoms! :)

Sakura for sale!

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We were so lucky to have been there when we did. It was the best way to end a really good first trip to the land of the rising sun :D

February 2012

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9 comments

  1. Wow! What great pictures! As for the two girls that you said were Geisha. I’m not really sure what they are, they look like they might be maiko in their casual clothes, but their kimono are a bit off, like their shoulders aren’t tucked, and their obi are almost tied like their hangyoku, which are Maiko in Tokyo, instead of the box knot they normally wear and their hair, I’m not familiar with that style of hair do, it’s not one I’ve seen before. There’s a chance they were just normal people walking around wearing kimono @.@ But yes, when they move, they move fast!

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    1. Okay, that comment would make me feel bad if we didn’t see actual geishas the next time we were in Japan (went back again spring of this year). LOL. Now that you mentioned it, they do look a little “unpolished” to be geishas. Doesn’t diminish the fun my friends and I had chasing after them :) Thank you for your comment—I’m finding your blog enlightening by the way :)

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    1. Thanks! :) These are just a few of the hundreds of photos I took of Japan. I am absolutely in love with that country. And from the looks of your blog, so are you. LOL. What’s your favorite place there so far?

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      1. I am definitely looking forward to more of your posts on Japan. Your pictures are just spectacular!

        Yes, you can count me in as a Japan lover! My 3 favorite cities so far would have to be Tokyo (of course!), Hakone (so beautiful and the Open Air Museum and Owakudani are not to be missed) and Nagasaki (so much history with a great European twist). I really love Kyushu, I find the people there to be the friendliest throughout all of Japan.

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      2. Tokyo ranks up there in my favorite cities in Japan. I was supposed to go to Hakone during my last trip there, but my friends and I were so blown away by Tokyo that we decided to just stay put in the city. :D

        I also want to go to Kyushu to see the Aso-san volcano caldera—an American working in Tokyo whom we met in Osaka told us that it is a must-see.

        Definitely not done with Japan just yet—there are other parts I still want to see in that country…Hokkaido, Okinawa, Nagoya to name a few…The best thing about it is that everything is accessible because of its superb transit system.

        I look forward to seeing more of your posts too :D

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      3. I can totally see why you decided to forgo Hakone and stay put in Tokyo. It’s my favorite city in the world. And it seems no matter how many times I go there, I am constantly discovering new and exciting facets to the city.

        I have yet to see Aso-san myself. We were supposed to go last year when we were traveling between Beppu and Kumamoto but we simply ran out of time. On one of these trips I really want to concentrate on Kyushu and hit all of the major sites and then hopefully I will be able to see Aso-san.

        The transportation is wonderful in Japan, we had a 3-week Japan Rail Pass on this last trip and it made zipping around the country incredibly easy. The Star Alliance Japan Airpass also makes it easy to fly domestically at a pretty cheap rate. I really hope to get to Okinawa and Nagoya someday as well. I’ve been to Sapporo and Hakodate in Hokkaido, but have yet to see Sapporo’s famous Snow Festival. I’m not one for cold weather but I think I could make the sacrifice just this once!

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  2. Tread carefully, milady. Japan is one of those countries that makes one fall head over heels in love with her, and makes it so fiendishly difficult to let go. I’ve been there five times (currently writing about my latest visit) and I still can’t wait to go back – it’s become an annual ritual now. I’m so glad they’ve started issuing multiple-entry visas; my passport was filling up fast with their stickers.

    There’s so much to see and do, no matter what your interest happens to be. I’ve gone there for anime, I’ve gone there to study history, I’ve gone there to appreciate architecture, I’ve even gone there on a pilgrimage (Catholicism has a remarkably rich history in Japan, and the number of saints and martyrs they’ve produced is staggering).

    The only other country that’s had as much of an impact on me is Italy (I’d visit it every year too, if it happened to be our geographical neighbour). Unfortunately, it’s way too far – and way too expensive – to allow for regular repeat visits, so I suppose I’ll just have to settle for the Land of the Bright Yellow Orb Cresting the Horizon.

    Sorry, can’t bring myself to type “rising sun”, just seems so overused. (^_^)

    Cheerio, and happy travels.

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    1. “Land of the Bright Yellow Orb Cresting the Horizon”—I will use your version of “rising sun” starting today. Haha.

      Unfortunately—or fortunately, as I see it—I have already fallen under Japan’s spell. It’s looking like an annual ritual for me, too. I thought I’d have enough of the place on my second visit last year, but already I am beginning to feel the itch to book a ticket there again this autumn. Definitely want to go back for Mt. Fuji and Mt. Aso, anime, Tsukiji Fish Market (because I missed it last year), the theme parks, to try my hand at skiing, and to see the other prefectures I missed. And the food. I will definitely go back there for the food alone. :D

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