Saturday, May 12, 2012

Japan : Kyoto/Osaka - Day 1 & 2

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / Footsteps / Kyoto Day1&2    |    Jump To - Day 3 / 04 05 / 06/07
                  Footsteps - Jotaro's Travels                   
Japan (Osaka & Kyoto) May 5th to 11th 2012
After many months of planning by my wife Lynn and her friend Marina, the long-awaited trip came to reality as Marina and her husband were in Japan earlier by a few days. And we met at the Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa, Kawaramachi Sanjo Area.
 (Transportation and places to visit were researched by Lynn and Marina.)
(see Hotel Reviews)

Day 1 - Kuala Lumpur to Osaka (5th May 2012)

Lynn and me headed to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport LCCT for our flight to Osaka. We were a bit apprehensive about this trip as it was our first free and easy tour of Japan, our previous trip was a guided trip to Tokyo a long, long time ago seemingly like in a galaxy far, far away. The Japanese rail system looks so complicated with so many different lines (JR - Japan Railway, Keihan, Kintetsu, etc. were mind boggling and scary names) and colors - our fear was getting lost somewhere in Japan.
Our fear, we found out later, was unfounded - just feel free to ask any passing Japanese or the information counter and one will get one's bearings right again. Most Japanese will go out of their way to be helpful;. Don't feel shy or embarrassed, just open up and ask!
So off we went! Our hearts pounding with anticipation and excitement! After a 7-hr flight (for most of which I couldn't sleep) we landed safely at Kansai Airport at around 9:30pm local time. And after opening our gabber to ask we took the 47-minute Namba Nankai Rapit 50 to the Namba-Nankai Station, Osaka and checked into the Toyoko Inn, Nanba(map) (review)

After a quick check-in, hunger pangs came in and we walk around the nearby shops and ended at Shokudo. It's a small cozy place and we had ramen, braised mackarel and some pickled vegies.
The ramen was good and bitey, while the fish was good but a tad overcooked.
Having finished a hearty meal, it was back to the hotel to hit the sack as we faced a long but adventurous day ahead.

Day 2 - Osaka to Kyoto (6th May 2012)

Toyoko Inn Osaka-Nanba
The dawn saw us getting up from bed in a jiffy. Breakfast provided by the hotel was spartan (well, at least it was provided) - buns with salad and coffee or tea. Well, that was good enough for us to kick start the day.

With our stomachs slightly filled, we checked out of the hotel at around 10:30am and off we went to the Yodoyabashi Station to catch the Keihan Main Line Express to Kyoto. The ride was a mere 50 minutes.

To Church!
We got off at the Sanjo Keihan Station closest to our hotel Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa, a mere 5-minute walk away. So there was not much dragging of our luggage, Thank God!
And we really did! There is this Catholic church - the Francis Xavier Cathedral along Kawaramachi Sanjo . As check-in time for the hotel is at 4pm, we plonked our luggage at the hotel and went out for a short exploration of the surrounding area while waiting for Marina and Cheong to arrive.

This being a Sunday, it was a real surprise to find the church just round the corner from the hotel, tucked in the midst of tall buildings. There is even an English mass at 12 noon! So we managed to say our thanks and prayers for a safe stay in Japan. I didn't ask Lynn what she prayed for - but I was still apprehensive and in awe of the Japanese railway, and prayed that we will not get lost in Japan and end up somewhere in Hokkaido.

Shopping Sojourn

Mass was over, and there was still no sign of Marina & Cheong. So Lynn, being the avid shopper, said " Let's pop over to the shops there, looks interesting!" Me being the non-avid shopper just dutifully said "ok". And it was a good thing we did as it turned out to be a nice interlude.

We hopped over to the Cupola Sanjo (in Japanese Sanjo Meiten-gai) entrance, just opposite the church and entered a surprising interesting colorful maze of covered avenues with myriads of interesting shops.

Pop into one and one will see beautiful fans.

And in another - chop-sticks.

And yet in another - walking sticks.

And finally kimonos!

After that small escapade, we managed to meet up with Marina & Cheong. They were a couple of hours late (having come in from Matsumoto). What can be said. They got lost along the way. See! Our prayers were answered.

We had ramen lunch at this little shop (just round the corner from the church) run by some zesty young people. The ramen was good, but what was interesting were the eggs served with the ramen. They were hard-boiled eggs but with runny yolks (Ajitsuke Tamago).
Slurp! And Marina was hooked on these eggs, looking for them whenever we had ramen. Unfortunately, seems like not many shops serve Ajitsuke Tamago. YummY!
Still figuring out how they did the eggs!

Nishiki Market (Nishiki Ichiba) 
Stomachs filled again, the four of us were now ready for more walking. We lightly explored the Sanjo Cupola shopping area and it's various branch avenues again - now more experienced in finding our way. The secret I realized was to look at the roof. Yup, the roof! Different avenues have different roof/ceiling designs. We wended our way through these avenues stopping for small peeps into interesting shops, but headed single-mindedly for our target - Nishiki Market.

Map Showing Location Of Nishiki Market
Nishiki Ichiba  is basically a 3m wide covered alley, but very clean, with about 126 shops on both sides. It is roughly about 800m long and is old, very old - with the first shop opening way back in 1311. The shops offer free sampling of their food. Some of the food were really good, and to be Japanese politically correct, we had to refrain ourselves from "over-sampling".

Although a wet-market, the shops were very clean and the goods well presented. There were so many interesting things that caught our eyes:

Fresh Fish

Dried Sea Food

Delicious finger-food (The baby octopus looks like Ultra Man)

Fried Rice

Pastry (In all sorts of flowery designs)

 Sweets (Colorful and intricate)

Glutinous Pastry (a Japanese Delicacy)

All sorts of pickles (Fish, vegetables, legumes, meat)

It was an enjoyable way to pass our time and before we knew it, Presto! it was 4pm - CHECK IN TIME! So it was back to the Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa, Kawaramachi Sanjo Area (Hotel Review). We were pleasantly surprised that our luggage had been sent to our rooms, and in no time we were resting poor our aching feet.

After a nice rest and a rejuvenating hot bath, we were ready for our next jaunt. We weren't hungry (the generous sampling at Nishiki helped) and so skipping dinner we went to the Gion Corner.
We had orignally intended to take the bus, enough was enough! No more walking! Pamper ourselves!
So the four of us took a cab - surprisingly the cab fare work out cheaper than taking the bus fare when split among the four of us. 

Gion Corner
Gion Corner is a performance of 7 traditional ceremony and dance.
1. Ikebana - Japanese floral arrangement, carried out by a couple of sprightly old ladies.
2. Japanese Tea Ceremony - This one followed rigorously Japanese tradition. I was on of 2 guests invited to participate independently just next to the stage. And had to observe closely all their nuances from pouring to drinking to eating the biscuit. I behaved like a perfect Japanese gentleman - Heh! Heh!
3. Japanese Maiko Dance by Geisha - Interesting, but after a while I found
it too slow and boring.  Yawn.. yawn..

4. Gagaku Court Music & Dance -
A male dance performed to court music. I found this more interesting as it was faster paced and the costume was eye-catching. Lady Gaga would have loved this. (GaaaaGaaaa! Kuuuuu!)

5. Bunraku Puppet Show - This is a life-sized puppet controlled by three guys (See the dark shadows behind). It is listed as one of UNESCO cultural heritage.

The show ended at around 8pm. It had been a long hectic day, so we had a quick hot Soba meal at Kawaramachi. And then it was back to the hotel for a comforting hot bath and Cuckoo Land. Zzzzzzzzzz.

Related Blogs :

Japan : Kyoto/Osaka - Day 3

Japan : Kyoto/Osaka - Day 4

Japan : Kyoto/Osaka - Day 5

Japan : Kyoto/Osaka - Day 6

Japan : Kyoto/Osaka - Day 7

You may also be interested in :

China-Yunnan Day 1

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / Footsteps / Kyoto Day1&2    |    Jump To - Day 3 / 04 05 06/07
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