Tuesday, December 31, 2013

fam bam - arashiyama

Continuing with the animal theme, we headed over to Arashiyama in Kyoto to visit the Iwatayama Monkey Park.

I definitely recommend buying some food to feed the monkeys. Go for the apples! Some other people bought the peanuts and they were totally ignored for our delicious apples. Prior to going to Arashiyama we grabbed some food at Kyoto Station.

The boyfriend of the person who took our picture took a picture of us with his own camera. That was super awkard... Did anyone else know about these steps at the station?? If you head all the way to the top there are a whole bunch of food options and a Ramen Village where you can pose as a ramen chef. Another noodle soup dish meal...

I'm cooking a spoon :P
Walking across the Togetsukyo Bridge, you'll be able to reach the touristy shopping area of Arashiyama. Here you'll find the Randen Arashiyama Station where you can find the Kimono Forest which features yuzen a type of kimono dying.

these tubes light up at night making it even prettier
While shopping my brother bought a samurai umbrella. We wanted him to pose like a samurai in the Sagano Bamboo Forest but all we got was this...

Unfortunately the samurai umbrella was too long to fit inside their checked luggage and couldn't be brought on the plane as a carry on. He had to leave it at the airport and when I called Lost and Found at the airport they said they didn't have it. We took the bus here from Kyoto Station which took a long time. I should really look into alternative transportation to this area because the bus isn't very efficient or even considerably cheaper. While waiting for the bus to head back to the station, we managed to document the fact that three of us wore the same colored pants - this was not coordinated!

The bus never came! Not sure if it's due to the holiday but buses going to Arashiyama were still working but none were going in the opposite direction. We finally ended up walking to the Hankyu Arashiyama Station and just caught a train directly back to Osaka where we grabbed dinner at a izakaya, a Japanese drinking establishment that also serves food.

family minds think alike - we color coordinated without meaning to
To read about my previous visit to the monkey park click here.

The Details
Arashiyama Area - UPDATED APRIL 2014
Bus line # 11, #28, and #93 go to this area but only #28 goes all the way to the Kyoto Main Station. As of March 22nd 2014 the Kyoto One Day Bus Pass is also valid in the Arashiyama Area!
If you are based in Osaka (like we were) I recommend taking the Hankyu line from Umeda Station to Arashiyama (Hankyu) Station. Lowest fare is 390 yen and will take around 1 hour.

JR pass holders:
Access: Sagaarashiyama Station from Kyoto Station - JR line
Ticket: 230 yen

Iwatayama Monkey Park
8 Arashiyama Genrokuyama-cho, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto 616-0007, Japan
tel: 075-872-0950
hours: spring & summer: 9:00am-5:00pm, winter: 9:00am-4:00pm
entrance fee: adult: 550 yen, child: 250 yen, under 4 years old free

Monday, December 30, 2013

fam bam - kyoto

After a late start to the day we finally arrived in the Higashiyama Area in Kyoto. This area is famous for geisha sightings and Kiyomizudera Temple. Kiyomizudera is currently undergoing renovation right now so some of the buildings are wrapped up. We didn't enter the temple because my family has no interest in it. We spent most of our time in the area in front of Kiyomizudera eating samples and shopping. This area is one of my favorite places in Japan, I love all the old timey architecture and atmosphere. Only downside are all the other tourists.

cheesing in front of the deva gate of Kiyomizudera
Between my brother and my sister Evo, it's almost impossible to get a decent picture of all of us. Blink blink blink. No one really appreciated the architecture of this place so after doing some shopping we walked to the nearby Gion District to grab some lunch.

another family portrait this time giving me the realization of how I look identical to my dad...
Had a hard time finding someplace to eat because of all the picky eaters in my family. Have eaten so many noodle based dishes in the last few days because that is the only thing people seem to agree on. After a late lunch we took the bus to Tofukuji stop and then we walked from there to Fushimi Inari Shrine. I would not recommend doing it this way because there isn't any signage in English and the roads around here can be quite confusing. I would say that it took around a 20-30 minute walk to get to Fushimi. I was getting worried because the sun was setting and I wanted my family to have a chance to take some pictures and actually see the famous torii in daylight.

fam model walks through the torii
Fushimi Inari at night is a little freaky with only lanterns lighting the way and creepy dark forests just on the other side of the torii. Also hard to take pictures - hate having to use flash. Since we had bought the one day bus pass we took the #5 bus back to Kyoto Station, the only bus line that connects Kyoto Station to Fushimi Inari. I strongly recommend taking the train here rather then the bus, which is infrequent.

To read about my previous visits to Kyoto click here or for my prior trip to Fushimi Inari where I included more information about the shrine click here.

The Details
Kiyomizudera Temple
Hours: open everyday 6:00am - 5:30/6:30pm depending on the season
Admission: 300 yen for adults or 400 yen for special night events
Access: Take bus #100 or #206 (be careful there are two #206 buses one goes in a clockwise direction and the other counterclockwise the trip can take 15 minutes or over an hour and a half if you go in the wrong direction) to Gojozaka (recommended) or Kiyomizu-michi stop. From the bus stop it will be around a 10 minute uphill walk.
Bus Fee: 220 yen flat rate or 500 yen for a one day bus pass

Fushimi Inari Shrine
No closing hours and admission is free
website (Japanese only)
Access: Inari Station - strongly recommend taking the JR Nara Local Line here from Kyoto Station takes 5 minutes and costs 140 yen. A train departs from Kyoto Station every 15-20 minutes. The Inari Station exits directly across from the shrine.

Can also take the #5 bus from Kyoto Station, travel which is included in the one day bus pass. It was hard to locate the bus stop near the shrine because it wasn't near the shrine or the surrounding shopping area. In order to reach the bus stop upon exiting the shrine make a right and walk down the street (away from the JR Inari Station). As soon as you see a kind of busy intersection make a left down the hill (away from the direction of the shrine). If you pass the Fushimi Inari Station serviced by the Keihan Line (another alternative) then you're going in the right direction. Cross the tracks and keep walking downhill, you'll still see shops and such along the way. Keep going until the shops end and you'll eventually hit a busy intersection where the bus stop will be located. I have included the bus schedule for the #5 bus heading back towards Kyoto Station below. A bus comes once an hour...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

fam bam - a day in nara

During the New Year Holiday (shogatsu), my family came to visit me in Japan! Unlike America where New Years is all about partying and the count down - in Japan it's a family event so how appropriate that I got to spend this holiday with my family. Both my sisters got sick so they spent the whole day in the hotel while the healthy ones went to Nara.

As I will soon learn it will be very hard to get a good family photo because my brother has a knack for blinking right when the photo is taken....

Everyone loved feeding the deer. My brother wanted to take so many pictures with the deer but would get all scared and flinch away from them. Scaredy cat!

we look so alike - its freaky!
i recommend the sugar and the chili senbei - the chili one is super hot
Grabbed some freshly made senbei (rice crackers) from a stall located on the path to Tōdai-ji. Walked through the covered shopping arcade located near the train station until I saw Edogawa, a restaurant that specialized in unagi (eel) - my favorite Japanese meal!

great atmosphere with a decent price for unagi
unadon - grilled unagi on rice for 1890 yen
I shall end this post as I started it....

For more detailed information about Nara check out my previous posts here.

The Details
Nara Park
Access: Kintetsu Nara Station - Kintetsu Line (other lines also stop here like Hankyu, etc)
Take Exit 3 at the train station and walk up the hill for several minutes.

Tōdai-ji - Daibutsuden
hours: 8:00‒16:30(Nov. to Feb.) 8:00‒17:00(Mar.)7:30‒17:30(Apr. to Sept.) 7:30‒17:00(Oct.)
admission: 500 yen

43, Shimomikadocho, Nara-shi, Nara, 630
tel: 0742-20-4400
photos and menu
Access: From Kintetsu Nara Station Exit 3 head pass the fountain and take a right into the covered shopping arcade. Walk to the end of the shopping arcade and Edogawa is located on your left.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

fruit picking: mikan edition

Another round of fruit picking! This time mikans which are kind of a cross between an orange and a tangerine. Typically I see mikans being sold in supermarkets more than I see oranges. Haven't had an orange since I've been in Japan. Can't recall seeing oranges... Are there even oranges in Japan?!?

first thing first: take pics with mikan

picking mikans is a lot harder than picking grapes

Mikan picking season is usually from October to December. Today was the second to last day to pick mikans at this farm and so we had to look long and hard to find some good mikans. The mikan farm provided us with a mat and a bucket. We also got to take a bag of mikans home. We picked these huge ass mikans and only manage to fit 4-5 in a bag. We looked at some of the Japanese families who were there and they had all picked tangerine sized mikans and managed to fit like 20 or so of them in a bag! Didn't really matter tho because we picked more than our bags could hold and we just threw them in our purses.

I had a really nice time just chilling with Ellen, chatting and eating mikans. The only downside is that there is a pig farm nearby so the whole area smelled like manure. Couldn't really just lounge around taking our time since the smell was so off putting :(

The Details
Utsumi Fruits Mura
Access: Utsumi Station - Meitetsu Line
(If you give them a call they will happily pick you up from the train station for free)
Tel: 0569-62-2430 (Japanese only)
Fee: 1100 yen for adults, 900 yen for children
They only charged us 1000 yen though  - not sure why...

Monday, December 2, 2013

leaf licking adventures: jakko-in temple

Leaf licking is what Alanna calls it when people go around taking pictures of leaves. Leaf licking is a very popular thing to do in Japan during the autumn season. I didn't get what the deal was about leaves because leaves are leaves but when I saw postcards of the leaves in Japan, I was like I NEED TO GO SEE THEM FOR MYSELF! Unlike San Francisco where the leaves stay green all year round, the ones in Japan are a myriad of colors. A very popular spot in the area to view autumn leaves is at Jakko-in Temple in Inuyama - recommended to me by a student. Jakko-in is famous for its maple leaves and they even have a maple leaf festival in November just so people can come and look at the leaves.

The leaves were beautiful. I really liked the contrast in color between the red, orange, yellow and green leaves. This temple also has some really good snow and cherry blossom scenes, can't wait to go back and check it out! The views along the Kiso River were also very picturesque and it was so relaxing to be able to walk around just taking pictures and marveling at the beautiful scenery.

Edit: Apparently Alanna calls it leaf LOOKING but I heard it as leaf licking...I've been calling it leaf licking ever since! Oh well too late to change it now. New term leaf licking - the hobby of chasing after leaves to take pictures of them :D

The Details
Jakko-in Temple
Access: Inuyamayuen - Meitetsu Line
From the train station its about a 20 minute walk to the temple. From the only train station exit head across the parking lot until you hit Kiso River. Facing Kiso River turn right and walk along the river (away from the bridge). There is a walking path adjacent to the river. The entrance to the temple is marked by stone lanterns (if you reach a tunnel then you have gone too far). From there you will end up walking uphill and then up a lot of stairs to reach the actual temple structures.
website (Japanese only - I just use google translate)

Monday, November 25, 2013


There are two Disney parks in Japan, Disneyland and DisneySea, both located in Tokyo. Had no desire to see Disneyland because people told me its similar to the ones back in America. I'm not a huge Disney fanatic but I wanted to check out DisneySea because you can only find it in Japan. Tickets were decently priced at 6200 yen (tax included). Sure beats the almost $100 tickets in America.

First thing we saw when we entered the park was a huge line. I was thinking people were lining up to get fast pass tickets or to take pictures with a Disney character...

what's with the line??
Turns out all these people are lining up to take pictures in front of the statue. There were lines like that all over the park. On one hand its nice to have a picture with no one else in it but on the other who has the time to line up? Also makes it difficult to take a picture of just the statue or building with all these people posing in front of it....

Next thing we saw was more people waiting...

This was only just the beginning. The line of people stretched around the Mediterranean Harbor where a show was about to being - in two hours! If you want to be in a prime location to view any shows or such be prepared to wait 2-3 hours in advance because that's how early lines and groups started to form.

yup had to line up to get this photo
had "spicy" chicken curry in arabian coast (basically agrabah) - around 700 yen (not too expensive)
we are her little puppies - woof woof
Loved meeting Cruella de Vil in front of the Tower of Terror ride! How she addressed us and others waiting to take a photo was hilarious. Surprisingly there was no line and it was just a clusterfk to see who could grab her attention first. One of the things I like most about the park is the sheer amount of employees who are just standing around - so helpful when we need someone to take our picture.

a musical in English - seat assignments are given out lottery style in a different building
had to wait in another line - only one pic per person (they are VERY strict on this)
Don't expect to see any princesses in either Disneyland or DisneySea - they aren't the stars in Japan.

so happy to drop to our deaths :D we knew what was going to happen but we were still so scared!
 Favorite rides at the park include the Tower of Terror which we rode twice, still can't figure out how the statue disappears..., and Journey to the Center of the Earth. The newest attraction to the park is Toy Story Mania which 5 minutes into the park opening already had a wait time of 100+ minutes. The wait time for the ride throughout the day was 3 hours... Freaking insane! There are a lot of stories online about how people would wait 1-2 hours before the park opened at 8am just so they can run and grab fast passes for this ride. I've ridden this ride before in Florida so it wasn't such a big deal for me to miss it. The ride is fun but not 3 hours of waiting fun.

mermaid lagoon
The whole park was super beautiful. Just enjoyed staring at everything and soaking it all in. No cotton candy or hot dogs here - instead you have different flavors of popcorn and steamed buns! I tried two different flavors of popcorn: milk tea (found in Port Discovery) and curry (found in Arabian Coast). Both flavors were good but the curry one was my favorite.

Japanese people are super passionate about Disney. Education is super important in Japan but Disney trumps schools in that parents would have their kids miss school just so they can go to Disney on a weekday! Lucky lucky kids. Almost every single person in the park was wearing some sort of Disney merchandise or were dressed up in costumes. I felt weird because I wasn't wearing a single item of Disney stuff. Before shows and such there were announcements about removing hats and headbands because SO MANY PEOPLE WERE WEARING THEM - not just girls. I mentioned before that Disney princesses aren't so popular here - the most popular character here is Duffy. Yeah beats me I had never heard of this character before either - had to google it when my students mentioned it.

The Details
Access: JR Maihama Station
Wait time & Fast Pass Info: Tokyo Disney Time (android only)
Website not as accurate for wait times

Sunday, November 17, 2013


After seeing a short snippet of bunraku at the Gion Corner mentioned in this post. I really wanted to see a whole performance. Bunraku is a form of traditional Japanese puppet theater and the National Bunraku Theater is actually located in Osaka.

We watched Igagoe Dochu Sugoroku or The Vendetta at Iga which is based on a famous vendetta that occurred in 1634. The play was split into two parts and we watched the second one because the call time for the first half was at 10:30 am. The second half started at 4:30pm and it should have been a warning sign when people from the first act were leaving the theater as we got there! I didn't know what I was getting myself into and had naively thought that the play would last at most two hours. We didn't get out until 9pm or so!! The whole play by itself would have taken a day just to watch. That to me is kind of insane. Each half was split up into different acts and people would leave after each act. Since we had already sat through the first couple of acts and there were only two left we thought we would just stay. However what I didn't count on was that the last couple were the longest ones and I ended up falling asleep through most of it! Oops..

Tayū—the chanters (the voices and narrators) and shamisen players

The play was insane. It had samurais, baby killing, neglecting one's wife and infant and letting them almost freeze and starve to death in the snow, etc etc. Besides being violent the play was also kind of dirty which was amusing to watch.

The puppeteers could do such intricate stuff with the puppets like having them fight, pour tea, spin thread, or chop wood. We learned that it takes three puppeteers to move one puppet. One puppeteer controls the right leg, another the left arm and leg, and the master controls the right arm and head. The puppeteer will spend 10 years controlling the right leg before he can move up to the left arm and leg. After another 10 years the puppeteer can finally control the right arm and head and have his face be shown. Dang 30 years to master this craft!

Before the show, Sawin and I went to Sweets Paradise, a dessert buffet. I was excited to stuff my face with endless cakes and sweets!

I was expecting there to be much more I was disappointed with the selection of desserts. Besides desserts they also had pasta and rice. The whole place was filled with girls and women. Boys are a rare sight here. Haha.

The Details
National Bunraku Theater
Access: Subway & Kintetsu - Nipponbashi Station
Tickets (can be purchased online - English)
Admission: 2300 yen - 5000 yen (our tickets were the cheapest at 2300 yen and we were seated in the last row of seats) I would recommend just arriving at the theater and purchasing a one act ticket for a couple hundred yen. You'll get the experience of bunraku without having to sit through hours of it.

Earphone Guide: 650 yen and 1000 yen refundable deposit
Definitely grab the earphone guide or you will have no clue what is happening in the play (which is all in Japanese). It also provides some cool information about the history of bunraku.

Sweets Paradise
Price: 1480 yen - adults, 840 yen - children

Sunday, November 10, 2013

totoro house

I love watching Studio Ghibli films but have never watched My Neighbor Totoro, despite its immense popularity in the states. Studio Ghibli movies are really popular in Japan and even though some movies came out when I was born, my students still know about them despite the films being 20+ years old. I finally watched My Neighbor Totoro while living here in Japan and discovered by chance that the house Satsuki & Mei lived in was replicated for the 2005 World Fair.

notice the broken pillar??
dad's study
bath tub - the smaller one is for cold water
taken through the famous broken bucket
bus stop where satsuki first sees totoro!
The tour only lasts for 30 minutes and is split into two groups. One group goes into the house to look around while the other group explores the outside, then the groups switch. Pictures aren't allowed inside the house but I sneakily took some (yup I'm a badass :P), you can also take pictures of the rooms from outside the house. I really loved the house and all the details that went into the making of it. There were closets and drawers full of clothes, shoes, medicine and a mini desk filled with books and study materials. The clothes in the drawers are changed out according to the seasons - such attention to detail! I wish all the Studio Ghibli movie locations could be replicated so that I could visit them!!

Afterwards we grabbed some pancakes at Pancake House Hoi Hoi near Fujigaoka Train Station. There was such a long line for this place! I'm not a big fan of pancakes but all the cream made it delicious!

maple cream pancakes - 800 yen

The Details
Satsuki and Mei's House
Aichi Memorial Expo Park
Hours: 9:30am-4:00pm closed: Mondays
Admission fee: 500 yen for adults 250 yen for children
Access: Aichikyuhakukinenkoen Station - accessible by Linimo Line from Fujigaoka (Aichi) Station
The house is located around 20 minutes away from the train station by foot. There is also a free shuttle that goes around the park.
Website (Japanese only - tour times)
Tickets: Reserve online to ensure a spot and pay at Lawson's (Japanese only). Tickets on site are limited.

Pancake House Hoi Hoi

Monday, November 4, 2013

cat cafe

Finally had a chance to visit a cat cafe in Japan! A cat cafe is a theme cafe where you pay an hourly fee to play with the cats that live in the cafe. I'm not a big fan of cats but something about paying to see them made me chase those cats down like I've never seen one in my life. Wish they had puppy cafes cause that would be awesome!

a grumpy puffball
cutest cat in the joint - rolled up in a carpet

there are brushes to brush the kitties with - what a life!
This place is popular, we had to wait 2 hours before we could enter! There was this cat obsessed family that was there. They stayed for so long and both the mom and dad were stalking every cat there trying to forcibly hold them. Their daughter went around to any cat that was out in the open trying to comb and brush it. She kept ruining all my photos and I literally had to race to compete with her to get any alone time with a cat before she came scampering into the picture. The parents were so obsessed with their own cat endeavors they let their child just run amok!

I had fun playing with the cats and acting like I was a cat lover but it was pretty pricey. Probably wouldn't do it again.

The Details
Cat St.
〒460-0008 Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya, Naka Ward, Sakae, 3 Chome9−10
tel; 052-242-2355
cost: 700 for the first 30 mins and then 500 for every additional 30 mins after that
includes free drinks (soda, tea, juice)