Kyoto, Japan PART 1

Sakura Terrace the Gallery

Fred and I spent 4 nights in Kyoto. We stayed at Sakura Terrace the Gallery. It’s recently opened so everything looks new and modern. It is very close to Kyoto Station. Not as close as staying directly in one of the hotels at the station but very manageable. The room is above average with nice comfy bed. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, free mixed drink daily, onsite restaurant, laundry, and luggage delivery. We ate at the hotel restaurant twice. Their foods were very good and cheap for a classy sit-down restaurant. Fred gets to grate his own wasabi. They also have attached lounge and man-made onsen but I didn’t get to use.

Sakura Terrace the Gallery

Sakura Terrace the Gallery

view from our building

Day 1

We took the JR shinkansen from Osaka to Kyoto. It was only 1600 yen per person (We purchased the 7-day JR passes for our 13-day stay in Japan so it wasn’t activated at the time). We dropped off our luggage at the hotel and walked around the neighborhood. It was so quiet compared to the bustling night scene we saw in Dotonburi the night before. I was getting bored honestly. Around the block from the hotel is Aeon Mall, we had “all you can eat” shabushabu here. Except it’s really all you can eat veggies and tofu, and their veggie selection is just cabbage. There is a boba shop as well though Tapioca Express quality at most.

quiet Kyoto

Day 2

I booked 1-Day Kyoto Tour by Sunrise Tours (16100 yen per person). This is a combination of both the morning and afternoon Kyoto tour. We had 2 tour guides. In the morning we went to Ryoanji Temple, Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), and Kyoto Imperial Palace. Lunch was provided by the touring company at a sit down restaurant near Kyoto station. The foods were excellent but portions were so small. Afterward, we meet up with a new tour guide and went to Heian Jingu Shrine, Sanjusangendo Temple, and Kiyomizu-dera Temple. At times, it feel like I’m on a school field trip but I’m glad I booked these tours. Bus transportation is a huge convenience. If we’re left on our own, Fred and I probably go to one attraction and stop there. We actually went during school trips season so we saw a lot of students at these places. Kinkaku-ji Temple and Kiyomizu-dera Temple especially are packed with both tourists and students.

Sunrise Tours (JBT) bus

Sunrise Tours (JBT) bus

Kyoto Morning Tour

Ryoanji Temple is probably the best places to take autumn photos. I never made it inside the temple because I was busy taking photos of the temple grounds.

Ryoanji 2

Ryoanji

Ryoanji 1

Ryoanji

Kinkakuji Temple is hyped and there weren’t many photo opportunities.  There’s only so many angle of the structure I can capture with my camera lol.

Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji

Kyoto Imperial Palace is boring as well. This one really feels like a field trip. Many parts of the palace aren’t open to the public and you can’t roam around as you like. It’s restricting.

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Imperial Palace

Kyoto Afternoon Tour

Japan has two religions, Buddhism and Shintoism. Buddhist related places end with -temple, and Shinto related is –shrine. This is why you need booked tours, without the tour guide I’ll probably use both terms interchangeably lol. The first stop on the Kyoto afternoon tour was Heian Jingu Shrine.

Shinto wedding at Heian Jingu Shrine

Shinto wedding at Heian Jingu Shrine

Heian Jingu Shrine

Heian Jingu Shrine

Next stop was Sanjusangendo Temple. This place is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy (Guan Yin in Chinese). This place is a shoe and camera-free zone. They will seize your camera if you’re caught taking photos. The flooring in this temple is rough with no support. There’s no insulation either. I can’t remember if there were modern light fixtures. The sight of the 1001 statues is pretty cool and scary at the same time.

Our last stop is Kiyomizu-dera Temple. There were over 18 tour buses there that day. It’s a beautiful place but it was too crowded. I wanted to spend more time at the shopping district too. 50 minutes of free time here isn’t enough. You can choose to stay behind but this place look too complex for public transportation so Fred and I left with our tour.

Kiyomizudera

Kiyomizudera

Osaka, Japan

Our itinerary was 2 days in Osaka, 4 days in Kyoto, 1 day in Hakone, and 6 days in Tokyo. It sounded like a lot of time but 2 days were dedicated to flying. I think another 7 days would be sufficient. I was too optimistic planning to do stuff in Osaka the night we arrived. That never happened because we got so lost after arriving at Osaka Station searching for our hotels. Google Maps are not helpful at indicating whether things are above or below grounds.

The most painful part of the trip was the first night lugging the suitcases after airport shuttle drop off at Osaka bus station. We got lost going from bus station to subway station. Fred and I couldn’t find escalators or elevators at subway station and we have to manually lift our suitcases on stairways. There were so many stairs and it was so cold and I was hungry. By the time we reach our hotel, it was almost 10 PM. everything was closed.

We stayed at Cityroute Hotel. It’s a small business hotel that would’ve been only 2 blocks from Osaka station if we didn’t get lost. There is a 7-11 right next door that opens 24-7. The room is decent, nothing to write home about. The bathroom is exceptionally tiny though. I wouldn’t stay here again since Osaka attractions are in either Namba or Umeda and this hotel is smack down in the center and close to neither.

Since Fred and I are night owls, we have no problem adapting with the new time zone. We woke up early the next morning, went down to the staff counter to purchase Osaka Aquarium KAIYUKAN tickets. They told us the correct route to the subway station too. It was so much closer! There are a lot of parents taking their children to the aquarium. They’re well behaved though. In fact, throughout my whole trip, I haven’t seen a child throwing tantrum or being annoying in public. There is also a giant Ferris wheel and illuminations outside KAIYUKAN but I didn’t feel like waiting till nightfall and being suspended in midair isn’t my thing.

Osaka Aquarium KAIYUKAN

Osaka Aquarium KAIYUKAN

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Tempozan Ferris Wheel

Tempozan Ferris Wheel

Both our feet were hurting by the time we finish walking thru the aquarium so we went to ABC-MART at Ebisubashi-suji in Dotonburi to look for shoes. Shopping is pretty universal; staffs just speak English to me whenever I have that deer in headlight expression. Fred bought very expensive Rockports and I bought some Japanese branded sneakers that would never suit me back home but it’s one of the few pairs that fit.  You can pretty much pull off wearing anything weird in Japan haha.

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walking shoes~

Dotonburi

Dotonburi

I wanted to go to the iconic seafood restaurant Kani Doraku (the ones with the crab) but it has 2 hours wait time. Shirokiya is right next door and there is a girl waving the restaurant menus at us. This is my first no-shoes restaurant. Food was good and well priced. Photo menu is misleading ~ the sashimi is much smaller in real life. I didn’t like how they placed us in a smoking section and charged me 600 yen for the shoes locker.

Shiroyaki Restaurant

Shirokiya Restaurant

ANA

We flew with ANA, pronounced A N A not Ana, both ways. Fred made me pay extra because he wanted the full Japanese experience. We were the last one to board because Tripmasters gave us wrong time. One of the flight attendants had to run out to look for us. Speaking of flight attendants, their uniforms are so pretty. It’s way better than flying US airlines where people slum in very casual clothes -___-

ANA-uniforms

Our departing flight was Star Wars themed. I didn’t really notice lol. Every seat had its own screen for you to watch movies or if you like you can check the plane progress. Apparently, it only takes 7.5 hours from San Jose to Tokyo. The windows are heated and can be tinted. The stewardess are very generous with drinks, they come by every 20 minutes or so. Wine is also free but neither Fred and I drink. They fed us twice within the 7.5 hour time frame; you can choose either western or Japanese food. Japanese is better but Fred and I always tried to pick one of each. Afterward, there is Haagen-Dazs ice cream for dessert. There are free rice crackers but there are no other snacks for you to purchase on-flight unlike those fruit and cheese plates on Alaska Airlines.

International flight is never filled to full capacity so some people can have a whole row to themselves. However, both flights were plagued with crying babies and I can’t sleep with earbuds on. On top of that, the kid behind me keeps playing with the tray table ~ $$#@@^$ annoying.

The arrival hall at Narita Airport is huge but it’s pretty English friendly. Fred and I grabbed an English map and found our ways to the currency exchange, Wi-Fi rental, and JR passes counters. Currency exchange was a breeze since I withdrew USD ahead of time, no need to look for an ATM machine. The exchange rate they gave us was 119 yen per dollar, actual rate was 124 per. I ordered our JR passes from Tripmasters during flight booking. Each 7-day pass was 29100 yen. It wasn’t worth it; I don’t know why many travel sites recommended. As for internet, Fred and I opted for the Wi-Fi router instead of sim card. It’s about 1300 yen/day and you can’t pick and choose your dates unlike the JR passes. Rental starts the moment you get the router and ends when you return it. It’s not like they can stop and start the router whenever.

Our connecting flight from Tokyo to Osaka was also with ANA. Domestic flight is less extravagant, they didn’t feed us even though it was dinner time, but then again the flight is only 90 minutes long. The plane is also smaller and missing nice features like tinted and heated windows. Plane progress UI was also more sluggish compared to the international flight. However, this one is actually equipped with a webcam of what the pilot sees.

Osaka Airport is definitely not as English friendly as Narita Airport. It took 30min walking from the international arrival terminal to the Airport limousine station (they’re shuttle, not limo).  Even the ticket booths aren’t English friendly. I have to match the hiragana characters on the chart to my screen. It’s 3100 yen per person for tickets from the airport to Osaka Station and takes about 1 hour. Airport transportation in Japan is generally more expensive than going to other part of the countries. However, they handle your luggage for you, no heavy lifting required.

Flocked Christmas Tree

Finally got my flocked tree

Aion Housing (Tiamat)

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