Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Autumn in Japan #3

Day 3.

I remember when we first got off the plane and arrived at the airport in Fukuoka, it was the surprising cacophony of car honking that greeted us when we stepped out of the building to head towards the subway station. Perhaps it had come from cab drivers but WOAH there was some really aggressive honking that I didn't think was possible from Japanese drivers! ;) On hindsight, it definitely fits in with my impression now of Fukuoka-ians (if they can be called that) as being friendly, straightforward and extremely warm. Everyone we came across happened to be really friendly and of course, openly inquisitive about where we'd come from.

On our first night, we arrived at sometime past 9pm, kinda tired out from a whole day of walking around in Tokyo and mainly just hoping to come across some ramen place to fill our bellies but the options at the airport were limited. But as we walked from the station to the hotel, there weren't any restaurants we passed by and I remember thinking, oh man this is going to be a night of Lawson's random bento/onigiri takeaways (which wouldn't be a bad thing, really; given how yummy their convenience store food can be). BUT then, as luck would have it, 2 minutes into our search for food around the hotel, we came across a warm, cozy, busy Izakaya that was OPEN! I would highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Fukuoka. It's called Ten Sui An and is actually about a 5-10 minute walk away from the Hakata Station, unobtrusively tucked away in a quiet alleyway (as most great restaurants in Japan are, it seems). The staff were really friendly, the restaurant was brimming with that boisterous (maybe drunken), festive ambience and best of all, it was open till late at night.

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Every dish we had was SO GOOD. Of course if helped that we were starving but seriously, the dishes were so super tasty. I loved the thin, crispy pieces of vegetable tempura. And since it was autumn, they included sweet potato which was delish!

Looking at the trip advisor photos, looks like the restaurant could be famous for its chicken mizutaki which is a famous dish in Kyushu.

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I'm not too sure if that was one of the Mizutaki dishes because initially I had wanted something vegetables, so I ordered something in the menu that looked like it said Veggie Stew. Only I didn't notice the word Chicken right at the front. -_- Tasty broth nonetheless!

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THIS. WAS. SO. GOOD. If you don't think much about what it really is and just eat it based on the taste, you'll definitely want to have more of it. I loved how crispy it was on the outside yet soft, mushy, rich on the inside. Of course, it's none other than Shirako (or fish *cough* sperm…) done tempura style. Moar please.

The next day, we went to this island that apparently is not even really known to locals, called Ainoshima. The reason we went there? It's known to be a Cat Island. And Donald has this insane fetish with cats. -_- So, yeah. For me it's dogs > cats all the way (esp cute Lab retrievers and French Bulldogs!!) but hey, what's a girl gotta do? It was definitely an adventure though. ;)

BUT before that, we had an insanely delicious lunch of Chazuke at a random restaurant on one of the upper floors of the Hakata train station.

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It was definitely one of the most memorable lunches I had on the entire trip because everything about it was fantastic. From the calm, elegant interiors of the restaurant, to the attentive service, to the sheer deliciousness of the dishes, to the speed at which the dishes came out to alleviate our hunger… Do try it. I can't remember the name of the restaurant but it should be easy enough to find once you reach the restaurant floor of the shopping mall above the train station. X) TEN OUT OF TEN, this place.

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Beautiful. Deep fried Kakiage.

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After that, we started on our journey to Ainoshima. It really wasn't that long; maybe 1.5 hours in total to get to the island from Hakata train station. I would definitely recommend checking out this guy's blog post for a detailed explanation of how to get to the island. It definitely helped us loads and I'm amazed at the sheer amount of research he did along with the attention to detail.

BUT, we happened to discover an even shorter route on our way back.

In essence:

Using JR line,
Hakata Station - Fukkodaimae Station

There is actually a bus from Fukkodaimae Station that will take you directly to the ferry terminal.

But I have no idea what the bus number was. I'm sure it's possible to ask the staff at the station for advice though. It would be faster than going by this route which is the one given in his blog:
Using JR line,
Hakata Station - Chihaya Station
At Chihaya Station, walk to the other end of the station to take another line to go to -> Nishitetsu Shingu Station.
Bus from Nishitetsu Shingu Station will bring you to the ferry terminal.

If you are seriously considering going to this island and are confused about the directions, feel free to drop a line and I'll definitely do my best to help! ;) If you're a cat person, it's definitely an experience to have.

It just so happened that we missed the bus that would have taken us to the ferry terminal at Shingu. We were going to hop into a cab but as luck would have it, some random dude apparated out of nowhere and beat us to it. So we were thinking, dang, should we try to wait around for 1. the next bus 2. another cab to come along 3. walk to the ferry terminal based on the rather undetailed sketchy map of the island by the bus terminal? Guess which one we intrepid explorers picked. I suppose it's not so much intrepid as desperate. When you're whole day is about going to ONE place for ONE thing only... you do what it takes. So based on Donald's insanely accurate internal GPS, we started walking/running. And believe it or not, we made it to the port where the ferry happened to be waiting! It's about a 20 minute ride to Ainoshima and you can pay for your 2 way trip on the ride back (after buying your tickets from a machine in the tiny unmanned tourist information centre on the island).

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It's a very quiet island but I think it's not to the extent that cats outnumber people.

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The cats were rather cute, I must admit, especially this Charlie Chaplin one that didn't always cooperate when I wanted to take his photo.

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Monday afternoon chillin' on Ainoshima.

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Of course, I guess EVERY cat island would have to have its resident Old Cat-Granny who feeds them daily. This was definitely her. And guess what they ate? Bread.

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While Donald busied himself with all those cats, I decided to take a walk along the pier. It was nice to see kids around though there were only a few of them.

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Heh. Cute little boy.

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At night? Another random Izakaya near Hakata Station after a trip to Yodobashi Camera, which is a huge-ass store full of well, EVERYTHING. If you haven't been into one, you should. Because while it has Camera in its name, it's not just a camera store. It's your electronics haven + cosmetics + cameras + phones + home appliances maybe? I wouldn't be surprised if there was a level of clothing that I missed out on because it's huge. And there are outlets in every major city it seems, so do go check out your nearest one in Japan. And yeah, more chazuke for dinner. I love it so much. This one had nice salty salmon flakes. MMM.

Can't believe it's been a month since coming back! Feels like the trip was a longgg time ago. For anyone who's still wanderlusting after Japan, I would definitely recommend watching some Begin Japanology on youtube for all things Japanese. ;)


Saturday, 13 December 2014

Autumn in Japan #2

Day 2 of our travels. 

One thing we had on our list that we really wanted to check out were some good ol’ Japanese flea markets. There are apparently a ton of them happening throughout the year and often at open spaces at shrines. We went to the one at the Yasukuni Shrine and though I didn’t manage to get anything, it was still a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon strolling through the market, checking out a really incredible array of goodies.

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Before that, we happened to pass by some really quaint stretches of road near the Imperial Palace.

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What a way to spend a sunday afternoon.

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Travel Tip #2: If you see something you like at a flea market… GET IT. NOW. Instead of thinking that there’ll be a chance later on. I had seen a beautiful blue tea pot that reminded me of a Dansk tea pot, strong and sturdy and in a great shade of deep blue, but since it was at the start of the trip, I was hesistant about getting something heavy to lug around. So I thought I’d think it over and return back after if I still wanted it. Well turns out I still did but by the time I got there… Ah, well. You snooze, you lose.

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After awhile it was getting awfully cold so we decided to stop at the cafeteria within the shrine grounds for a snack.

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Okonomiyaki in the making!

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MMM. I'm probably a bigger fan of Yakisoba but they both have that similar salty, filling taste.

Next, we headed off to Omotesando to try out some legendary coffee. Tucked away off the main streets of Omotesando is Omotesando Koffee , a teeny tiny coffee shop that’s actually housed in a traditional Japanese house with just enough space for a the owner to pull all his coffee shots comfortably in what’s literally a cube. There’s a little space in the small outside courtyard to sit down to sip your coffee but that space is usually filled up by the long line of eager coffee goers. I suppose we went at a peak time – Sunday afternoon, when everyone would be out enjoying some sunshine and shopping at Omotesando. Hence when we got there there was a long line up of at least 15-20 people. It was maybe a 10-15 minute wait? No biggie. Gave us the chance to take turns strolling around the neighbourhood to see what else was around.

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I must admit it’s an impressive sight seeing someone so focused on creating good coffee. It’s almost like a performance, seeing him go swiftly from customer to coffee machine, to pouring hot milk, tapping chocolate powder over a drink with speed and efficiency… I’m pretty sure everyone there took about 20 shots (EACH) of him. And this guy works HARD. There was literally a 15-20 people queue in front of us and when we left, another 15-20 people had joined the line. It was non-stop coffee making for him. Can’t imagine him doing it the entire day as a one man show.

The verdict? Well, I’m not a coffee connoisseur at all and I ordered mocha. But you know it’s a place that’s serious about it’s coffee when there isn’t anything non-coffee related (no cider, for example, which I was secretly and lamely hoping for ;p) Donald, who drinks his fair share of coffee back home says that it could compare with Nylon Coffee Roasters which is one of his favorites. But whether or not we would wait so long again for the coffee? Well, maybe one not. But if there isn’t a queue and there’s space out in the courtyard on maybe a weekday afternoon, it would be a great place to go back to, if only to watch the coffee maestro at work.

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Omotesando Koffee 

4-15-3 Jingumae

Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel: +81 03 5413 9422
Daily: 10am – 7pm

Nearest Station: Omotesando Exit A2/Meiji-Jingumae 

After walking around a little more in Omotesando, it was time to head back to Haneda Airport to get to Fukuoka. :) More in the next post.

xoxo Have a great week ahead!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Autumn in Japan #1

Hi everyone!! How's it hanging? :)

Just came back from one of the BEST trips I've been on yet!! Went to Japan with Donald (who just happens to be the best vacation planner has some wicked internal GPS thing going on inside his brain) and it was such awesome fun. Of course, I think there were occasional tiring bits but isn't it often the case that when you look back on things... they're often better with the benefit of hindsight?

I don't think I've done an actual travelogue of one of my trips in a long time but since everything's still fresh in my mind... why not? :D

Day 1

This time we spent most of our trip traveling around Kyushu with an additional 1.5 days at the beginning in Tokyo. Flying via Japan Airlines, we decided to get a flight to Haneda Airport rather than Narita Airport in Tokyo.

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I must say that Haneda Airport is DA BOMB. Seriously. Everyone knows about Narita Airport but its lesser known cousin should totally be forced into the limelight that it deserves. It's one of the best airports I've been to. Ever!! It's definitely a lot smaller than Narita Airport but it's got everything. And we only found this out on the way back but it has an AMAZING selection of food INSIDE the departure area! Most places reserve their best restaurants for the public spaces before going through the departure gate so that it'll be accessible to the general public but Haneda Airport has a really great variety of food in the food halls near the gates. Just so you know. No need to rush to eat your food before going through the departure gates. We had gone for some incredible Udon at a restaurant called Tsurutontan (highly recommended) then after checking in and heading towards the gate, we came across an awesome food hall which featured things like... Ryokurinsha ramen, another very famous ramen restaurant in Tokyo. So there is good food everyone in Haneda Airport.

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MMMM. The smell of freshly baked bread.

Travel Tip #1 : (Or maybe I should label it as Donald's Travel Tip because it really was his idea ;p He'll always give me grief for having doubted that in the first place): If you're going to be staying in Tokyo for a short period of time (like maybe 1-2 days) before traveling off to someplace else, consider stowing away your main luggage at the storage lockers in the airport. They come in either small/large sizes but for the large one that we took, it was about 500 yen per day. The benefit of using that is that you can then take a smaller travel bag with your overnight items to bring along to wherever you're staying so at least you won't have to struggle with carrying along some ginormously heavy luggage through the Tokyo subway system which, while extremely fast and convenient, also has a serious LACK OF LIFTS. It's quite tiring climbing up all those stairs and honestly, I didn't really spot many lifts at all. So just imagine the absolute pain of carrying major luggage up and down stairs...unless you're a masochist or budding body builder.

On the first day, we were a little ambitious in trying to squeeze in a ton of things since we had only allocated ourselves 1.5 days in Tokyo. Immediately after touching down, we headed straight to for a flea market at Oi-Kebajo (at a race course area). It was definitely interesting in terms of how there were lots of second hand items ranging from more practical things such as cutlery/electronics/games/toys/clothing to...rather rare objects such antiques/handicraft tools/parts of equipment that I can't imagine anyone without some form of specialized knowledge getting from there. That said... I did get a second hand Olympus Pen film camera and managed to bargain it down with my half baked Japanese to 2000 yen! X) (ok only down from 2500 but... it was a moment of pride for me). Didn't manage to use up the roll of film yet so will share it hopefully in a few weeks after I finally finish it.

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Nice. Hat. Yoz.

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All those knick-knacks!

Next, we headed over to Daimon which just happened to be on the way to the place we would be staying at.

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Had some really decent Kaizen sushi don. I love how even if you don't make any plans/reservations, chances are that 9/10 of the restaurants you walk into in Japan will have a really decent standard of food.

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I had no idea that the Tokyo Tower was in the Daimon area! So we headed over there just to take a long and along the way, stopped by the Zojoji Temple.

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I think there could've been some ceremony or celebration going on because there were quite a few families dressed up in traditional wear. Aren't the kiddies cute in their beautiful mini kimonos? :)

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Next, we headed to one place I deliberately put on the list because it is simply...sublime.

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Ori Higashiya a one of the most gorgeous shops I've been into. It's a traditional confectioner selling seasonal wagashi sweets and also provide set meals and tea specials. It's got a fantastic ambience - genteel, quiet, refined... just the sort of place I'd love to go to every weekend to meet up with my girl friends for tea or even to just relax with a book in hand. It’s part of a group of house brands that are the brainchild of the brilliant design studio, Simplicity, who come up with the most incredible interiors for their shops which seem to exude timeless elegance with Japanese roots. The one I’ve gone to is the Ori Higashiya restaurant/teahouse in Ginza but apparently there is also Higashiya Man, selling Manju which I’m dying to visit one day. The photo doesn't do it justice at all! Still trying to take better film shots in low lighting but I would highly recommend checking it out for EVERYTHING. Even their toilets. I’ve just discovered their portfolio online and am going to be spending awhile going through those gorgeous photos. 

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Ginza on a weekend evening is so pleasant to walk around at.

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Moments of quiet in a crowd are always within reach.

So, those were the highlights for Day One. More to come soon! I need to keep at this while I still have some steam and a relatively good work schedule for the month.