While heading back to Osaka from Okayama, we took a longer train (no idea why, I think it stopped at more stops?) and the journey was not what we expected. So we had to forego our Yakiniku M reservation. We were sleepy and weren’t sure what to do as the plan was pretty fluid. So looking at this map, we realised that our shinkansen would pass by Shin-Kobe station. I recalled a quick Google on kobe beef places, and found one that was right at the station. We didn’t get to see Kobe per se as it was already dark and Shin-Kobe isn’t that near the city centre. But we pampered ourselves with a Kobe beef meal and had a great time watching the chef handle the exquisite pieces of meat.
I had an itinerary done prior to the trip but left it fluid with only the key purchased items locked down. Each day I just reviewed where I went / what I had eaten (or not, which was more important), and made sure if it’s somewhere I really wanted to visit, that I’d cut and paste it later in the itinerary. Apart from the Kameoka hot spring and Universal Studios, which were purchased in advance, we could pretty much do anything, anytime. Which was great. It seemed to work with both of us. Good job for our first trip together (*pats Immanuel’s back).
Wakkoku @ Shin-Kobe station
We opted for one normal (A4) beef sirloin set, and a A4 sirloin set at Wakkoku after the chef explained the grades of the beef on the menu. The chef recommended sirloin which was fine with me. Tenderloins, though a feast to the eyes when looking at the teppanyaki table, aren’t my favourite parts of the beef. Perhaps the A5 would’ve been very different because of the fat content. My gripe with tenderloins is that they are usually dry. But now thinking of it, it probably would not have been dry at all, eh?
Our set meals came with a smoked salmon plate, soup (just mine), salad, and coffee. But really, who needs all that when there’s beef waiting for you?
Japanese marbled fatty beef is something we HAD to try on this trip, but decided that isn’t the best thing for us. Immanuel and I both had the super jelat feel after all our Japanese beef meals at Wakkoku (Shin-Kobe), Yakiniku M (Osaka), and Gyu-kaku (Singapore). I much prefer good chargrilled beef, the kind with the criss-cross patterns. Immanuel likes beef most ways, and loves our meal at Mortons. I’m not too into the slow-roasted beef that’s cut after the whole thing is cooked. I really like the criss-cross marks and the charred taste. With salt. Salt will do. Or miso.
On the day we left Kyoto, we excitedly dashed to get ourselves an ekiben each. But we didn’t expect the train to be that crowded and didn’t know that our train would be the less-awesome train. The KWA pass was not valid for the Shinkansen to Kyoto – which made the ekiben experience, well, non-existent.
So we kept it till nighttime and had it in our Airbnb apartment instead, along with our takoyaki. They were pretty decent, and I’d probably just need one try.
We dropped off our baggage early after arriving at Shinsaibashi, took a quick walk towards Dotonburi and found a long queue at the takoyaki store straight at the bridge. Instincts told me that this would be the best of all the many takoyaki stalls in the area.
I guess the Singaporean theory works anywhere. Not proven right yet but it was pretty good.
Airbnb @ Shinsaibashi
Our Airbnb at shinsaibashi was a real letdown. I guess it was not too bad a try but having stayed at Cocoon and Kanra, the dip in standard was just too great. Kanra really set the bar for us in comfort and design.
That said, our Airbnb was conveniently located near a ‘station exit’, but it was more like an underground mall exit. So the walk from the actual station was still quite a distance. The good thing though, was that it was a sheltered path and if it did rain or if the wind got too strong.
The room was alright, with plenty of amenities. But it had some hygiene challenges that made us pretty scared of using.
The toilet was generally clean but there were patches of mould at parts of the toilet walls so it made for an uncomfortable time. Well good thing was, it made it more appreciative of what we had during the stay and had to squeeze out a list of things we liked about it. Here’s the list:
It was in near an underground station exit. Well, sorta.
It made us miss home.
It had an escalator nearby (to access the station).
The fridge was big and clean.
The toilet bowl system, though old, at least had a bidet.
There was hot water
Plenty of cleaning appliances lying all over the tiny apartment
We had 11 when we were there, but clearly, not good enough a reason for me to remember right now.
Another thing to note about staying at shinsaibashi was the noise. It didn’t help that I watched ‘The Purge’ before making the trip. The incessant scary laughter, bottles clinking, and crazy random sirens and that one particularly scary one at 3.30am that made me Google earthquake alerts at that same in earthly hour just made sleep such a pain.
It was equally cold in Kyoto but sleep was good because it was in a quiet neighbourhood. The weird noises here were nothing like what I expected when I saw the reviews that there would be noise till early morning.
Many many regrets with regards to this choice that was a last minute change as I jumped at the fact that it was at the station exit. Plenty of other prettier apartments but it could have been the same thing – pictures promising the apartment in its best state, and not that which we’d open the door to. That said, it seems only applicable to Osaka. Maybe I’d be proven wrong at the next trip. I sure hope so!
This was probably the only disappointed throughout our trip and it lasted a painful 8 days… But it was with my dear hubby so that made up for it. Sunday: Church & Nara
We went to Lifehouse Church Sunday and had a heartwarming time, listening to Pastor preach about having our own unique stories. This was reinforced in our own time of listening to sermons.
We met a couple of warm people and got a recommendation to head to Nara. We were told it would take less than a day so we went there after church.
So our first stop there wasn’t the deers but Maguro Koya
Then, it was time to explore. It was pretty dark and cold so we just gave ourselves a short period to walk quickly and ‘cover’ Nara. We already had the tuna so objective was achieved 🙂
We got some pretty night views, had ice cream, saw some deers (from the back, in the dark) and called it a day.
Tuesday: Universal Studios Japan
I LOVE HARRY POTTER. It’s possibly my favourite book and movie series. It really started my love for fantasy/sci-fi. I love seeing things I can’t see in real life.
I got the tickets online via klook and got the e-ticket so it was a breeze. However, it was raining on the day we went there. It was mighty cold and made the trip a bit of a bother. It was also on this day that I got to see how much my husband could take care of me.
We took the The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride 4K3D and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ in 4K3D and they were awesome. Okay, I see now the common factor in the two rides.4K3D. I love the technology that went into it, 3D effects and all.
The HP ride nailed it for us and so it was time to go home after we went back to the Harry Potter area for the second time. Umeda Hagakure
Rainy weather made for a perfect day for udon. After googling, we found this udon place. Everything interesting we read in the reviews on TripAdvisor manifested:
He made us take photos of the udon. The Korean guy next to us didn’t intend to take a photo of his udon and he made him do it.
Taught us step by step as to how to eat it (we didn’t dare to do otherwise)
I received a pat on my head for slurping it right, while slurping it right- 2 noodle, not 1 or 3 but 2.
You can see the uncle taking the noodles out into the small bowl for Immanuel. He was really that involved in our meal. Also, he called us by country. Meaning, he called us, Singapore. And the Korean man next to us, Korea.
Our entire trip was largely planned around famous soba places. What a way to start planning an trip but it’s the only way I know how.
So imagine my disappointment when I found that Ayamedo was no longer Ayamedo and I didn’t know why! So I never got to try that elusive little soba shop which apparently didn’t allow it’s guests to take photos of the food or the eatery.
Google really saved us throughout our trip and we instantly found a nearby place that sold handmade soba. It was SOBASOGOOD.
We had a tempura with cold soba each and I saw something vaguely looking like an upside on the Japanese menu. Thank God that one of the ladies there spoke super fluent English and we managed to confirm an upsize and even ordered an extra portion.
We had in total, 2 upsized portions of soba, and one normal one.
We shared a table with two men that day. The more senior gentlemen had plain soba with sauce – upsized too. I felt affirmed when I saw is arrive. He did something that amazed me though. Before dipping the noodles into the sauce, he tried a little bit of it. Then asked his friend to pass him the salt on the side. He dished out a little and put it on the side of his saucer. Then gently dipped the soba into the salt and tried it. He gave a pleased look after which just told me that the noodles passed. Looked totally like a soba connoiseur.
After he left, Immanuel and I also tried it. It was yummy in that everything dipped in salt is yummy for me, but soba without sauce isn’t soba in my opinion. So I slurped on.
Tough fight between this and Owariya. Owariya’s noodles were smoother and lighter. Shuhari’s noodles (apart from the awesome upsize), we’re chewier and grainier and strangely felt more authentic and ‘handmade’.
Both have their merits and I’d recommend both. One for Kyoto and the other for Osaka. Major, major highlights of the trip for me.
Well, we did eat a few more things than what’s highlighted here but they were negligible. So loving our Japan trip and it has officially taken over Seoul as my favourite destination. No jelatness of Japanese food this time. Loving the start of this journey with Immanuel, and looking forward to the many more trips to come!
Our JR Kansai Wide Area Pass was a difficult one to understand initially but it became easier once we took our first ride. The website in this link already listed down the lines in which the pass was valid for – but it remained confusing until we actually took the train from Kyoto to Osaka. It was cheaper to order online first than to get it at the station itself.
We activated the pass on the 5th day of the trip at the Kyoto station (very easy to locate, directions were provided in the pass package) and it was a blur of preparation for me. I simply decided to do that as we were heading from Kyoto to Osaka that day and it seemed a fine idea. It technically was, until I realised it wasn’t valid for the shinkansen, but the normal rapid trains instead. It was an alright journey but lugging our baggage in the semi-crowded trains was not that easy. For those who prefer comfort – the shinkansen would have been much better (but also pricier).
After activation, we realised the only shinkansen that this pass was valid for was the line from Shin-Osaka to Okayama. So with that, we were naturally inclined to make a trip there. The shinkansen’s significantly more comfortable than the other trains so it was worth the trip. We paid $108+ for our KWA pass and each ride to Okayama from Shin-Osaka was easily $36+ already. If it was just for that, it would have been enough.
But Okayama turned out fruitful (we really just expected a comfortable train ride) as there was a very pretty garden there: The Korakuen.
There was also a castle but we skipped it. The garden was sufficient to captivate us.
Upon reaching the station, we found a bus to get us there.
Please indulge us tropical city-dwellers who don’t get to see this often. Everywhere we turned in the garden was just too beautiful and filled with colours and shapes that are uncommon to us. I snapped so many photos that I don’t know what to do with them. Actually, I don’t know what to do with many photos that I’ve taken over the years.
After the garden, we got hungry we did a quick TripAdvisor search and saw that there was an Ippudo conveniently located on the walk back to the JR Okayama station.
It was a fruitful time in Okayama – somewhere we only thought of going to utilize our KWA pass.
This wasn’t the Sagano Romantic train. As we had the KWA pass, we could take the JR trains down from Osaka to Kameoka and Saga-Arashiyama. That’s after a number of confusing moments where I just couldn’t figure it out. I guess it’s really much easier to try out the train system before attempting to plan the itinerary, which is what we did. Everything was pretty sketchy when I was still doing up our Google spreadsheet.
But after a few attempts at taking trains at Osaka and Kyoto, it was significantly easier and clearer to figure the lines out.
For example, you’d think that JR would be clear right? No. I consistently confused the lines and realized only after a few days that Hankyu and Keihan were brands separate from the JR lines.
So after a night of lazing in bed and staring at the map, I finally realised that even though seemingly bad planning landed us in Osaka and having to return to Kameoka for our hot spring date, it turned out quite alright and we just had to take a JR train back to Kyoto and change for the JR Sagano line. Both had rapid trains (which are NOT Shinkansens) so it was relatively fast.
Kameoka – Sumiya Kiho-an
This hot spring is located in the Yunohana spa resort in the suburbs of Kyoto. I found a lunch package with a private onsen since we already had lodging settled for our trip.
This place provided a shuttle bus ride from South exit of station, which brought us there in about 15 minutes. I was initially uncertain about the instruction but upon reaching the station, I understood that South was pretty self-explanatory. It was a tiny station with one South exit, and two flights of stairs down. If you went down the wrong one, it would just have been a few metres walk to the other side. Our shuttle bus was a 16 seater and we were the only 2 there.
We were given a little basket with the a timer and a key to the ‘secret hot spring’. When we walked out of the building and saw this, Immanuel and I immediately regretted. I was so apologetic and was scared of what I got us into by booking. It was both our first time in a hotspring and the walk towards the private one was so so so cold.
Imagine removing all the layers of heat tech, clothes and coats in this weather…
BUT WE TOTALLY COULD. AGAIN AND AGAIN.
The initial part was really tough having to go bare in the cold. Putting one foot in first, I thought that I’d be cooked in the water. It was really like hot milo, only cool enough to gulp down. Felt like that at least. Not possible or we would have been cooked.
After submerging our entire bodies, it felt SO GOOD.
We soaked for about 40 minutes and came out. Standing there in the cold actually felt warm! It was so amazing. I was so sure that the blemishes on my chest, something that I was very frustrated with especially just before the wedding, were immediately, visibly better. It was amazing.
We would do it again. Probably going to another trip to Kyoto, drop our luggage at Kanra, and head there for lunch and hot spring. And enjoy the zen minimalist yet modern design of Kanra. Perfect day.
It was such an enjoyable time despite the initial scare and regret. Immanuel and I loved the lunch and hot spring experience, and even got to talk about what our dream home would be like after browsing the minimalist Japanese home design books.
I would love to do this again.
En route to Kameoka, we saw a beautiful river, which I now realised is the Hozugawa river that the Sagano Scenic Railway passes through. We decided to skip that as the exact stops weren’t covered in our KWA pass. However, our train from Kyoto passed by Saga Arashiyama and Kameoka, 2 stops that we wanted to go to.
I was pretty ill with sinus spoiling so many parts our time in Kyoto. So even though I planned Arashiyama on our third day, we couldn’t make it as I was just wasn’t in the best condition for a bamboo forest trip.
It worked out though, as I realised Kameoka was very near Arashiyama. So after our hot spring date, we took the Sagano train back to Arashiyama, and stopped at Hozukyo on the way. The view was magnificent and we even saw a boat of people going down the stream.
We peeked at this river from the train station, which turned out to be the only thing there. Other than the station, we saw a few elderly Japanese people who seemed to be just done with trekking. Because the days generally end by 4.45pm, we just waited at the station till the next train came for Arashiyama.
So that was it at Hozukyo, and we arrived at Arashiyama a little late. We walked the wrong way for a bit and ended up at the monkey area which we didn’t want to go for and was closed anyway.
After a little bit more, we arrived at the Bamboo Forest and it was pretty dark.
There were many other tourists and locals who were waiting around and we waited along with them. It turned out at that after a certain time, there would be lanterns and lights to light up the forest.
After our time at Arashiyama, we returned to Kyoto station satisfied and not too tired. We decided to go to Isetan to find something to eat and craved yakitori again. Sumibi was awesome but a little far from where we were so we settled for this place which I just found out, is called Kokekokko. It was nothing mind blowing but was satisfying. No chicken oysters here but we just ordered a set each. As usual, one slightly pricier and another simpler one. Sumibi hands down, but this was good too. A little like Gan Yakitori standard I guess – but it was nice to eat at the counter with the guys grilling the skewers skilfully in full view.
We ended the day getting biscuits and snacks for friends at the 7-11 at Kyoto Station.
It was a good alternative to the Sagano Scenic Railway ride, at our own time. Also, I don’t know how we’d take the open trains. Probably would have hated it because of the cold!
Our Airbnb in Kyoto was such a beautiful surprise. Yes, we had photos and managed to preview it, but being there was just so much better. We loved the simplicity of the decor and the ‘cocoon’ just added that special touch.
It also helped that the toilet and bath area was really clean. It didn’t have one of those hi-tech Japanese toilet bowls but it did heat up which helped a lot in the morning.
Trash was an issue however, and it seems that the kyoto-ians take their trash and recycling very seriously. No garbage outside the house, recycling has to be done diligently, and general trash bins seemed to elude us. But our pleasant experience more than made up for this and we unanimously agreed that Kyoto is our favourite.
As I was browsing Sean’s (our airbnb owner) list of recommendations, I was so pleasantly surprised to see that Honke Owariya is his wife’s family restaurant. We met briefly as she left the building that day – she’s really elegant and pretty. It must be the soba.
I’ll miss you Owariya. Cue dramatic Japanese music…
After doing some research online, I found this place for kaiseki. It’s not the usual tatami sit-down kaiseki which costs a bomb but it was perfect for us. Pretty informal and not too elaborate, it made for a good introductory kaiseki as we did not stay at a ryokan. Ours was the ¥7000++ lunch kaiseki (reduced) set. It was more than enough for us. I observed that for all customers, they packed the leftover rice dish and made rice balls for takeaway. We had it late at night and it was still delicious.
The most senior chef there went out for some fresh air as we exited and gamely obliged our request for a photo. Such beautiful dishes.
They had an English menu that we could take home too.
The Japanese menu, along with the Kyoto daikon which they showed us. I love how they take pride in their ingredients. Even a humble radish can take centre-stage in a dish.
I’d definitely recommend Roan Kikunoi to those visiting Kyoto for the first time and are intimidated by the intricacies of a full kaiseki.
Elephant Factory Coffee
After youtubing a travelog, we found this place. It was a gem. There were many magazines that we could browse and it was a perfect time for Immanuel and I to discuss what we envisioned our new home to be.
I listened to Cherlynn and made sure we went to Yoshinoya. It was beef bowl heaven. Good food doesn’t always have to be expensive. We had a grilled beef rib bowl and a sukiyaki. And tonjiru. Love.
We also made a trip to this yakitori place which had pretty good reviews on trip advisor.
We got to talk to two American men who were in Japan for a while before heading to Singapore for 2 days. They were visiting a good friend of theirs who owns a couple of restaurants in Singapore, one of which is at MBS. *WHOH* They must’ve been some culinary experts. After hearing that we were on our honeymoon, they ordered a second drink for us each. How sweet and cool.
One of them asked for the best chicken rice in Singapore. How could I explain that the one at Bedok South is really value for money and that the late LKY used to patronise them? And how could I explain that the N2 one near my place had the BEST, THICK, REAL, chicken rice chilli and sauce that complemented the chicken, AND had such a generous serving of rice? And how could I explain that the Potong Pasir coffeeshop’s chicken rice was the most fragrant, plump, savoury rice that I ever had for chicken rice and that it had such a lovely brown hue?
So I typed on his phone: Boon Tong Kee.
I hope that was good enough and that his restaurant-owning friend had an even better recommendation.
Glad that we managed to make a trip to Ichiran in Kyoto because the Osaka branches had queues that were way too long for us (in the cold, you know!)
It did wonders for my sinus, but ramen is really not something that I would rave about. I thought the broth was yummy, and noodles were AWESOME because I could choose extra firm. But it wasn’t something that I’d HAVE TO eat again. One really great thing about it was that the extra firm noodles reminded me of the Crawford Lane Hill Street Tai Hwa Ba Chor Mee that I absolutely love. Strange comparison but the moment I sunk my teeth into the firm noodles, I immediately had the same sensation as when eating the mee kia from that stall.
Hotel Kanra Kyoto
“Who needs [insert random hotel name], when you have KANRA?”
This was a recurring line for us in Japan. Hotel Kanra must have been one of the tops of our trip. The minimalistic yet traditional decor just totally stole our hearts and kept it under lock and key forever.
Granted, Kanra was newly renovated when we stayed – just two months old, but if they can actually keep up with this standard, we’d likely make multiple trips back to Kyoto JUST FOR THIS.
Kyoto had so many beautifully designed buildings that I just had to snap.
Streets & skies
Yup, trust the tropical city-dweller to keep snapping photos of roadside trees and sky views.
So glad we went to Kyoto for the first leg of our honeymoon. We’d definitely be back soon! Lord, please provide ❤