How hard is it for me to trust? But because You are good, it’s easy to trust in You. So I’ll thank You for the house and the home that you have put in place for us. It’s a journey that Imm and I are taking with You. And it’s You who builds our home for us ❤

Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.

Psalm 127:1

Waiting 

3 years and now trying to figure things out. I see the people around me making their changes but I was bound to mine for 3 years. Now that I have the freedom to make the move, I feel scared. Stepping out of my comfort zone is something I haven’t done in a while. I’d say that to my students all the time – but for myself. I battled challenges and there was nothing smooth about the 3 years, but I’d say it was a comfortable challenge. The familiarity of everything that I had to deal with, makes me not want to leave. Stepping out into the unknown is daunting.

After reading this.

Do I dare to step out in faith to pursue the dreams that God has put in my heart? Have I had time to think about those dreams? Am I aware and conscious of Your perfect love that has redeemed me fully, and promises me an abundant life? A life that I have been praying for but not seeing – with my eyes covered with the dust that is meant to be just on my feet?

Japan honeymoon: Shin-kobe

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.

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Screenshot of the Kansai Wide Area Pass map of valid trains. The only dashed one (shinkansen) led us to Okayama and Shin-Kobe.

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?

Close up of the A5 sirloin.
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So meticulously prepared, I was afraid of eating it wrong. Wasn’t an issue as the chef guided us throughout the entire process. On how to taste the beef with just salt only, and then allowing us to try it with the other condiments around. Same for the veggies. It felt like a lesson – which I enjoyed. No fluff and haughtiness, just a sincere respect for the food in front of us.
The chef even offered to take a photo for us before starting his major cooking! No airs at all. Love it.

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.

Japan honeymoon: Osaka

Friday: Ekiben (fail) & takoyaki

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.

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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:

  1. It was in near an underground station exit. Well, sorta.
  2. It made us miss home.
  3. It had an escalator nearby (to access the station).
  4. The fridge was big and clean.
  5. The toilet bowl system, though old, at least had a bidet.
  6. There was hot water
  7. 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

This tiny shop. Crazy good ootoro bowl.

 

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Below the visible layer of ootoro and rice, was another splendid layer of ootoro and rice. After having the ootoro, this normal negitoro bowl paled in comparison. But our strategy throughout the trip was to get one serving of decadence, and one normal good one. It served us well as too much fat would have killed the joy.

 

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 🙂

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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.

Tempura udon (cold)
Tempura udon (hot soup)

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.

Shuhari (守破離)

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.

One upsized portion of soba.

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.

Crunchy, light, crisp tempura
Cute little duck dish poster.

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.

Yakiniku M

Marinated Karubi
This was already fantastic.
Beef seared sashimi sushi

Hot stone bowl garlic rice
A platter of splendour

Yuzu ice cream and Sake pudding

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!

Japan honeymoon: Okayama

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.

Our packed lunch
Wagyu katsu sandwich from Shin-Osaka station
Grilled chicken bento from the train platform. We just had to after our bento-fail.

Upon reaching the station, we found a bus to get us there.

Interesting bus systems they have here. Printed the number and we just had to track the bus screen for updates on our fare based on this number stop.
Beautiful foliage from the bus stop on our way to the garden

Too many koi
Always love looking at ducks

Targeted a couple to take our photo for us. He took many, while his partner stayed at the side to QC. What a sweet pair 🙂

The colors ❤

 

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.

I finally found a thick curly noodle ramen in Japan! It was a winter special (I think) and I’m glad we came here to have it. Somehow the famous ones are all the thin noodles. 😦

Possibly the best gyoza I’ve had in years… Even better than the Horai 551 in my opinion. Regretted pushing for the smaller portion… I usually get jelat from gyozas easily but these were light and tasty. 
Free flow marinated bean sprouts!

It was a fruitful time in Okayama – somewhere we only thought of going to utilize our KWA pass.

Good job to us on our first successful day trip.

Japan honeymoon: Sagano

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.

The library with the pretty view. Loved the clear glass window. I would like a home library like that too.
We helped ourselves to their library, reading books on Japanese home design before and after our turn for he private hot spring and lunch.

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…

The ominous entrance into the wild
We passed this door and walked straight ahead. Thank God for the chains that blocked us from walking into the forest…
Immanuel being the brave head of the household and walking in first.
And we saw this. There was one more ‘pool’ around the same size, connected on the right. All for us. I really thought, what if we couldn’t?

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.

So this is what we had for our kaiseki lunch, which was included in the Secret Open-Air Onsen & Lunch Package (¥8,000) package.

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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.

Bye…

Hozukyo

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.

At the wrong area.

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.

So this was what my lowlight camera did to capture something in the dimness.
I think this was the scene of the huge crowd taking photos at the end of the walk.
Saw a friendly couple who looked like they could take photos and offered to take for them too. We got the better deal. Sorry lady!
Love the radishes in Kyoto!
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The walk down from the forest

We found it! Looks so pretty at night!
Lovely simple coffee. I wanna make our home look like Arabica.

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.

Chicken with leek and cute little round tomatoes

Ochazuke
The outdoor escalator which I vaguely remembered

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!