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.

PicMonkey Collage 6

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!

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Japan honeymoon: Kyoto

The Cocoon Room

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.

Walked up the stairs to this
Welcomed by a simple post-it

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Bookshelf where the owner’s photo book was on display

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Huge mirror in front of the cocoon

Honke Owariya

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.

The special – slightly more than ¥2000. Featuring 5 layers of plain soba that you can mix and match the ingredients on the side with. It had fried prawn, sesame, mushrooms, egg, seaweed, daikon and spring onions. It was splendid.
My simple first one
And the more adventurous second
Instructions on how to eat it
Mixed tempura, including a soba tempura which reminded us of mamee and zichar sangmin
Plain cold soba on our second visit. Less than ¥1000. We squeezed another meal in before we went to Osaka. They were sweet to help us keep our luggage inside the first level of the shop. We went there at 1130am on a Friday and after our meal, we saw a long queue forming.

I’ll miss you Owariya. Cue dramatic Japanese music…

Roan Kikunoi

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.

Yoshinoya

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.

Sumibi Torito

We also made a trip to this yakitori place which had pretty good reviews on trip advisor.

We didn’t know what chicken oysters were but ordered anyway. Turns out to be a part of the chicken which is super tender and succulent. It was the BEST skewer we ordered there that we had a second helping. Also echoed by the guy opposite us at the shared table.

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.

Tebasaki
Potato with butter
Some part of the chicken, might have been the heart – which was a little too big for me this time.

Ichiran

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.

Automatic wooden doors, revealing a second automatic glass door inside
The ‘gate’ to our room
Our little moss garden
Our lovely bed, and those are REAL windows!
Intricate hexagonal tiles lining the toilet walls
Perfect floor tiles, comfortable Japanese cypress wood tub, and even excellent drainage

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.

Nishiki market

So pleased with our buys from the market. My galaxy umbrella and his traditional dull blue rimmed Japanese umbrella. Excellent quality, worth the splurge.
So tempted to get all the colours
Waiting patiently for our uni
Uni, with a generous portion of soy sauce on the side
Fishcake with quail eggs!
My true love. Vinegared cucumbers on a stick. It was good in the sweltering heat years back and still good in the cold weather on this trip.
Corn dog with tofu dressing on top
Skewered stuffed squid and scallops
Green tea ice cream and mochi which had extensive ‘rules’ we had to follow in order to eat it outside the shop

Buildings

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 ❤