Hello and long time no see!! I know, I got lazy. As it’s been a long time since I last wrote a post, I figured I should just stick to writing about Japan (and skipping, at least for now, China) since that’s the freshest in my mind and probably the most interesting part of my trip.
Yuye and I left Beijing (and all its lovely food) to embark on the trip of our lives – Japan 2011, just one day after the great earthquake and tsunami hit its shores (we landed in Osaka Kansai International Airport in the afternoon of March 12, 2011, lucky it wasn’t Tokyo). Even though both his family and mine were opposed to going, I wasn’t mentally prepared to cancel my trip. I was expecting chaos and trauma and whatnots, BUT lo and behold the great nation of Japan, nothing of the sort was felt at all! Everyone was still partying hard at the local festivals and going on with their busy lives. The only difference was the constant earthquake reminders on telly and the many fundraising attempts on the streets. This is of course because we were hundreds of kilometres away from the affected areas and eventually we did have to cancel the trip to Tokyo, Sendai and Sapporo….sad sad face. 🙁 Trains up north was severely affected which was a shame and plus the radiation and all…SIGH. Maybe in a few years we’ll go back again…
Our first stop on this trip was Nara, an ancient capital in the Kansai region of Japan. Nara is famous for its deer, temples and untouched Japanese culture, a perfect place if you have a day or two to spare when you’re wondering around its busy neighbours – Osaka and Kyoto. Nara is only around 20 minutes by train on the JR Nara Line or private Kintetsu Kyoto Line and roughly equally distance apart from these two cities. As soon as we arrived at Kansai Airport, we went straight to Nara so I don’t miss the Omizu Tori festival (festival of water and fire) I had planned for that night. However, Yuye’s hungry stomach made us miss the festival anyway. Lucky enough for me though, the festival lasted until the night of March 14 so we ventured back there again amongst the hundreds who also attended this sacred event. More about the festival in my next post.
Where we stayed
I only planned to stay for one night in Nara as I didn’t know I was going to miss the festival on March 12 :(. The only place I could book at the time (I assume was because of the festival and everyone staying overnight because it went till fairly late) was Guesthouse Nara Komachi. By no means was this hostel bad, it was to my surprise actually very good. You can tell it was built just recently as the whole place smelt and looked of newness. I wasn’t sure if the person who greeted us was the owner or not but he was so very nice and helpful. He carried our luggage up to the second floor (this place only has two floors I believe) and explained how to use all the electronics in the room. Every time we left the building, he would smile and bow. Ahh…the Japanese spirit… 🙂
We had a bunk bed with very comfy soft blankets and pillows and were spotlessly clean. This room really set the standard for me (for hostels anyway) during the trip. I wish I really didn’t stay overnight in Kyoto because the hostel there was SHOCKING! More about that in a later post. The only thing that I didn’t like too much was the bunk bed I suppose as I’m just not used to having to climb up and down stairs to get some sleep. They do have doubles, but those rooms were already taken.
Yuye had his first experience with a Japanese toilet here. 😀 I always find them awesome, even though I actually have one in my house :3. They are pretty much in every hotel you can find across Japan (apart from some older places) and can really make staying fun as you figure out what each button do. The shower was also spotlessly clean, cleaner than my own shower that’s for sure.
Facilities were also great as you would expect from a good hostel (although I think it’s more like a hotel than a hostel since you have your own bathroom and toilet). There was a free PC usage area, a common kitchen and DVD rentals available if you feel like staying in. Price was cheap too, 5800Yen per night booked from www.hostels.com, equivalent to around $71 at the time. The only unfortunate thing was the location, it was very close to the JR Nara Station (good for people who have the JR Pass like us) but was very far from the park where the festival was held. It literally took us about 30 minutes by foot and a lot of it was uphill. I was huffing and puffing by the end of the walk, and finally when we got there, we had to walk back with the leaving crowd. 🙁 Despite this fact, we still had a good stay here.
Guesthouse Nara Komachi
Address: 41-2 Surugamachi, Nara, Japan
Book via Hostels.com
What we ate
Dinner on the first night was a bit rushed. I had every intention to attend the festival so I told Yuye to ‘make it quick’. It didn’t happen according to plan but as we managed to get a reasonably good meal out of it, I didn’t complain too much. This traditional Japanese restaurant was near the hostel, called Echizen Sushi (越前すし). It didn’t have an English menu, nor English speaking staff so beware if you’re not very good at Japanese. At the time, we were both Japanese sushi newbies, didn’t really know what to order so we got the chef’s sushi omakase, which is basically whatever the chef felt like feeding us using that day’s special ingredients. The locals had a good laugh out of our visit since the chef kept cracking jokes and speaking in broken Engrish.
All the sushi were very fresh and tasted fantastic, a great first meal I must say. Price wise was as expected – around 5000Yen for the two of us, not too expensive for food of its kind, but not cheap compared to the 300Yen ramen you could be having around the block. If you know Japanese, visit the following site for more information about the restaurant. http://r.tabelog.com/nara/A2901/A290101/29000325/
There’s a photo of our salmon sushi which is missing from above, I took it together with the first few sushis so would have doubled up. In order, the sushis are tuna, squid, prawn, some sort of white fish (possibly snapper), some sort of fish roe I believe, sea urchin, salmon roe and chuutoro (medium tuna belly). My favourite was obviously the tuna belly, it was soooo tender and melted in my mouth. I wasn’t too fond of the funny fish roe, it was crunchy and almost rubbery. If anyone can tell me what it actually is, that would be very helpful.
There were food stalls setup inside Nara Park along the main path like any good festival would. They sold takoyaki (octopus balls), yakisoba, karaage (fried chicken) and many other foods. However, at the time we weren’t hungry so didn’t buy any snacks to nibble on. BIG mistake. The reason why these foods stalls look so empty is because the festival was just about to finish (little did we know….).
The only thing we got out of that night was a piece of bamboo which Yuye wrote a prayer on. These bamboo lined the path down from the temple and held water with candles. As we stayed until everyone had left, the volunteers on the side gave ours to us. I really wanted to take it with me back to Australia but as it was only the first day and the bamboo was actually really big and heavy (not to mention custom issues), we unfortunately had to leave it behind in the hotel. My next post will be about the actual festival (which we attended properly on March 14). The prayer Yuye wrote says “dai kichi” which means very good luck :).
We got SO hungry after the huge walks to and from the hotel to the park that we decided to raid the convenience store a few streets down (this actually became a bad habit which we did almost every night). Look at how many things we got!! Convenience stores in Japan are SO much better than the ones in Australia. It has proper food that can be heated and eaten (good too) and lots of good drinks to choose from. We made sure we tried out all the drinks we liked during the trip. 😛 My favourite is the melon milk below – a limited seasonal edition of musk melon flavoured milk. So delicious….
Breakfast the next morning was reasonably cheap compared to dinner as we decided to just have it at the popular food chain Nakau (なか卯) just opposite the JR Nara Station. Seriously, even THAT tasted good. I don’t quite understand why even cheap food like that tastes better than a lot of Japanese food back at home. 🙁
This place, like many other outlets in Japan, used a ticket machine system whereby you choose and pay for your item at a ticket machine, give your ticket to the waiter/waitress and your food is served. There is less interaction and less room for mistakes. Just make sure you press the right buttons because I don’t think you can get it refunded or have it exchanged.
Yuye’s fish set cost 390Yen (less than $5). He ate it so quick that he didn’t even let me taste :(. He said apparently the soup was very good. I don’t even know what was in it.
Yuye also ordered an onsen tamago, a half cooked egg that is traditionally cooked in hot onsen water. It’s best eaten when you break it over rice and had with the seaweed. Although this one was nice, we had the best ontama ever at Shibu Onsen (an onsen town) cooked in real onsen water. More about that in a later post.
I ordered a Kakiage Udon for 390Yen, which is basically tempura veggies on udon. The last time I was in Japan I had this for breakfast as well once and fell in love with it. You do have to eat it quickly though because the tempura batter gets soggy very fast.
Nara’s manhole – Japan has beautiful and fascinating manholes in each city, I tried to take photos of all the ones I found. How cool is it right? This manhole shows a deer and sakura flowers. The deer are obviously the most famous site to see there and will definitely bring smiles to everyone who visits. Just be prepared to be harassed a bit. 🙂
After breaky, we travelled back to Osaka and checked into the awesome Hillary Hotel right in the hustle and bustle of Den Den Town! Hooray for anime and games!! 😀
I’ll be trying to update my blog with all my Japan posts as fast as I can, but since at the moment Yuye and I are preparing for a project, it might take a little while. Till next time, happy reading.