Weekly Photo Challenge: Chaos

1st Photo Challenge in a long long while.

Finally managed to find some photos that fit into this week’s theme – Chaos.

As documented on this blog, around this time last year (1st half of November 2015), I had my 11 day vacation to Japan. Had intended to do a summary/round-up of day trip to Karuizawa (from Tokyo) but it came to nil as I’m blogging a lot lesser these days.  And so, this will serve in part as part walk down memory lane / reminiscence of my trip last year 🙂

This was on the early part of our walk/hike around the Kyu-Karuizawa Area.

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Withered trees and a-almost deserted road ……

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Deserted houses covered up by overgrown trees/autumn leaves ……

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Another ‘deserted’ house we came across later along the hike to the pond.

I would term this as peace amongst chaos. While the walking/hiking trail looked messy due to the overgrown trees …… however it felt very peaceful walking through while enjoying the crisp clean air (as Karuizawa is a mountain resort in Nagano Prefecture).

The original challenge entry here

Japan 2015: Takayama Highlights Part 3

Sanmachi – the old streets that is preserved and the iconic district for sight-seeing in Takayama as well.

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Sanmachi is also nick-named ‘Little Kyoto‘ as it gives off the vibe of a quaint historic district, with the nicely preserved wooden machiyas (townhouses) with various shops selling various stuff (there’s one shop as above that sells various types of sake).

I personally like the ‘small-village’ feel of the place which is a nice slowdown in pace and not as commercialized as Kyoto is …… although that may change in the future once the main JR Takayama station completes its re-development in year 2017 with a brand new station and a shopping mall right beside it (which will result in more tourist inflows).

Walked down the entire stretch before proceeding to the our next destination – Miyagawa Morning Market.

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Unlike Jinya-mae which we went earlier, Miyagawa Morning Market consists of a longer stretch of makeshift stalls set up right alongside the Miyagawa River. There’s more variety of stuff too ….. from food items to small trinklets to fresh produce etc.

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Various types of goods on sale ……

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There’s also a cafe building on the other side of the market.

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More stalls selling various types of items. The apples looked so fresh and crunchy that we wanted to get some to eat …. but decided not to due to the lack of a fridge.

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Some of the more interesting cooked food stalls – one selling tomato-based fried chicken, another organic herb tea stall and another one selling award-winning hot pudding.

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Got a bottle of pudding to try. The pudding is actually a ‘hot’ pudding that is freshly made and then soaked in hot water. By the time I consumed it post lunch back at the hotel lobby, it was more warm than hot. The pudding is actually softer (and sweeter), with a more tofu-like texture when consumed hot/warm.

The surrounding Miyagawa River. Clear day and specks of autumn foliage.

After our tour of Miyagawa Market, we slowly walked back to Sanmachi for an early lunch at Sakaguchiya (separate review as linked). Whilst checking my phone during lunch, saw on Facebook that there’s actually this one thousand year old ginko tree right in Takayama, at the compound of Hida Kokubun-ji Temple just 5 min away from our hotel. And so we walked there to take a look right before heading for our half-day tour to Shirakawa-go next!

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Japan 2015: Takayama Highlights Part 2

More sights of Takayama! Got up early the next morning and the plan for the greater half of the day was to head to Takayama Old Town and the Morning Markets for a walk + Lunch before our 1/2 day tour to Shirakawago in the afternoon.

(Note: Shirakawago was the main reason why we set up base in Takayama)

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The Old Town area was a good 10 to 15 min walk from our hotel. As Takayama lies within the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture, it is also a lot colder than in Yokohama (about 13 to 15 degrees in the daytime …… then drops to 10 degrees at nightime). But still, i it was a bright and sunny day. Also got to see some modern western/french restaurants along the walk (despite Takayama being more of a small quiet town) …… with the streets adorned with colourful autumn trees.

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Unlike in Kansai, Tokyo/Kanto (where I experienced the autumn foliage back in 2013) …… autumn in Takayama/Gifu Prefecture comes a lot earlier in September/October, so the colours are not as nice as it should be given that it is tail end of autumn season in Takayama / Gifu.

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Towards our 1st ‘targeted’ destination – the Jinya-mae Morning Market.

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The plan also was to grab breakfast along the way. Chanced upon this stall and got a Hida Beef bun to start off the day! The shop also sells Hida Beef sushi – which I regret not trying as I write now ……

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The shop next door that sells various types of Hoba miso.

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Came across another stall selling grilled mochi …… and we got that to try as well!

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After our food-stop, continued to make our way towards the Jinya-mae morning market. More sights along the way ……

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The Jinya-Mae Morning Market. This market sells mainly vegetables, fruits and various side dishes and spices. The apples and grapes looked so fresh that we would have loved to buy some to enjoy …… but we did not do as there’s no fridge to store them (due to having to change the room on the day itself).

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This is the Takayama Jinya – a historical government house that was officially use from 1692 till 1969. Only took pictures from outside (and not pay the 420 JPY admission fee to go in).

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Heading to the Old Private Houses (Sanmachi) next. More autumn foliage along our walk ……

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art – Japan Edition

Taking a break from my travel entries to do another weekly photo challenge entry. Time for some cover worthy pictures!

Was browsing through Japan Guide website yesterday and came across this Kyoto feature. Realised that I had a similar shot of Tenryuji Temple taken during my trip last year – taken from outside the temple where the room acts as a sort of ‘frame’ for the Koyo/Autumn Leaves. After some post-editing using Snapseed to submit this picture for a photo contest a couple month back, the colours looked pretty similar post-editing to the one highlighted in Japan Guide. Also mine was taken on 20th November 2013 …… just a few days apart. Nice co-incidence 🙂

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Another one of my favourite shots, also taken in Kyoto …… when I was leaving Kiyomizudera. Unlike the 1st picture, no filter for this.

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And also my favourite ‘egg-yolk’ sunset shot taken on top of the Tempozan Ferris Wheel in Osaka. Similarly, no filter. Used this as the cover photo for my personal facebook as well 🙂

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And one more …… this time from my 2012 Winter trip. One of my favourites as well of the Tokyo Metropolitian Government Building. Took this as we took the short walk from our hotel (Shinjuku Washington) to the observatory located in this building. The juxtaposition of the winter trees shorn of its leaves contrasted against the building was just perfect ……

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The original photo challenge entry here

Japan 2013: Day 11 Roaming Around Tokyo Part 4

DAY 11 (CON’T)

The main purpose of my visit to Rikugien is for the evening illumination. Rikugien is one of Tokyo’s best known and most popular autumn spots, thus penciled in as a ‘must-visit’ destination during the last lap of my trip in Tokyo. In addition, I will be in time for its famed evening illumination as well given that the autumn peak in Tokyo is towards late November to early December.

As highlighted in Japan Guide, there were many other popular autumn leaves/koyo viewing spots such as Koshikawa Korakuen, Icho Namiki (Gingko Avenue) and Shinjuku Gyoen …… but realistically, only had time for 1 autumn spot after slotting in the various day trips and other activities in Tokyo. On hindsight, with better planning and time management, I could have probably squeezed in another spot for a more complete autumn leaves/koyo viewing experience in Tokyo.

Back to Rikugien, it was very crowded given it was a Sunday. It was a very big garden though …… but unlike the evening illumination that I had enjoyed back in Eikando (in Kyoto), this one was too dimly lit. Not enough spotlights along the walking trail. If not for the massive crowd, it would have been pretty easy to get lost in the crowd :S

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It was so dark that I couldn’t really spot the Togetsukyo Bridge ….. but the trees surrounding the stream were pretty nice.

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Further up was the Tsutsuji no Chaya teahouse where one can stop by and enjoy some Japanese tea. But given the crowds, the dimly lit paths, lack of directions and my own impatience (the target was to get back to Shinjuku/Shibuya for shopping before 8pm where all the shops close) …… decided to end off my tour around Rikugien after just 20 min. Probably the evening illumination was not just as good / up to my expectation as the autumn leaves were probably just coming into peak, and the spotlights were not able to bring out their colour and character. In this case, a daytime view would have been much better, well ……

So left via the exit I came from (Main Gate) and walked back the route I came from to Komagome Station. Passed by the Someimon Gate (of the garden) where there were huge quenes. This was the gate/entrance that was so much nearer to the train station! And after looking at Rikugien’s map …… also much nearer to the key autumn viewing spots in Rikugien. Oh well ……

Boarded the JR Yamanote line and decided to head next to the Tokyu Hands @ Takashimaya Times Square in Shinjuku. The next best alternative given all the crazy protesting going on back in Shibuya 😛 …… Got to Tokyu Hands a little over 7, to be greeted by this ……

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If I knew there were extended opening hours for Sunday, I would not have been so ‘stressed’ and rushed through Rikugien. Nevermind. Had a good time doing a proper walkthrough across this 5 storey outlet (not as big as the one in Shibuya) and got the stuff I wanted – gift exchange present + a box to store the Fancl collagen and Fujiya cookies (bad oversight not to have asked for/topped up for a box when I bought them). Then more walking at Takashimaya itself …… where I spotted an Uniqlo outlet and finally got a sweater and a Kobe Waffle snack at the basement food hall (while deciding what to have for dinner this time round) ……

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Went up to the dining level at 11F, saw that there was a Katsukura outlet but decided that I wanted to have Maisen still (after not having it last night :P) so it was a toss up being the Omotesando/Aoyama outlet (found out from the counter at Takashimaya B1 that this outlet opens till 10pm) or the more convenient Tokyo Station Gran Roof outlet. Did had the thought of going to Omotesando to see the evening light-up while on route to Maisen but having to walk through the crowded Harajuku + another 10 min walk down Omotesando Hills just to get to Maisen (which is what me & HX did in our year 2012 trip) is such a damper. There’s the option of a short METRO subway ride from Harajuku (Meiji Jingu Station) that will bring me to the edge of Omeotesando Hills (via Omeotesando Station) ….. but since the Omotesando Koffee joint that I really wanted to check out during this trip is already closed (they close at 7pm), decided that there is not much point going to Ometesando just to eat at Maisen. And so dropped the plan! Another add on to my ‘to-do’ list for future return trips 😛

And so, took the JR Chuo Line (express) back to Tokyo Station. Managed to locate Maisen this time on 11F of Tokyo Station Gran Roof and finally got to have my dinner a little over 9. Had quite a bit of yen leftover, and since I’m unlikely to do any more shopping, decided to splurge a little on this meal. Anyway I did note that the prices here were higher than that of the Omotesando outlet …… that’s what you pay for convenience I suppose 😛

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Rather than ordering a pure tonkatsu set, decided on a hybrid bento set where there is also a fried ebi, a small iberico pork (cooked) and tofu/vegetables on the side. Felt that this wasn’t as good as the tonkatsu that I had previously at Maisen Omotesando. Probably that + my meal at Katsukura had set a higher benchmark where tonkatsu is concerned 😛

Japan 2013: Day 10 Fuji Five Lakes & Exploring Shinjuku Part 2

DAY 10 (CON’T)

More walking to be done from the end of the maple corridor …… and UPSLOPE to get to Tensui. The walk is definitely NOT 5-10 min as stated in the brochures/online guides. According to my caculation, it was probably closer to 15 min.

More maple leaves along the uphill walk, this time round taken using my iPad as my phone battery is almost close to flat (of all days!) ……

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Reached Tensui Kawaguchiko after a long 15 to 20 min walk.

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No photos beyond the building itself as I was busy figuring out where to go …… and had to run back and forth the reception counter as I realised that I needed to top up another 200 to 300 JPY for rental towels (since I didn’t bring along any). So the 100 JPY discount from the coupon that I obtained from the tourist office went towards the towel rental 😛 (Note: Original entry fee is 1000 JPY, after discount from coupon is 900 JPY). Intention was to have an onsen (since I did not go to any onsen town so far in the trip) …… but found the water to be not hot enough for the therapeutic soak that my aching body badly needed (after the many days of travelling). Furthermore, hardly any view to speak of despite having an ‘outdoor’ pool. My experience in Hakone was way superior ……

Showered and changed and left around 1.35pm after roughly 20 min in the bath (no point staying any longer since there was no beautiful view to admire to). And it was another 15 to 20 min back out to the main road (where I came from) …… and passing by the mapple corridor on the way. One distinct characteristic of the koyo/autumn leaves versus the earlier part of the trip in Kyoto was that while the koyo was coming nicely into colourful bloom, in contrast over here at Kawaguchiko, it was still nice but you start to see lots of maple leaves shedding and fallen to the ground.

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Reached the main road and according to the bus schedule, the next bus back towards the ropeway will arrive at 1412 Hrs. Thus I have 10 min or so to quickly explore the fair that was going on right opposite the road. Lots of goodies/snacks at the fair, would loved to have bought something to try/fill my stomach but did not do so due to time constraint (which will turn out to be a not-so-good decision later on).

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Walked closer to the shore of the lake. Could only take quick shots at the lake due to the time constraint and as a result, the pictures turned out somewhat dark (think the sun was shining at the other direction), so had to do some editing on Snapsneed.

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And so, went back to wait for the bus. 1412 Hrs came and gone, and we only managed to board the bus at 1430 Hrs (believe the bus got caught in a traffic jam somewhere due to the massive number of cars/vehicles on the road). 6 bus stops to the ropeway station stop – which took the bus 1/2 hour just to get there …… once again thanks to the traffic. This delay also meant that the subsequent scheduled buses behind it also went off-schedule.

And so, reached the ropeway bus stop at 3pm – which makes 1 hour of travel ‘short-distance’. Given the horrendous traffic conditions on Lake Kawaguchiko’s roads (realised that it was not such a good idea to come on a public holiday after all), and the bus being way off schedule (versus the originally stated arrival times of 1506 Hrs and 1521 Hrs) …… decided that I have to give up going on the ropeway and just be content at doing omiyage shopping at the Fujiyama Cookie outlet right beside the bus stop!

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Spotted an udon restaurant a few metres and wanted so much to check out the Yoshida Udon. Unlike any other udon, Yoshida Udon is unique to Mount Fuji as it is made from the pure spring water of Mount Fuji. This gives the udon a firm and thick texture (while still being chewy). Source: http://www.yamanashi-kankou.jp/foreign/english/eat/001.html …… However the erratic bus schedule meant that it would be best for me to stay put, and probably a better idea to get lunch back at Kawaguchiko Station. Really, in this case, if I had known the bus would be so ridiculously off schedule, I should have just bought snacks to munch (as versus to having to bear with a growling stomach and my temper which is gradually starting to flare due to the horrendous traffic situation)……

In the end, got onto the bus that came at 330pm and it was another slow crawl back to Kawguchiko Station. A group of Taiwanese tourists on the bus also remarked that its a safer option to wait out at Kawaguchiko rather than side-track to other destinations along the way, so as not to risk missing their highway bus (another alternative to train) that will bring them back to Shinjuku from Kawaguchiko, given the terrible traffic conditions.

Finally back at Kawaguchiko Station.

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Note: Edited the image via Snapseed as the original on my iPad looked overly orange-y

Walked around the station and even crossed the road (from the bus terminals), only NOT to find any udon shop, arghh. So decided to simply get my uber late lunch (plus a coffee) at the cafe inside the train station itself. Not very sure if this was the Yoshida Udon that I wanted to eat (although the server at the counter nodded her headit was when I asked in English). Anyway it was good as I was really really hungry ….. and strangely despite it being in kimchi broth, the broth matched well with the udon which is springy and chewy, while not losing the firm-ness and thickness. It also had a light and refreshing taste as compared to normal udon, which I am inclined to think it was due to the spring water used, heh!

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Note: Photo edited using Snapseed as well as the original had a funny orange tone as well.

Japan 2013: Day 10 Fuji Five Lakes & Exploring Shinjuku Part 1

DAY 10: SATURDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2013

No more sleeping in as the plan today is to head to Fuji Five Lakes, specifically Lake Kawaguchiko …… and it is a good 2 hours of travelling time via train.

Found out from prior online research (reference: http://www.jprail.com) and from the JR office staff (Tokyo Station) there were 2 Limited Express Azusa trains running from Shinjuku to Otsuki – one at 0730Hrs and the other at 0830 Hrs. I forsee that it would be challenging for me to be at Shinjuku by 0730 Hrs so opted for the 0830 Hrs train instead.

Thus the plan was to be up by 0700 Hrs latest and to leave hotel by 0745 Hrs so that I have enough time to pack breakfast to eat on the train (more practical than a sit down breakfast) …… and also travel to Shinjuku (8 stops via JR Yamanote Line). All train journeys (including the next stretch from Otsuki to Kawaguchiko via Fujikyu Railway) all covered by the JR Kanto Pass 🙂

On schedule as I left my room around 0725 Hrs. Decided to grab 1/2 cup of coffee + a bread from the complimentary breakfast area at the lobby, as well as get some precious wifi time (since there’s no wifi in room). True enough as per Tripadvisor review, the coffee sucks! Thus I decided that I would get a Doutor breakfast set at Shinjuku …… provided that I can manage to locate the outlet there 🙂

Reached Shinjuku at around 0815 to 0820 Hrs and saw a Doutor right at the gate. While waiting for my order, I reached into my bag for my camera to snap some pictures …… But as I tried to power on my camera, it couldn’t power up. Turns out that in my haste to be on schedule, I had left my fully charged battery in the charger and forgot to put it back to my camera. Oh snap!

What a huge bummer considering that I was so looking forward to be snapping away at Fuji Five Lakes …… And was also planning to head to Rikugien (direct train from Shinjuku) for the evening illumination after Fuji Five Lakes. So this meant that I had to do a last minute tweak of plans and reschedule Rikugien for Sunday instead! To further add on, the server at Doutor misunderstood my order, instead of the sandwich set that I had requested for, I ended up with just a ham sandwich only. Well at least proper breakfast ……

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The journey from Shinjuku to Otsuki on the Limited Express Azusa took 1 hour 8 mins. Then another wait at Otsuki (terminus of the Fujikyuko Line) where it is another 1 hour journey to Kawaguchiko. JR Kanto Pass is the only pass that covers the fares on the Fujikyu Railway – thus the main reason why I bought this pass to cover this day trip, as well as for other day trips (Kamakura and Yokohama the day before) …… and for other travels on JR trains within Tokyo. Had to wait a good 20 to 25 min for the 0959 Hrs train. Given that so few trains run along this line, it occured to me that I really should have done more prior research for this portion of day trip ……

As snapped on the train, a random picture of a boy seating in front of me in this Weekly Photo Challenge ……

Shortly after which, Mount Fuji within sight!

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Reached Kawaguchiko Station close to 11am (the journey took 2.5 hours overall, including waiting time in between changing train lines). Took note of the poster at the train station itself and realized that I would have to take the 1656 Hrs express train out of Kawaguchiko Station back to Otsuki …… in order to catch my pre-reserved Limited Express Kaiji 120 train that will bring me back to Shinjuku!

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So this only leaves me a good 5 hours to carry out a long list of to-dos in Lake Kawaguchiko itself – onsen, ropeway, lunch, photo-taking (along the lake and maple corridors surrounding the lake area), omiyage shopping (thought of getting the Mount Fuji cookies). The ususal information gathering at the tourist centre and locating of the bus ticket counter (to get a day pass for the Retro Bus) took me a good 1/2 hour or so as well as the lack of clear signage meant that I ran round and forth just getting these 2 things done. Sigh! As a result, I ended up taking the 1140 Hrs bus to my next intended destination – Tensui (daytime onsen). Thinking about it now, I should have gotten something to eat/munch, but I didn’t as I thought it would be a better idea to do the onsen first, then eat lunch!

Got off 19 stops later at the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum bus stop – as the journey took around 25 to 30 min. Pretty heavy traffic due to the narrow roads + the fact it was a weekend cum Labor Thanksgiving Public Holiday (which meant lots of day trippers + locals coming here for an weekend getaway).

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A clear view of Mount Fuji from the direction facing the lake.

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Despite the signboard stating that Tensui is within the area, turns out that the museum itself was closed. Ended up crossing the road and walking upwards before finally seeing signboards indicating that Tensui is further up. Came across a designated Maple Corridor (i.e. also known as Momiji Corridor) …… and decided to walk through it and hopefully Tensui will be next in sight!

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At least I managed to snap some nice autumn leaves using my phone camera. As the temperatures here were cooler (ranging from 10 to 12 degrees), the koyo/autumn leaves were of a nice colour and bloom!