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

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Humanity

It feels like AGES since the last photo challenge entry …… and so decided that its time for one whilst taking a break from writing my next travel blog 😛

Decided to shortlist a few photos from my past travels (mainly my 2012 and 2013 Japan trips + my recent Hong Kong trip) that fits into the theme of Humanity.

Humanity, in dictionary terms means the following:

1. all human beings collectively; the human race; humankind

2. the quality or condition of being human; human nature

3. the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence

 

December 2012: Japan Winter Trip

The quene outside mega popular Sushi Dai that has barely moved (even after we finished our meal at the next door Sushi Daiwa within an hour).

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November 2013: Japan Autumn Trip

One of my favourite shots taken at Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto. A large group of school children (probably from Tokyo) on excursion.

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August 2014: Hong Kong & Macau Summer Trip

We spotted a old lady selling egg-based pancakes at a corner shop in Senado Square (whilst on route to the St. Paul Ruins). To be able to do such a manual work, and facing the heat of the pans day in day out is a legend by itself. She gets my thumbs up!

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The original photo challenge entry here

Some Snapseed Magic

Ever since I finished up my last blogging project – which is my 12 day Japan trip last year, have not done much serious blogging, be it reflection entries, daily slice of life, picture/photo entries etc. as I was admittedly in a bad slump in June.

Really miss sitting down, recollecting my thoughts and touching up pictures (and playing around with various effects while editing them) …… so on my way to the gym yesterday afternoon while on the MRT, decided to pick out one photo to ‘play’ around with!

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This was the walk through the famous ‘Bamboo Groves’ during my visit to Arashiyama last year when I was in Kyoto.

Had found the original picture to be a little dull in colour so decided to do some editing via Snapseed. Compiled the edited pictures into collage form.

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1st did some colour & contrast adjustment, before adding on saturation (in order to bring out the green colour) & shadows …. Then added on a tilt shift in the 2nd picture for a ‘blurring’ effect …. Then added on a black-and-white filter for some contrast & difference in perspective!

Japan 2013: Day 8 Last Moments In Kyoto & Back To Tokyo Part 3

DAY 8 (CON’T)

Crazy crowds as I left Kiyomizudera and walk downslope towards my next destination – Higashiyama.

There was a slight bottleneck on the walk down. Spotted this small little cafe selling green tea cream puffs. So decided to pop in for one to get away from the crowd, and also to check out the cream puffs + fill my stomach before lunch.

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Look at the crowd of tourists standing outside the cafe 😛

Bought a green tea cream puff to try. The green tea cream is thick and fragant, and there is indeed a nice green tea flavour to the cream. Oishii!

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Apart from cream puffs, the cafe also serves coffee and a wide array of matcha based desserts. Thought that I had no time for a quick cuppa as the plan was to quickly head to Higashiyama for lunch cum walk, but after seeing the awards displayed on the counter, I really regretted not trying out the coffee/latte. Next time ……

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Spotted at a corner of the cafe this unique sweet. Got a box (4 bottles with different flavours such as green tea, earl grey) as gifts/omiyage. The feedback on the sweets (when I returned back to Singapore) was fantastic. Regretted not buying more (was mindful of carrying too much additional shopping bags onto the Shinkansen) ……

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Continued my walk down and saw an udon shop selling duck udon but being mindful of the time and my plan to walk through Higashiyama, had to give duck udon a miss. Based on directions from Japan Guide …… I would need to walk to the Sannenzaka Stairs to get to Higashiyama’s famed historic districts, but ended up missing the path to it. Plus also having decided to skip visiting Kodaiji Temple (already 1 plus, no lunch + need to go Nishiki Market and get back to First Cabin by 245pm latest) …… I ended back at the bus stop where I came from, and took a bus back to Shijo Street.

Back at Nishiki Market again. As it was a Thursday, and after lunchtime (2pm), more stalls were open and there were more people as well. This time round, saw a few other shops that I did not manage to see the day before (as they were closed). Spotted a shop selling slippers and a shop specialised in selling eel!

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Went back to the same sushi shop I saw yesterday, packed some sushi (to eat on the train/dinner/supper), got an omiyage for N, and left Nishiki. Wanted to eat have a nabe (hotpot) lunch at this restaurant right outside the market, only to be told that it is not available. After not finding anything else to eat around the area, and since I had the sushi as back-up, continued my way back to First Cabin to pick up my luggage …… but not before attempting to take a shortcut from Shijo and getting slightly lost amongst the various blocks of streets ……

Attempted to get on the City Bus (as I have gotten the day pass) but it was too crowded, so took a subway ride back to Kyoto Station. Reached Kyoto Station around 310/315pm …… and even had a bit of time to walk through the food hall at Isetan before heading to the Shinkansen platform for the ride back to Tokyo.

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Last moments at the Kyoto Station platform (with Hotel Granvia Kyoto in the background), waiting for my Shinkansen. Was glad that I emphasized ‘quality over quantity’ (mainly by cutting down on the number of attractions/temples as stated in the original Japan Guide itineraries) for the 3 days 2 nights spent in Kyoto. Given the sheer size,history and number of attractions (many temples and historical artefacts) …… it is quite impossible to cover ALL, and streamlining to the places you really want to visit (e.g. Kiyomizudera which one should not miss ever) makes a lot more sense ……

Having more time to cover 1 place in greater detail has definitely allowed me to appreciate the beautiful scenery and the traditional feel of Kyoto (makes you feel you are back in old Japan,as versus to the busy-ness and modern-ness of Tokyo). Despite having difficulty navigating the bus system and finding places for the past 2 days, just as I am getting used to it, its time to leave! Now I understand why many would rank Kyoto (and Kansai region in general) as one of their favourite cities/places to go in Japan, having experienced it myself first hand. Will be back soon 🙂

This time round, I was well awake, and so enjoyed a super duper late lunch (4-plus) or rather early dinner on the shinkansen …… and also caught up on Appa Odiga episodes on my iPad.

My appetizer – Kobe Croquette bought at Isetan Food Hall (Kyoto Station). This is one of the best croquettes I ever had, the potato was so smooth.

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Unravelling the sushi that I bought earlier at Nishiki Market. One small pack of Kyoto’s leaf sushi (mackerel) and 1 huge pack of Kyoto style sushi. The big pack cost 550 JPY only …… very value for money. Was very happy with my choice as the similar sushi at Isetan Food Hall looked much smaller (in size) and the fish seemed less fresh than the one at Nishiki Market that I bought. In either way, I realised that packing food from the food halls/market (to eat on the shinkansen ride) is always a better option than getting the train station ekibens due to more competitive pricing and superior quality.

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Despite managing to reserve a window seat, no chance to catch a shot of Mount Fuji at sunset on the ride back into Tokyo as the sky rapidly darkened close to 5pm while less than 1/2 way into the journey ……

Japan 2013: Day 8 Last Moments In Kyoto & Back To Tokyo Part 2

DAY 8 (CON’T)

Stepping into the main hall and the autumn foliage that overlooks from the verandas at the main hall.

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A view of the famed veranda. You may be able to spot a tiny speck right amongst the clear blue sky – that is Kyoto Tower in the distance!

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Close up of the buildings right below the temple / main hall itself ……

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Worshippers at the main hall ……

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Looking down the veranda on the Otowa Waterfall right at the bottom of the main hall with its 3 streams which represent success at school, longevity and a forunate love life. However one should drink from one and not be greedy to drink from all three ……

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Zoomed in onto the veranda and did not ‘see’ any nail in its construction. Indeed Kiyomizudera is the temple ‘without nails’ ……

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As versus the earlier autumn foliage I saw over the past 2 days in Kyoto, the leaves here look dried and peaked ……

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Finally some nicer autumn foliage as I walked to the end of the main hall/veranda ……

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Huge crowds indeed. In addition to being peak season (for tourists), there were many school children on excursion too (centre picture – one of my favourite shots). Also accidentally got 1 shot of 3 ladies in a kimono when I was picking up something on the floor ……

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Would have loved to write a wish on the wooden ema (like what I did back at Meiji Jingu during my last trip) but the crowd detered me from doing so …… A bit regretful now ……

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There is a small shrine right beside the main hall …… at the corner as I walked towards the veranda right across the main hall (while on the way down to the basement – Kiyomizudera is perched righ on top of a mountainous range) ……

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Jisu Shrine is also known as a ‘love’ shrine, as it is a shrine specially dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking.

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The famous ‘love stone’ – where it is said that you will be successful in finding love if you can walk across/find your way from one stone to the other (with your eyes closed). Nope, didn’t try that 😛

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There are also a few other deities that you can pray to for general good luck as well ……

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You can read more in depth about Jisu Shrine here as well ……

Left Jisu Shrine and walked back onto the veranda overlooking the main hall of Kiyomizudera. This is also the spot where you can get the postcard looking images of Kiyomizudera (similar to those you’ll see in magazines/blogs/articles) 😀 ……

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More autumn foliage …..

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It was almost 1pm when I finally reached the base of the main hall (this means I have spent a really long time taking pictures earlier at the main hall and Jisu Shrine :P) ……

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And finally to the waterfall, where I took a few sips from one stream (and prayed for blessings) ……

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The main hall looks really high up, as I wait in line for my turn at the waterfall ……

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One last look at the pond right below the main hall and Kiyomizudera itself ….

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One of my favorite set of photos. Looked out to the clear bright blue sky with the nice fluffy clouds decorating the sky as I leave Kiyomizudera. No selfie at the entrance as it was full of tourists taking their group photos ……

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Japan 2013: Day 8 Last Moments In Kyoto & Back To Tokyo Part 1

DAY 8: THURSDAY 21 NOVEMBER 2013

Have exactly 1 whole morning and 1/2 of an afternoon left in Kyoto before I head back to Tokyo on the 1556 Hrs Shinkansen Hikari 465 train (reserved beforehand at Haneda Airport).

As my luggage was dropped off at the luggage cloak of First Cabin’s reception area, had to bring the luggage back to my cabin to pack. This took some time before everything was done, and I finally checked out at 9-plus.

Went to get my day bus pass at the subway station, followed by Krisy Kreme breakfast at Shijo Subway. Finally had my 1st taste of Krispy Kreme original glazed in Japan, together with a black coffee 😛

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While I usually don’t have the habit of taking heavy breakfast, and just a donut + coffee seemed sufficient for a relatively late breakfast at 10am, it is still not that filling of a breakfast (as compared to bread/sandwich) as the donut is more sugar than substance …… and most likely will have to take an earlier lunch around 12-plus to 1 around Higashiyama area.

The main agenda for my remaining time left in Kyoto – a half-day visit to Higashiyama area covering the Kiyomizudera Temple, Higashiyama District and Kodaiji Temple …… and go back to Nishiki Market for some food shopping before picking up my luggage at First Cabin. Target to reach First Cabin by 1430 Hrs latest so that I have enough time to get to Kyoto Station.

After my breakfast, got up to the streets of Shijo to board a bus to Kiyomizudera Temple. Once again, a bright and sunny day!

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While waiting for Bus 207 (that will bring me to Kiyomizudera Temple), saw at the bus stop this interactive signboard that indicates the waiting time for the bus …… and where the bus is at right now before it reaches the bus stop proper. Interesting!

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The bus ride took around 20 min. However, there is still a further 10 to 15 min walk uphill before reaching Kiyomizudera proper. Let the walk begin ……

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Halfway mark ….. but with the massive crowd (as with peak season), the remaining uphill walk (its really steep) is going to take longer than 7 to 10 min. There were some snack shops and sounvenir shops along the uphill walk though (didn’t take much pictures of them other than 1 food shop as I was navigating through the crowds and wanted to get to the entrance as soon as possible).

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Finally reached the entrance …. Where more steps/stairs greet me 😛

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No chance for a selfie in front of the entrance as there were too many people around.

The walk upslope. Unlike the autumn foliage I saw earlier at Ginkakuji and in Arashiyama, the trees that I spotted along the route looked dried and are already starting to shed leaves. Noted that it is usually hot as well …. temperatures may well have played a factor.

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One of my favourite shots – autumn tree contrasted with the bright blue sky.

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Paid the 300 JPY entrance fee and was greeted by a sea of construction at the entrance. Read prior to the trip that a number of the temple buildings are under major renovations.

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Some information about Kiyomizudera Temple, as extracted from Japan Guide. The most striking thing I had read about this legendary temple is that the buildings are built without nails! :

Kiyomizudera (清水寺, literally “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. It was founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills east of Kyoto, and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism, but formed its own Kita Hosso sect in 1965. In 1994, the temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.

Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. The stage affords visitors a nice view of the numerous cherry and maple trees below that erupt in a sea of color in spring and fall, as well as of the city of Kyoto in the distance. The main hall, which together with the stage was built without the use of nails, houses the temple’s primary object of worship, a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon.
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Despite many of the buildings being under extensive renovation, the main hall still remains intact.

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Food Mission: Katsukura @ The Cube, Kyoto Station

Katsukura happens to be one of the restaurant chains/tonkatsu outlets that I have set out to try during this November trip to Japan. Having originated from Kyoto itself, there is no better place to have Katsukura other than in Kyoto itself!

Got the heads up about Katsukura from bento.com ….. as well as from the Paul’s Travel Pics link on Kyoto eats here. I have gathered from various online research that their main flagship branch is actually located at Sanjo Street (somewhere near to Gion based on my map). However given my struggles with locating places in Kyoto via bus/walk over the 2-3 days spent in Kyoto, decided that I would just eat at the Kyoto Station branch itstead. Since it is located at The Cube (11th floor of JR Kyoto Staiton, Isetan side) …… it was definitely a way easier task locating this branch since I was already here the day before for ramen (at level 10).

Had a chance to tick this off my to-do list while in Japan on Day 7 …… after having to make an unsceduled trip back to the Yodobashi store at Kyoto Station vicinity to get a new SD card. A late dinner at around 9-plus in the evening.

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The menu (in English) ……

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Apart from the usual tonkatsu sets, Katsukura also serves a unique Yuba rolled seasonal vegetable cutlet together with the pork fillet. However, did not opt for that. Stuck to a simple tonkatsu set instead. I chose the tenderloin cutlet (which has a bit more fat) and it costed me 1100 JPY only.

If you look at the menu, prices are really reasonable at Katsukura (seems cheaper than Maisen as well) …… And it is highly unlikely that you will end up bursting your wallet even for a bigger portion/better cut of pork 😛

An integral part of a tonkatsu meal apart from the pork fillet itself is the sauces. Unlike most tonkatsu chains/restaurants where the sauces come pre-prepared (you choose either the spicy or sweet one) …. Katsukura sets itself apart with a detailed way of mixing your own sauce to your preference.

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Had no idea how to go on about mixing my own sauce (while I look at the diners around me mixing their own). Luckily the restaurant had a set of English instructions which came in handy! There was a original sauce, as well as a spicy sauce which you can mix together (proportion will depend spiciness level you want) …… but before mixing the sauces together, you will need to grind the sesame seeds in the separate bowl 1st. So this is the ‘final product’ ……

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Also, there is a separate salad dressing (small brown pot) + japanese prickles (white pot) that you can mix together to eat with the cabbage accompainment. Am really impressed with this small bit of attention to detail even before the meal proper comes!

The pork proper finally came after 10 mins of waiting. Was really famished by then.

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The tenderloin cutlet was crispy and well-fried without an ounce of oil (i.e. not oily at all) …… while still retaining the fresh-ness of the pork. Good quality fried food should always be like this (rather than being re-fried again in order to mask the stale-ness of the food). This is definitely one fried meal that you can have huge portions of without feeling sinful 😛 …… However I only ordered the smallest 80g portion as I did not want to overeat given that it was a late dinner (after 9pm).

Another unique part of the meal would be the rice used. Katsukura actually uses barley rice (and not the usual Japanese white rice that has a stickier texture). The barley rice actually feels lighter, and you can have mutiple servings of it without feeling overly full, ha!

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Despite being able to have refills of the rice and cabbage, I did not do so as the portions were just exactly nice for a late dinner. What truly differentiates Katsukura from the various Tonkatsu that I have tasted in Japan (Maisen, Katsuretsu An) is the attention to detail – starting from the sauce mixing process, to the barley rice and salad dressing used. Of course for a good tonkatsu meal, the pork quality is of utmost importance as well.

This is definitely one of the best dinners that I had in my trip. And Katsukura gets my vote as one of the best tonkatsu restaurants in Japan as well! In my personal opinion, the dining experience and quality of food even outranks Maisen (which I had back in 2012). Check out my tripadvisor review here.