House made soba on a rainy day in Kyoto at SOBANOMI YOSHIMURA 🇯🇵

It was the 29th of October and it was my birthday. To celebrate I wanted to go sightseeing in Kyoto wearing a kimono, so first order of the day was to go to Yumeyukata to rent one.

It was lunch time by the time Jan and I finished getting dressed up and we were hungry. Jan said he thought he saw a Yoshinoya chain store just down the road on our way to the rental shop so we were going to head there next.

Unfortunately, it was pouring with rain by the time we got out of Yumeyukata. We ended up finding shelter at the very first food place we came across while walking and it was this — SOBANOMI YOSHIMURA.

The inside of the restaurant had a traditional yet elegant feel to it and the thought that we might have gone somewhere that’ll blow our budget did cross my mind… my worries would be put to rest later on.

The staff greeted us warmly and brought us to the second floor to be seated.

I’ve just recently read that there can be a wait time of up to 15 minutes to eat here, but maybe because it was raining that day there weren’t as many customers so we were accommodated straight away despite us not having a reservation.

I ordered the shrimp soba (Y1,204) and Jan ordered the tempura rice bowl (Y1,343). Although not exactly cheap, we found the price to be okay. Converted to New Zealand Dollars, it’s about 16-18 NZD per meal. Considering that we normally spend at least 20 NZD (mostly even more) when eating out in Wellington, this wasn’t really bad in comparison.

20180916_170209.jpg

The soba noodles are made from scratch — On the first floor of the restaurant, you can see them being made by the soba chefs through a clear glass window. The whole process is pretty interesting to watch.

I made the mistake of ordering cold soba noodles instead of having something warm — not exactly the best choice on a rainy autumn day, but the whole dish was pretty tasty so nothing to complain about really. Still, I think I would enjoy this even more on a hot and sunny summer day. As for Jan, he was well pleased with his order.

20171029_120445.jpg

BeautyPlus_20171116191710_save.jpg

The quintissential old-Japan look of the place was also something we delighted in. Dining here felt like being transported back in time… and with us dressed the way we were, it just made the whole experience more enjoyable and memorable.

To Summarize:

  • Did we like the food? ✔
  • Was the overall ambience of the place good? ✔
  • Was the price worth it for the food that we had? ✔
  • Were the staff friendly? ✔
  • Did we have a good time? ✔
  • English speaking staff and english menu available? ✔
  • Will we recommend this place to other people? ✔
  • Are we eating here again? Most definitely 👍

Beginners guide To: Exploring Akihabara. 

Everytime Jan and I talked about going to Japan (from years ago when it was just a distant goal up to a few days before our actual trip) one thing remained constant… we were going to visit Akihabara.

Akihabara is a district in Central Tokyo once famous for its many electronic shops. In more recent years, it has become the center of Japan’s otaku culture with many shops and establishments now devoted to selling anime and manga goods as well as game related stuff such as Final Fantasy and Granblue items. Jan’s an avid gamer and we both love anime and read manga translated into English online, it’s a no-brainer why Akihabara was a must visit for both of us.

The things included here are mainly from our own experience of spending a day in the area — from our own wanderings and from the short guided tour we had booked where we had our own personal “maid” bringing us to some of the important parts within the district.

*A photo of us with our maid tour guide Lisa.

1.Yodobashi

A huge 9-floor electronics store building. They have cameras, camera accessories, cell phones, PCs, and much more — including heated toilet seats! They also have non-electronic stuff like toy model figures, games, bag and clothes. The good thing about the store is that it has a huge array of available options to choose from, however, it is to be noted that stuff here is not necessarily cheaper so it’s best to take note of the price of the item you want in your home country and then compare it to the price on offer when you get to the store. For those that don’t have any plan to shop, it’s still a worthwhile place to quickly check out while you’re in Akihabara.
This Yodobashi Floor Guide will give you more detailed information on what you can expect to see on each floor of the building.

2. Radio Kaikan

This is a commercial building that used to have lots of electronic shops selling radio components and parts. Now with the Otaku culture becoming more established in Akihabara, more and more stores selling otaku goods have set up shop here.

P1010904

P1010908

These display cases on the 2nd-floor show pre-loved figures on sale. The owners of said figures rent the display cases and put them here for other people to buy.

Another interesting thing to check out is the Volks Doll Point Shop located on the 8th-floor of Radio Kaikan. This shop sells highly customizable dolls (and by that I mean you can customise every single body part of your doll such as their face, eyes, hands, arms.. etc) which is quickly gaining popularity as a hobby for Japanese adults.

It’s not a cheap hobby/collection either with some of the dolls costing up to thousands of yen especially if they have been patterned after very famous anime or fictional characters such as Saber from the anime Fate Stay Night or Hatsune Miku (not in photos).

P1010909

 

3. Kotobukiya

Another popular building in Akihabara selling an array of anime, manga, and game-related otaku goods is Kotobukiya. It’s also a Tokyo Otaku Mode certified shop which means that it has been recognized for selling high quality, official otaku goods.

4. Space Potato

It feels like stepping back into the past when you’re inside this retro video game store full of old-school game consoles and games, and they even have a vintage game arcade that has a snack bar for those wanting to play all day. Haha!

5. @home Maid Cafe
Maid Cafes are very popular in Japan, particularly in Akihabara where the very first maid cafe was established. In maid cafes, waitresses dress up as “maids” and treat customers as “masters”. @home cafe is one of the biggest maid cafes in Akihabara.

6. Gachapon Kaikan

Gachapon Kaikan is one of the biggest gachapon shops in Akihabara with around 500 gachapon machines inside the store.

Gachapons are coin-operated toy dispensers or vending machines. Each machine will have a specific category (ex. keychains of anime characters) but you won’t be able to choose a particular item inside the machine, instead the machine gives you one at random after you load the coin in. More information on gachapons can be found here.

7. Pablo Mini

There’s a Pablo stall in Akihabara that sells mini Pablo cheese tarts. Sooo cute! Sooo good!

8. Mandarake
This 8-floor building is packed full of anime, manga and game-related goods. Any self-proclaimed otaku would not want to miss going into this building. This link here gives detailed information on what you can find on each floor of the building.

* They even have a Belle Nendroid for sale!

* A whole lot of manga for sale! Desperately wished I knew how to read Kanji. 

9. Animate

Animate is Japan’s largest retail chain for anime goods with over 120 stores domestically as well as 4 international branches. The 7-floor Animate shopping center we went to in Akihabara was one dedicated entirely to female anime/manga fans (to Jan’s utter disappointment and my delight) Haha! For female otakus out there, this place is a must visit. Haha!

*Prince of Tennis anime OSTs availabe in the store. Wanted to buy them all. Used to be a huge fan of this anime. Haha.

10. Final Fantasy Eorzea Cafe

One of the many themed cafes in Akihabara… this place is amazing! The interior of the restaurant is well decorated and the food and drinks are themed after the Final Fantasy game as well. Also, they don’t just look good… they taste really good too! Bookings are recommended which can be done online at the Voyagin website here here.

 There are lots of other things to do and places to visit in Akiba (shorter nickname for Akihabara). Unfortunately, we just did not have enough time to explore them all. Maybe next time we’ll get a chance to check them out… if we get to go back 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japan 2017 Diary: Picking up our pocket wifi at Narita airport. 

October 24, 2017 04:30 PM

Landed at Narita Airport. Jan and I were feeling a bit drained from the 12-hour flight from Auckland, but we were also pretty excited. “We’re here!” I said with a big grin on my face. For years we’ve always wanted to visit Japan, so we were pretty psyched to finally be there.

We went through the usual process of getting our bags and going through Immigration and Customs then set out to find the JR East office in Terminal 1. The two ladies at the Information desk were pretty helpful in telling us where to go. A lot of people say traveling in Japan can be a bit daunting due to the language barrier, and although in most part that is true, it wasn’t really the case at the airport as almost all of the people we talked to spoke really good English.

JR East office was in Basement 1, down a set of escalators (left side if you’re facing the information desk right outside arrivals) and within the same area as the subway getting out of Narita. There’s also a foreign exchange office right beside it, which is handy for those needing to quickly convert their foreign currency cash to Yen.

We went inside the office to exchange our JR vouchers (ordered online and sent out to our home address by mail) for the actual passes we were going to use while traveling around Japan. One of the staff greeted us at the door and asked as regarding when we wanted to start it (Yes, you can choose what dates you can start using it. No, you cannot choose separate dates to use it on and off).

Jan and I had a 14-day pass but we were going to be in the country for 15 days and we haven’t really thought about whether we were going to start it on the day of our arrival or the day after that, and so for a few minutes we just stood there arguing on when we were going to start using it. Thankfully the staff was pretty patient with us. Hehe.

Once we sorted that part out, we filled out a form and went to the counter where another staff member gave us our passes and additional information about using it. We were also given our reserved seat tickets for the JR Narita express train bound for Tokyo central station and some advice on how we were going to get to our hotel from there.

All was well and good, however, there’s always that part of the trip where you run into unexpected bumps no matter how prepared you think you are. The next few minutes was one of those times. After sorting out our JR passes, we inquired about the pocket wifi we rented online together with it. That’s when we were told that they were not the ones providing it to us.

The lady explained that we booked both the passes and the pocket wifi through a third party (JR Experience website) and so they should have also e-mailed us instructions with regards to where we were going to get the pocket wifi. I did not receive said e-mail and just wrongly assumed that we were getting it at the JR office as well.

I vaguely remember having read about picking it up somewhere in Narita terminal 1 while I was filling out the rental form online, but that was all I could remember. Tried to look it up at the Japan Experience website again (thank you Vodafone and your 5$ a day roaming option!) but could not find the information on where to get it from the pocket wifi link. All it did was take me to the rental application form. Tried to google it as well but it didn’t give me any straightforward answers.

We were stumped and getting a bit anxious. We had no idea where to get the pocket wifi and the clock was ticking — it was 05:50 pm and the Narita express train was leaving at 06:10pm… we had about 20 minutes to figure it out. Retried browsing through Google again. By this time, Jan just went ahead to the money changer office so that we were not wasting any time. Finally, after a couple of dead ends, I was able to find a link in one of the forum websites that took me to the page providing information on where to get it. Yeeeeeeees!

It was to be picked up at the post office within terminal 1 which was located on the 4th floor. So I quickly asked for directions on how to get there and made a run for it — up the escalator beside the money changer office then up the elevator located diagonally right which took me straight up to the 4th floor. After stepping out, I went right, then up a short set of stairs… the post office was just a little after that.

I then told the man in charge I was there to pick up a pocket wifi parcel. He asked me for my passport as a means of identification. I showed it to him and he handed me my package with a big smile. I felt relief washing over me and gave him a big smile right back.

I then hurriedly made my way back down to the JR East office where Jan was waiting outside.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

 

 

Europe 2017 Travel Diary: Arc de Triomphe, Paris France

After spending some time admiring the Eiffel Tower, we then moved on to see another famous structure in Paris — the Arc de Triomphe.

The triumphal arch is in honor of those who fought for France, in particular, those who fought during the Napoleonic Wars. Engraved on the inside and at the top of the arch are all of the names of the generals and wars fought. There are inscriptions in the ground underneath the vault of the arch which include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I where the Memorial Flame burns and have made the Arc de Triomphe Parisa revered patriotic site. -arcdetriompheparis.com

It was a 30-minute walk from the tower to the arch and we needed a little break from all the walking we had done since the morning, so we opted to ride an Uber instead — the fare wasn’t too bad and it was a very convenient way to get to where we wanted.

We got dropped off by the driver right at the side of the arch, but for those walking to the monument it is said that there is an underground tunnel on the Avenue de la Grande Armee side of the roundabout/circle (where the monument stands central). This tunnel can be accessed from the Wagram exit of the Metro.

There was a short barricade surrounding the monument and a queue of people waiting to get inside. The fee to get in is 8€ for adults, 5€ for students and free admission for kids and teens below 17.

Like the Eiffel Tower earlier, we opted not to line up and were content to remain on the outside of the barrier. Then, after spending a bit of time gazing at the arch and taking some photos, we decided to leave and head off to Champs Élysées — Paris’ famous avenue lined with restaurants, shops and bars which was just across to where we were.

I cannot remember how we managed to cross the busy roundabout/circle… but somehow we did! When we got to the other side, we took some more photos of the arch at a distance and while doing so we observed that there were people who were standing (and taking photos) in the median strip of one of the pedestrian crossings of the avenue which was in front of the arch.

We decided to try it out as well to see if we could get some decent photos with the arch as our background. It was a bit scary at first standing in the middle of the street with cars going past to our left and right! But there were other people with us and the cars kept a bit of a safe distance so we were able to get our photos without any untoward accident and crossed back to Champs Élysées all in one piece!

Europe 2017 Travel Diary: Louvre Pyramid, Paris

As we were (unfortunately) only in Paris for a day… we really did not have time to explore the Louvre Museum. Known as Europe’s largest museum, it contains thousands of works from all over the world and would take days to fully explore.

“In fact, there’s so much to see that it would take at least 3 days to experience all that the Louvre has to offer.” uk.france.fr

We did, however, still pass by the main courtyard to get a glimpse of the Louvre Pyramid — the large glass and metal structure which now serves as the entrance into the main Louvre buildings.

A number of controversies previously surrounded the building of the Louvre Pyramid. There were many who were unhappy that Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei, was tasked with the project by then President Francois Mitterand without a competition being held first. There were also those who criticized that its modern style did not fit in with the classic French Renaissance style and history of the Louvre.

Fast forward to the present time… the initial contention it received from the general public has now somewhat subsided and it is now considered as one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and a Paris landmark in its own right.

Europe 2017 Travel Diary: Notre-Dame de Paris

The setting for Victor Hugo’s novel: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which was made into a Disney animated film in 1996 with the same title.

I grew up watching the Disney film. I had a soft spot for poor Quasimodo… hated the evil Frollo… and loved Esmeralda’s kind and caring nature. 
Having watched the movie (many times) when I was a kid, I could not pass up the chance to see the famed cathedral in person.

Unfortunately, we did not have the time to see and explore the inside of the cathedral. The line going in was pretty long and we were only in Paris for a day. Nevertheless, I was still quite happy to have been able to at least admire it from outside.

Hoping one day I will be able to come back…❤ 

Europe 2017 Travel Diary: Work It

May 27, 2017 at Jardin des Tuileries.

Three girls with a camera and a tripod. There was bound to be lots of photo op moments. This was one of many. 

We were walking around the Jardin des Tuileries when Rea suddenly exclaimed, “This is it!”. “This is what?” Glaire and I asked. “I think this is where Heart Evangelista took one of her Paris photos!!!”. 

Heart is a famous female celebrity back home in the Philippines. Rea wanted to recreate a picture of her in Paris that had more or less the same background — a long pathway with tress lined up on both sides.  

“Abtik! Abtik!” — Rea’s favorite expression when she wanted us to hurry up, prompting us to start doing some poses. Glaire and I settled for walking towards the camera while Rea clicked away.

We look quite serious here, but it was actually pretty difficult to keep a straight face while doing this. Few seconds after this particular shot, we were all doubled over laughing out loud. 

Some people near us and some who were walking by gave us funny looks, probably thinking we were very weird. We did not care one bit. Haha! 

EU2017 Travel Diary: Outset

 

1495882101811952170ce30f79af36319db4137f33121eb84bfcacd7b9ad6325abeb99b74b9028fd5e72d7afc3d74b04c0eb7a853b98b1f53325c627a1bd64f4fd440c3e726f9

May 27, 2017 — Arrived in Paris, France. It was bright, sunny and REALLY WARM.. such a contrast from the cold and windy winter weather I left behind in Wellington (NZ). I had just come from a very long flight — 12 hours from NZ to Hongkong and another 12 hours from Hongkong to Paris, but I was too full of excitement that I didn’t feel the least bit tired.

This photo was taken just as we were setting out to explore the city. To my left is Glaire, a friend of mine who I’ve known for 8 years now. We met while volunteering in one of the rural hospitals back home (Philippines). The lady a little bit to the back is Rea. She’s Glaire’s friend (both of them are currently living and working in Singapore). I had just met her that morning, but we hit it off pretty quickly and it felt like we’ve been friends since forever.

Together in our next two weeks in Europe we would be chasing after trains, walking ’till our feet got sore, and drinking lots of wine! — details of which are going to be for later stories. For now, we’re going to start from the very beginning… Bonjour Paris!