Thursday, June 23, 2016

JAPAN: Day 5 + Day 6 Osaka - Singapore

Leaving Kyoto loaded with many sweet memories, we are driving to Osaka through Meishin Expressway. The tollbooths have lanes for cars with an ETC (Electronic Toll Collection, an automated payment device) and one lane for cash payment. We opt to pay with cash. Just take a ticket upon entering and pay when exiting the expressway. We used GPS and Google Map as backup to guide us.

First stop back in Osaka is the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. Like the SEA Aquarium in Singapore, it is children friendly and organised in sections. Here visitors can see many sea creatures from Sea of Japan and Pacific Ocean. What interest me are their Japan Deep and Pacific Ocean sections.

There are days like this too >_< Alexis just love this place so much that she doesn't want to leave.

After a long day of shopping and sight seeing make sure to stop by at the food street Dotonbori. We just love this street, trying different types of food. There is always something yummy for everyone.

Snow crab sushi and maki.

Here is Osaka's specialty kushikatsu - fried skewers at Kushikatsu Daruma in Dotonbori. No second dipping in the sauce. Use the cabbage leaves provided as 'spoon' to take more sauce if needed.

Another place to enjoy the local cuisine in this city is Kuromon Market in the morning. Here you can find many fresh seafood, prepared in any style you fancy - raw, lightly boiled, seared, deep fried or cook in soup. Many stalls prepare sushi on the spot too. There is a wide selection of Japanese beef to choose from. Matsusaka and Kobe beef come highly recommended. We also love buying seasonal fruits and fresh fruits juices. Cut fruits are great as snacks for the children.

 Kuromon Market

 Grilled scallops
 Macaroni and cheese with crabmeat served in a crab shell

It is here at this restaurant we had our brunch. It is packed with tourists.
 Uni Ikura Don
 Lobster in Miso soup with sliced scallions on top

 We love Japanese fruits tarts here at Grand Front Osaka. 
 15 minute wait for Bake's gooey cheese tarts in B1F Hanshin Umeda, 1-chme, 13-13, Umeda, Kita-ku, Osaka 530-8224.  The recently-opened Bake bakery in Singapore has a long snaking queue everyday. Wait time about two hours or more.
 Cold ice cream sandwiched between hot crispy bun in Dotonbori.

We are on our way to the Kansai International Airport in the same Nankai Rapid Limited Express Train. Seeing the faces of my husband and children smiling and laughing warms my heart knowing that we shared many good memories and even more 'first times' together. Is it easy to travel with young children? Yes, if we have a car to drive around to places we want to go. Not only does this option maximises our time to get to more places, it also allows the children to rest and sleep in the car especially long distance journeys. We are able to keep our luggages in the car and do some last minute sight seeing without worrying about the heavy load.

It doesn't matter if the children are too young to remember the trip. What is important is we live in the moment, in the present where we are able to bond and travel together as a family. We will continue to bring them to discover many more places and cultures around the world. We met many good Japanese people in our trip whom we are thankful for. Alexis received origami deer in Nara, flowers in Miyama and dried blueberries in Kyoto. Language is not a barrier. A smile and a polite thank you 'Arigato gozaimasu' might just brighten someone's day. Arigato gozaimasu Japan! :)

 Arlo sleeping in the plane.
Some goodies from Singapore Airlines :)

Friday, June 17, 2016

JAPAN: Day 3 + Day 4 Kyoto

Japan has the best of both worlds, the charming old and the contemporary modern. It has skyscrapers towering its glittering cities and many well preserved centuries old houses and shrines still standing proud, admired by young and old.

After experiencing the full buzzing city experience in Osaka, we set off to Kyoto by Japan Railway (JR). Took the train from Namba Station to Umeda Station (red line), walked a short distance to Osaka Station. From there, we took JR Kyoto Line JR Special Rapid Train direct to Kyoto for ¥560 per person. Children under six travel for free as they are expected to sit on your lap, not taking a seat although you may do so if the train is not crowded JR For Children. The journey took about half an hour.

Kyoto is also known as 'the thousand year capital' as it was the former imperial capital for Japan for more than a thousand years. Here we received the rental car Nissan we had booked in advance. Self driving is not difficult at all. Our car is equipped with GPS in Japanese and English.

Mummies, if your children love train, they would be excited to sit inside the classic Sagano Romantic Train, powered by diesel locomotive. The Sagano scenic train chugs along the track surrounding the beautiful landscape of Hozugawa Ravine from Saga Torokko Station to Kameoka Torokka Station in Arashiyama. We bought return tickets. We managed to take the last train of the day and witnessed the sun setting in the midst of lush greenery of the surrounding mountains. The golden rays brought smile to our faces.

To get there, we drove to Saga Torokko Station and parked the car at the nearest public carpark, one of the many easily found carparks around Kyoto. There is no need to do anything until you come back for the car (Go to the payment machine. Key in the lot number and pay the due amount. Once paid, the automatic barrier which locked the car would be released).

Saga Torokko Station is located beside JR Saga Arashiyama Station for those interested to take train to get there.

After a fun train ride, we drove to our ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn in the mountainous area in Tanko. Located about 15 mins from Arashiyama, the stay was a new experience for our family. The friendly staff taught the children how to wear Japanese summer wear called yukatas and the wooden clogs. Dinner were delicious Japanese cuisine by the river stream under the moonlight and some garden lights around the wooden hut.

  Kids' meal presented in a wooden boat.

We love the fresh air from the mountains and feel refreshed and rejuvenated by the warm hot spring experience. The harmonic tunes played by cicadas is the best lullaby at night.

 View from our room

Another region worth mentioning is Miyama which is located about 50 kilometres to the north of Kyoto city. Paddy fields and small vegetation farms dots the foot of the mountains. Here, one village Kayabuki no Sato is a heritage site where traditional thatched houses are still preserved in good condition, retaining the old Japanese architecture and legacy. Being in this village feels like one is being transported to the old Japan where life is slow pace and time is at a standstill.

 A bouquet of wild flowers given by a local aunty :) 

We also took trishaw for the first time in Arashiyama bamboo forest, much to the delights of the little ones. The guide brought us to the towering bamboo trees in the picturesque bamboo forest, old Japanese houses and famous shrines.

At the old district Higashiyama, we love quaint wooden shophouses fronting both sides of the hilly pavements selling souvenirs, local products and traditional Japanese desserts. We took the chance to try red beans shaved ice and dango, mochi dumplings made from rice flour dipped in sweet sauce.

Soon it was time for dinner, we drove to Kawa River to a restaurant with wooden stilt balcony on the river. We thoroughly enjoy the grilled meat on charcoal, Matsusaka marbled beef, salads and other side dishes while absorbing the beautiful and calming panoramic river view.

Other attractions in Kyoto worth visiting is the geisha district Gion besides Higashiyama, golden temple Kinkaku-ji, UNESCO World Heritage Site Kiyomizu-dera, and the seemingly never ending vermillion torri gates at Fushimi Inari.

At Fushimi Inari with my son :)