Saturday, August 5, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 1½ : West Side of Koya Town

November 23, 2016
Wednesday
Noon

I walk out of Chuo Shokudo San Bou with my stomach full of veggies, ready to start exploring the town of Koya. But first, I go to the Koyasan Shukubo Association (Tourist Information) Central Office around the corner to rent an audio guide (500 yen). Since I am staying the night in town, they tell me I could return the audio guide the following morning in the same office or in any of the two tourist information centers near Okunoin. (Day trippers have to return the audio guide on the same day, before the offices close at 430PM.)

I switch on my audio guide and listen to a short introduction about Koyasan as I walk westward to my first stop: Kongobuji Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The town of Koya

Kongobuji
金剛峯寺
830AM to 5PM (last entry at 430PM)
Admission fee: 500 yen (400 yen if with Koyasan World Heritage Ticket 20% discount coupon)

Kongobuji is the head temple of Shingon Buddhism. I enter the temple grounds through its main gate which is the oldest building (1593) in Kongobuji. In the past only royalty and the chief priests could pass through this gate. Today, everyone can pretend they are royalty.

Kongobuji's main gate

Inside the temple grounds, to the left of the gate, I see a small lonely building surrounded by trees. This is the kyozo (1679), a storage for all the temple's important articles. There is moss growing on its roof. It is closed. I wonder if it's musty inside.

 Kyozo (Scripture Storehouse)

To the right of the gate, the audio guide tells me, is the shoro or bell tower. I can't see the bell because it is a bell tower with walls, a type that is called hakamagoshi. I wonder if its bell is still being rung and when?

 Shoro (Bell Tower)

And directly in front of me, Kongobuji with its thick thatch roof...and, strangely, wooden buckets on the roof. I learn that these buckets are called tensuioke or rain barrels... you know, in case of fire.

The temple has two entrances. The main entrance, like the main gate, is only for royalty and for the chief priests. This is fenced off: no entry! I and the other visitors enter through the smaller entrance and pay the admission fee. The temple is quite big and I walk slowly from room to room, listening to my audio guide and following the map of Kongobuji on the brochure that came with it.

Kongobuji

First a spacious room with paintings of pine trees and cranes on its golden fusuma (sliding doors). This room is the Ohirama or the Main Hall where important ceremonies are held. Also in this room is the Jibutsuma, an altar where Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddishm, is enshrined. The altar also has memorial tablets for past emperors of Japan and Chief Abbots of Kongobuji.

After the main hall, I admire six more smaller rooms with painted sliding doors; one room's fusuma is painted with plum trees, the other with willow trees, others with sceneries.

 Ohirama (Main Hall)

 Jibutsuma

Moving on to spot #10 on my map, the Shin Betsuden. But before I enter, I am given a tray of green tea and rice cracker. I follow my fellow visitors into Shin Betsuden and sit on the side. Since I can't understand a word of what the monk is saying, I just munch on the cracker and drink my tea, then slowly tiptoe away once I'm done.

 Shin Betsuden (New Temple Annex)


I move further west in the temple and a very large and beautiful rock garden stops me in my tracks. Banryutei Rock Garden, measuring 2,340 square meters, is the largest rock garden in Japan. I try to imagine two dragons emerging from a blanket of clouds...because that is what this rock garden is supposed to represent.

 Banryutei Rock Garden

I visit a few more rooms in the temple: the golden room called Shoin Jodan no Ma where Koyasan's major ceremonies are held; Okushoin, which used to be the resting area of the Imperial Family; Chigonoma, or the page room, where guards of the emperor stayed; Tsuchimuro, a room that was built coated with soil and a fireplace in the center; and, lastly, the huge kitchen where one can cook up a storm and feed up to 2000 people.

Shoin Jodan no Ma

 Tsuchimuro (Earth Room)

Kitchen

Garan
壇場伽藍
Garan Grounds: Open all day / Free admission
Kondo Hall / Konpon Daito Pagoda:
830AM to 5PM
200 yen each (160 yen each if with Koyasan World Heritage Ticket 20% discount coupon)
Note: The fee is dropped in an unmanned box, so prepare the exact amount.

I leave Kongobuji and go to Koyasan's central temple complex called Garan. This is one of two of Koyasan's most sacred sites (the other is Okunoin, which is on the east side of town, near where I am staying). Garan is the first site Kobo Daishi built when he first started the monastery on Mt Koya.

Chumon

The temple complex has a gate (Chumon), but I enter on the east side of the complex where it is nearer to Kongobuji.

The pathway that leads to the east side of Garan

On my right I see a small red and white pagoda called Toto or East Pagoda, followed by three faded wooden buildings of different shapes and sizes: Sanmaido, Daiedo, and Aizendo. All these are closed.

Toto (East Pagoda)

Sanmaido

Daiedo

Konpon Daito (left) and Aizendo (right)

Opposite the Aizendo is another wooden building called Fudo-do. This is the oldest building in Koyasan, built in 1198. While I look at Fudo-do and wonder what's inside (this, too, is closed), I hear a chorus of voices, a captivating chant, and I hurry away to find the source.

Fudo-do

The enchanting sound comes from a group of monks gathered in front of Konpon Daito and I catch the last lulling notes as I reach them.


Construction of the Konpon Daito started in the year 816 and was finished 71 years later. The pagoda is about 50 meters high and inside are Buddhist images and statues. Another building I enter is the Kondo or the main hall. This is where many ceremonies and rituals take place. (Taking photographs inside these two buildings is not allowed.)

 Konpon Daito (Great Pagoda)

Near these two buildings is a pine tree (Sanko no Matsu) where I notice a lot of people are gathered, some bent at the hip, looking at the ground.

Legend has it that before Kobo Daishi returned to Japan from China, he threw his Buddhist ceremonial tool (called a sankosho) to the east and prayed that it would show him where to build his monastery. It is said that he discovered his sankosho stuck in this pine tree, a type that has three needles.

So why are my fellow visitors looking at the ground? They are looking for pine needles to keep as a lucky charm. Out of curiosity, I look at the ground too to see if the pine needles really come in threes. (I see a few.)

Kujaku-do, Junteido, Miedo, Konpon Daito, Sanko no Matsu (surrounded by a red fence)

I explore the rest of the temple grounds and see more wooden buildings (all closed to the public) such as the Miedo or the Great Portrait Hall, which contains a 9th century portrait of Kobo Diashi and can only be viewed by the public once a year; Saito or the West Pagoda; and the Rokkaku Kyozo, a beautiful hexagonal building that is said to house Buddhist scriptures written in gold ink on blue paper.

 Saito (West Pagoda)

Rokkaku Kyuzu

There are handles on the base of the Rokkaku Kyuzu and I watch as two people strain their muscles trying to rotate the base. One rotates the base once he has finished reading the scriptures, but I am guessing these two are just curious how to rotate it. I want to give it a go but I feel I'd look funny doing it alone. I abandon the idea and give the temple complex a 360-degree look before I leave and proceed west to the edge of town.

Daimon
大門

I know I am at the edge of town when I reach a two-storey, 25-meter tall gate. This great gate, Daimon, marks the entrance to Koyasan and the end of the 23.5-kilometer Choishi Michi Trail, one of the six pilgrimage trails in the Kii Mountain Range that are inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The great gate is flanked by two Nio (guardians of Buddha). The Nio in Koyasan's Daimon are considered to be the second largest in Japan; the largest ones are in Todaiji in Nara.

 Daimon

A Nio

Now that I have reached the west end of town, I rest my legs and sit on a bench facing the magnificent gate and enjoy the cool late November mountain air. It is quiet, disturbed only by the sound of a car passing the road that bends around the gate.

Two persons emerge from a small red torii off to my left and I remember it is the hiking trail the guesthouse staff recommended to take if I wanted a short hike (less than an hour). I glance at my watch and see that there is still plenty of time to reach the peak of Mt Bentendake before it gets dark.


I start my hike. The ground is completely covered with brown leaves. Every step I make makes a crunching noise as leaves and twigs break under my big feet. I meet only one person and he is on his way down. I continue on. It's just me and nature. Trees, leaves, bushes, an occasional faded red torii. And then I see a sign. Upon closer inspection, it warns me that bears have been spotted in the area and not to hike alone and to cover my face if I were attacked by a bear. I take a photo of the sign and send it to my family WhatsApp group with the caption "to proceed or to go back?" I go on following the trail.

Beware of Bears!

I am a few hundred meters further up the mountain when I receive my sister's frantic reply: Go back!!! Her message bops some sense into me and I stop, look around, and think: I am alone. I do not seen anyone ahead of me nor is there anyone hiking behind me. I don't have a bell to "scare" the bears. No one knows I'm here except my family and they are thousands of miles away...and maybe that guy who was on his way down, if he even had a good look at my face. Plus I am hungry. I want to feed myself and not be fed to the bears. I take a big gulp of fresh air and one last look up the lonely path, then turn around and go back down to civilization to look for food.



Filling my stomach was more important than visiting these other places in the west side of town:
  • Koyasan Reihokan Museum 霊宝館 – a museum of Kongobuji's sacred relics, Buddhist images, and icons. Open from 830AM to 530PM (5PM from November to April). Admission fee is 600 yen (480 yen if with Koyasan World Heritage Ticket 20% discount coupon).
  • Tokugawa Clan Mausoleum 徳川家霊台





Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1½ : West Side of Koya Town (you're here!)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan

November 23, 2016
Wednesday

I wake up before my alarm rings. Soon I am at the ground floor of Hotel Raizan, depositing my bag in their luggage storage area. I have a quick breakfast with what they have for sale: cereal, milk, and yogurt. And I say goodbye to my bag and to the receptionist and trace my way back to where I had come from last night, Nankai Shin-Imamiya Station, to start my journey to the town of Koya in the prefecture of Wakayama, where I will be staying for a night.

Going to the Town of Koya:
  • At Nankai Shin-Imamiya Station I get on the Express train to Hashimoto. (See train timetable.)
  • In Hashimoto, I transfer to a train bound for Gokurakubashi.
  • From Gokurakubashi, I take a 5-minute cable car ride on an inclined tram/cable car to Koyasan Station.
  • And finally, I get on a bus bound for the town of Koya. (See bus timetable.)
 A station along the Koya Line

 Tram/Cable Car to Koyasan Station

Inside the tram/cable car

The entire trip, from Shin-Imamiya Station to Koya town, takes about two hours and I pay for each leg of the trip by showing my Koyasan World Heritage Ticket. There are faster trains—Rapid Express and Limited Express—that will shave off 10 to 20 minutes from the travel time. The Rapid Express operates every hour from 9AM to 1PM. The Limited Express is more frequent but is not covered by my Koyasan World Heritage Ticket.

The Koyasan World Heritage Ticket also includes 2 days of unlimited bus rides (Nankai Rinkan Bus) around the town of Koya.

Sleeping in the Town of Koya:

Koyasan (Mt Koya) is the center of Shingon Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism established 1200 years ago by Kukai or Kobo Daishi, a Buddhist priest. He established a monastery in Koyasan. And over the years, a temple town developed around it. Many temples around Koya offer pilgrims and travelers a place to stay (a night in a temple with breakfast and dinner costs at least 9,700 yen). While on the trip planning stage I was tempted to stay in a temple lodging, but in the end I had to admit defeat and find a cheaper alternative.

I get off at the last bus stop and walk east, away from the town center, for about 5 minutes, to the only non-temple accommodation I could find that was within my budget: Koyasan Guesthouse Kokuu.


The guesthouse, grey on the outside but all white inside, is small with just 8 capsules and 3 bedrooms. All the bedrooms and capsules share toilets and shower rooms. I am assigned a bottom capsule. The capsule has a futon, pillow, blanket, lamp, power outlets, coat hooks, hangers, and a window. (A bath towel can be rented for 100 yen.) The capsule door can be locked from the inside. The capsule is rather small but is surprisingly comfy.


It's amazingly cozy inside the capsule

There is a bar and a common lounge where guests can mingle and eat. The bar serves breakfast (not included in the room rate), dinner, and drinks. There is free coffee and tea.

600 yen breakfast at Koyasan Guesthouse Kokuu

Once I had finished inspecting my capsule and dumping my bag there, the guesthouse staff sits me down at the lounge and gives tips (in a very humorous way, I should mention) on what to see (a lot!) and where to eat (he gives me seven restaurant options and writes down the restaurant names in romaji and not in Japanese) in town.

Eating in the Town of Koya:

I take his advice and go to the center of town to find Chuo Shokudo San Bou, a restaurant that serves shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine). I surprise myself by finding it without asking anyone even if the only sign outside is this: 中央食堂 さんぼう. I step inside and find there is a short queue of Japanese customers and I take it as a sign that the food must be good. Soon the line of hungry customers grows and extends outside the door. While waiting, I look over the menu and skip the udon selection (650 to 950 yen) and study the nine vegetarian set meal options (1100 to 2200 yen).

Lunch hour at Chuo Shokudo San Bou

I decide on the mugi daizu (barley and soy bean) rice set for 1100 yen. The meal is served on bowls and plates on a wooden tray. I especially like the goma tofu (sesame tofu, a specialty in Koyasan) and the mashed I-don't-know-what (on the oval plate on the left of the photo below). I walk out of the restaurant full (but my stomach doesn't feel heavy) and satisfied.

Mugi daizu (barley and soy bean) rice set

For dinner, I choose another one of the restaurants the guesthouse staff recommended and try Shunsai Kameya, just a few houses from Koyasan Guesthouse Kokuu. I again congratulate myself when I find it even with only this sign outside: 旬菜かめや. In the restaurant, there is just me and a Japanese family. I am guessing business is slow tonight because it's a weekday and the restaurant is located far from the town center.

 Shunsai Kameya 旬菜かめや

There are seven dinner sets (1100 to 1500 yen) to choose from. I decide on the vegetarian tempura set 1200 yen (+8% tax) with 5 kinds of vegetable tempura on a bowl of rice, a bowl of udon, and a cube of goma tofu (sesame tofu). A tasty, healthy dinner. (Oh, I  managed to be vegetarian for a day! Haha!)

Vegetarian tempura set






Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan (you're here!)
Wakayama: Day 1½: West Side of Koya Town
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Wisdom from the Road #54

On worrying
Worry is a misuse of the imagination. - Dan Zadra

I invited a friend to go on a boating trip in June. Her reply, "Won't it rain? Wouldn't the waves be huge? It's the rainy season already." (So you mean to say you will never go to sea during the rainy season which is half of the year? Anyway, I don't think the Coast Guard would allow boats to sail if it's dangerous.)

Another friend a few days before a trip: "Weather's not good these days. Look at the sky! What if it rains during my trip?" (The weather in one place won't necessarily be the same in another far away place. But bring an umbrella just in case.)

My mother: "What? You hitched a ride with a stranger? Again? What if something happened to you?" (I know mothers can't help but worry about their kids, no matter how grown up their kids are. Thank you, God, for keeping me safe.)

An officemate: "What if A happens to me? What if B happens to me? What if C happens to me?" (Pray none of those happens.)

You and your worries are the only ones stopping you.



For more lessons from the road, please visit Go Learn.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What's in a (Business) Name? Sesenta y tres

Whoever wants to improve their looks should drink the beverages from this place...
Spotted by Fred of The Exaggerated Zeal along Paterno St. Tacloban City, Leyte.

For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 0: Arrival

November 22, 2016
Tuesday
7:55 PM

Touchdown Kansai International Airport. I follow my fellow passengers out of the plane, into the train that would transport us to the main building, and tail them through the airport hallways until we reach Immigration.

The queue at Immigration isn't long. Either our flight's the only one that arrived within the last 15 minutes or so, or their immigration procedure is really efficient. The immigration officer stamps me through and smilingly informs me that I could stay for 30 days (how I wish my wallet and I could!). Immigration, baggage claim, and into the Arrivals Lobby in just a few minutes (ah, yes, they are extremely efficient).

Before proceeding to find the train that will take me to Osaka, I search and find the Tourist Information Booth where I collect some brochures and buy an Osaka Visitors' Ticket, a ticket for unlimited rides on Osaka's municipal subway, tram, and buses, which I plan to use on my the last day of my trip. Why buy it this early? So that I wouldn't have to go and hunt for the Tourist Information Center in Shinsaibashi in Osaka City.


I mentally go through my things to do and still have two items on my list: (1) buy a Koyasan World Heritage Ticket to be used the next two days, and (2) buy a Kansai One Pass, an IC transportation card to be used for getting around Kansai. I buy these two at the Nankai Airport Station. The man at the counter asks me questions (Koyasan World Heritage Ticket? How many? For when?) and repeats them, making sure we understand each other correctly. I pay and thank him and carefully stuff my Koyasan World Heritage Ticket in my bag and hold my Kansai One Pass, ready for its first use on the Nankai Airport Express to Osaka City's Shin-Imamiya Station.

I arrive in Shin-Imamiya Station in 45 minutes and soon I am rolling my bag along the dingy but clean sidewalks of Osaka, passing by wobbly drunk gentlemen, towards tonight's accommodation: Hotel Raizan. I check in and find my room at the end of the hallway on the nth floor. I take snapshots of my tidy tiny room and send it to my family WhatsApp group, letting them know I have arrived safe and sound.

My little room in Hotel Raizan



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival (you're here!)
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1½: West Side of Koya Town
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Itinerary and Expenses: 9 Days of Nerdiness in Kansai

I'll tell you a secret. I fell in love sometime in my 10-day Japan trip in autumn of 2015. I had a quick love affair with Ainokura Village in Toyama Prefecture and I fell madly and totally in love with Kyoto. I fell in love and I promised I'd go back for another visit.

381 days later, I was back in the arms of Japan. This time I made like a gentleman and took it slow; I did not bolt through cities like what my friends and I did in 2015. I stayed in the Kansai Region for nine days, stepping foot in just four (Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka) of seven prefectures (the other three are Hyogo, Mie, Shiga).


Since I was traveling alone, I went all out in nerdiness, visiting temples, shrines, and historical places, and, most importantly, as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region that time and distance would allow.

In planning out my itinerary, I tried to keep within the same budget as my 2015 trip: an average of Php 4500 per day for accommodation, food, transportation, and admission fees.

This trip happened late November 2016 with the exchange rate at 0.465 PHP for every 1 JPY

Accommodation. Like my 2015 trip, I set aside Php 1500 a night for accommodation, for a total of Php 13,500 for 9 nights (about 29,000 yen with an exchange rate of 0.465). In Osaka, the cheapest hostel I found was 1100 yen a night, but I eventually settled for a single room (though bathrooms were shared) in business hotels, which cost me 2500 yen (less than Php 1200) per night. In Koyasan, I wanted to try the temple stay, but it was way beyond my budget (temple stay would cost at least 9,700 yen a night, with breakfast and dinner), so I settled for the only guesthouse in town, Koyasan Guesthouse Kokuu, where a capsule space costs 3500 yen a night. Nara and Kyoto hostels were a bit more expensive compared to Osaka (dorm beds would cost an average of 2500 yen a night; whereas in Osaka, 2500 yen could already be a single room), but still within my budget. If you're comfortable staying at hostel dorm rooms, set aside a budget of at least 2500 yen per night (some can cost up to 3800 yen a night, depending on the area).

Transportation. Neither the JR Pass nor the JR Kansai Area pass was beneficial to my itinerary. Instead, to get around, I paid the regular fare using the Kansai One Pass (only for tourists), an ICOCA or IC transportation card that could be used in various train/subway lines in the Kansai area. Although this did not offer fare discounts, it did provide convenience. Rather than buying a ticket every time I had to ride the train/subway, I could just tap the card at the turnstiles (provided, of course, I had enough credits in the card). The Kansai One Pass also offered discounts/benefits at various tourist sites. For traveling within the city, I took advantage of unlimited ride passes such as Koyasan World Heritage Ticket, Nara bus pass, Kyoto bus pass, and Osaka Visitor's Ticket (for Osaka municipal subways/buses/tram only). I planned out my route in advance to make the most of these unlimited ride passes.

Food. I spent an average of 2,200 yen a day for 3 meals, snacks, and drinks. It was a good mix of convenience store boxed meals (400 to 600 yen), set meals from donburi shops (450 to 1000 yen), and restaurants (meals from 1100 to 1500 yen). For Japan, I advice to budget at least 3,000 yen per day for food.

Admission fees. There are temples, shrines, parks, gardens that can be entered for free. Most though would charge an admission fee (from 200 to 1500 yen). Some transportation passes offer discounted admission fees to some tourist attractions (expenses marked with an asterisk in the above table are discounted rates). The Koyasan World Heritage Ticket came with 20% discount coupons for Kongobuji, Kondo Hall, Konpon Daito Pagoda, and Reihokan Museum. The Kansai One Pass offered discounts/benefits to many attractions around the Kansai area, but I only used it at Monkey Park Iwatayama in Kyoto (100 yen discount) and Osaka Museum of Housing and Living (free audio guide rental worth 100 yen). With the Osaka Visitor's Ticket, I was also able to get a 100 yen discount on the admission fee for the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living.

Pocket WiFi. It was important that I had a pocket WiFi for this trip. Luckily, Flytpack let me use their pocket WiFi for free for the entire duration of the trip. If not, it would have cost me about Php 3000 for the 9 days rent and courier fees.

Plane ticket. Like all my other posts about trip expenses, I did not include the plane ticket, because the ticket cost would depend on where you're coming from and which international airport in Japan you wish to start/end your journey in. But since this post is about Kansai, I will tell you that I flew in and out of Kansai International Airport in Osaka via a budget airline, with a connection in Manila. Much as I wanted to fly direct to Osaka from Cebu, I found it too expensive. The regular roundtrip ticket for the direct flight would cost around Php 22,000 (on sale it would cost at least Php 13,000).


Japan is the most expensive country in Asia that I have traveled to, but with a bit of planning and research, a trip to Japan need not break the bank. Fewer number of days, of course, will cost less. But, I warn you, once you visit Japan, you will want to keep coming back!



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka (you're here!)
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1½: West Side of Koya Town
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado

Monday, July 17, 2017

I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

Observations of a mustache while...

Walking the streets of Japan:

1. The Japanese do not eat while walking. When one eats while walking, especially in crowded places, there is a possibility of bumping into another person and spilling food or drink on them. Thus, the Japanese consider it impolite to eat while walking.

Most mornings I would leave the hostel early and would buy food for breakfast from a convenience store, but then, if the convenience store didn't have a sitting area, I'd have a problem: where could I eat my breakfast? My options were to eat standing outside the convenience store or find a park where I could sit down and eat.


2. There are no trash bins along the streets of Japan yet the surroundings are clean and free of rubbish. I only saw trash bins by the door (or sometimes, inside) of convenience stores. I'd also see bins next to vending machines for drinks, but these bins were for specific bottles or cans only. Whatever trash the people have they make sure to throw it in the proper bin or, if they can't find a trash bin nearby, they just bring it home and sort it properly (sorting trash is a whole new ballgame in Japan).

3. They have 5-way / 6-way crosswalks, making it a cinch to get from one street corner to the corner diagonally opposite! Forgive my ignorance, but I live in the Philippines where there are no 5-way / 6-way crosswalks and where crossing the street, whether on a pedestrian lane or not, is done at your own risk (risk is lower at the few areas where there are pedestrian signal lights, haha!).

5-way crosswalk at Shibuya. Photo by Shibuya246/Flickr

6-way crosswalk at Kyoto Station. Screenshot from Google Maps

4. Even narrow streets have a crosswalk and pedestrian lights! In just four steps I had crossed a very narrow street in Kyoto and only noticed there was a pedestrian light when I had reached the opposite side.

Screenshot from Google Streetview

5. Some small streets have no curbs but are clearly marked to show where the sidewalk is.

Screenshot from Google Streetview

6. Many people wear a surgical face mask. My first thought was that they were sick and didn't want people to catch whatever they have. A bit of googling revealed that another reason for wearing a surgical face mask was to avoid getting sick. And some wear it just because. (In the Philippines, people have started wearing masks, but I believe it's to protect themselves against dust and air pollution.)

On my trip in late November 2016, my body was adjusting to the low temperature causing my nose to run. While waiting for Horyuji Temple in Ikaruga Town in Nara to open, an old lady stopped to talk (by talk, I mean communicate with hand gestures) with me. In the middle of our "conversation", I sniffed, and she pointed to me, then to her nose, then made an X with her forearms, and then covered her nose and mouth with her hand. She didn't mean to say I had stinky breath (I'm sure I brushed my teeth!), but that I should wear a mask because I had colds.

Photo by Hinochika/Shutterstock


Commuting around Japan:

1. No matter how crowded the station is, everyone knows how to queue, whether getting on the train, taking the escalator, exiting/entering through the turnstiles, etc. So it was quite embarrassing for me when I accompanied Hitomi, a Japanese Couchsurfer, to Cebu South Bus terminal to catch a bus for Oslob. We were first in line and when the bus arrived, everyone behind us just surged towards the bus, fighting to get in through the narrow bus door. Needless to say, we were not the first ones to board. When Hitomi finally got on the bus, two other people squeezed in with her, and her slipper fell off but no one bothered to pick it up and give it to her (everyone was busy elbowing their way in to secure a seat). I told her to take a seat and I had to block the way in order to fish out her slipper. When we had finally settled in, she remarked, "It was chaos."

People line up patiently to get in the train. Photo from Fast Japan

2. On escalators, people stand on one side and keep the other side free to give way to people who are in a hurry. In Tokyo, people stand on the left side of the escalator. In Osaka, people stand on the right side.

3. It's oh so quiet in the bus/train. Nobody talks on the mobile phone while in a public transportation. Everyone keeps to themselves, keeping their eyes glued on their mobile phones, getting some shuteye, or just staring into space. Those who do talk with their companions keep their voices low.

4. Nobody eats inside the train even if there is no sign prohibiting so. With the train shaking and braking, spills are likely to happen. Plus the train cars can smell like food. Like eating while walking, it is also considered impolite to eat and drink in the train.

5. Oftentimes priority/courtesy seats are left empty even if there are no other seats available. Other times, people who sit on the priority/courtesy seat would stand up and give way to those who need it like a pregnant lady, a mother carrying a baby, elderly, and disabled.

6. There are Women Only train cars. Lucky for the ladies they get to ride comfortably when us men would have travel like sardines in other train cars. But I understand they have implemented this so the women would feel safer and not have to worry about perverts groping them in a crowded train car.

Photo from Business Insider



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan (you're here!)

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Adlaw, Osaka Ako sa Osaka
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Nov 2016 | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1½: West Side of Koya Town
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado