Around Tokyo Part 2: Tokyo Tower, Meiji Temple, Niigata, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Omotesando Hills, Shibuya, and Disney Resorts

November 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

I am very fortunate to have a good friend living in Tokyo because she and her husband were able to tour me around the famous spots in Tokyo. I listed the spots I’ve visited on the rest of my stay in Japan below.

1. Tokyo Tower

Before the Skytree was built, the Tokyo Tower was one of highest TV towers in Tokyo. I thought that a higher structure such as the Skytree would affect this old tower’s popularity but upon seeing it, I realized that it has its own special appeal that still attract a lot of tourists. Initially, it would remind you of Paris’ Eiffel Tower and consequently, a romantic vibe arises. Up the tower, I saw Tokyo’s shining city lights: blinking reds, colorful LEDs of companies, mellow mood lights from nearby restaurants–the city is so alive and it just engulfed me. I felt like a speck of dust in this huge city, trying to find where the city lights would end on the horizon. Whenever I go on trips, I always take a moment to pause, take it all in, feel the place, and try to keep a strong memory of that feeling in my head. When I was up the Tokyo Tower, I did just that. It’s a pity I wasn’t holding somebody’s hand. Ooops, let’s not get soft.

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2. Disney Resorts Tokyo

My friends and I spent two days in the Disney Resorts because it’s divided into Disneyland and Disney Sea theme parks. We had to move from our Shinjuku hotel to a Disney Hotel, which is a bus ride away from the theme parks. I wasn’t particularly ecstatic about the setup because I didn’t want to spend two days in a theme park. I’m more of a stroll and explore kind of person so I thought two days was a waste. I could have spent that one day just walking around Tokyo. However, the theme park experience wasn’t bad at all. Disney never disappoints, except for Hong Kong (smirk).

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We spent our first day at Disneyland. It was neither exceptionally big, nor disappointingly small. It was big enough to tire me out at the end of the day. It’s catered for the younger kids because there’s not a lot of adventure rides that I’d go crazy about. However, it was a good place to take photos and sightsee. A good ride from that part of the park is the Space Mountain (but it made my neck hurt after).

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I enjoyed Disney Sea way better than Disneyland. It had a lot of fun rides/attractions and it featured Agrabah and Atlantis, places from my favorite Disney movies! When I saw Agrabah’s structure, I was literally spazzing while (sort of) forcing my friends to go there right away. Disney Sea was also a lot bigger than Disneyland. It had a big open space for water performances and it looks like a place you’d only see in Europe. I loved it. We took a lot of exciting rides including Indiana Jones, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

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3. Niigata Prefecture via Bullet Train (Shinkansen)

We also visited the Niigata Prefecture, which is located north of the Tokyo Prefecture. This place is famous for its ski resorts. My friends and I took the Shinkansen/Bullet Train for two hours to arrive there. Doesn’t it look so badass?

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It was my first time to touch and play with snow so it was quite an exciting experience as well. In this part of Japan, you would see rural qualities that are absent in Tokyo. I saw traditional houses, low-rise apartments and hotels, traditional restaurants, and small box cars Japanese people love to use.

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4. Meiji Temple

My friend Sashico and her husband, Takehiro, were so kind to take me to the famous Meiji Temple. It’s just around Shibuya area and I was really amazed that a place of such historical value could be in the middle of a very busy city. Before going inside, there’s a washing spot just outside the temple gate. I was told that people who go in should clean their hands first.

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We were so lucky to have witnessed a traditional Japanese wedding, which occurred in the temple during our visit. My friend said I was very lucky because for the longest time she’s been in Japan, it’s also her first time to witness such! She told me that traditional Japanese weddings are more expensive than white weddings because the fee for Meiji Temple alone is so expensive. I noticed that the bridal train was relatively smaller than what I would imagine an expensive wedding to be.  I believe this was one of the highlights in my Japan trip because it’s such a rare experience!

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Lucky us, there were two weddings! *Pats myself on the back*

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Sashico told me that Gindaco has one of the best tasting takoyakis around Tokyo. She didn’t pass the opportunity to buy one for me. I ordered cheese-flavored takoyakis and it was really delicious!

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5. Harajuku / Takeshita Street

When Sashico told me she’ll take me to Harajuku, I got so excited because I know I could see wierd Japanese fashion there. I’m not particularly a fan of wearing weird fashion pieces but it would be awesome if I saw some Lolita girls or cosplayers. At about 4 in the afternoon, the Takeshita Street was really crowded.

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Gotcha!

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6. Omotesando Hills

One place that I really adored in Tokyo would have to be Omotesando Hills. This road has a wide array of buildings with amazing architecture. Building upon building, you’ll see an engaging appeal that would just make you look and say ‘Ah, now that’s a pretty bulding.’ It’s not a budget friendly place so I wouldn’t even dare spend anything here. It’s just a nice place if you’re into architecture or design.

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6. Shibuya

And finally, Shibuya. What can I say? Shibuya is what I’ve always imagined Tokyo to be like. It has the crowd, the LED lights, the squiggly Japanese words on billboards, and malls that I have pictured in my head. This is Tokyo at its busiest. We dropped by Shibuya 109, which is an entire building only for women’s apparell. Crazy, I know!

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6. Shinjuku

Here are some shots we took while walking around Shinjuku.

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7. Chiba University, Chiba Prefecture

Last but not the least, here’s a few shots from Chiba University. After all, it’s the main reason why I went to Tokyo anyway. This was taken just after I presented my conference paper. 🙂 The blooming Cherryblossoms were a great icing on the cake!

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Japan is a wonderful place and I wish I could visit again, hopefully with my family. Next time, I would love to visit Kyoto so I could be emerged in the old Japan culture. For people who are planning to visit Japan, I say save up, and enjoy! Arigato gozaimazu!

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Around Tokyo Part 1: Tokyo Skytree & Asakusa Area

March 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

It’s been a few days since I’ve arrived from Japan. To be honest, I have a pile of school works to finish before I head back to the Philippines for the Holy week (Spring break!), which is less than a week from now. Despite my ‘busy’ schedule however, I can’t really find myself to do my school tasks simply because I’m not in the mood.  So let’s just say I’m waiting for my good and hardworking mood to stop by. *wink* Usually, when I want to relax, I draw some random illustrations or in some cases (like now), I blog. I just thought I could share some experiences I’ve had when I visited Japan. For this post, I’m going to tell you guys about my day trip to the Tokyo Skytree and Asakusa area.

1. Tokyo Skytree

My friends and I had our first stop at the Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー). It’s the newest and highest television and broadcast tower in Tokyo (beating Tokyo Tower). It is located in the Sumida City Ward, not too far from Asakusa.

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How to get there: (Credits to http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3064.html)

The entrance to the Tokyo Skytree is on the 4th floor of Tokyo Skytree Town, which spans the area between Tokyo Skytree Station (formerly known as Narihirabashi Station) on the Tobu Isesaki Line, and Oshiage Station on the Asakusa Subway Line, Hanzomon Subway Line and Keisei Oshiage Line. Alternatively, it is a 20 minute walk across the Sumida River from Asakusa.

Tokyo Skytree can also be reached by direct buses from Tokyo Station (30 minutes, 500 yen one way, 3 buses/hour), Ueno Station (30 minutes, 200 yen, 4 buses/hour), Tokyo Disney Resort (45-55 minutes, 500 yen, 1 bus/hour) and Haneda Airport (50-70 minutes, 900 yen, 1 bus/hour).

In our case, we took the train from Shinjuku to the Tokyo Skytree Station.

Operating Hours: 8:00 to 22:00; No closing days

Fees: 2000 yen (first observatory), 3000 yen (first and second observatories), A 500 yen service fee is charged for time specific advance reservations.

The Tokyo Skytree has two observation decks, the 350m and the 450m. My friends and I went for the 350 meter high observation deck, or the Tembo deck. It’s composed of 3 floors: the highest floor has huge glass windows for a good 360 degree panoramic view of the city; the middle floor has some shops and restaurants; while the lowest floor has another observation deck with see-through floors.

The 450 meter high observation deck, or the Tembo Gallery is dubbed “The world’s highest skywalk”, with a spiral ramp encircling the upper portion of the tower. At night, you can the light spinning around it. I initially thought it was a spaceship! Unfortunately, I was not able to experience this deck because my friends and I chose to buy tickets for the lower deck. Tokyo Skytree’s height almost doubles that of Macau Tower (The observation deck of which, I’ve also visited), but at 350 meters above the ground, I did not feel so high up as I’ve felt when I was in Macau’s 360 degree cafe. I think it’s because Tokyo’s grounds are filled with high buildings to begin with, while Macau Tower is basically surrounded by flat ground. Also, the elevator that took us to the Tembo deck was so cool. Although it’s not a see-through elevator (that would be cooler!), you could see the speed of travel and the height of the tower you’re passing on a screen. Here are some photos:

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We were so lucky to witness a few Sakura trees blooming because it’s too early at that time. Normally, the Sakura season starts late March to April. For lunch, my friends and I decided to eat in a restaurant nearby the Tokyo Skytree. It’s just around the corner of the street when you turn left from the main exit. It really sucks because I was not able to get the Japanese name of the restaurant. My friends are Taiwanese and they can read Kanji (Chinese characters), so they don’t really need to know how to say the name the Japanese way. In fact, they keep saying Dong-jing in reference to Tokyo. So that’s basically why I don’t know the Japanese name of the shop– I’m not forced to know it. I know, it sucks. Anyway, if any of you can read the Kanji and can tell me what this store’s name is, that would be nice.

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My friend ordered this Tempura set, looks delicious right? (1,200 Yen)ELI_1314

Meanwhile, I ordered Katsudon. Its size is just right for my appetite. (900 Yen)ELI_1317
After our sumptuous lunch, my friends and I decided to walk towards Asakusa area. It’s about 20 minutes away from the Tokyo Skytree. We crossed the Sakurabashi bridge passing over the Sumida-gawa river. The bridge was quite a view in itself too, with its vivid red-colored panels. Can you see the Tokyo Skytree?

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2. Asakusa

After passing the Sakurabashi bridge, we entered the Asakusa area. Here, we were able to see the Asakusa market and Sensoji Temple. Historically, the Asakusa area used to be a site for Kabuki Theaters; it was also some sort of a red light district back in the Edo Period. But even before actually getting to the Asakusa Temple proper, my attention was caught by some Japanese men dressed in some sort of traditional Japanese attire (not the Yukata though) with bands on their forehead and a flat, fabric, ninja-like footwear. It’s no surprise that they would attract some attention because they’re quite loud for regular Japanese passers by. Later on, I realized that they were calling for customers to ride their rickshaw tour service. It’s a 30-minute Asakusa tour while riding the rickshaw. Did you know that the term rickshaw actually came from the Japanese word ‘jinriksha’ which means a ‘man powered vehicle’? Cool, right? Sometime later, I saw one rickshaw tourguide in action. He was talking (comically telling a story in a loud voice) while pulling the rickshaw with two people onboard. I just thought to myself that I can’t bear letting someone  carry my weight, I felt quite sad to think so. I’m weird like that. The photos below include the main gate to the Sensoji Temple, as well as some shots of the Asakusa market.

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The Asakusa market is really interesting. Here, you can avail of souvenir items for some friends. I saw a lot of traditional outfits, footwears, fans, foods, decors, etc. In fact, a friend of mine who had been there last year has asked me to buy him the fabric, ninja-like footwear from Asakusa. If I had more time, I would have tried to look for some traditional Japanese pieces. Unfortunately, I did not have so much time to spare so I just took some photos of the crowd (Sorry friend!).

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3. Sensoji Temple

The photos below show the Sensoji Temple. The Pagoda looks cool doesn’t it?

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For dinner, we headed back to the Shinjuku area to look for some restaurants. We were in the mood for some Sashimi so we went to this small shop near Kabuki-cho. From what I recall, this dinner was the cheapest one that we had (with the exception of McDonald’s Shaka Shaka Chicken, that’s a different story).

Sashimi with Rice (500 Yen)ELI_1536

That concludes my trip to the Tokyo Skytree and Asakusa area. I hope I did not forget to put in the details and I hope some information here can help you in your future travels. More posts about my Japan trip soon!

Credits for the photos: Chen Yu Cheng

Quickstop: Villa Escudero Resort and Plantation

February 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

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Last Thursday, my family decided to head to the Southern Luzon province of Quezon to try a unique Filipino cultural experience at Villa Escudero Resort and Plantation. I have heard of Villa Escudero since I was a little girl but I never had a chance to go until the past few days.

Getting there: Villa Escudero is located in the border of Laguna’s San Pablo City and Quezon province. People coming from Manila should take the SLEX to get here.

Rates: Villa Escudero offers day tours, which we availed. It costs 1200/ person inclusive of a buffet lunch, carabao ride, raft ride, and use of the resort’s amenities. For people who happens to visit on a weekend, they can watch what the call the “Philippines Experience Show”. For more information, please visit Villa Escudero’s website at http://www.villaescudero.com

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The whole plantation is filled with statues of people dressed in traditional Filipino costumes, doing farming, and other livelihood chores such as the man riding a carriage pulled by a carabao on the picture above.

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This pink building is a replica of one of Manila’s most famous churches, the San Agustin Church. It is not a church, rather, it’s a museum. Unfortunately, cameras and picture-taking is not allowed inside. The museum contained a wide collection of religious images, preserved animals, ancient pots and jars from China, foreign currencies, international traditional costumes, etc.

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Part of the Filipino experience in Villa Escudero is the carabao ride. It’s my first time to actually ride something pulled by a carabao and I really felt pity for it. Although it has been accepted that the carabao is a beast of burden and that it’s meant to aid farmers in plowing fields, I still felt sad for the poor creature.

The major attraction, and one of the most exciting parts of the place is actually having to dine with the cool and fresh water rushing on your feet! It was a very nice experience for me because it was definitely unique! The buffet lunch we had contained various Filipino foods such as: Grilled Chicken, Grilled Tilapia, Liempo, Beef Caldereta, Peanut-sauce Veggie Salad, Spring Rolls, and Pancit.

We also had some local Coconut Juice refreshments!

As a final activity, we decided to ride the bamboo rafts or balsa as we Filipinos call it. It was really fun paddling such cool and still waters. The water was relaxing, and since swimming is not allowed, it is very safe for the riders.

Sinulog 2012: Viva Pit Señor!

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

One item on my “things-to-do” list is to experience at least one of the Philippines’ famous festivals. Because the Philippines is an archipelago, numerous islands varied in culture, beliefs, and celebrations. In Baguio, they celebrate the Panagbenga Festival where the locals prepare floats filled with flowers and dance wearing colorful floral-themed costumes. In Quezon, they celebrate the Pahiyas Festival; in Iloilo, the Ati-Atihan, etcetera. These festivals give the Philippines a really distinct colorful personality.

From all the popular festivals in the Philippines, my favorite would have to be Sinulog Festival of Cebu. I’ve always wanted to experience Cebu during the festival. Sinulog has been one of the most popular and most visited festivals in the country, both locals and foreigners fly to Cebu to join the celebration. This grand celebration is held in honor of Sto.Niño (the child image of Jesus Christ), who is the parton saint of Cebu.

The entire city is so alive and happy. The streets were filled with henna tattoo and face painting stations. Almost everyone had tattoos and paints on their bodies and clothes. The Cebuanos really know how to have fun. My cousins and I had our faces painted to feel more of the Sinulog vibe.

Various groups of drummers and costumed dancers joined the parade. Some of these groups are from Cebu’s local schools, while some came all the way from neighboring provinces.

That very night of the street dance parade, the whole city turned into a huge party place. Every street that we crossed were literally full of dancing people. The streets were so crowded with people who wanted to have some fun. Cebuanos definitely know how to party.

After the Sinulog Festival, my cousins and I decided to go around the good parts of the city. One of the famous places in Cebu City is a place called Tops. It’s high above a mountain which gives one a good view of the entire city, including Mactan island. For tourists, it’s advisable to take a cab going here. The drivers will ask if you want them to wait for you, and they should. Way up, there are no other way to go back down the city, so have the cab driver wait for you for an hour or so. Also, the park charges a 100Php entrance fee.

It’s amazing to watch the sunset from up here.

For dinner, we wanted to try the famous Sutukil. We ordered Baked Scallops, Bagoong Rice, Stuffed Crab, Tuna Panga, and Raspberry Iced Tea.

Another activity that we enjoyed while we stayed in Cebu was the island hopping. We decided to avail of Island Banca’s island hopping package. Compared to the non-commercialized island hopping services, it is relatively more expensive. Their boat is really beautiful with a wide deck, a couch, bean bags and comfortable chairs. 

For our last day’s dinner, we dined in Casa Verde, a famous local restaurant in Cebu. They serve steaks, ribs, etc. The meals were sumptuous!

In the few days of my stay in Cebu, it really made me realize that it’s more fun here. It’s more fun in the Philippines! I hope that in writing more about the beautiful parts of the Philippines, I can help promote it to more people.

2012 in Taipei: Shilin, Beitou, Yang Ming Shan, and Tianmu

January 8, 2012 § 4 Comments

Hello 2012! Happy New Year to everyone, especially to my subscribers! I feel ecstatic to make my first post this year. This post is special to me because: first, it’s my first time to spend the New Year outside my country, and secondly, I got to experience parts of Taipei that I have not been to.

My friends from YZU invited me to spend the new year with them, which I gladly agreed to. The plan was to go to Beitou and have a hotspring bath. Before getting to Beitou, we decided to have a bit of food tripping in Shilin Night Market.

1. Shilin Night Market

I really like Shilin because it’s a very lively place; you can have endless choices of foods to try. We availed a lot of foods including fried stuff from this Japanese stall. We ordered a skewered fried mushrooms, tomatoes, banana w/ chocolate, etc.

Customers can choose from the displayed items and have them fried. There’s a variety of stuff here: hotdogs, intestines, meat, fish balls, fruits, mushrooms, and other vegetables.

After eating baozi (meat-filled bun), fried pita-like flour, egg,  and cheese, and a few other more street foods, I went inside a fashion shop because I wanted to pay for a yellow beanie that I saw on display. As my friends and I went inside, we saw this cute, mild, and huggable St. Bernard! He was so adorable.

It’s not my first time in Shilin. Last September 2010, I have visited Shilin Night Market with my family and some friends. Back then, the new Shilin Market (shown below) was not yet present. It’s a structure that housed some clothing, toys, and food vendors. Since it’s relatively new, not all the spots inside were filled yet.

Out of fun, my friends and I payed for a Balloon Shooting Game. We won this cute blue piggy toy.

2. Beitou Hotspring

It’s both funny and unfortunate that my friends and I missed seeing the fireworks at midnight to welcome 2012. It was because we were inside the car on our way to Beitou when the countdown happened. We were tuned in on a radio program and we were counting down inside the car, trying hard to look outside for a sight of some fireworks.

We had a few choices on the spring resorts we’re going to; unfortunately, the first 2 were all full. Apparently, New Year’s Eve is a good time for them to hit hotspring baths. Needless to say, the cold winter makes one to want to dip in hot water too. The photo below is the third spot on our list. Unlike the first 2 we planned on visiting, it was a public bath. It did not house rooms or private areas for certain groups to have all on their own. Imagine the dread I felt when they told me we had to come in completely naked. Yes, naked. The males and females had separate baths, but either way, it was initially very awkward for me.

Entrance fee: 200  NTD

This was a shot I took as I explored the nearby establishments around the hotspring bath. It’s like an old Japanese street with food establishments. The overall ambience of the place is very soothing.

We spent the night in one of my friends’ house in Beitou. I felt happy to meet her parents and to have some fun inside the house with the group. We played cards until 6 in the morning and woke up late in the afternoon the very next day. That next day, we decided to explore Taipei before heading back to our school which is in Toayuan county.

3. Yang Ming Shan (Yang Ming Mountain)

Seeing the view from the mountain is very relaxing. It was bitterly cold and windy that night we came but I still found the view wonderful. My friends said that if the weather was better, the view is more beautiful.

4. Tianmu

Having gone through a dizzying descent from Yang Ming Shan, we arrived at Tianmu. My friends told me there are people who set up their own stalls and sell their own things every weekend. Some of them are 2nd hand, some are the things they make themselves. I found it very amusing.

Here are my friends, looking at some accessories.

After going around the shops, we decided to have a good New Year’s meal. They wanted something expensive since it’s the New Year. I really love how my friends love eating. I think I eat a lot but all of them beat me at it! That being said, we chose to dine in a Korean restaurant, which is also in Tianmu.

It’s my first time to encounter this dish (shown below). Sadly, I do not know its name since it’s written in Chinese. I have been eating Korean foods in the Philippines and in Korea but I have not tried this dish before that day. The lady who managed the shop cooked it in front of us and it was very delicious. She says the food that they offer in the restaurant were MSG free. All the flavors that they created were from fruits like apples, etc. I was amazed it was possible to do that.

We loved the Korean dish so much we decided to eat it again, this time for my last dinner before heading home here in the Philippines for the winter break. I really appreciate how my Taiwanese friends are taking care of me and making me feel welcome. Oh, I miss them already!

Intramuros : The Walled City

December 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

Intramuros is one of the landmarks that exhibited how much of the Spanish influence stayed here in the Philippines.

Sonya’s Garden

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last Sunday, my family and I visited Sonya’s Garden near Tagaytay, but it’s actually still part of Alfonso, Cavite. Sonya’s Garden has been creating buzz for offering organic foods grown right inside the vicinity. Tucked inside a very private and noise-free location, they also offer spa services and bed and breakfast for their guests. The ambience of the place is very relaxing. There are plants, flowers, and butterflies surrounding the place.

A fountain welcomes the guests before going inside the dining area. I really like the effect of the brick floor to contrast the greenery of the garden.

For appetizer, we were served a variety of leaves and vegetables with fruits and various dressings.

We were also served bread with 5 spreads to choose from. I loved the pesto!

We had pasta, capers, and grilled chicken for the main course.

A choice of red and white sauce for the pasta and some other toppings such at shitake mushrooms, rattatouille, black olives, etc. were also served.

Tarragon tea.

Sweets for dessert! Moist chocolate cake, sweet potatoes, and turon.

After our healthy and sumptuous lunch, we took some time wandering around the garden. I took some photos inside some of the greenhouses.

I’m not really a big fan of eating a lot of green leaves but I did enjoy this visit. It’s good to once in a while be able to eat healthy and appreciate different flavors nature can offer.

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