kyoto ramen

Best Ramen Shop Near Kyoto Station I: Honke Daiichiasahi

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/kyoto-1958.html

RAMEN IS WHAT WE MISSED!

It had been 9 days since we arrived in Japan, visiting great places and tasting a lot of fantastic food, from onigiri, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, mochi, Hida beef to sushi. But there was something missing. How come we couldn’t find any ramen (Chinese-style wheat noodle) during the journey?

As soon as we checked in at Lower East Nine Hostel in Kyoto in the evening, we asked the receptionist’s recommendation of great ramen worth to try and how to find it. In response to our question, he quickly said, “Honke Daiichiasahi. About 5 minutes walking distance from Kyoto Station.”

Wow! How convenient was it! Our hostel was situated just 1 stop from Kyoto Station by subway. The hunger struck us and without further much ado, we immediately went to the recommended ramen shop.

THE DAY BEFORE IN THE EVENING

With a help from Google Map, we finally arrived at a modest shop house complex. There were actually 2 shop houses selling ramen and at almost 10 pm, the queues of both places were unbelievable. Everyone was standing outside the entrance door and patience seemed the only way to succeed getting some seats. Nonetheless, hunger made it difficult. We automatically queued at the one with less people in line.

Still opening Google Map on my phone, I suddenly noticed something was not right. Honke Daiichiasahi façade was pictured as the shop house having a yellow canopy and a giant yellow menu attached on the window. On the other hand, we lined up at the one having a red canopy and 2 vending machines outside the outlet. The characters written on the red canopy didn’t match the one on Google Map either.

So, once more, I asked a local guy passing by which one Honke Daiichiasahi was. He pointed the shop house behind us, with the yellow canopy whose line was much more crazy than where were at. I told my friend about it. Our conclusion was to have a dinner at the “wrong” ramen shop (which was also great, stay tuned for the next post!) that night and returned to Honke Daiichiasahi the day after.

THE DAY AFTER IN THE AFTERNOON

After visiting Fushimi Inari Shrine the next day, we revisited Honke Daiichiasahi for lunch. Surprisingly, there was no one lined up outside the store like yesterday, although we still needed to wait inside for an empty seat that took less than 10 minutes.

kyoto ramen

The dining area was modest and not too spacious, where the distance between chairs and tables looked a bit too cramped, but it’s just how it is and nothing to complain about. The bar section, a long table attached on the wall near the food out window, maximized way to accommodate more customers. I admit the cleanliness was pretty good despite the crowds and heavy (customer) traffic. I spotted some parts of the wall need to be repainted near the air conditioner, though, but I think people just didn’t sweat about it.

kyoto ramen

Needless to say that the key success of the eatery that has been operating since 1947 lies on the excellent quality of the ramen itself, which is originally a Chinese style soba known as “Takabashi Ramen” or just “Takabashi”.

I only can understand why raving fans are willing to stand for hours just for a bowl of noodle after trying their signature “Special Ramen”, the tonkotsu ramen with shouyu (soy sauce) and abundant thin-sliced pork. Although the soup had light texture, it was actually savoury because of the high intensity of broth taste. The well-selected domestic pork meat called chutaikan enriched the soup taste in the right proportion and the generous amount of scallions added up some freshness to the entire dish.

To be honest, it’s the best ramen I’ve ever tasted in my life.

Starting from approximately ¥700, you can get a bowl of delicious ramen. The price of Special Ramen is slightly higher, ¥850 per portion and ¥550 for a smaller portion, but still affordable. The only regret I had was that I ordered the small portion (I mean, look at the price compared to the normal one!) because I ate too much street food around the neighbourhood of Fushimi Inari Shrine prior to the visit.

Practically, you can visit Honke Daiichiasahi almost anytime you want (except Thursdays), because of the long operational hours, from 5 am until 2 am. Moreover, the location is very strategic and easy to find, just 5 minutes on foot from Kyoto Station. If you are a noodle lover, it’s a must to try.

I hope that I’ll have time to visit this ramen shop once again when I return to Kyoto and perhaps, I can try the gyoza (dumpling), too.

TIPS BEFORE YOU GO

  1. If you ask for the name of a place you’re not familiar with and you neither speak nor read Japanese, ask for the written form of that name in Japanese characters. Since not all Japanese people understand Latin letters, the Japanese characters helps a lot when you get lost and need ask someone for a road direction to a certain place you can’t pronounce well.
  2. To avoid long queue, come at the non-peak hours. In my experience, in the afternoon, especially after lunch time, the traffic is slower and you can get a seat more easily.

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/kyoto-1958.html

Honke Daiichiasahi (本家 第一旭 たかばし本店)

Address: 845 Higashi ShioKoji Mukaihara-cho, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto

 

Meiji Shrine: Serene Spot in Shibuya

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/tokyo-405.html

TRANQUILITY IN DOWNTOWN TOKYO

Being one of the most crowded areas in Tokyo, Shibuya is mostly known for its legendary Shibuya Crossing (that reminds me of Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift), Hachiko statue outside Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station and tall buildings with flashy LED lighting.

Nonetheless, despite the crowds, finding tranquility and peace of mind in Shibuya area is much easier than you thought. Meiji Shrine is the closest getaway to stay away from crowds a little while. From Shibuya Station, take a JR Yamanote Line to Harajuku Station, which is only 1 stop, and walk a few minutes from Harajuku Station.

Meiji Shrine is a Shinto shrine built in 1920 as a dedication to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, located in the inner side of Yoyogi Park near the iris garden that they loved to visit during their lives.

The shrine was destroyed in 1945 during the World War II and rebuilt with donations from various sources all over the country in 1958.

tokyo

Once we found the Torii gates made of 1500-year-old cypress wood among the greens, I knew I was in the right place. Hustling and bustling in the city seemed to be a distant memory, replaced by the 247-acre garden offering tranquility and some fresh air.

Bear in mind that tranquility doesn’t make Meiji Shrine off-the-beaten path place at all, since it holds many religious ceremonies and festivals. Also, there are many traditional Shinto wedding ceremonies taking place at the memorial hall.

Unless you come in the morning, it will be hard to take pictures without crowds passing by, although it’s not as packed as Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.

EMPEROR MEIJI AND EMPRESS SHOKEN: HIGHLY RESPECTED ROYAL COUPLES

Emperor Meiji was known for Meiji Restoration (1867 – 1912), when Japan transformed into a modern country, opening itself to the outside world, catching up with the western knowledge and technology, and industrial period started to rise. It also marked the end of feudalism by Tokugawa Shogunate after 250 years of ruling.

On the other hand, Empress Shoken involved in numerous royal visits, meetings and was active in charity funds, including the Japanese Red Cross society. She donated ¥100,000 (now worth ¥3.5 billion) to International Red Cross in Geneva in 1912, inspiring the establishment of Empress Shoken Fund in the same year. The fund supports disaster preparedness, healthcare, sanitation, and social welfare activities in developing countries.

mei

More than 100 years after the royal couple’s passing, they are still highly respected nationwide. Every year, the ceremony of Emperor Meiji’s birthday is held on November 3. The commemoration of Empress Shoken is on April 11, which is the anniversary of her death, to remember her virtues.

Before passing the 12-meter Otorii or Grand Shrine Gate, the largest gate at Meiji Shrine, there’s a giant rack stacked with sake barrels that are probably the only colourful property on site.

mei

Meiji Jingu Nationwide Sake Brewers Association and other sake brewers from different parts of Japan make sake offerings to honor the soul of the royal couple, as well as a gratitude to Emperor Meiji who encouraged the growth of industrialization during Meiji Period.

meiji shrine
French wine barrels

Another dedication to Emperor Meiji is French wine barrels situated across the sake barrels, donated by notable wineries of Bourgogne in France initiated by Yasuhiko Sata, the House of Burgundy Representative in Tokyo. Drinking wine was part of the Emperor’s ways to embrace and promote western culture, although he didn’t leave traditional values and spirit behind.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO AT THE MAIN SHRINE

Forget about red, gold and other vibrant colours like any other temples once you arrived at the main shrine. In fact, it tends to have a “low profile” look with earth colour domination, mostly dark chestnut brown. Having passed all the gates, we dragged ourselves to the most sacred place in Shibuya area.

Since we only targeted our visit on the main shrine to save our time (and free of charge), let me share what you mainly can do at the main shrine area besides walking along the large square.

1. DOING SHINTO RITUALS

For those who are non-Shinto believers, doing omairi, the basic rituals for entering the shrine, is a stepping stone to feel more “local”. Simultaneously, it’s a sign of respect to a religion you’re probably not familiar with.

Omairi basically includes bowing slightly before passing all the gates, temizu or self-cleansing ritual at the communal basin by washing mouth and hands with a wooden scoop and the prayer to kami (gods) by dropping a coin as an offering, pulling the rope to ring a bell and clapping hands twice.

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I noticed that some visitors are interested in doing temizu, especially the step by step guide is stated very clearly on the board right before the basin itself. Apart from that, they do the prayer part by dropping coins and clapping hands twice mainly for gaining more experience and fun.

2. HUNTING AMULETS AND CHARMS AT THE SOUVENIR SHOP

Suppose souvenir hunting is one of the main goals of your visit, no worries. There are lovely and cute design charms, amulets, key chains at the souvenir shop. The price range starts from ¥ 300 ($ 3) to over ¥ 1000 ($ 9), depending on material, size and design. There are some modest amulets that cost ¥ 100 (S 1), too, but I think I found it not that attractive.

It is tempting to have some of them, but I try not to spend too much on them since we would visit more temples in our next journey and they usually sell similar stuffs.

me

3. MAKE A WISH AND A DONATION

There are several ways to make a wish and donation at the temple. One of them is to donate for a roof reparation. Write your name and wishes on a sheet of copper and pay ¥ 3000 ($ 27).

If ¥ 3000 seems too much, get an ema votive tablet for ¥ 500 and write your prayer, wishes and gratitude on it. After that, hang it on the “tree” that looks more like a hanging rack rather than an actual tree. The priests will present your wishes to the gods in the morning ceremony the day after.

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Ema
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a closer look of Ema
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Alternatively, you can write your prayer and wishes in a piece of paper and put it in the envelope provided inside the organizer on the table. Then, you can drop it inside wooden container on the left side behind the table. FYI, the paper and the envelope are free of charge.

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4. ATTENDING A SHINTO WEDDING PROCESSION

Meiji Shrine is a popular place for a Shinto traditional wedding ceremony that usually takes place at Meiji Memorial Hall, followed by blessings outside the hall when family members march behind the couple and the priests. It doesn’t happen everyday, though, but if you’re lucky enough, you will find it.

To be honest, it’s the best activity of all because there’s no way that I will have that chance to see that in my hometown. It doesn’t take a genius to love watching happy couple with beautiful traditional costume and head piece (for the bride).

We hunted the couple and their troops with our camera until they returned to their car in the other end of the shrine.

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the bride and her parents
meiji jingu shrine
meiji jingu shrine
meiji jingu shrine
meiji jingu shrine
meiji jingu shrine
meiji jingu shrine
meiji jingu shrine

OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST OTHER THAN THE SHRINE

If you have all the time in the world, the inner garden of Yoyogi Park has something else to offer apart from the main shrine. Jingū Naien or the iris garden, Treasure House and Treasure Museum Annex entrance fee is ¥ 500 ($ 5) each. When that’s not enough, you may want to visit the outer garden, where Meiji Memorial Art Gallery and Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium are located.

In our case, we skipped those places and headed to Asakusa for our next destination.

Now you can download this article through the following link: https://www.gpsmycity.com/gps-tour-guides/tokyo-405.html

doraemon

Voyagin: Is This Online Booking Service Worth It for Budget Travellers?

A GLIMPSE ABOUT VOYAGIN

Voyagin is an online booking service for tours, tickets and restaurants in several Asian countries founded by Masashi Takahashi from Japan. Being a Japanese company, the widest range of services is in Japan, that includes mobile WiFi rental, SIM card and e-money card purchases. Other Asian countries available on Voyagin are Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, India, Singapore and Hong Kong, with limited city options.

HOW I ENDED UP USING THE SERVICE

My first “encounter” with this company was when I was searching further information about Fujiko F. Fujio Museum on www.japan-guide.com since I’m a huge fan of Doraemon.

doraemon
nice to meet you…

The most bizarre thing about it is that the ticket should be bought in advance and there’s no ticket sales at the museum itself. Only when you arrive in Japan can you actually buy it from Loppi vending machines in any Lawson convenience stores.

I left for Tokyo on April 1 and planned to visit the museum the day after, on April 2. In that situation, I probably didn’t want to hassle searching for Lawson on my first day in Japan, although it is said that Lawson is available just a stone’s throw away from any hotels throughout the country. Not to mention that the instructions are only written in Japanese and asking a shop assistant for help could take a lot of time.

Therefore, I decided to get it online prior to my arrival in Japan by clicking the link of Voyagin on www.japan-guide.com, redirected to Fujiko F. Fujio Museum online booking page.

Nonetheless, if you have more time and want to experience using Loppi machine in a correct way, save or print the English instruction before having yourself in front of the machine.

HOW VOYAGIN WORKS

In my experience, booking a ticket through Voyagin is as simple as one, two, three. Click www.govoyagin.com to find the latest offers on tours, tickets and restaurant bookings.

voyagin
voyagin homepage appearance on a smartphone

Once you find a desired destination, you just need to choose the available date and how many tickets you want to order.

But before that, it is highly recommended to click “Read Full Description” for more information on specific requirements from the destination  you are about to visit (e.g. time slot admittance options, what to or not to bring inside the museum, when to place a pre-order, additional information to submit, etc), as well as the company’s rule on ticket pick-up and delivery.

voyagin

Since Voyagin offers a  ticket delivery to the hotel as part of the service, you should make use of it wisely by informing the hotel name and its complete address, the full name used on your reservation and check-in date to the (Voyagin) officials at least 3 business days in advance. The earlier the better as long as you’re fully confirmed with where you stay when the ticket is delivered.

Otherwise, you could collect it in its office in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Address:
(English) Miyamasu ON Building 5th floor, 1-15-8 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
(Japanese) 〒150-0002 東京都渋谷区渋谷 1-15-8 宮益 ON ビル 5F

 

After clicking “Book It” button, complete the next form with your full name, email address, the length of your stay in Japan, ticket delivery option (choose either collect it at its office or at the hotel), special request, additional info (e.g. official entrance options, audio guide language options, etc when necessary) and payment information to secure your booking.

You will receive a confirmation email both in your inbox and your Voyagin account once you sign up that looks like the following:

voyagin japan
confirmation email from Voyagin

In case your request cannot be fulfilled, i.e. your entrance time slot preference is fully booked or the preferred date is not available, the officials will inform you within 3 days or less. If everything is okay, then you are set to go! Collect the ticket at the hotel or in its office in Shibuya, your choice.

Should you have more questions, you can chat with the staff using a chat box during operational hours on the right corner of the site, or an envelope sign on a smartphone.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT VOYAGIN

I was fully satisfied with the service from Voyagin because:

  1. Voyagin shares all information you need to know under one roof. Browsing multiple websites, reading scattered brochures, asking friends and random people about a place you are about to visit will no longer necessary. Moreover, when you receive the ticket, Voyagin gives you an additional information inside the envelope on public transports, bus or train schedules and road directions to your destination. It completely saves your time and energy.
  2. It delivers the ticket to your hotel. In other words, there’s no need to print the ticket from your email and bring it before coming to Japan. Upon arrival at the hotel, all I had to do is to ask the concierge for the letter with my ticket in it.
  3. Quick response. Chatting with the officials is very effective and efficient, as questions are replied within seconds during operational hours. When they are offline, you can leave your questions, name and email address, then you’ll get the reply within 24 hours.
  4. Free cancellation. Voyagin allows a full refund if you cancel your booking, except for last minute and fixed date tickets. Click here for more information about cancellation policies.

doraemon museum direction
Fujiko F. Fujio Museum bus schedule and direction

HOW MUCH DID I SPEND FOR IT?

Good question! And I’m going to explain it right now.

The original price of Fujiko F. Fujio Museum is ¥1000 (almost $9) from Loppi machine at Lawson convenience store in Japan. Voyagin sells the same ticket for $27 (about ¥3000). I was already well-informed about it before finally using Voyagin service.

When I received the museum ticket from Voyagin, I saw a Lawson logo on the top left side next to the barcode. I wasn’t surprised. I had known from the start that the company would buy it from the same Lawson’s Loppi machine.

So you know the conclusion right away. A ¥1000 ticket sold for ¥3000. Wow! Indeed, it offers a great service that comes with a price.

ticket doraemon

IS IT WISE TO USE VOYAGIN SERVICE FOR BUDGET TRAVELLERS?

If I knew that it would cost so much more to get the ticket from Voyagin, why on earth did I still use the service as a budget conscious traveller?

First of all, one of my main goals to Japan is to visit Fujiko F. Fujio Museum and I didn’t want to fail it. As mentioned before, I planned to visit it on my 2nd day in Japan. Therefore, I’d rather take a good rest on day 1 before actually began my adventures next day. Unfortunately, I have neither friends nor relatives in Japan whom I can count on to have the ticket bought for me in advance.

I’m not sure when I have time to return to Japan  next time just to see the museum. Even if I return to the country, it’s hard to tell whether I’m heading to Kawasaki area, the city where the museum is located, or not.

Time is money, an old saying that is also valid for budget travellers. I get it. As a budget traveller, you may tend to avoid tour operators or third parties to find tickets, hotels and so on to cut cost. Google maps and reading multiple travel blogs are your free guide books. I second that thoughts, too.

Nonetheless, there are times when it is wiser to replace “time” with “money”, especially when you have a tight schedule and spare time could be a luxury. I would rather spend 3 times higher than the original ticket rate, which is still less than $30, than spending another $500 airline ticket for revisiting the same place just because I didn’t succeed to figure out how to use Lawson’s Loppi machine or I couldn’t find the expected date since I’m too late because of late bookings, which is very ridiculous.

In my case, I have made a wise decision. There are still rooms for budget savings during the journey, from accommodation, airline ticket, to food.

Whether Voyagin is wise for you or not as a budget traveller, it depends on your situation. But I can assure you that if no locals can help you for bookings, you have no time or desperate to figure out yourself and prefer to save time and energy by having another party to do it for you, Voyagin could be your solution.

 

 

 

 

 

lower east nine hostel kyoto

The Lower East Nine Hostel: High-Rated Hostel that Doesn’t Meet My Expectations

HIGH-RANKED HOSTEL IN AFFORDABLE RATE

Knowing that capsule hotels in Kyoto are more expensive than those in Tokyo, I decided to stay in The Lower East Nine Hostel. If I could save about $50 for 2 nights compared to capsule hotels (in Kyoto), why not?

I tried my best to control our budget on where to save and splurge. I’d rather splurge (affordably) for a mountain view hotel like Mizuno Hotel in Mt. Fuji for the next trip.

Moreover, The Lower East Nine Hostel was (and still is) rated 9.3 out of 10. It was said on Booking.com that it’s in a good location close to the station, best price in Kyoto, clean and tidy, staffs are friendly and speak good English. Hell yes, the latter is rather hard to find!

For a $65 room per night, those reviews sounded perfect. Minor complaints, such as small beds, crowded, noisy and small lockers were something I didn’t sweat that much. It’s a backpacker’s type of accommodation, not a 4 or 5 star hotel, so what do you expect? I assume that I would get about the same experience as staying in a capsule hotel.

The female dorm was fully booked, unfortunately. The only choice left was a mixed dorm with 8 bunk beds, which was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I think it should be okay. I mean, there wouldn’t be a gang rape or something, right?

THE COOLEST LOBBY EVER!

Situated a stone’s throw away from Kujo Station, one stop from Kyoto Station, the 2-storey building hostel façade looked impressively clean and modern with its pure white wall and large windows. Unless there’s a “hostel” word, it would be like a hip cafe bar.

lower east nine hostel kyoto

The lobby was actually a cafe and bar that belongs to the hostel. The idea of combining a reception, a bar and a cashier was brilliant, as it saves a lot space and employees. You won’t think it’s a lobby unless someone tells you so.

lower east nine hostel kyoto

lower east nine kyoto

The modern and minimalist interior somehow reminds me of a show unit in IKEA stores and I loved it! It was a cozy place to chill out, accompanied with soothing lounge music and modern jazz instrumental played all day long.

I noticed there were quite a lot of customers, who were not hostel guests, came only for a cup of coffee and free Wi-Fi.

lower east nine kyoto

In fact, only customers are allowed to seat at the lounge. Hostel guests bringing their own food, aka who don’t purchase anything, are “shifted” to the dining room and kitchen upstairs.

Initially wanted to have a hot chocolate, I finally ordered matcha latte (powdered green tea latte), as suggested by the barista, just to experience the lounge in my last day of stay.

Forget about the idea of overpriced, crappy and touristy taste of hotel food and drinks for a while. The rates at The Lower East Nine Cafe & Bar were relatively reasonable. My matcha latte cost me ¥350 ($3). The green tea taste was pretty strong, toned down with fresh milk and a little bit of sugar to elevate the bittersweet flavour of the concoction. It was the kind of bittersweet that I loved so much.

SPACIOUS KITCHEN AND DINING ROOM

Having collected our access card and sandals, we were amazed by the spacious kitchen and dining room on the first floor with complete facilities, from kitchen utensils, microwave, toaster, fridge, water boiler, cutlery until dinnerware. There were lot of seats available, including coffee table with huge sofas. My favourite spot was the one by window, facing the outside world.

No question about the cleanliness of all the facilities and the Wi-Fi connection. They were perfect!

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lower east nine kyoto

lower east nine kyoto

ROOM FACILITIES: A ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENTS

We were glad that the rooms, toilets and bathrooms were as clean as the rest of the facilities. And washing machines were available, too.

Nonetheless, we started to feel why we missed our capsule hotel in Tokyo so much (I’ll discuss about this in the future post) after staying for 2 nights. Here’s why:

  • NO LUGGAGE STORAGE IN ROOMS

It’s a contradiction that there was no luggage storage on the first floor, where all the rooms were located. The luggage storage at the lobby downstairs is the only official place to put it.

It’s still possible to put your luggage inside the room; either under the bed, on the corner of the room, or lean it on the wall. Unless there’s a space left, you can put it in the alley as well. Therefore, I never advice anyone to bring a large suitcase if you stay in this hostel.

I was so lucky that I only had a backpack during my stay.

Remember, the hostel had no elevator as it was only a two-storey-building.

  • LOCKERS TOO SMALL

The lockers outside the room were too small, as their maximum capacity was only for handbags and 2 pairs of shoes. There was one larger locker next to the small ones, but it was occupied. Even so, the large locker didn’t fit for bigger suitcases.

Actually, the solution for this issue is just around the corner. Converting about one-fourth of the dining room into a luggage storage totally ends the misery. I think the room is way too big just for a dining room that some of its space can be altered for other purposes.

lower east nine kyoto
The room. Picture credit: http://www.hostelworld.com

  • NO SHOE LOCKERS

Shoes were allowed to be kept inside the room. There was no designated area to keep them apart to maintain the floor cleanliness. Some guests put them under the bed, along with suitcases.

Indeed, there were lockers outside, but there was no house rules defining what they stand for. So, everybody can have their own way of using them. We used lockers to put our shoes.

At a glance, it seems like a piece of cake. Nevertheless, it may create discomfort for certain people. For instance, my friend, who occupied the lower deck, couldn’t sleep well because of someone’s shoe odour.

Again, I was lucky because I slept on the upper deck and a bag of muffin was next to me. I smelled the yummy strawberry muffin during the night instead of shoe odour!

  • DOOR SLAMS EASILY AND LOUD

The sound of closing door was pretty loud, unless somebody holds it with his or her body before it finally slams. Noises outside the room could also be heard easily. Footsteps, chattering crowds, pouring water, you name it.

Lucky me. I’m not very sensitive to noise and I brought spare earplugs, too.

  • LIMITED AMOUNT OF BATHROOMS

They should provide more bathrooms, so there’s no need to be in line for long just to cleanse yourself. In my experience, they were busy at midnight and empty after 9 am (because either a lot of guests already checked out or began to explore the city).

fireman
firemen across the hostel. a house on fire, but not a big one though

A GREAT HOSTEL FOR WHOM?

Although I can adapt easily with new places, I don’t sweat small stuffs that don’t affect me much (I mean, look at the price!), The Lower East Nine Hostel is not my ideal place to stay.

I’m not saying that it’s a bad hostel, as it is clean, has well-provided basic amenities, great location and all staffs are helpful and speak English well.

However, I personally would probably come back just for lounging, not for an overnight stay. Apparently, high rating and positive testimonials don’t always fit all. As they don’t fit me this time.

If you have a real backpacker’s soul, a strictly budget-oriented traveller who completely ready to face all the consequences, have been staying in much worse places before, not sensitive to noise, smell and cramped spaces, and travel light, this hostel is the right place for you.

And what you can do after reading my review, aka complaints, is just ignore them and have a pleasant stay.

 

Less Touristic UNESCO Heritage Site in Japan: Suganuma Village

HOW I ACTUALLY ENDED UP IN SUGANUMA VILLAGE

As instructed by an official at Takayama Station that from Shirakawa-go, we needed to transit at Gokayama Suganuma Station to catch an intercity bus to Kanazawa. She circled the name “Gokayama Suganuma Station” on the bus schedule she passed me.

My friend Olie and I arrived at Gokayama Suganuma Station at 11 o’clock. It was surprisingly small and not very presentable for an intercity bus station, although it has some coin lockers for rent starting from ¥100 until ¥600 depending on the sizes. However, none of us suspected anything at that moment and thought it was the right place for a transfer.

Having seen on the map the day before that there’s a heritage village called Suganuma village, we followed the asphalt pathway heading downwards behind the station. We instantly noticed the signature Gassho-zukuri farm houses in front of us.

I was like, “Hey, it is indeed a very scenic location for a station. Lovely!”

gokayama suganuma village unesco heritage site
Suganuma Village access situated behind the station

We had about 40 minutes to wander around the scenic village and gave another 10 minutes extra time to walk back to the station with our hand luggage before heading to Kanazawa. The was no way that heavy rain stopped us from exploring the site.

It’s just that almost everything I captured have some traces of rain and raindrops.

ABOUT SUGANUMA VILLAGE

Gokayama region is located in the southwest part of Toyama Prefecture, lying between 1500 meters high mountains along the gorge of the Sho River. It is said that the first settlement started in the 12th century when the defeated Tairan Clan warriors fled to Gokayama to start a new life.

gokayama

Suganuma village is one of the villages in Gokayama region being listed on UNESCO Heritage Site since 1995 and The National Groups of Traditional Buildings also lists the village as an “Important Preservation District”, along with Ainokura village.

Suganuma village consists of 9 Gassho-zukuri houses, built in the end of Edo Period (1603-1867) when Lord Maeda was in reign, 3 non-Gassho-zukuri houses, some earthen and wooden-walled store houses.

gassho-zukuri gokayama japan

Gassho-zukuri houses are like nowhere else in Japan and only exist in Gokayama and Shirakawa-go. Triangle thatched rooftops that resembles an prayer pose with fingertips touching each other pointing upwards is the signature style of these heritage farmhouses, to hold heavy snow in winter time.

Nonetheless, compared to rooftops in Shirakawa-go, those in Gokayama are steeper and there’s a rounded shape on the tip of the rooftop called hafu, something that Gassho-zukuri houses in Shirakawa-go don’t have. Therefore, the snow falls down easier from Gassho-zukuri rooftops in Gokayama area.

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The entire village is still in its original form, including the irrigated rice fields, dry crop land and shrine groves. The age of all the properties in the village is about 100 to 200 years old. There are restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops inside the lovely Gassho style farmhouses owned by villagers who live there.

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HOW WE EXPLORED THE SITE IN POURING RAIN

It rained like cats and dogs and there was no sign of stopping anytime soon. Before exploring the site, my friend left her quite big luggage on the side of a souvenir shop entrance door, informing the store owner in advance.

Perhaps it was because the hard rain, or may be it was simply a very quiet area, that nobody noticed an unattended luggage. 40 minutes later, it was still intact and untouched. There was no need to question about the safety in the area.

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souvenir and snack shop

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the cafe in a non-gassho style house

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a closer look of the price list

Actually, Gokayama Folklore Museum could be the right place to shelter ourselves. It gives more knowledge about the live of villagers in Gokayama region during Edo period through exhibitions of utensils they used for producing silkworms, gunpowder and Japanese handmade paper called washi.

However, I preferred taking pictures of the entire landscape of the village despite heavy rain since we had a very limited time. But, if time is not a problem for you, visiting the museum could be a good option.

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Gokayama Folklore Museum, one of the oldest Gassho-zukuri houses in Suganuma

I was so lucky to bring my plastic raincoat, but it didn’t really ease my photography activity. I hung my camera on my neck and covered it with a plastic bag. It was quite troublesome, to be honest, since I had to take it out from the bag every time I saw something nice to take. I stopped capturing after some dewdrops appeared inside my camera LCD. (Luckily, they disappeared the next day. Phew!)

I instantly joined Olie, who had sheltered herself earlier to the cafe nearby. By the time I got there, she had made friends with 2 lovely old ladies. Despite the language barrier, they tried to make a conversation with her (and with me later on), offering us some rice crackers after that. From our mixed conversation with some words and gestures, I assumed that one of the ladies is a papier-maché artist.

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I ordered kelp tea (konbu tea), a savoury-flavoured tea made of infused kombu kelp seaweed. It was a bit bizarre to have it as a tea drink, but I believe it could be delicious as a soup ingredient.

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shrine grove, seen from the cafe

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woven sandals behind my seat

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it’s indeed a modern interior inside the Gassho style cafe

THE 11.50 BUS THAT NEVER CAME AND HOW GOOD SAMARITANS HELPED US THROUGH IT

It was 11.50 and our bus didn’t come at all. We wondered why the schedule at the bus stop (I think it’s more proper to call it a bus stop rather than a station) mentioned that the next bus would be at 12.15. The time 11.50 was never mentioned there. An Indonesian couple and a solo traveler from Hong Kong couldn’t help us much, something that was completely understandable.

Suddenly, the 2 lovely old ladies we met at the cafe joined us. We greeted each other and asked them if we could go to Kanazawa from Gokayama Suganuma Station. We showed our tickets, and both lovely ladies advised us to take the same bus as theirs and got off at Takaoka Station. In other words, we needed to buy new tickets and we lost ¥ 1,540 each because we had to take a different bus from the one in our tickets.

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But it didn’t matter anymore. It was a much better option than being stranded at the small bus stop for only God knows how long it could be.

The 12.15 bus was late for about 15 minutes, something not very common for a country like Japan. We totally depended on these ladies and waited for their instruction when to get off.

About 2 hours later, we got off together at Takaoka station. The lovely ladies continued their journey to Osaka by train. On the other hand, we took a train to Shin-Takaoka to transfer for another train to Kanazawa.

We thanked the lovely ladies, that happened to be our good Samaritans. We had no idea what would happen to us if they weren’t there helping us.

Nonetheless, our visit to Suganuma village would probably not happen without being lost at first. May be it happened for a reason.

WHAT WENT WRONG WITH OUR TICKETS?

Later on, we were curious what went wrong with our old tickets. We compared the bus ticket (written only in Japanese) with the bus schedule (written in English and Japanese), where the official circled the station name “Gokayama Suganuma”.

After matching all the Japanese characters from the ticket and bus schedule, it turned out that the Japanese character on the ticket means “Gassho no Sato” station, situated 1 stop before Gokayama Suganuma bus stop.

In other words, we supposed to stop at Gassho no Sato station for a intercity bus transfer to Kanazawa at 11.50! The official circled the wrong station on the bus schedule and she spoke such as bad English that I completely misunderstood her in the end!

 

SOME TIPS ABOUT VISITING SUGANUMA VILLAGE

  • Buy a 3-day-pass for Shirakawa-go and Gokayama World Heritage Bus at Takayama Nohi Bus Terminal (next to JR Takayama Station). It will stop in all heritage sites, from Shirakawa-go (Ogimachi village) to all villages in Gokayama, including Suganuma and Ainokura village. The distance between one site to another is 30 to 45 minutes. The ticket price is about ¥3700 per person (please check the updates at the station or check the following sites: https://www.nouhibus.co.jp/english/ , http://www.kaetsunou.co.jp/ (Japanese only)
  • You only can explore Gokayama and Shirakawa-go areas by bus (and private cars). No trains available.
  • Don’t bring a large suitcase while travelling anywhere in Japan, especially if you plan to move from one place to another for multiple times. Coin lockers for large suitcases are only available at the main or bigger stations. Smaller stations and bus stops only provide coin lockers for small to medium luggage size. It costs ¥100 for a small coin locker and  ¥600 for a bigger one.
  • Choose a 4-wheeled suitcase as it adds more flexibility to drag on narrow bus alley. (Please note that even Shinkansen trains have narrow alleys, too!)
  • While visiting any heritage village in Gokayama and Shirakawa-go, please remember that there are still villagers living inside the Gassho-zukuri houses. Trespassing private properties is not allowed. Making too much noises is also unpleasant for surroundings.
  • As usual, many Japanese people don’t speak good English. A Google Translate app on your phone is extremely useful (I didn’t use that when I was at the station!) while communicating with them.

 

 

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Get a Spectacular View of Mt. Fuji from Mizno Hotel

Situated merely 2 hours from Tokyo, a trip to Mt. Fuji can be completed within a day by leaving from Tokyo early in the morning and return in the evening. Yet somehow, my conscience told me otherwise, that I had to stay overnight in the area. If staying in a mountain view room and having onsen (hot spring) facing the mountain are my wildest dreams, I had to make it happen there no matter what.

I had to loosen up my budget too, leaving my comfort zone in that sense, by not staying in a budget hostel like what I normally do.  There’s always an extra cost for the sake of panoramic view, I got it.

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Having stumbled upon several different websites, I finally booked Mizno Hotel on Booking.com because it was the most affordable rate I could get for a mountain view room. Although the location is not exactly right in the lakeshore of Lake Kawaguchi, but on the hilltop behind other hotels before it, the lake view and Mt. Fuji are not blocked by those properties nearby. That’s what matters the most.

It was about $150 per night, non-smoking twin bed room with private bathroom. And I hope it’s worth it just like all the testimonials I read. The good news is Ollie agreed to give a shot.

Another good news is that the there’s a shuttle service that picks you up from Fuji Kawaguchiko station if you inform the hotel upon arrival. In our case, the chauffeur picked us up from Yuransen Ropeway Iriguchi Station, situated 3 stops from Kawaguchiko Station. It helped us to save some money and energy, especially passing the inclined route to the hotel on foot could be exhausting.

HOMEY MANSION

A homey mansion was the feeling I got when I entered Mizuno Hotel lobby. I immediately drew my own conclusion that the main waiting room across the reception was a living room.

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Walking further, passing through a souvenir shop on the corner side of the lobby, we found a more secluded and bigger room with lots of old books, some magazines and an old typewriter on a coffee table. I assume that in real life, it was meant for a reading or a study room. Privacy was the limelight of the room, with the presence of curtain by the entrance that are not found in other parts of the room. Unlike the living room, the lighting was a bit brighter for reading comfort.

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reading / study room

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the bar

A touch of classics in both rooms with sets of bulky leather sofas and a bunch of paintings decorating almost each side of the wall and pillar remind me of a family’s house who emphasize on displaying traces of their past life elegantly.

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F&B section was the next destination of our tour. The bar and lounge lighting were as dim as that of the living room, with a little spark of red and canary yellow illumination as seen inside the racks. The atmosphere was indeed very calming and cozy, the right kind of place where I could find my comfort zone either to be alone zipping my margarita or to meet my new love affair, or both. Although I finally didn’t do both and no hunk to hook up.

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The dining room was a bit more “modest” than the rest of the rooms, especially the choice of lighter and more casual furniture design emphasizing on functional aspects to ease the staffs to keep it clean. Despite its simplicity, it was a comfortable place to dine in.

 

AVERAGE ROOM WITH SPECTACULAR MOUNTAIN VIEW

There’s no doubt that Mizno Hotel totally gets the idea that a lobby crafts the first impression that lasts forever. But that good impression did not proceed well to our bedroom, that was much less classy and flashy than the lobby. Moreover, when the homey feeling was taken too deeply, it would create dullness like someone’s old room that needs a rejuvenation.

Not to mention that the shower hose was leaking when I washed my feet. The mechanic came to our room right away and did a little quick trick with it, as if it had happened many times before yet never been replaced.

The room had lack of plugs, therefore we could not charge our smartphones, a pocket wi-fi and a camera simultaneously unless we brought a travel adapter. Worstly, we didn’t realize that we charged the gadgets in one of the plugs that didn’t work at all and we only realized it the next day.

Overall, the room interior was simply forgettable that I forgot taking a picture of it. The one below, I got it from Agoda website.

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the bedroom. picture credit: agoda.com

Despite the drawbacks, they delivered the main selling point properly: a gorgeous view of Mt. Fuji by the window!

It took almost half an hour to get rid of the cloud in the evening, but we still didn’t get a clear view of the mountain. But at least, the mountain peak was visible enough.

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Mount Fuji in the evening

Only in the morning at 6 am did we get a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji in clear sky. We were overjoyed! It was a rewarding experience, especially the appearance of Mt. Fuji the day before was covered by cloud the whole afternoon.

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Mount Fuji in clear sky

Besides, I noticed a unique hotel belonging in the corridor outside our room: a long wooden church chair. I wonder how it gets there.

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wooden chair usually found in churches

MOUNTAIN VIEW HOT SPRING?

Unfortunately, the mountain view Jacuzzi (not hot spring) on the top floor costs $10 per person. Instead, we used the free onsenthe Japanese term of hot spring, on the second floor and it was a good experience too for first timers. Like many other hot spring places, standard amenities, such as soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair dryer, combs and face lotion were provided.

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the bar

BUDGET-CONSCIOUS DINING

As budget -conscious travellers, we saved money on food to compensate the hotel rate. We had a dinner in Konami Restaurant, situated 5 minutes from the hotel. We shared egg benedict for breakfast at the hotel that cost us $18 per portion, so we only paid $9 each. I think the taste was quite okay, though not very special. Please note that you need to order the breakfast the day before at the reception.

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egg benedict

IN A NUTSHELL

We had a pleasant stay in the hotel although there are some aspects that need improvements. The staffs were friendly and speak English pretty well. I realize that Mizno Hotel is a three-star hotel, not a five-star one, after all. I can’t expect much of glamour inside the room, but the most important thing is that it has a perfect location for a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji.

Two Stranded Girls, a Fine Gentleman and a Broken Public Phone

For the sake of getting a room with a panoramic view, Mt. Fuji, I purposely didn’t stay in a budget hostel like what I usually do. Fortunately, Mizuno Hotel has a relatively affordable rate to make my dream come true. I was happy that Ollie agreed to join the experience with me.

Plus, the hotel has a pick-up service for all guests at Kawaguchiko Station as the meeting point. Nonetheless, I just realized it after finishing the boat trip around Lake Kawaguchi and returning from the the 400-meter-observation deck with Kachi Kachi Ropeway. So, at that time, we were already stranded at Yuransen Ropeway Iriguchi Station.

My bad. I didn’t read the booking itinerary carefully in advance.

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At 5 pm, nearly all stores and tourist spots were already closed. We hardly or did not see any buses and taxis on the road either. Google Map predicted that it took 18 minutes to reach the hotel on foot. But let’s round up to 20 or even 30 minutes. Not to mention if we got lost and how long we could get back into the right track.

Free shuttle service was such a waste unless we used it. So, Ollie decided to claim our right by contacting the hotel using a public phone nearby to pick us up since none of us had a Japan SIM card, despite the doubt that the receptionist could speak good English.

The response was an automatic voice message that ceaselessly said, “Mungo, mungo, mungo….”.

At least that’s how she thought how it sounded like. After third attempt to dial both hotel numbers appeared in the booking itinerary, the phone couldn’t stop saying mungo-mungo thing. Oh, forget it.

If phone a friend didn’t work, ask the audience would be the last option.

A very few people passing at the station, but the hope to find the right person to bring the solution still rose. I started a quick search for someone having a local (Japanese) look and being familiar with the area.

About 10 minutes later, I hurriedly ran into a man wearing a black blazer carrying a briefcase who walked fast. He seemed to be familiar with the surrounding in the way that he carried himself. I got a feeling that he was on the way back home from work. Additionally, he looked Japanese enough to me.

“Are you Japanese? Do you speak English?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m Japanese.” He replied.

Thank God. He had no idea how much it made me feel relieved.

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“Could you tell me how to use a public phone?”

Suppose anybody tells you that, “There’s no stupid question, only a stupid answer”, think again.

He frowned instantly, puzzled. Still having a deep thought why I asked such a question, he answered, “You just need to take the phone and press the numbers.”

Deep down my heart, I really wanted to laugh. Of course I know how to use a public phone. I’m a city girl, but it’s not the case. I briefly told him that we tried to call the hotel with a public phone, but it didn’t work.

I lead him to the phone booth and perhaps, he would gave us some instructions on how to  use a public phone in Japan that might be different from other public phones. Instead, he asked me the number we were trying to connect and tried to dial it himself.

He subtly shook his head, expressing something went wrong with that public facility. He took his smartphone out of his pocket and pressed number for us. As soon as he did it, we saw a very familiar picture of the lake view and triangle-roofed dark brown building on his phone screen right away, with an inscription “Mizuno Hotel”.

“This one?” He showed me the image on his screen before pressing the green button with the white phone logo. I nodded.

I had no idea how come that picture appeared on his screen although (I think) he didn’t save the number. And I’m sure he didn’t open it on Google Chrome. Wow, magic!

 

Moshi moshi….” he started a conversation to the other party. I heard him mentioning “… pinku parka…”. I guess he was talking about my pink jacket.

Hanging up the call, he told us that he already gave our descriptions to the receptionist, such as what we were wearing and all that, so the driver could later recognize us.

We thank him for what he did for us. Without a single effort to engage us with a small talk, he nodded, waved his hands, and crossed the street right away.

We finally managed to burst out, laughing at our own stupidity. Feeling relieved, Ollie went back to her “shell”, the phone booth, because she was freezing. I begged her to leave her comfort zone for a while, worrying that the Mizuno chauffeur would not be able to identify us as described by the fine gentleman.

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Seeing a big empty bus approaching us seconds later, I said to Ollie cheerfully, “Hey, that’s the one!”

“Duh, I don’t think so! Who do you think we are? That bus is way too big just for the two of us.”

She was right. The bus just needed some space for making a u-turn to change the lane.

It felt like forever to wait for the shuttle. I prayed that the chauffeur would not forget us.

After a while, a dark blue minibus approached and stopped in front of us. We saw an inscription “Mizuno Hotel” appeared on both sides of the car. A sliding door automatically opened for us.

That’s our ride!

We couldn’t thank the gentleman enough who was willing to give some of his little time to help the lost foreign girls. He was our hero of the day.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Morning

via Photo Challenge: Morning

A room with a balcony and a mountain view has always been my love affair. On my trip to Japan, I purposely spent more on accommodation for the sake of getting an experience to view Mt. Fuji solely by opening my room window.

So I stayed one night in Mizuno Hotel mainly because it’s the most affordable hotel, approximately $150 per night, offering rooms facing the most beautiful mountain in Japan. The hotel has positive testimonials, too. I would give a shot, then.

I wonder whether I would become a satisfied guest like many others or be a great copywriting or testimonial victim. Moreover, Mt. Fuji could be unpredictable. Not everyone succeeds to see the mountain in clear sky, without fog or cloud concealing the appearance of its snowy peak.

“You’ve got to see this!!” said my PiC in full excitement at 6 am when I was half awake. I hurriedly looked at the hotel room window and saw this:

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I was speechless and grabbed my camera immediately to immortalize the moment while it last. My prayer was answered, one of the nature’s greatest gifts appeared in clear sky, for real, with Lake Kawaguchi in front of it.

Sneak Peak: I’ll share the story of my stay in Mizuno Hotel with fascinating pictures of each corner of the hotel in my next post!

Let the Dogs Out, It’s Spring Time!

Spring time in Japan is not solely about sakura or cherry blossom. What matters the most is the enthusiasm of Japanese people to welcome the little flowers ornamenting the country once a year by hanging out with friends, families and last but not least, the dog(s)!

I spotted many lovely dogs in different cities in Japan and getting a permission to pet and immortalized them with my camera, thanks to my PiC, is a rewarding experience. Despite a roller coaster journey in the country and language barrier is the one to blame, it doesn’t take a genius to know that the owners give a lot of love and are so proud with their four-legged fellas.

Coincidentally, this post is correlated to Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge: Pets, that I stumbled upon not long ago.

Kawasaki

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The smell of onigiri and chicken karaage in front of a mini market is just hard to resist. On leash, buddy!

Asakusa, Tokyo

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Strollers are not only for babies…

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I’m a Spider-Man… Pug!

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If he could talk, he would say, “I want my mommy back.” The crowds makes him nervous. But he is not allowed to follow his master to the store.

Miyagawa Morning Market, Takayama

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Mr. Smiley

Somewhere close to our guesthouse, Takayama

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“Stay away from my playground!” Okay, this dog is the most defensive and unapproachable one. He’s a good bodyguard and the owner is definitely proud of him.

Gion, Kyoto

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Finally found a pure Japanese breed in Japan: Shiba Inu!

Kyoto Gyoen, Kyoto

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This 9-year-old fella is still very energetic at her age. And forever young, too.

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Want to untie me? Be my guest!

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“Why my master lifts me up in front of sakura and expect me to face her phone before me is beyond comprehension. I’d rather walk on the ground as usual.”

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“This keeps me save and warm.”

Oh, oh, oh…. kawaii!! I just can’t get enough of them! But yeah, I have to catch my flight back to my hometown. Sayonara!