Saturday, December 23, 2023

Tokyo and Kyoto Leg

We flew from Seoul (Incheon) to Tokyo (Narita), Terminal 1 on a Monday arriving around 1pm. The flight was only 2.5 hours. We cleared immigration really fast. I got a foreigner immigration officer and she sort of mumbled a "welcome". Same as Seoul, my 2 index fingers were scanned and a photo taken. 

Tokyo was even hotter than Seoul. At the airport, I saw a group of students stripping off their clothes in the open and changing to shorts and tees. The toilet was just a few steps away...

The first thing my daughter did was to get our esim to work. Unfortunately it took a while to get connected to wifi. Finally after some time she managed to get all our esim activated. Such a relief. Honestly, having internet connection is so critical in a foreign land.

Transport card

We bought our pasmo passport cards at Terminal 1 - Skyliner & Keisei Information center. Each card costs 1500yen (preloaded) and the 500yen handling fee is waived. But it's only valid for 28 days and is non-refundable. 

After that we needed to catch the Keisei Access Express to our hotel. My daughter said we had to go to Terminal 2. We were wondering how to do that when we walked out of Terminal 1 and right outside were free buses to Terminal 2. We grabbed our luggage and hopped onto the bus, hanging on to our luggage for dear life. Terminal 2 is just a short distance away.

Taking the Keisei Access Express train was our first introduction to Japan's rail system. Since my daughter is more familiar with Japan, hubs and I just followed her. Still, she was a bit nervous. We did get on the correct train and managed to find our way to our hotel.

Our hotel, Asakusa Tobu Hotel was nice, very similar to our hotel in Seoul. (we have a nice view of the river plus there's free fresh coffee in the morning) The only thing different is one of the beds is a sofa bed. It creaked a lot. Of course hubs took the sofa bed. 

Our first day in Tokyo, we made it easy on ourselves and ate at a soba place near our hotel. After that, we did a lot of shopping. 

That was a mistake. We should have made hubs stay in bed on the first day. He was feeling exhausted. The second day in Tokyo he said he wanted to stay in the hotel to recover. So my daughter and I went out without him. 

My first day in Tokyo was the last day I had to take my sinus medication. I had pretty much recovered and my fatigue from Seoul's visit had almost disappeared. Maybe all the stars aligned which explains why I fell so in love with Japan. Head over heels, heels over head, like a first crush. Tokyo is such a cool city to live in. I want to live there for a few months, or even a few weeks. Despite not understanding any Japanese, I think it won't be hard.

My daughter had gone to Japan last year and she told me how much she liked Japan. She also said I would like Tokyo. She's right!

Girls' Day Out

1st stop - Ueno Zoo. I have a tiny bit of gorilla obsession. I watch gorilla families on youtube daily and it just so happened my favourite gorilla family resides in Kyoto which we will visit after Tokyo. The gorilla family in Ueno Zoo is sort of related to my Kyoto gorilla family. I've drawn up the family tree below not that it's that important you understand who's who. My favourite gorilla is Kyoto Genki and of course her fam. I thought it would be fun to visit Genki's mother-in-law at Ueno Zoo.

Unfortunately, it was very hot and the gorillas were mostly hiding in the shade. I only saw Toto the grandam and Sumomo the baby. I swear Sumomo looked right at me from far, far away. 

After the zoo visit, we randomly walked around looking for food and chanced upon a restaurant (Obon de lunch) with 4/5 people in the queue. The menu looked enticing to me and we decided to put our name down and joined the queue. 
We didn't wait long to be ushered in and the food turned out to be amazing. If I were to go back to Tokyo, I'm going back to the restaurant.

Next stop - Nippori Fabric Town. It's literally one street full of fabric/craft shops. It was a bit overwhelming so I only shopped at a few Tomato shops. Nothing is cheap here. But the huge range of craft and sewing stuff available is so fantastic. I am so jealous. I was so scared I would overbuy that I really held back and only bought stuff that I hadn't seen in Singapore. I won't show you every item I bought, just a few...

Check out this pattern cutting guide. You use it with a cutting knife which is not included. The cutting guide is a bit expensive for such a little tool but I believe it'll come in useful. For garment patterns, I really dislike adding the seam allowance by hand. There's a video here that shows how to use it if you're curious.

I use needle threader often but I tend to lose them because they're like invisible. This tool has 2 needle threader at both ends and it's big enough and red in colour so no problem finding it.

And this bunch of fabric was 550yen. Ridiculous, right? So I bought it even though I have so much fabric at home.

After leaving fabric heaven, we spent the rest of the day at Ikebukuro for my daughter to buy all her cute, cute stuff. 

We ended the day with a late dinner of sandwiches and pancakes. Hubs started to worry about us and we decided to call it a day. It was a really fantastic day for me. I enjoyed myself so much.

Day 3 in Tokyo, my daughter did not feel well and wanted to stay in the hotel. Thankfully, hubs had recovered so we left daughter at the hotel and we set out for Okadaya at Shinjuku. As my daughter was our main navigator, I had no choice but to learn how to take the train. I was quite scared but google map is pretty reliable. Somehow we managed to get to the right train station but getting to the building was another hurdle. I remember hubs asking a front desk staff for help and she said outside right. Well, it wasn't. Eventually we found Okadaya - seven floors of buttons, threads, lace, beads and rhinestone, alongside wigs, cosmetics and stage make-up. Hubs left me there while he went to do his men stuff. Okadaya has some similar stuff found at Nippori Fabric Town. What sets it apart is the massive amount of yarn. OMG. If I didn't already have too many hobbies, I would buy up some of the yarn. 
My Okadaya purchase - mostly hand sewing thread and some brooch buttons. I was terrified I would lose control since I was alone that in the end I did not buy much stuff. 

After Okadaya hubs and I wandered around Shinjuku. By late afternoon, my daughter said she had recovered and we planned to meet up to go to Pokemon's Cafe which she had prebooked.

It's a scam. I'm kidding. Pokemon Cafe food is so-so. It's meant for the experience. There is a huge room next to the cafe where you can buy all the Pokemon merch which daughter did. In the cafe, you're encouraged to go around and take pictures of the Pokemon decor. The cafe was not full-house. Outside the restaurant, there's a queue for customers without reservation. I think it's not hard to get into the cafe if you go during off-peak hours.

Later as we were about to leave, we were told there was a show coming up so we stayed. 

The show is a song and dance routine with a crew and Pikachu - over and over and over again. Our seats were no good so... But my daughter enjoyed herself a lot. I think the Pokemon Cafe is a one-time experience thing. One more time would be too much.

Day 4 in Tokyo - our big plan was Disneysea. We did not prepare ourselves well for Disneysea. It was blazing hot. I wore a black tee-shirt and did not bring anything to fan myself. Our first ride was Toy Story Mania and the queue was insane. In total, we queued for over 2 hours in the hot sun. I had stupidly emptied my bag of all the paper stuff so I only had my boarding pass to serve as a fan. My god, I don't know how I managed to stand under the hot sun for so long. Finally it was our turn and the ride was so fun! Totally worth the wait. I wanted to have another go but the queue was too long. Next we decided to try Aquatopia. As I have height phobia, there aren't many rides suitable for me. The queue for Aquatopia was quite short so we gave it a shot. 

The ride turned out to be a big mistake for me because the stupid seat kept spinning 360 deg. Over and over and over. I had observed the other riders and theirs were more like 180 deg. I felt very sick afterwards and I had stupidly not taken my motion sickness pill before the ride. I did take the pill after the ride hoping it would help. Afterwards I had another problem. I felt that my body couldn't cool down. I was quite concerned I was getting heat stroke so in the end it was decided I would go sit down at a cool place while hubs and my daughter go do their rides. It took a while but I eventually felt better and I decided to walk around. Unfortunately I got lost and then my phone had no reception so I became very scared. I just kept walking towards familiar places and eventually I had 4G again and I quickly called hubs. After more walking, I was reunited with my family again but my daughter was not done. We went to a mermaid place which was nice and cool and I sat down on the cold seats while hubs and my daughter did more shopping. And I fell into a deep, deep sleep..... (it was the Novomin effect).

I felt a bit sorry to my daughter for feeling tired, a bit unwell and sleepy at Disneysea. While I was asleep, she went on a shopping spree and when I woke up, we decided to skip the fireworks and go back to the hotel. Yay.

Believe it or not, we somehow ended up doing more shopping near our hotel. I think we clocked more than 20,000 steps that day.

Day 5 was the day we were travelling to Kyoto. It was also my daughter's birthday. We were all nervous. We did not prebook the train tickets. So many things could happen. At Tokyo station, my daughter wanted a last go at all the cute, cute things. So me and hubs ate at a Thai restaurant while she did her thing. Originally I wanted to buy bento to eat on the train but hubs wanted to eat first. So he robbed me of the eating bento on a bullet train experience...

We bought tickets for Nozomi Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. It's important to pay for the basic fare as well! The total fare came up to over $100 bucks per person. Our seats were unreserved and we were surprisingly unconcerned about the availability of seats. Ignorance is bliss. 

We were busy taking photos and forgot to find out where the unreserved seats were. They were right at the front end - 1st 3 cars and of course we were at the opposite end. So we had to run with our luggage.

The stupid thing about the Nozomi train is, for unreserved seats, you have to put your luggage on the overhead rack. It doesn't look safe and hubs didn't want to hurt himself swinging our suitcases over his head. So in the end we kept them in front of our legs. It's a bit squeezy for hubs but doable. I saw a train conductor walk up and down the cars but he didn't ask for our tickets. My daughter got to enjoy her "eat bento on the bullet train experience" as well as eat her birthday cake. The journey was about 2 hours. While on the train, I couldn't feel that the train was travelling super fast although occasionally my ears felt blocked. Watching the train on the train platform though, you can see how fast the train is. Like blink and it's gone.

Our hotel - Hotel Vischio Kyoto is right across Kyoto station. I love the location. Kyoto station is also connected to a few shopping malls. If I were to live in Kyoto, I would definitely stay near Kyoto station. Our Kyoto hotel room felt a little bit smaller. There's also nothing to watch on the TV. Otherwise, all the usual standard stuff are available. For the free stuff, it's DIY - we can pick up anything we need at the lobby. There's a spacious lounge where you can make free drinks, sit, drink, read and there's also a separate place where you can do your work. 

The best part of Kyoto trip was the visit to the zoo to see my gorilla family. I can't describe to you how it felt. It was somewhat emotional and surreal. Kyoto Zoo is very visitor friendly. You get to see close up of the animals which may not necessarily be good for the animals. But good for me. Oh, and I bought so much gorilla merch.
Momotaro, the silverback took a nap in front of me. What a magnificent silverback. His whole face was peppered with beads of perspiration. Gentaro and Kintaro both came to play with the visitors. Kintaro, the youngest had a ball showing off to us. Genki, though stayed far away from the visitors. If she came close to the glass window, she would face away. I was a bit disappointed but she is a gorilla so I don't think she cares for us. Hubs and my daughter were a bit bored so I didn't stay too long. I was contemplating hanging around for their mealtime but I didn't want to be cruel to my family.

After the zoo, we walked to a handicraft market which was outdoors and you can imagine how hot it was. Nearby, there was another handicraft market, also outdoors and finally there was one indoors and air-conditioned. I had such a good time looking at all the handmade crafts for sale. I only bought a couple of things because the stuff were not cheap. I mean, handmade... 

The following day we went to another handicraft market at a shrine. But it turned out to be a pre-loved goods market. I'm not a fan.
Kyoto was slightly less hot compared to Tokyo but more humid. It rained once when we were asleep. Kyoto was also less crowded and there's an old world vibe especially when you travel away from the city. The scenery is so pretty.

Did hubs and daughter fight in Japan? Yup, pretty much every day there was some disagreement. In Kyoto, there was one day when they had a huge fight. Thankfully they always seem to make up within a few hours. But I got so tired of them honestly. I was so ready to go back to Singapore just to stop having to listen to their fights.

My appetite in Japan was very good especially in Kyoto. I really enjoyed the matcha ice cream and desserts. Then there was a restaurant that sells hamburg steak, I think it's called Hiro. The hamburg steak was amazing. I usually don't like hamburg steak unless I cook it myself. I still think about the taste, believe it or not. I ordered the hamburg steak with cajun rice which was also delicious. Maybe one day I'll go back to Kyoto just to eat the hamburg steak! And visit my gorilla family of course.

On Day 8 in Japan, we had to travel to Osaka to take a plane back home. My daughter was really nervous about the train so the night before we went to recce the station. We needed to take the Haruka Limited Express and we were wondering if we could buy advance tickets. In the end we decided to buy tickets on the day because there were no options to choose dates at the machine. Then we looked for the right gate and luckily we spotted a sign that stated the gate would open much later than we wanted. So we walked in circles and finally found the right gate which was exactly where we were in the beginning. 

On our last day we checked out early and we almost had a heart attack because there was no one at the reception counter. Fortunately someone came out when she heard our voices and she helped us use the check out machine. Later, we bought our train tickets without any problem and you have to pay for both the base ticket and limited express ticket which came up to slightly under 100 bucks for 3 of us. 

Our train was a Hello Kitty train! Again we did not pay attention to signs and our unreserved seats were in carriage 5 & 6 which were far away from where we were standing. Fortunately we were fast and were able to snag the limited luggage storage space for our luggage. There was a conductor on the train and he walked up and down the train frequently checking on tickets. And he had a good memory so he never asked us for our tickets once he had checked. There were a few commuters who did not buy the correct tickets for the train and they had to pay up. I'm guessing they forgot to pay for the base fare. 

The train ride to Kansai Airport is just a little over one hour. Once we reached the airport, we went to a family mart to use up the money in our pasmo cards. There was a queue to check in baggage and security but not super bad. We had time to kill but there wasn't much to do at Kansai Airport as there was quite a bit of space boarded up for renovation. Our flight SQ619 was slightly delayed because there was a typhoon over Philippines airspace and our pilot wanted to change the route to fly over Taiwan instead. I like the airplane as the seats have more legroom and I got hubs to sit at the aisle. No complaints from him this time. It was an uneventful flight home. Everything went well, except my ears got blocked and remained blocked for a few days. I felt really stressed over it as my hearing was muffled and I honestly thought it was permanent. Then one day I woke up and all was well again.

Having not travelled for so many years, I'm really glad we went on the trip. Deep down, hubs and I are mountain tortoises. It was stressful but I survived. My stomach survived. I was worried my gastrics would act up but it didn't. I ate rice. I've not eaten rice for a few years and to my surprise, I discovered my stomach tolerates Japanese rice really well. So I'm back to eating rice, mostly Japanese rice. My hives also did not appear throughout the 12 days away. Very weird. Once I was back in Singapore, my hives came back. Comes and goes, comes and goes. The specialist I saw said there's no cure, just live with it and manage it with medication. Easy for her to say!

What do I love most about Japan? The 100 yen stores! I couldn't get enough of Seria. I bought so much stuff I had to put some in hub's luggage. I discovered the Daiso in Singapore is pretty awesome in terms of range of goods compared to the ones in Japan. Unfortunately the Daiso in Singapore is no longer a 2 dollar store. My family loved going to Don Quijote (Don Don Donki in Singapore) and Uniqlo over and over again much like what we do in Singapore. The Don Quijote was amazing - so much stuff it's mind boggling. I deeply regretted not going to Tokyu Hands and Nitori just to see the difference.

Another place we kept wanting to go to but somehow never went was Denny's. Singapore no longer has Denny's. Tokyo is a shopping paradise. I've heard people say Singapore is a shopping paradise. But Tokyo is a whole other level. The one thing I couldn't find in Tokyo was oat milk. I searched and searched but nothing. In Kyoto, oat milk is widely available. 

Do I miss the toilets in Japan? Absolutely. The bidet was unforgettable. The cleanliness - first class. Why do people say Singapore is a clean country? Honestly, Singapore streets are clean because we have a massive number of cleaners picking up litter. It's not that the people here do not litter. And our public toilets - ew. I think Japan is clean because the people are clean and socially responsible. I wish Singapore is like that too.

Will I return to Japan? For sure. Hubs says living there isn't possible so I guess it'll just be a short trip. Our 12 day trip was a bit long for me. Two countries, three flights and three hotels. It was exhausting. But so glad we went.
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