For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains.


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Japan Travels: Nara’s beauty in Fall

Nara is B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L. I can’t believe I was totally disinterested in exploring Nara in the past. But perhaps, this time autumn really lent a great helping hand in its beauty. The fiery red and yellow leaves, interspersed with lush green, looked like intricate brocade from afar. Below is my very first jaw-dropping view of Nara. Isuien Garden (依水園) in its autumn grandeur.

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I dropped by Isuien Garden for lunch, and had an interesting traditional meal of mugi tororo (plain rice with thickened grated yam mixed with soy sauce, seaweed and barley). I must say though, the view was worth more than the meal.

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This is the ground yam.

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Pretty assortment of side dishes.

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So you pour the yam over the rice and you will get a sticky consistency almost like porridge but not quite. Doesn’t look very filling but I guess because it is a mixture of yam and rice I was actually full after my meal.

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This kind of scenery is something I always attempted to paint but failed because of my shoddy skills.

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This random hut area is gorgeous with the little rapids.

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This picture just makes me feel so poetic indeed. The green of the water is a reflection of the still green trees above, which brings out the ruby red of the fallen leaves.

After leaving Isuien Garden reluctantly, I moved on to Tōdaiji Temple (東大寺), which was sadly under construction. So I ended up exploring the park filled with deers. Curious, greedy deers who are not at all shy of strangers. They have even learned to bow for treats, and push their wet noses towards anything one holds, believing it to be food. The smell was rather off-putting, given that so many deer are gathered in an area, but they were so adorable I let it slide.

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Cute deer! Reminds me of Bambi =)

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This is how close a deer can get to you, my camera couldn’t even capture its nose! Too close-up!

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Deers drinking at a river flanked by fall leaves is a sight to behold indeed.

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Deers resting on blanket of gold.

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Curious deer sniffing at my camera.

And I finally ended my Nara trip with a really delicious crepe! Nope, the smell didn’t affect my appetite. I always do love a good dessert after a long walk. I ordered baked apples wrapped in a soft warm crepe covered with cinnamon sauce (if I don’t remember wrongly), at this random teahouse along the streets of Nara, so I didn’t think I would chance upon anything this fantastic. I remembered thinking all the other flavours were a little too outlandish for me to try, so I stuck with a relatively safe choice.

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I was sad to leave Nara at the end of the day, because it was just so picturesque. I’m sure, of course, Kyoto would be equally magnificent without all that crowd, as I have been to Kyoto before, but unfortunately, the crowd spoilt it for me. Also, the deers reminded me of my times back in university exchange, when I was at Miyajima, a beautiful island off Hiroshima. I was glad to be able to see Japan during autumn, for the fall foliage is simply breathtaking, especially with the ancient temples and shrines amongst them. Too bad I was one day too early for snow. But filming calls. Never mind. I will definitely see snow someday. And cherry blossoms. ❤

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Goodbye Nara, I will keep your fall glory in my heart. 

On a separate, funny note, I’m sure everyone knows about Shiroi Koibito (白い恋人). But have you heard of Omoshiroi Koibito (面白い恋人)? Shiroi Koibito means white lovers, while Omoshiroi Koibito means funny lover! It is a perfect representation of Osaka people. Just like them to come up with the idea of this souvenir as a parody of Shiroi Koibito. In case you don’t know, Osaka people are known for their comedic side. Many famous comedians come from Osaka. I love Osaka for its people, its culture, its slang, its food. ❤ But well, I didn’t buy it, so I don’t really know how it tastes like, but I heard the cream tastes rather like mitarashi dango, which is pretty good.

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Maybe I will try it someday! 


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Japan Travels: Kyoto/Osaka

I do regret choosing to explore Kyoto on the weekend. I didn’t expect it to be bursting from the crowd. One could barely move through the throngs of people within a scenic location, with many sight-seekers pausing to snap pictures of a red torii gate or a red-leave tree, stopping the human traffic like a red light. Everything would halt at that moment, as the people at the very front witnessed the awkward poses struck by their fellow tourists, and people towards the back, left with nothing to do, raise their cameras or phones to capture an artistic shot of the scenery around them. I was, doubtless, one of those irritating tourists, but left very unsatisfied with most of my pictures dotted with human heads.

Trying to capture a nice #ootd in Kyoto is near impossible with all the crowd. So I mostly played around with introducing the sights on my Instagram, and snacking along the touristy stalls down the streets.

My first stop was at Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha).

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Kitsune, or foxes. The messengers of the Fushimi Inari Shrine.I love how poised these kitsune statues look.

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Hello beautiful fall.

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Going through the Senbon Torii (Thousands of Torii Gates) In reality I think I only went through 50. Too many people. I had to get to my next destination!

My next stop was Kiyomizudera (清水寺, “Pure Water Temple”). It was a long walk from the station to the temple, and people were all literally lining up along the path toward the temple, making the walk slow and tedious. Once I reached the temple, I found the place to be inundated with people! Perhaps not just because it was the weekend, but also maybe due to the fact that Kiyomizudera’s main hall will be undergoing construction in 2017, as well as the autumn illumination which was scheduled to be held from mid November to early December, Kiyomizudera was bursting with a horde of tourists and locals. There was nowhere for me to take fanciful #ootds. I could hardly get a good shot of the temple itself.

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Look at the mass of bodies. I gave up entering further. I personally loathe being squeezed like a sardine. I don’t think anyone can get any good pictures or really savour the scenery with strangers pressed on them.

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Still, these are pretty breathtaking autumn trees. 

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These streets are gorgeous from top-down. It really brings one back in time. 

Since there isn’t much to talk about the sights, I shall move on to the mouth-watering food in Osaka. First, a stroll down the fascinating shopping streets of Osaka. So vibrant and alive.

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The cool dragon figure is actually the entrance of a Karaoke place!

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A really Japanese alleyway. I love the cobblestone streets.

And my first meal has got to be okonomiyaki. It is my favourite dish from Osaka. When I first tried it, I fell in love with it. That simple. And since then I have been craving for an authentic okonomiyaki. When I finally had to chance to sink my jaws into this inviting pancake loaded with cabbage and seafood, I felt sheer felicity and contentment. I was in okonomiyaki heaven.

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This side dish is actually cod fish intestines. O_0 It just tasted salt and was kind of chewy. But finding out what it was kind of grossed me out. I really detest innards, except pig stomach. Somehow I like it. Pig stomach soup. Mm.

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See this beauty shining with its okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise?

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Topped with aonori (green nori flakes) and katsuoubushi (bonito flakes)

Next, another traditional Osaka delicacy. Kushikatsu. “kushi” means skewer, “katsu” is a method of deep-frying food by breadcrumbing them. It is said to originate from Shinsekai in Osaka.

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I can’t quite remember what was it I ordered, but there were definitely quail eggs, pork and prawn in this mix.

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Berry Calpis Chuhai (Chuhai is also known as Sour, as I mentioned in my previous post I have taken a liking to this sweet alcoholic drink in this trip) Calpis is a drink similar in taste to Yakult, just thinner in consistency.

Finally, another traditional dish from Osaka. Takoyaki. Who hasn’t heard of it? But I never knew that it originated from Osaka. It was invented by a street vendor in Osaka in 1935, and since then its popularity has spread across the world.

I went to this shop called Takoyaki Dotonburi Kukuru (たこ家道頓堀くくる), one of the famous takoyaki shops in Japan. But I wasn’t at the main shop, unfortunately, so there wasn’t any Bikuri Takoyaki (jumbo-sized takoyaki with octopus tentacles pushing out of the ball). And I didn’t have time to eat the akashiyaki (octopus balls dipped in dashi) as I was rushing for the next shinkansen. I was looking forward to akashiyaki, as the dumpling is not made of flour, like takoyaki, rather it is made of eggs. Pity. Next time I definitely want to try these two.

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Piping hot and yummilicious.

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Here’s a final picture of me enjoying the quail egg kushikatsu! My next and final post on my Japan travel will be on Nara!

 

 


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Japan Travels : Tokyo

I have never been comfortable with the idea of travelling alone. But perhaps it was time to step out of my comfort zone, to challenge myself. What better country to do that than in Japan, one of my favourites countries, a safe haven where there would be almost no language barrier for me (at least in terms of getting around). But once I started this journey of self-discovery (ok, I’m being melodramatic here), the experience rocked my nerves and made me feel terribly self-conscious of the surroundings around me. I have never felt more alone, unprotected, and small.

Also, as I took the Philippines Airlines, there was a transit at Manila before I reached Narita. Taking a plane at midnight, dozing uncomfortably in the cramped plane seat, being unable to sleep at all during the 2 plus hours of transit in the dead of night, before yet another gruelling journey towards the land of the Sun wore on me. All the exhaustion was forgotten though, the minute I stepped out of the plane and into Narita Airport. A fresh wave of excitement washed over me, and I felt ridiculously proud of myself for achieving this (tiny) feat of travelling alone. But once I reached Narita, I had another mission; to quickly get the JR ticket I bought and board the Narita Express, which takes about 45 minute per interval during that afternoon. It would take me another hour and a half to reach my final destination, and I had already made arrangements in the evening. There was no room for mistakes. I couldn’t afford to get lost. Luckily, there was no queue at the JR office, and somehow, miraculously, for all my lack of directional senses, I was able to make it safely on time, though lugging my heavy luggage and bags around the streets made me utterly regret my decision to travel all alone. At that time I was thinking miserably, “What have I put myself into?”

But all the pain was worthwhile as I managed to meet up with old friends, who kindly brought me around and sent me back safely. I no longer had to rely on myself for directions. Whee. So much for independence. Anyway, now I can finally focus on having fun. The scenery, the food. Yum. Tokyo’s scenery wasn’t much, since I was mainly in the city. The autumn leaves were beautiful of course, but I knew they would look like a painting in more traditional parts of Japan, which I was looking forward to.

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One of the prettier roads smattered with red autumn leaves.

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The trees on this street looked like they were adorned with gold.

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But the food was amazing, as per usual. Japan’s cuisine almost never fails to disappoint me.

My first dish (besides the amazing spread of buffet at TBS of course) was tonkatsu. It is at this shop called Katsusai Ebisu (かつ彩 恵比寿), which can be found in Shibuya.

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I ordered it for the cheese stuffed pork, and boy was I delighted to see the cheese oozing out of the tonkatsu.

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Grinded sesame seeds with yuzu sauce

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The best was the cheesy tonkatsu, and worst, surprisingly was the ebi. I’m normally partial to prawns, but I couldn’t taste the natural sweetness of the sea this time, so I deduced it mustn’t have been fresh enough.  

My second dish was Kyushu cuisine. It was at a random shop so I didn’t take note of the shop name. It  was my first time trying Kyushu cuisine. It is definitely quite different from the typical Tokyo food I have eaten. Apparently, Kyushu is known for mentaiko (marinated cod roe), so most of the dishes I ordered had mentaiko on them.

 

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Mentaiko and daikon side dish

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Salted grilled egg with mentaiko (my fave : usually these kind of eggs are sweet, which I don’t quite like, but savoury eggs, mm) 

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Chicken Nanban – fried chicken coated in thick, sweet and sour nanban sauce and topped with tartar sauce 

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Some yakitori with salt sprinkled over it

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Yakisoba with mentaiko. Not impressed. I prefer the usual yakisoba, which is crispier.

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Nice and sweet green apple sour. I took a liking to sours in Japan, I was basically ordering a sour every meal.

And… drum roll for my final dish. Ramen. To be specific, tonkotsu-soup base ramen. A shop based in Ginza, Hataka Nagahama Yatai Yamachan (博多長浜屋台やまちゃん),  the name of the shop is a mouthful, and it is a tiny nondescript shop filled with beer-guzzling men, but never judge a book by its cover. The pork broth is thick and silky, just rich enough to linger in my palate, but not overpowering. The chashu was cut in big, thin slices, with soft fat that melted the instant it touched my tongue. I ordered the noodles “katai”, which means hard, as I like my noodles, springy and bouncy, and also so that they won’t turn soggy fast. The egg was just the way ramen eggs should be, the orange yolk soft and runny on the inside. You will have the option of adding roasted sesame, pickled ginger, and some kind spicy pickled vegetable. I absolutely loved the spicy picked vegetable, it really added an extra pop of favour and texture to the ramen.

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It may look like any ramen, but it was sooo good. One of the best I have eaten. 

Now besides these main dishes, there were some other snacks like ice cream I tried. Despite the cold weather, soft serves are a must in Japan! I was introduced to this shop called Silkream by my friend, and they sold a particular brand of ice-cream called Cremia, which was soft, creamy and tasted like full cream milk. Just the way I love my soft-serves to be. My friend thinks the biscuit cone tastes like Shiroi Koibito, but I can’t quite remember how Shiroi Koibito tastes like, so I can’t confirm. But the biscuit cone definitely tastes much better than the usual factory-churned biscuit cones. It is sweet, and crumbles in my mouth. Usually people order take-away with the ice-cream in the biscuit cone, but we wanted to try other flavours too (and also because our feet were hurting so much from all that walking), so we had it in the shop, which was several hundred yen more expensive. Ouch to our pockets. One thing to note though: it melts really fast, so it was difficult to take a good photo of it. 

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We also tried another ice-cream, but it was not Cremia. As you can the the Cremia ice-cream is shaped differently from most other ice-creams. I think this is just a regular run-of-the-mill ice-cream. And it tasted predominantly of vanilla. It’s too vanilla-nye for my taste, but maybe fans of vanilla would like it. I can’t remember the crepe, other than it was soft, so it mustn’t have been delicious.

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Finally I tried something I have always wanted to try in Singapore, but couldn’t get the chance to, because the queue was always so long. BAKE cheese tarts!!! Fluffy and soft, they tasted like a soft, creamy version of cheesecake. Not uncooked cheesecake, as they were warm from the oven. I love cheesecakes, so needless to say, the cheese tarts won me over. ❤

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Alright, my Tokyo travel has come to an end. Next up, Kyoto! Please keep a look out for my next post! ^_^