2016 Japan Trip Day 3 – Yakushima (Shiratani Unsuikyo)

Despite two frantic days of international and domestic flights to reach Yakushima, our body clock had not adjusted to Japan’s time. Both of us woke up in the middle of the night and were unable to get back to sleep. However, we soon noticed that the nighttime scenery outside was beautiful, and ended up staying up to take photos of the surroundings. When it approached sunrise, we walked to the nearby bridge to take photos, but found that the mountains in the distance was blocking our view. Luckily we managed to make it back to outside our hotel room in time! Shortly after, we had breakfast which was provided by the hotel, then drove off to a destination I had always wanted to explore – Shiratani Unsuikyo.

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For those of you who do not know, Shiratani Unsuikyo is a cedar forest in Yakushima which supposedly served as the inspiration to background art in Princess Mononoke, one of the most famous Ghibli Studio movies of all time. This was the main reason I chose to come to Yakushima on this trip! It was also one of the main reasons we rented a car, since the buses between Miyanoura and Shiratani Unsuikyo are rather infrequent. The drive up to Shiratani Unsuikyo was very winding, and parts of the road was rather narrow. Thankfully the road wasn’t too steep so our 550-650 cc rental car didn’t have too much trouble with it. We soon made it to the carpark and headed through the entrance. We saw a group of people warming up at the front which should’ve given us the indication that this was not that easy of a hike, though it is one of the less demanding ones on the island. We ignored the warning signs and continued onwards without doing a proper warmup.

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We took the easiest track through Shiratani Unsuikyo to reach Taikowa Rock, and soon found ourselves in parts of the forest surrounded by thick moss. I had never seen anything like this before, and I could see the resemblance to the setting of Princess Mononoke. Throughout the hike, we did run into a number of guided groups who helped us take photos or kindly let us pass when we were quickly approaching them from behind. Apart from that, most of the hike was very quiet, which allowed us to take in the atmosphere of the place.

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After about 2-2.5 hours of hiking, we finally reached the top of Taikowa Rock. From here, we had an amazing view of the valley below. We sat down to rest for about an hour with the occasional guided group arriving to briefly take in the sights. We did make a mistake of eating there as we were not aware we weren’t meant to, though luckily it was small snacks rather than a full-on meal. After taking some time-lapses and photos, we started our descent back to the car park.

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It was at this point that I started to realize that warming up before the walk was probably a good idea, and so was wearing anything else apart from jeans. There were many stones and roots on the path, which made it difficult to descent without slipping on something. In my opinion, the hike down was a lot tougher than going up because of this. We did eventually make it to the car park in one piece, headed back to Miyanoura to return our rental gear, and headed back to the hotel. As we were dead tired, we did not do much else apart from having a quick walk around town and have dinner which was also provided by the hotel. Overall, it was as beautiful as I had expected it to be, and I’m glad that we managed to kick-start our trip in such memorable fashion.

Daily Expenditure (per person)

1) Transport
None (rental car cost included in previous post)

2) Accommodation
Yaedake Business Hotel – 7,344 yen (meals included)

3) Food
None (breakfast and dinner provided by hotel, and snacks were brought from home countries)

4) Attractions
Shiratani Unsuikyo – 300 yen (entrance fee for upkeep and maintenance)

5) Others
None

Total daily/entire trip
7644 yen/176,507 yen

Average per day (excluding international flights)
18,169 yen

2016 Japan Trip Days 1-2 – Arriving in Yakushima

Mid-November had finally arrived, and it was time for a long-awaited holiday to Japan! We had been planning this trip for months, and we were excited to finally be taking off. It was a cloudy and frankly depressing weather back home when I left, and admittedly the food on the plane wasn’t that great either.

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I touched down at Narita Airport Terminal 1 just as the sun started to set, and made my way through immigration and customs. I exited out the south arrival gate, made my way through the crowds to the north arrival gate, and managed to find Sheepy, who would be my travel buddy for the next month, waiting for me there. Together, we managed to obtain data sim cards we ordered online from the post-office upstairs, then headed to the JR ticket office to reserve train seats to get to Shinagawa station. I did buy a dorayaki and an oolong tea just before our train ride, which was my first purchase of food and drinks on this trip!

After we arrived at Shinagawa station, we transferred to another line to reach the Keikyuu Kamata station. From there, we made our way to Chisun Inn Kamata, which is our first accommodation of the trip. We dropped off our luggage, exchanged presents, freshened up, then headed out to explore the Tokyo neighbourhood of Kamata. It was already quite late by this point, so we did not get up to excessively much. It was mainly to soak in the atmosphere and let it sink in that we were actually in Tokyo! We did try to buy some tickets to the Ghibli Museum in a month’s time from Lawsons, but were unsure of which machine to use to do this and gave up. I did get another drink and an onigiri as a late night snack as I was getting hungry. We explored some gaming arcades and side streets before calling it a night due to being tired from our flights.

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The next morning, we got up early to pack and moved on to our first proper stop of the trip; Yakushima. We were quite a bit ahead of time, so we did have another wander through the Kamata neighbourhood. Afterwards, we headed back to Keikyu Kamata station to take a train to Haneda Airport. We had some time to have breakfast and wander around some shops before taking flights to Yakushima via Kagoshima. We were able to see Sakurajima along the way, which is one of the most active volcanoes in Japan located right next to Kagoshima.

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We landed at Yakushima around 2pm and rented a car. From there, we headed to the town of Miyanoura to rent some hiking equipment for the next day, went to the Culture Village, and checked in to our hotel at Yaedake Business Hotel. It was still over an hour before dinner, so we explored the area near the main bridge linking the northern and southern parts of Miyanoura. There were a lot of cloud cover, which made us nervous about the weather on the next day. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful sight seeing the town being surrounded by such massive mountains in the background.
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After our exploration, we headed for dinner which was provided by the hotel. It was a very typical Japanese meal that featured many specialties of the Kagoshima region. While I am used to food like this, Sheepy wasn’t. I will admit, a lot of traditional Japanese cuisine has a very squishy texture and is often cooked in fish or seaweed broth. It took Sheepy a very long time to get used to traditional food in Japan, and that didn’t happen until very near the end of the trip. She did really enjoy the fried flying fish though since it did taste a bit like KFC!

After dinner, we headed back out to pick up a few drinks from nearby vending machines, and explored Yakushima Shrine which was close-by to our hotel. There were sounds of residents belting out karaoke at small eating establishments along the way, which added to the atmosphere of the town. The shrine itself was very quiet as there was noone else around. It was an eerie feeling, but one that really helped us realize we were finally in Japan. We were still exhausted from the flights over the past couple of days, so we retreated to our hotel and finally called it a night.
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Daily Expenditure (per person)
One of the goals of my blog is to give readers ideas of possible trip itineraries or travel cost. As such, I often list down the daily cost of the trip at the end of each post, and the total trip cost overall. Note that my record keeping this trip was not as good as my 2012 trip, and so I am missing a lot of smaller spending events (i.e. buying drinks or souvenirs).

1) Transport
International flights into Narita Airport (return) – 122,000 yen
JR ticket from Narita Airport to  Shinagawa Station – 3,190 yen
Shinagawa Station to Keikyu-Kamata Station – 200 yen
Keikyu-Kamata Station to Haneda Airport – 340 yen
Haneda Airport to Yakushima Airport – 19,790 yen
Car rental from Orix – 8,667 yen

2) Accommodation
Chisun Inn Kamata – 5,900 yen
Yaedake Business Hotel – 7,344 yen (meals included)

3) Food
Dorayaki and Oolong Tea from 7-11 – 500 yen (overestimate)
Tuna mayo onigiri and Pokari Sweat from Lawsons – 261 yen
Inari Soba at Shinyamato, Haneda Airport – 671 yen

4) Attractions
Culture Village – 520 yen

5) Others
Hiking equipment rental from Nakagawa Sports – 2,200 yen

Total
168,863 yen

Average per day (excluding international flights)
23,432 yen

2016 Japan Trip – Introduction

It is 2017 now, but I had just came back from another trip to Japan a few weeks back and have only just finished going through photos and videos from the trip! It was another crazy adventure, though not as long as back in 2012.

This time, we traveled to cover southern Kyushuu (Yakushima, Kagoshima, Miyazaki, Takachicho, Yufuin), autumn colours in Honshuu (Hiroshima, Miyajima, Mount Koya, Osaka, Kyoto, Himeji, Kobe, and Nara), and passed through Kanazawa to partake in a night-time festival at Chichibu before ending in Nikko and Tokyo.

So, without further adieu, let’s kick start my blog series on my 2016 trip to Japan!

PS: Yes, I know I have not even started on my China trip blog series even though I mentioned it over a year ago now! I still want to do it at some point, but I just hadn’t had the time to do it. The 2016 Japan trip will take priority while the trip is still fresh in my mind 🙂

summary

2015 China Trip – Introduction

Being of Chinese descent, it has always been a goal for me to travel to China at least once in my life. I often get conflicted though, since my love for travelling around Japan often meant to China never reached the top of my “to travel to” list.

That changed however when one of my papers was accepted for a conference in Shanghai. I was able to join a research group from the local university to travel to China due to having sufficient travel funds left over. With the help of a close friend Robz, we planned a trip to explore other parts of China; such as Xi’an and Beijing. I also managed to arrange a stopover in Singapore on the way back in order to get the chance to finally explore that country at my own pace. It was also a much needed break from my studies as well.

The trip kicked off late June and lasted until mid July in 2015. During this time, we visited the Terracotta Warriors Museum, Zhujiajiao, The Great Wall of China, Forbidden City, and many other locations. Our travelling group numbers ranged from 7 to 15 people at various parts throughout the trip (significantly larger than my 2012 Japan trip); resulting in fun interactions among ourselves.

So, without further adieu, it is time to start up a new section in this blog: The 2015 China Trip!

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Terracotta Warriors (top left), Shanghai Skyline (top right), Zhujiajiao (bottom left), and The Great Wall of China (bottom right)

2012 Japan Trip – The Conclusion

Three years after the conclusion of this adventure, not a day goes by that I don’t recall some events that occurred during the trip. Most of it is recollection of precious memories; such as cycling among the streets of Kyoto, wandering through the lit snow-paths of Otaru, taking an outdoor bath in Kurokawa, watching the sunset at Miyajima, appreciating the view from the lookout point at Ogimachi, sitting through the terrible Room of Living Doll ride at Osaka, being amazed by the atmosphere at Nikko, travelling all the way back to Nara for the Omizutori festival, being a nerd and exploring Toyosato Elementary School (used as inspiration for the K-on! anime series), hanging out with old friends in Tokyo, and stopping over in Singapore. There were also many life lessons we learnt on this trip which helped shape us into the people we are today.

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A small taste of the various places we went to

Looking back at this trip over three years after its conclusion, it was hard to imagine how we managed to plan and act out such a massive trip. In the span of 42 days, we:

– Visited 23 cities/towns/villages (Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Sapporo, Otaru, Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Kurokawa, Miyajima, Hiroshima, Matsuyama, Kanazawa, Fukui City, Katsuyama, Ogimachi, Takayama, Osaka, Kamakura, Nikko, Toyosato, Nagoya, Tokyo, and Singapore)

UntitledThe places we went to in Japan (shown by red stars)

– Stayed in 16 different accommodations (mixture of hostels, ryokans, and western hotels)

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Collection of photos showing the accommodations we stayed in

– Took over 66 hours worth of transport (trains, subways, planes, ferries, buses, taxis)

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Some of the many trips we made

– Visited 14 Unesco heritage sites, 14 temples, 12 shrines, and 3 castles

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Honestly it actually felt like we visited more than we did!

– Partook in 6 festivals (Setsubun, Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, Otaru Yuki Akari no Michi, Baikasai, Omizutori, Light Festival at Marina Bay)

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Festivals always add to the fun!

– Tried at least 40 unique Japanese cuisine staples (e.g. kobe beef, okonomiyaki, sukiyaki, among others)

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Darn it I’m starting to get hungry again…

– Laid 1,000 cranes each at the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Peace Park

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I had laid 1,000 at Hiroshima before in 2005. Being able to do it again, and also at Nagasaki, was very special for me

– Had multiple dips in onsen (Yamamizuki and Dogo Onsen being the most notable)

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Took a while to get used to taking public baths, but it soon became a good relaxing way to end the day especially when our accommodation has one

– Explored three historical villages

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Each of these had its own distinct feel to them, which further shows how unique Japan is despite being a relatively small country

– Went to eight different museums of varying nature and an aquarium

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A somewhat unique way to see just how much Japan has to offer

– Gotten lost or missed out on attractions (due to missing the opening hours or bad weather) multiple times

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Collection of the places we either missed, or that we went to instead due to not being able to go to our preferred location

– And last but not least, had a lot of fun!

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Another trip down memory lane!

In summary, the Japan trip of 2012 was a huge life-changing experience, as you could tell from the photos. The enormous scale of it, coupled with our limited Japanese skills, made this an accomplishment in itself. I had a lot of fun, as did Brownie and Jay-C. Every time we meet, we still share stories of our trip, and often talk about going back to cover other things we did not manage to do previously (such as Okinawa, and southern Kyushu). A trip of this scale would be hard to top for us personally, if it ever will. And with this last post (with the exception of a few ‘special’ posts I have planned), it is time to bid this trip farewell once and for all and move on to diaries of newer adventures!

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Taiakun, signing off

2012 Japan Trip Day 42 – Singapore

Date of Travel: 11/03/2012

This was it – the final day of our trip. After exploring each of the four major islands and all but two regions in Japan, and passing through Singapore for a stopover, it was all coming to an end. To cap this trip off, we were going to end it with a blast…

Or so we thought. Due to having to head to the airport somewhat early (around 4 pm), and that we had started the day late, there wasn’t really much we could do. We ended up heading back towards Orchard road to just aimless wander for a while.

DSC09680Interesting buildings along Orchard Road

I also had the chance to have wanton mee, which was another breakfast staple that I grew up with in Singapore. I also ordered a milo dinosaur without really knowing that it was. Turns out to be ice milo (the ice milo in Singapore and Malaysia is AMAZING), with milo powder heaped on top of it. Was quite messy, but was pretty good! Must be a huge sugar intake though…

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Breakfast

After wandering around Orchard more, we headed towards Funan which is a mall specializing in electronic goods. Brownie bought Skyrim from there before realizing the region lock. Luckily the store accepted it back and provided a full refund, which I must say is pretty unusual for Singapore. We also had lunch at Funan while we were there.

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Heading to Funan, and lunch

After Funan, Brownie started feeling slightly unwell. Without anywhere we could go to spend the remaining time we had, we decided to just rest in our hotel lobby while waiting for the bus. During that time, another massive downpour occurred that seemed even heavier than the day before! Not that it really mattered since we weren’t going anywhere else.

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The weather took a turn for the worst!

A few hours later the bus finally arrived and brought us to Changi Airport. Unlike our emotions when leaving Japan, we felt ready to return home this time round. I wouldn’t say that it is because Singapore is not a nice place to visit, but rather fatigue from the long Japan leg of the trip and the Singapore heat finally caught up to us. I had another plate of Roast Chicken Rice after going through security checks, and again explored Changi Airport together with Brownie and Jay-C.

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Back at Changi Airport

After boarding our flight, the anticipation of heading home to share our stories with our families and friends starting sinking in, and I was looking forward to it. It did counter the sadness that our trip was ending, which made it easier to put the trip behind us. That is until I noticed that we had taxied near the takeoff area, but hadn’t moved in about half an hour. Meanwhile, many other planes were arriving and departing while we continued to wait. Brownie was feeling very sick by this time, while Jay-C was having a good laugh. Turns out that the radar failed, and as a result we had to taxi back to the airport! Our flight was delayed for about five hours, all while Brownie was unwell and I was just wanting to get home! We finally flew off sometime later, and had decent meals on the plane along with a free Magnum as an apology from the airport staff. I found it a fitting way to end our already memorable trip!

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Amazing meals on Singapore Airlines!

2012 Japan Trip Day 41 – Singapore

Date of Travel: 10/03/2012

After a good night of rest, we had more or less recovered from jet lag and had gained back from energy. That’s what happens when you spend more than half a day sleeping I guess? We went to Raffles City for a typical Singaporean breakfast – kaya toast. Kaya is a coconut jam that I grew up with and had always loved, and is always good to have when I am sick of rice and noodle dishes for every meal. We had tea as well. Brownie and Jay-C was surprised by how sweet it was, but I was used to it as I understood Singapore’s love of condensed milk in drinks…

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Kaya Toast – a typical Singaporean breakfast

We walked to Orchard Road after breakfast for to get some CDs; passing by an art museum with a melted Superman statue. When I was in Singapore back in 2005 and 2006, HMV had a massive 4-5 storey store here with a lot of great CDs and DVDs. I was ultimately disappointed to learn that they had downgraded to a single-storey store (and has since closed down entirely). None the less, I managed to buy a few CDs I had been looking for at a decent price. Afterwards, we were to meet with a very close family friend of mine for lunch. We were set to meet somewhere on Orchard Road, but I ended up getting separated with Brownie and Jay-C! Luckily we managed to all meet back up again, and had a very good Singaporean lunch with Char Kwey Teow, Satay, Hokkien Mee, Carrot Cake, and Ice Katchang. Brownie and Jay-C did order some Japanese meal for some strange reason, but did partake in the good food in the end.

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Oh how I miss Singaporean food…

After bidding my family friend goodbye, we caught an MRT to Marsiling station and took a taxi to the Singapore Zoo. This place, in my opinion, is one of the best attractions in Singapore, and one of the best zoos in the world. There are a whole bunch of animals to see, including the amazing white tigers, and plenty of shows to watch (though the elephant show was pretty average to be honest). They did get rid of the air conditioned rooms that they used to have though, so there weren’t many places to go to escape from the heat and humidity.

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Exploring Singapore Zoo

Halfway through exploring the zoo, it started pouring down with rain. It was one of the heaviest rainfalls which I had experienced in years. Mind you, rain in New Zealand is usually light, and we didn’t encounter much rain in Japan either. Plus, Singapore is quite tropically so this kind of sudden heavy downfalls is generally expected around these parts. After the rain eased up, we continued through the rest of the zoo and had a good time in the cooler weather.

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We definitely enjoyed the cooler weather after the rain!

On the way back, we had Mos Burger at Raffles City. Once again, it was another Japanese meal, but we were too tired to look for other types of cuisine. Plus I had the feeling that Brownie and Jay-C were not as comfortable with Singapore food as they were with Japanese food. Nonetheless, after dinner, we went back to Marina Bay to finish exploring the place after not being able to the night before due to losing Jay-C. The light exhibits were amazing in that it brought a lot of life to the area. It was, quite frankly, one of the best ways to spend the last night of this very long trip.

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Unfinished business at Marina Bay!

After we walked around the bay, it was time to head back to our hotel for our final night’s rest. Of course, we did explore Marina Bay Sands Mall and other areas on our way back and found some interesting things (like we always do). Overall, we did not really get up to much today compared to Japan, but it was a good taste of what Singapore has to offer. We had a great time despite the heat, and looked forward to our final day in Singapore before heading home.

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Final exploration before heading to bed

Attractions
Singapore Zoo – http://www.zoo.com.sg/