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 🙂

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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/

2012 Japan Trip Day 40 – Singapore

Date of Travel: 09/03/2012

In a bid to save a night’s accommodation, and yet be able to spend as much time in Tokyo as possible, we took the latest possible flight out from Narita airport (departs at 20:50) on the last day in Japan. Because of this, we arrived in Singapore at the ungodly time of 3:55 in the morning! After picking up our luggage and going through customs, we headed over to the Singapore Stopover Holiday desk as we had booked a hotel package with them. They arranged a van to bring us to our hotel in town. We took the van with several other tourists, and were somewhat shocked by the rude attitude of the driver to two elderly Canadian tourists for getting confused between “Royal Hotel” and “Royal Hotel @ Queens”. It was a stark reminder that the courteous nature of Japan was behind us.

After we arrived at the hotel, we arranged to have an early check-in. While they were preparing the room, we took over several couches in the lobby and had a quick nap. We took a further nap in our rooms after it had been prepared as the tiredness from the Japan trip finally caught up with us.

It was about 2pm before we finally got our day started. We headed across the road to a nearby food court. I ordered some noodles which was pretty average, and was slightly put off by the sight of a cockroach carcass nearby too. We then headed to a nearby bus stop to catch the SIA Hop-on bus, which was a tour bus that came with our tour package. The bus drove past tourist sites such as Chinatown, Clarke Quay, Botanical Gardens, and Orchard Road. It was a good way to have a quick taste on what the country has to offer; all in the comfort of an air-conditioned bus away from the hot humid weather.

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Lunch, and various sights from the SIA Hop-on bus

We hopped off the bus shortly after Orchard Road (Singapore’s main shopping district) and walked towards the Marina Bay area by foot. Along the way, we walked through an attractive shopping mall in the Bugis area, where the facades were reminiscent of the typical design of older Singapore buildings. We also stumbled upon a store selling a Hatsune Miku cosplay outfit. We may be out of Japan, but its influence runs deep here too.

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Walking through Bugis

After Bugis, we continued eastwards to Suntec City. This was a shopping mall that my family would occasionally frequent back when I was living there as a kid. The round fountain is still pretty impressive all these years later. We were planning to just walk past the mall to the Marina Bay area, but decided to stop by for some ice cream at a Japanese restaurant. We were so comfortable there, and was starting to be drained by the humid weather (compared to the cool weather in Japan), that we also decided to eat here! Food was pretty average compared to the good stuff that Singapore had to offer, but we can chalk it all down to pure laziness…

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Dinner at Suntec City

After dinner, we continued past Marina Square to the Singapore Flyer, which is the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world (at least at the time we rode it). We had pretty good views of the Marina Bay area; particularly of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, the Helix Bridge, and the towering CBD in the distance. The ride took a good half an hour and was quite enjoyable. Afterwards, I headed straight for a nearby juice bar as my throat was getting very dry. Brownie and Jay-C gladly followed suit as well!

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Beautiful sights from the Singapore Flyer

Our next destination was Marina Bay itself. It was my first time being there in person, as it had not been constructed when I was living there over a decade prior. We had arrived at a very good time as there was a light festival going on at the time. We walked along the Helix Bridge towards Marina Bay Sands, and watched the light show on the ArtScience Museum. Somewhere along the way though, Brownie and I realized that we had lost Jay-C!

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Exploring Marina Bay

Brownie and I decided to stop exploring and head back to the hotel in hopes that Jay-C would do the same eventually (which he did in the end). But we did stop to take some photos of additional light shows and of the area in general. Overall, if not for losing Jay-C, it was a good day overall!

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Wandering back from the Singapore Flyer

Note: I was not as solid in my record-keeping as I was in Japan, and as such I do not have detailed information on attractions, food, etc. I will however post links to the respective websites where you can find more information instead.
Singapore Flyer – http://www.singaporeflyer.com/
SIA Hop On Bus – http://www.siahopon.com/
Peninsula Excelsior – http://www.peninsulaexcelsior.com.sg/
Singapore Stopover Holidays – http://www.singaporeair.com/en_UK/special-offers/landingpage/

2012 Japan Trip – Introduction

Welcome to my 2012 Japan Trip diary section of my blog! Before beginning, I would like to first give a quick background as to how the trip came about.

I had first traveled to Japan on a school trip in 2003, and loved it so much that I returned on yet another school trip in 2005. During this time, I had the opportunity to experience the life of a Japanese high school student, stayed with several host families, and visited some of the more popular tourist attractions. However, there was always a restriction on the amount of exploration we could do as we were still representing our school and had to abide to curfews and tight schedules. Nonetheless, I had always bragged about the amazing time I had there, so much so that some of my friends (Brownie and J.C) had wanted to travel there to experience Japan for themselves. We decided that we would go together after finishing high school.

Years flew by and we found ourselves busy with due to various circumstances at University and summer work. Because of this, we had to consistently delay the trip. We came close to organizing one between December 2010 and January 2011 but had to put it off due to time constraints. Shortly after, the city we lived in was rocked by a major earthquake. Many lives were lost, and our city has yet to recover from the damage. During this time, we realized how sudden things can change in our lives. We talked things over, and decided that we would make our schedules from January-March of 2012 free to finally go to Japan.

After six long months of researching, planning, and booking accommodation and transport options, it was finally time to head off to Japan. There, we spent 42 days travelling between 21 different cities/towns/villages within Japan, and even had a side trip to Singapore on the way back home. We had visited dozens of temples and shrines, cycled through the streets of Kyoto, watched a snowboarding exhibition during the Sapporo Snow Festival, walked along a beautifully lit path next to the main canal in Otaru, had a nice bath along a river in Kurokawa, and did so much more. It was an exhausting trip consisting of more than 3 days of intercity travels combined, but it was worth it.

During this trip, I had kept a very short diary of each day’s events. This, together with the thousands of photos and videos captured during this trip, brought back plenty of memories of the amazing trip we had; even three whole years after its conclusion. In order to keep these memories in words, I had decided to setup this blog to share my experiences with everyone. I hope that these entries would help others plan their trips to Japan, and encourage others to visit there one day.

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