Thursday, December 28, 2017

Make 2018 Your Year! Do What YOU Want to do!

Hokkaido is a must if you the chance to go to Japan! Especially during Snow Festival! <3
How's everybody's Christmas going?! It's only a couple days left before we welcome the New Year! And I wanted to ask something: were you able to do what you wanted to do this 2017? And if not, why is that? And also, are you planning to do what you REALLY want to do this 2018? We all tend to make these New Years Resolution promises and really, only a handful of us are actually doing it and making it come true. We all have dreams and aspirations, but a lot of things tends to hinder us from doing it (priorities, work, family, financial problems, etc.) Really and truly, if there is something that you really want to do, or if there is a place you really want to go, then you will find a way to get it. You just need to take the first step and acknowledge it!
I would like to think that I have walked many corners of this world! I may not be as well-traveled as other wanderlust, but hey I am getting there! =)
Personally, what I want to do is to travel to these two particular countries because not only is it super far, but it also has a culture that is so unique from any culture that I am surrounded with! These countries are BRAZIL and PERU! I know plane tickets are super expensive to get there and the travel time getting there takes at least 30 HOURS of flight to get there (with layovers), but hey! Right now is the youngest I will ever be, and I don't think I'm getting any younger as each day passes! I see it in much older adults: patience is slowly decreasing. The patience to endure a long haul flight, especially 14-15 hr flights to get to anywhere is more difficult as you age! From booking flights, to carrying heavy luggages, to hiking and constantly walking and being on the go, it decreases drastically as you get older. I will do my best to avoid becoming that.
One of my Japanese friends based in Philippines! Junichi-san helped me improve my speaking, reading and writing skills, which gave me more convenience while exploring Japan!
I see many families having the time and priviledge to travel to far away countries from my home country (Philippines) such as Australia, US, Canada or Europe. Sometimes I envy those people because I don't have the opportunity to travel with family that far simply because time and patience are what many lack, aside from finances! We work to live, and I always wonder: are you really happy? Genuinely, randomly smiling in the middle of nowhere, and giggling happy? If not, why? Why are you so afraid to take that big step to travel to that country that you genuinely want to go to? Why aren't you fulfilling your dream ambitions or doing that dream job that you want? Priorities and fear always prevent us from doing what we really want to do.
At Bohol's Chocolate Hills. I have travelled locally with friends like Jeff from Canada, but I know these provinces will always be there for me!
I am very honest about the countries I want to go to. A lot of people know that I am personally sick and tired of going to the countries that my family keeps going to (Taiwan and Hong Kong) because I have been there almost 20 times, and I am so unfulfilled there. Nothing excites me there anymore, and you can argue with me all you want, but you can't change my preferences towards where I want to go, and I shall not force you to like the countries that I want to go to! When I first met people from Latin and South America, especially when I was living in US (one dream fulfilled, at least), I knew I wanted to go there! Something about their energy and exciting attitude just lit up with me! Their fun, exciting and sexy language (Brazilian Portuguese, especially!), music and culture made me scream so much happiness that it was enough to convince me to go visit their countries!
This quote really spoke to me because I realized that traveling has made me more happy than any other material thing!
Coming from a country that was colonized by the Spaniards for over 300 years before the Americans, I can relate to Latinos SO MUCH MORE compared to my other Asian neighbours! I find many Asian countries WAY TOO conservative and strict for me. I like people who are more spontaneous and wild! I love Spanish language and have been taking many opportunities to learn it since I was much younger! I have given other Asian countries a chance particularly Japan, and have fallen in love with that country, too! That's why I have coming back because I am not yet done exploring there! But here's the thing: Japan's got a lot of Brazilians there as well as other Latin Americans there like Mexicans, Guatemalans, Peruvians, and Venezuelans! I have met many of them out of nowhere whenever I am in Japan, and moments like signal to me that I must visit their countries!
Latin food! This is the type of food that I crave for! So difficult to find a good latin roasted chicken with rice and potatoes or pollo asado con arroz, salsa chimichurri y patatas bravas in Spanish!
Having a boss that was originally from Peru back in US, I got a big chunk of Latino culture from her from their food (ceviche and lomo saltado is heavenly!) to their music (I love Alma Bella and Maluma's songs!). I have expanded my network of friends simply because I am not afraid to meet people from all over the world! A lot of people are asking me how come I want to visit these super far away countries instead of the countries nearby? I have never been to Malaysia, Singapore, or Indonesia! The only Southeast Asian country I have been to is Thailand! And that was back in 2009! In fact, I have been to more countries that needed me to get a visa, than to countries where I didn't need a visa! I haven't really traveled around Philippines much! Hell, I haven't been to Boracay since 2007, and this whole year 2017, I did not even travel anywhere domestically! But you know what? Those countries and provinces are always going to be there! I can visit those countries when I am older because they are much more accessible unlike countries outside of Asia! Save up for countries that you really want to go to. If it feels right for you, go for it!
Churrasco beef steak has so much zesty, unique and citrusy flavors for me! The Latinos food is just as spicy and exciting as their people are! Ay que rico!!!
What makes me come alive lately? Well apart from exercising, being in the kitchen and traveling, getting to know people from different cultural backgrounds! Japan as well has made me come alive and ignited my passion for exploring! I wanted to find friends from Brazil and I was always constantly asking people if they know anyone, and low and behold: several people actually were introduced to me, and immediately, I become friends with them! I wanted to share my love and passion for a country that I have never been to, yet I could relate to so much simply because their music, food and culture fascinates me! My friends from Japan have been like family to me, and I have even become friends with Japanese people based in Manila simply because I was unafraid to ask for what I really want! Who cares if anybody says it's weird?! It's your life! Surround yourself with people that make you feel happy to be yourself. You have every right to make your personal choices, and to be friends with people you actually like, and not just because they have a good social status or a lot of money or something! How shallow are you for you to be friends with someone just because of those silly factors?
The friends you randomly meet at parties may have the most interesting background stories, and I think that will just help you to bond with each other more!
I went to Fukuoka, Japan recently and my friend Ai-san was kind enough to meet me at the airport and show me around her city! Don't be afraid to make friends from a different cultural background from yours!
I have been to North America and Europe, and when I was there, I always had a craving for more! I am thankful to have travelled to the places I have been to, but now, I want to make more of my travel dreams and bucket lists come true this 2018! I have seen pictures of Ipanema beach, the Carnaval Parade and videos of Brazilian funk, dance, and twerking as well as the Peruvian food and Machu Picchu! I will not let anyone dictate to me where I should go anymore! If I have a gut feeling for a certain country and it makes me scream with so much happiness and joy when I see videos of it, then I will want to go there. I am someone who fulfills promises and keeps my word. And if there is something that excited you, makes you come alive and makes you feel happy to be alive, then just go do it! Make everyday a day that is meaningful for you, that feels good for you! Life is so short, and it can just pass by you so quickly without even noticing it! I don't want to be afraid anymore of countries that I want to go to. I don't want to spend on meaningless things and be materialistic like many people in society are! I want to live my life and do more of what makes me happy instead of what society thinks should make me happy!
Meet people that you're not used to talking to! Surround yourself with people of different cultural backgrounds, and you might be surprised with what you will get! =)
Cannot believe I met Pedro all the way from Brazil! Distance, cultural backgrounds, beliefs, and different races shouldn't stop you from being friends. Being around different races really makes you more open-minded and tolerant! 
Meeting people like Trisha Velarmino from PS I'm On My Way blog just made me want to go to South America even more! Who cares how far it is, or that I am there for just a couple weeks? The experience I will get there is something that money cannot buy! I have already found several people interested to go with me, as well as saving up for that! Prioritize what you really want, find ways to get it, be unafraid to ask for help, and NEVER GIVE UP! It may have taken years for me to achieve some countries on my bucket list, but it's been worth it for me because I have gotten special, wonderful experiences and moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life! I will just keep on traveling even more. And personally, I think that is a life well lived! I wish you guys a wonderful Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and soon: a Happy New Year! Make 2018 YOUR YEAR!
Nagasaki, Japan was a city that I really wanted to go to despite others not agreeing with me! The natural beauty, peacefulness and atmosphere there made me so happy to be there!
Artwork I saw in my country! Boa noite Brasil! I promise to make my dreams come true and to go for the places that I really want to go to! <3

Sunday, November 19, 2017

My Incredible Journey to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan! Part 4

Traveling tends to make you feel better about life. It makes you discover new places as well as things that you never knew you were capable of doing!
I will try to conclude my last part of this long series regarding my trip to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan! To pick up where we left off, I will mention the unreturned key! As I was on the train, I attempted to go back to Yamashina, but then received a message from Hidemi-san to just mail the key instead. While taking the train, I try to contact the host at Osaka as well as identify which station I should go to next as I arrive at Shin-Osaka with my luggage and bag! At night, it's like a race with the closing time of the train to the destination. Japan's trains and subways close at around 12 midnight more or less, and if you miss that, you have either the option to take a super expensive taxi or to stay at a 24 hr onsen or bathhouse! So when I arrived at the station where the hostel was at Kishinosato (岸里駅), the train officer was about to close the gate. I had the wrong ticket to the destination, but he let me pass anyway! As I got outside, the officers shut the entrance to the escalator, and there I was walking at 1am with my luggage by myself and trying to find the hostel! It seemed scary, when I think about it now because it was so new to me! I went to the wrong entrance that Google Maps had showed me (It was entrance to a dentists office!), so I called my host again and then he guided me until VOILA! I finally arrived at the hostel! It had a lock wherein you type the code in order to enter the hostel. I felt so relieved the moment I got in, and instantly I made new friends who were sitting in the living room! They were from America and Netherlands! Tired, but I just felt so energetic to talk to them!
A little extra care goes a long way! I still keep in touch with my host even up to this day because my experience was so nice!
I feel so alive when I meet someone from a different country and share my story and my traveling experiences, even if at 1am! However because that night was a bit stressful trying to find the place, I decided to take a rest to wake up earlier the next day! Two things that Osaka is well known for when it comes to food are okonomiyaki and takoyaki! I had Okonomiyaki for breakfast first thing in the morning and got to mingle with the people at the hostel. I met so many of them from different countries, and was surprised to meet someone even from my home country, Philippines! I met the host of the hostel, Chris from Australia and I was so surprised to find out that he is vegan because majority of Japanese food has a lot of meat or seafood in it! He is married to a native Japanese woman with two adorable kids, and I was surprised at how he was able to open such an affordable hostel in the suburban area of Osaka in Kishinosato Station! The price to stay this shared hostel is around PHP700 or $14 USD per night! That to me is a bargain already since you sleep comfortably with air conditioning as well as have basic amenities! He asked me if I wanted to go drinking with the other roommates and his friends from Australia as well, so I decided to go with them that Friday night!
The outside appearance of the hostel is unassuming, but it's got all the necessities as well as a loving neighbourhood around it! Feels wonderful!
My Japanese friend, Junichi, introduced me to one of his Japanese-American friends based in Osaka named Joe, prior to going there. We arranged to meet up the next day that I arrived, first in Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) where the popular district, Dotonbori (道頓堀) is at! I had a lobster roll at Luke's Lobster (1,500 JPY) there before  We met at Apple store along the district because I went to shop for Apple chargers for my family (Teehee! =P). When I finally saw Joe-san (he had a hat on), we walked around the district and he guided me around the area! Since he is Japanese-American, we mostly spoke in English since he grew up in Chicago, IL, USA. He showed me popular food joints here such as a fried bread filled with vanilla soft serve ice cream from Ganso Icedog (Heaven!) for 350 JPY. One is enough because of how rich and creamy it tastes! We then got to know each other about where we are from and the struggle of learning Japanese and adapting to the culture. He was studying in the medical field and is into dance (which I love)! People in Japan still sees him as "Gaijin" or foreigner because he grew up in America, but I personally thought that his Japanese was like a native! I was also surprised at the fact that he has never been around Asia except Japan. He was going to South Korea the next day aftert, which is why we met that day, which surprised me because his passport (American-Japanese) had so much visa-free entry compared to mine (Filipino).

We walked all day long, and he guided me to the area such as the Hep Five Ferris Wheel, the street performers (great singers, BTW!) and the Shin-Osaka station building, which was full of awesome ramen joints (all long lines)! In Japan, you don't have to exercise as you will be walking A LOT (especially for us Filipinos)! 10,000 steps a day?! More like 20,000-30,000 steps a day! I swear that walking Joe-san and I did made my feet so painful since we were walking to ramen joint that was popular. It had a long line however so we decided to choose another place, which was still delicious. The restaurant did not have any English menu, so I knew this restaurant was authentic! I swear I don't know how they make the soup base because it was so thick, flavorful and creamy! On a cold night like that night, it was the perfect combination: shivering body to pair with a piping hot delicious ramen noodle soup! I got to know a lot about Joe-san that day, and it reminded me of my time in America and how much I missed it there as well. I asked him why he never used his passport so much since he could travel almost anywhere without a visa. His answer got to me: "When you have it, you don't really appreciate it since you can always go there." I wish I had a passport like his because I love to travel so much, and my passport hinders me from doing that because most visas are added cost. I guess it applies to me as well since so many people love Philippines, yet I haven't explored it much because I know it will always be there for me. When we finished, we talked a bit more, guided me how to mail my hosts key to Kyoto, and then he dropped me off at Dotonbori to head home. I still keep in touch with him online!
Thank you for showing me around that day Joe-san! My friend Junichi-san who is based in Manila introduced me to him!
The next day, I went to the post office to try and send the key to Hidemi-san in Kyoto. The address had to be in Japanese both the sender and receiver. Since Chris is Australian, he did not know the Japanese one, so here I was looking like an idiot, running around the neighborhood trying to find the Japanese address of my hostel, to which I found at a sharp corner around there! When I arrived at the post office, it was a struggle since I had to write Kanji, but the lady told me that I could just send the package throught Family Mart! OMG! All this time, I could have just done that! I remember vaguely saying this to the employee as I walked in the Konbini: "このパッケージを送信ですね。フットノートは必要です。お願いします。" (Kono pakkeji wo sōshin desu ne. Futtonōto ha hitsuyo desu. Onegaishimasu. ) This phrases literally translate to "This package, I am sending. I need footnotes (envelope in Japanese). Please." I wrote a quick letter for Hidemi-san, thanking her for everything. The employee was so kind to me and showed me the section of the footnotes and then he gave me a form where I had to write the name and address of the person I am sending it to along with my address in Osaka. He then told me in Japanese to write down the contents of the envelope to which I wrote: "キーホルダー、キー、文字" (Kīhorudā, kī, moji) or keychain, key, and letter. I paid for it and had the package sent. I heard from my host it arrived the next day! I couldn't believe how on earth I was able to pull that off because we all know that the Japanese struggle with English. And yet, I did something that is a serious struggle to foreigners. It made me learn something new!

Osaka castle is so clean and grand! When you go up for a view of the entire place, it's even better!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

My Incredible Journey to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan! Part 3

Kinkaku-Ji was magical! You should definitely go visit this place if it's your first time!
Having ramen by yourself isn't all that bad. When you eat alone, you get to enjoy the food more! After being left by JB and then dropping off Thomas the French dude to his bus station, I decided to have some dinner at the ramen shop area in Kyoto Station mall! Let me tell you: food will satisfy all of your cravings in this country! There is just so much for everyone to choose here! From the appearance of the food to the taste, it will definitely stimulate your senses! The wonderful thing about several restaurants in Japan is that when ordering, a vending machine is provided for you to order your meal and pay as well in English, aside from Japanese. There are more vending machines than people in Japan apparently! Convenience at its best! After getting a ticket from the machine, you just hand it to the server and then they will prepare and serve your food! That's exactly it: when you experience the hospitality and service of the Japanese people, it makes it difficult to try restaurants anywhere else! The combination of quality service and hospitality as well as world class tasting food is hard to beat. That's why it's been difficult for me to try out other countries when I haven't fully explored this beautiful country! Can't beat perfection. HAHAHA! Once you taste food in Japan, it will be difficult to dine at Japanese restaurants in your home country or anywhere else, just because it rarely tastes the same! Take pictures around this area! When I was there, it had neon lights by the stairs and it made walking up and down the stairs very entertaining!
Definitely a peaceful place here even if there was a bit of drizzling rain at the Golden Pavilion!
I swear taking public transportation around Japan is both challenging and convenient! Especially buses because not all buses provide translations in English, as well as the bus driver being able to speak English. That's why you have Google Maps to save you from the hassle! Please I urge you to get pocket wifi while in this country because it really is a life saver! After Kyoto Station, I went to Gion district and decided to stroll around the area an low and behold, I saw JB again! This time though, he was rushing on his way back to his home, which I am not sure how he did it because he was borrowing my pocket wifi at the time, and his Japanese speaking skills were basic! However, I tried to guide him to the closest station, and off we went our separate ways! When he left, I decided to walk around and explore the more modern side of Kyoto! I wanted to pass by a club and see the social life of Kyoto, which was not so much (the club closed at 1am). So I just decided to satisfy my sight by taking pictures around the area and listening to crowds passing by. So interesting!
Welcome to Nishiki Market where the selection of food is endless! Come with a hungry stomach here!
There were these 4 foreign dudes who looked like they were lost and speaking a language that sounded familiar to me, but I couldn't identify it! They had just left the club and were trying to find a taxi to go home (NEVER take a taxi if you want to save money in Japan!) at around 11pm, even if the train station was still open. So I decided to help them out because they looked lost and confused. At first, they were surprised that I could speak English because they thought I was from Japan! Then when we cleared that out, I asked them what they needed help with. Only one of them could speak English well. I asked them where they were from, and they said Italy! Made so much sense to me now! I told them do not take a taxi in Japan because it is so expensive. When they asked me how much it was to get to their hotel in Kawaramachi station (河原町駅), I told them around 3,000 JPY or PHP 1,400/$25 USD for a ride that was less than 2 km compared to taking the train that would cost just 800 JPY in total for all 4 of them! They were so surprised at the prices, and I said to them "Sono spiacente.", which means I'm sorry in Italian, and they all laughed that I knew how to say that!
This is Satsuma-age which may look like bread, but it's actually fried seafood and cuttlefish made into these shapes!
Anyways, I typed the directions on Google Maps on my phone, and then guided them to purchase tickets and told them to get down on that station on the red line. I confirmed it was that color by saying red in Italian, which is "Rosso", since I speak Spanish (Spanish and Italian are both Romance languages with lots of similarities). Then the one guy who spoke and understood English translated for them. They thank me by saying "Grazie", and I say you're welcome to them which is "Prego", and then "Ciao!", which means bye bye for them, and off they went to take the train! I felt very good deep inside because I was inspired by the Japanese people when helping those who are lost out! Kindness really does go a long way when you are surrounded by people who do the same. When you're happy, it's easier to be nice to people. Therefore, I urge people to do more things that makes them happy, despite what that may look like to other people! It really makes a difference!
People actually support creativity and street art here! I praise them for doing colourful artworks and murals like this!
People think I eat extravagantly when I am abroad and truth is, I only splurge once or twice when I am on a backpacking with food. Most of the time, I rely on my meal replacement formulas, convenience store foods such as the chicken fillet in Family Mart and Lawson, or even the discounted set meals at the supermarkets right when they are about to close! Yup, they have discounted meals right before closing time! And they are still very tasty and filling! Even the chain restaurants like Yoshinoya, Matsunoya or Saizeriya are still pretty delicious and reasonable. I decided to walk around the area since I had to wake up the next day to explore Kinkaku-ji or the Golden Pavilion. In Japan, you will walk a lot and you will get sore feet because taking a taxi here is very expensive. So you can definitely see why it's rare to find someone here who is overweight!
This is the tasty Spaghetti Taraku-sauce of Saizeriya with Nori Strips on top! What a wonderful Japanese-Italian fusion!
The next day, I head on to Kinkaku-ji to see the Golden Pavilion and right before my day begins, i notice it was drizzling so I decided to bring an umbrella provided by the hostel. I arrive via bus to the area, and pay the entrance fee to the place, which was 500 JPY. As I walk in, I was just amazed at how clean and beautiful it was! I took several pictures of it and selfies with it as well, but wanted to have someone take a pic of me, so I asked some random tourists to take a pic of me. Low and behold, I met couple who was from Australia and Brazil! Their names were Kim and his wife, Diana. Such a rare occurrence to meet them and such a joy to meet someone from the country I want to go visit the most! We mingled, socialized and got along very quickly! The whole touring around the Golden Pavilion became and moment to share their culture as well as mine! This question is the one I ask tourists the most everytime in Japan: "How has it been talking to the people here?" I know this country is notorious for having little to no English speakers, which is why I want to do my best to help those who struggle and show that even if they don't speak English, they are still very nice.
This is Akihiko-San on my right with friends Aiden, Sophie and her boyfriend from Canada and France! Cheers to great beer and even better sushi!
Their replies were the most passionate one I have heard yet: "OMG! Nobody here knows how to speak English! NOBODY! I have had to use Google Translate to talk to locals here!" The last bit is what I would advise anyone touring in a country foreign to them to do. If all else fails, USE Google Translate! I mean it's better than nothing and looking like a damn fool in front of people. I guess most educated Japanese know some English, but do not have the confidence to speak it, especially towards someone who looks extremely different from them such as Caucasian and African. However, the people here are trying their best to break down the barriers such as providing English menus and guides everywhere. And plus the common sense and body language of the Japanese are very good and accurate, which I expect considering how technologically advanced they are as a nation! Anyway, what fascinated me about this couple I met was that the husband Kim (from Australia) knows how to speak Portuguese! Such a rare thing for me to see because normally people I meet from English speaking countries know only English. It was refreshing for me, especially with Brazilian Portuguese because anyone who knows me knows that I get down on my knees when I hear that language spoken! It's just so spicy and sexy to me!
Unagi, aburi torched scallops, and aburi torched salmon! This is the standard sushi for me!
I got myself some souvenirs as well as my favorite mochi snacks while I was inside the Pavilion. Spoke with the locals selling the stuff and they were amazed at how quick I learned Japanese at such a short amount of time. See when people are nice to me when correcting me with something, it usually makes me more motivated to get better, unlike others who are not as nice. It was relaxing and very chill to be there since you are not allowed to go inside the actual Golden Pavilion. It was very nice talking to the lovely couple and they went off ahead. I only hope that I can make it to Brazil and Australia in the future! I as well left, and went to wherever my feet wanted to take me! I got to see Kyoto university which was right around the area and then went to a random department store to get some shirts for the family. They were looking for a shirt that had a thick pad on the underarms area to prevent sweat from appearing on the shirt. I try my best to get something for loved ones while I am away to show that I do care and that I am not inconsiderate. Japan is souvenir galore!

After getting the stuff, I decided to get a quick lunch at Saizeriya since it was right across the store. I enter and then the woman greets me and asks me a question, which I did not understand, to which I foolishly said yes to immediately. HAHA! Then she asks in English : "No smoking?", which means if I wanted a table that is smoking or non-smoking. In Saizeriya, the food is a fusion of Japanese and Italian! It is kind of like a fast food joint, but more casual and laid back where a server gets your order, but you pour water yourself. Notable things here are the pizzas and pasta, which all have toppings inspired by the Japanese. I got recommended by my friends to try the spaghetti with "Taraku sauce", which is a fish roe that's been sautéed in cream sauce! I got that plus a simple salad with tomato and fresh mozzarella for something light. I tasted the spaghetti and was in love with how simple, yet delicious it was! It had some cheese and seaweed flakes on top, but the pasta was cooked al dente so it was chewy. The "Taraku sauce" was a subtle flavour that worked quite well with the cream, which made everything feel so balanced! I am now in love with Saizeriya and I'm excited to try out more food here with others!
I appreciate the appearance of streets like this in Japan. It's so rare for me to find a place as clean and peaceful as this!
I spent a lot of time walking around this city and getting lost, which taught me that it's not necessarily a bad thing because it helps you grow and not to worry. It was raining though, but I managed to make my way through to the area around Kyoto Imperial Palace and got to see the view around the area. Had it not been raining, I would have stayed longer! Anyway, I decided to go explore and take pictures cause every corner had something that fascinated me. After walking several minutes, I stopped by a Matsuya store, got a meal and some takeout. What shocked me here was the employee: she was white with blue eyes speaking fluent Japanese! I think her name was Sasha or something. It was Russian sounding, which made me accept it more since I know Japan has a lot of Russians working there. I got my takeout, left and went back to the hostel to my surprise, with new roommates! One is from Canada, two from France and one from UK!
Get lost in Gion and discover new things! I saw a shamisen busker here, a geisha on her way to a meeting and several musicians performing here!
I got to know them a bit and tried my best to help them out especially the one from UK. He was 60 years old and it was his first time ever in Asia as his prior travels have only been around Europe and USA. He went to Japan because his close friend in UK was Japanese, and also his daughter was doing a thesis and research in Japan. He also had a difficult problem: he had Celiac disease, which means that he cannot consume anything that has gluten in it. Try explaining that to someone who doesn't speak English! I dare you! HAHA! So anyway after getting to know Aiden (Canadian), Sophie and her boyfriend (French), and Peter (British), I decided to help Peter shop for food to eat carefully and ask if it had gluten or not. Not much luck in the convenience store because most of the food are packaged and pre-made, so we decided to go to the supermarket and get meat and vegetables to stay safe. The cashiers were so nervous to talk to him so I helped talked to them and translate! Again, it felt good guiding those in need to get something that they need! We talked and got along so well sharing our life ambitions.
In the middle of the hustle and bustle of Nishiki Market lies this wonderful and peaceful area! Those lamps are magical!
The next day was my last day in Kyoto. Hidemi asked if I could go with them and the group for hotspring and dinner that night. I said my goodbyes to Rafael from Spain since he goes to school all day, and then off I went to Nishiki Market after a friends recommendation. Right there, I got to taste some of the delicious food that Kyoto has to offer such as Satsuma-age, which is like fried seafood cuttle fish or squid that looks like bread, but tastes magical! It was soft, tender and moist! They were addicting too! I tried other things there as well such as the mochi, strawberry daifuku, grilled fish, and even this creamy soft serve ice cream with a Yuzu Lemon syrup which was tart and delicious on top! I even got a free packet of the syrup because I posted a picture of me having the soft serve on social media, which they had a promo for! Man this place has it all when it comes to food! Come to this place with a hungry tummy and get inspired to taste the wonders of this city!

That night, I went back to the hostel, got my stuff and went to Hidemi's house. Then off we went to the bathhouse first with her husband, Aiden, Sophie and het boyfriend. This bathhouse was unique because it was a hotspring where tattoos were allowed, which are very rare! It was Sophie who had some tattoos and that was the reason why we went into that particular bathhouse. In Japan, when you go to places like this, you must take off your shoes at the entrance and leave it inside a locker where you may be charged and given a key. Once you enter the place barefoot, you pay at the counter or on a vending machine and then given a small towel. Then, you enter either into the male or female section and you will be required to be completely NUDE in front of other Japanese people, depending on your gender! I know it may sound extremely awkward, but once you get over the fact that you are completely nude, it can be very relaxing!

Three types of tuna: toro, chutoro, and otoro! This is my ultimate delicious and tasty sushi! I would come back to Japan just for this plate of heaven!
While inside, it was the first time that I got to witness a possibly current or former member of the Yakuza mafia inside. One thing notable about Yakuza members is that they have sleeves of tattoos all over their body from their chest all the way to their feet (includes the buttocks), but not at their face, neck, hands, or feet. Very intense and colourful which shocks me because it looked beautiful and painful at the same time. It made me see a bit of the underworld of Japan behind all those corporate suits, anime and unique culture of the people! As usual, the onsens and hotsprings were very relaxing and refreshing for me! It's like a massage for your whole body, but an energy booster at the same time once you are finished. After a slightly awkward time at the bathhouse since I saw my roommates and host's husband nude, we decided to go have sushi for dinner at a place nearby that has the sushi at the conveyor belt.

Anyways, we enjoyed chatting with each other there as well as eating all the delicious sushi available there. Hidemi-san and her husband Akihiko-san ordered simple but tasty sushis with fillings such as unagi and this fermented soybean called "natto", which is pungent and an acquired taste! They both love it, and here I am still trying to learn how to appreciate it! I ordered something more decadent, which is my all time favourite otoro fatty tuna belly! I swear the price of great tasting sushi in Japan is so much more worth buying than in my country! What would cost 800 JPY or $8 USD for a plate of sushi would cost double at a high end restaurant in Philippines. So you can see that I tried my best to indulge whenever I could and not spend past my budget. It was a blast, although paying for the bill took a long time. One thing I developed from the Japanese was patience. I grew up with a lot of impatient people who wanted things fast and instant, and yet they were not so happy. I learned from the Japanese that things take time and sometimes you gotta wait. For me, traveling for just an hour on a plane was not significant for me. I had more happiness traveling for 14 hrs to distant places rather than traveling to somewhere only 2 hrs away! In life, be patient and you may be rewarded well!
Shin-Osaka station. Japan's public transportation is precise and convenient. There are so many stations though so it's challenging to take it sometimes! So be patient and use Google Maps to help you!
Anyways, when we got back to the hostel, I got my luggage, said my goodbyes to Akihiko-san and the rest of my roommates then off I went with Hidemi-san for her to drop me off at Yamashina station on my way to Shin-Osaka station to my next hostel! As I arrive, I gave my hugs and regards to Hidemi-san for being so thoughtful, kind and hospitable to me and my time there! She definitely feels like a loving mother to me, and I consider her as family for me in Japan! As I was riding the train after being helped out by students on board, I realize that I FORGOT to give back the hostel keys to Hidemi-san! I called her, but she told me she cannot come back to the train station anymore, so definitely I already had one challenge even before arriving to Osaka: sending her the key back via snail mail package from Osaka to Kyoto! Definitely I am thankful that she was still so nice to me even if I forgot those keys. I swear on my next return to Kyoto, I really did not hesitate to stay at her place again! This time, I was prepared to give her so much more gifts just because she gave so much to me! I cannot thank you enough Hidemi-san for all that you have done for me! Even though I was on my way to Osaka with a major problem, I was still smiling just because of all the wonderful things I experienced in Kyoto. I will definitely be back at this amazing city to experience more! 英美さん! すごい優しい人ですね! ずっとありがとうございました!=)
Iconic places like Dotonbori in Osaka should not be missed! Appreciate those places because they may not always be there!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

My Incredible Journey to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan! Part 2

One visit to Fushimi-Inari is simply not enough! I will make it a habit to come back when I can!
The next day of my trip to Kyoto was met with a bad habit I tend to do lately since I got back in Asia: waking up late! On average, I have been waking up later than 10am because of the night owl in me! They don't call me the midnight baker for nothing! Anyways, I woke up and fixed myself up and got to see my host Hidemi-san very hard at work. She was cleaning up the rooms and changing the bed sheets on the third floor where I was sleeping! Told me she will have guests coming from France, Canada and UK. Such a hard working woman who really cares for her guests! I felt like family when I was at her place. After I had breakfast, we spoke a bit in Japanese about me and my ambitions, etc. I told her that I was going to Fushimi-Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) or the Fushimi Inari shrines, and she made the most kind-hearted offer: she would drive me to the Shrines once she was done fixing up the rooms! I honestly felt like the luckiest person ever to have had such a wonderful host like her!

Hidemi-san is one the best hosts I have ever had! She exceeds expectations and is extremely hospitable! SUGOI!
I was surprised to know that Hidemi-san and her family are very well-traveled yet, it has only been her husband, Akihiko-san (塩谷明彦) and her son (I was not able to meet) who have been to Philippines! She also has a daughter that loves to travel as well! She fell in love with the mangoes I gave her and I have convinced her to visit Philippines because of all the delicious mangoes we have there since Japan is known to have notoriously expensive mangoes! While we were in her car, I could definitely see how much traveling had impacted her life. She has been to many places and has meet people from all over the world! I could definitely see that traveling has kept her happy, and I hope it does for me too as I keep exploring this world!
The view at the top of Kyoto Tower was pleasurable for me! The ticket purchased would get you discounted entrance into the bathhouse at the basement of the building!
Once she dropped me off at Fushimi Inari area, I started the hike. But first things first: street food time and souvenir shopping! Now for those who adore matcha green tea like me, you're in for a treat! Kyoto has the best supplies of matcha green tea powder out there! Street foods may sound cheap to others, but trust me when I say this: they are so much tastier than any food you have had anywhere else! From Wagyu beef skewers to Okonomiyaki to Chicken karaage, the food here is endless and so much more affordable than the food in the city! Although a long line at times, it's very much worth it as it satisfies my hunger! Average prices spent here for street food will be around Y500-700 JPY but it's very filling and tasty. After finishing my food, I started the hike and my goodness, already I can see just how beautiful the orange arches and shrines are! I have never seen the colour orange used in oriental architecture and shrines until I went to Japan. It was very refreshing to me and to my sight to witness something different! Every meticulous detail is there, which is what the Japanese are known for! I can see just how much care goes into this as well as maintaining the structures. With so much love and pride for its belongings, I felt the heart and passion that went into making them!
My you have a moment in life where you taste perfection on a plate! :)
As I climbed up the first couple of shrines, already I am amazed at how many there are! I felt as if I was in Japan's more quiet and peaceful past. A past that was extremely calming to me. I couldn't take my eyes off the orange arches! I kept taking so much pictures of me in it as well as asking others to take my picture there. It was wonderful to get to feel the fresh air there and have a closer look at the arches. They go on for thousands! Yes it had too many tourists along the way, which is why I decided to venture out on my own around the area. I got to see suburban houses along the area, which I easily got jealous! HAHAHA! How damn lucky those people are to live around an area as beautiful as this?! Now I understand that some may find it boring there but to me, I could spend my entire life exploring Japan and there will still be something that just amazes the hell out of me! As I was walking around the area, I got to see some Filipino tourists! I suddenly feel less lonely traveling by myself! I asked them to take my picture around the bamboo area and then off I go.
JB and I about to explore Fushimi-Inari and take lots of photos wherever there and where we walked!
After around 10 minutes of walking, I encounter them again this time with the officer in charge of the premises in his motorcycle. Obviously the English was limited so I volunteered to help my home country people out. Basically, they wanted to go explore Fushimi-Inari 'til the very top. However, it was already 4:30pm and the officer was not recommending it. He said to me in Japanese more or less that he doesn't recommend it because the lights are about to go out there and it will almost be night time, and that the walkway to get there will be very uphill and downhill. So here is my advice to them and others: if you want to explore Fushimi-Inari and make it to the very top, get there early! As early as 7am so that the view will be brighter and clearer! I felt good helping those who were struggling out! I am very thankful to have been able to help tourists enjoy this amazing country even more and break many cultural barriers!
When you travel on your own, you are forced to talk to people. You get to know some of the nicest and most amazing people when you do! What an amazing life!
As I walked around the area, I started going deeper into the community at Fushimi-Inari. I discovered so many beautiful houses there such as one that was coloured like matcha green tea! Everything was so prim and proper there; a completely refreshing feeling from chaotic and congested Manila. Even though I didn't make it to the very top that day, it felt good being surrounded with the community there! I honestly love seeing kids playing at the corner in the parks there cause they were so cute! I would love to live in a place as safe as that someday! I wish I could bring some of that weather back at home. A lot of times, it looks as if Manila's trees and nature are disappearing more and more to be replaced by an unnatural looking building. That shouldn't be like that because mother nature has so much natural beauty to offer. I just wished it would be more windy in Manila like how I felt in Fushimi-Inari!
I am no longer afraid to travel to the places I have always wanted to go to, even if on my own! The world as I see it, is a remarkable place!
The next day, I went to explore the city area of Kyoto more and saw several temples within walking distance to the train! I just felt so emotional being there because I felt like I was not worthy enough to get to taste and experience those things, and yet, I was still there loving every bit of it! I got the chance to go to Kyoto Tower and got a full 360 view of Kyoto! I was amazed and if you saw my pictures of me posing, you can definitely see how genuinely happy I was there! I love getting a top view of places because you can really see the hustle and bustle there! So happy that someone was able to take a picture of me there! Now in Kyoto Tower, they had a promo when I was there: for every ticket purchase, you get a discounted entrance to the bathhouse at the basement floor there. This was my first bathhouse experience in Kyoto so I decided to go since I was tired that day. It was satisfying enough that I got to shower and relax in jacuzzi water, despite being nude in front of others. After that, I explored the shops around Kyoto Tower, got souvenirs and then explored the restaurants around there. Tip: I brought meal replacement formula when I was there so that I could save on spending for food in the morning, which is why I was able to save. It's one of those drinks that you mix with milk so you can feel full and satisfied.
TC and I just chilling and socializing at a cafe near the train station of Kyoto. I appreciate these times!
Now Kyoto Station is the main train station of the city, which means there are several restaurants there as well as shops! The place is packed with restaurants and even has several floors of it! I chose to eat ramen since I was craving for it that night. I can never fully explain the satisfaction of having ramen on a cold night in the city! It's something that must be experienced more than told! The wonderful thing about dining in Japan is that majority of the restaurants have vending machines that takes your order and prints out a ticket to just show to the guy. Very straightforward and convenient. Gave me more time to enjoy the freshness and flavour of the soup! Take pictures while you're at the stairs of Kyoto Station. There are lights there that flash at night! All 5 floors of it, which you can actually sit down and relax a bit. Oh and don't worry, they do have escalators provided on the side!
Musician playing his Shamisen instrument on the street! World class music in front of me. I salute you busker and hope you'll be blessed!
At night, I noticed there was someone speaking Tagalog (Filipino) while I was walking the streets of where I was in Nagitsuji so I go there and immediately start talking to them! Immediately, we became instant friends. Spent majority of the time walking all around the area from Yamashina to my hostel in Nagitsuji. We didn't spend on stuff much. His name was JB and he was living in Kyoto with his mama and brother who was a resident already in Japan. He was a makeup specialist in Manila. There are so many Filipinos working in Japan, so it doesn't shock me so much anymore when I see a fellow Pinoy in Japan. He let me try Pachinco, which is the Japanese version of gambling at a casino since actual gambling is not allowed there, and it was like basically playing at an arcade. And then we talked for an hour or so while walking outside and even while sitting down outside of the convenience store. It was one of those moments where I felt happy just because I was able to connect with someone and share my life without expecting anything. We then head onto a place that had good Gyudon, so we found Sukiya. It was very satisfying for me. Almost like the first time I had Gyudon at Matsuya back in Tokyo.
A graceful Geisha on her way to an important appointment! She is purely an art. Otsukaresama!
It was wonderful to have a connection with someone you just met. That's really the beauty of traveling to me. "You never really travel alone. The world is full of friends waiting to get to know you." It may look depressing at first when I travel alone, but trust me: I know how to become happy when I explore this world! There are great people out there that you will get to know and immediately have a connection with. I never expect to be friends with the people I meet on Airbnb, Couchsurfing or any random bar I go to, but I do become friends with them! This whole process helps me become more confident and approachable so I don't see this as a negative when I go abroad by myself. What I fear most is not being able to travel or fly abroad and just staying stable and just being surrounded by the same old people. Traveling helps educate me and keep my spirit alive! I get that family is important, but every now and then, I would to meet someone and become friends with them, especially from a different cultural background.
Mother Nature blesses us with so much beauty like these flowers! Don't take them for granted!
The next day, JB and I met up. I got to meet his mama for a bit and then off we went to Fushimi-Inari again (one visit is never enough). This time, he brought his special camera with him along with a stand to take more elaborate pictures. Basically, we had a photo shoot around the area of Fushimi-Inari. It was wonderful, despite many tourists complaining about us taking a long time. It was mostly other foreigners and not the native Japanese themselves though. This place was even better the second time around! You really get to appreciate the hard work and love that these people put in from not just the orange arches, but also the people who sell food and stuff at the shopping stands. One of the guys selling the beef skewers was curious as to where JB and I were from and the moment we said Philippines, he immediately started speaking some Tagalog, which shocks the both of us! We literally took a thousand photos of wherever we walked, taking turns each time! Some of the tourists were a bit annoyed by us, but JB told me to just ignore them. I swear when you go around the areas with someone, it really does help produce better shots! I even got to take a picture with two Thai women dressed in a kimono! After Fushimi-Inari, we took a walk. A LONG WALK. I am not sure how we managed, but we enjoyed and made it all the way to Kyoto main station!
Would you dare to walk up and down these stairs? It's a nice at the top and there are ramen joints there!
When we arrived, we met a friend of his that I became close with as well. Let's call him TC! He is from France and was studying in Kyoto at the time! We spent a couple of hours talking with each other at a coffee shop called Delifrance right across the train station. As TC and I got to know each other (lover of anime and most things Japanese), JB suddenly disappears! Either he got bored of TC and I or had an emergency. It was so quick for me to process, but apparently JB was looking for his brother around the area. I was not sure how he would be able to find him because JB was relying on my pocket wifi the whole time we were there! When he disappeared, TC and I still kept on talking and we clicked as friends! We still talk to each other on Facebook even 'til this day! He loves cosplay apart from anime and yaoi. I politely accompanied him to his bus terminal, still unsure of where JB is. Then when TC left, I went to have a quick dinner at the Kyoto Station area, which has so much options for food such as ramen! One tip for any restaurant you go to in Japan: the more you see how your food is cooked and prepared in front of you, the higher the chance that it tastes good!
Generous servings of ramen when you dine in at one of the restaurants at the top floor of the Kyoto Station!
I remembered this phrase as I was munching on my super comforting ramen: "One cannot live well, sleep well, and think well if one does not dine well." I can definitely feel how tender the noodles and meat was as well as how soft the egg was as well. If this was consumed on an extremely cold night, this would bring me to euphoria! After dining there, I decided to walk around at Gion since this district was the most popular and had the most options when it comes to food and shopping! And then out of nowhere, I see JB again! I was wondering where in the world he was! He said he needed to get home so he ran off to the train station. And just like that, he ran and I have not seen him since. Kind of ironic how we spoke and became friends instantly and then the next day, acted like a different person. But I couldn't let it bring me down since I was in such a beautiful city for the first time ever! I have yet to meet more people so if one person did not click with me, just simply move on to the next one. I would like to be positive and hope to meet more people! As I am still working on Part 3, I will end with this quote: "You never really travel alone. The world is full of friends waiting to get to know you."
You never really travel alone. The world is full of friends waiting to get to know you.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Incredible Journey to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan! Part 1

In my opinion, it's always better to see a monument for real rather than hearing it a thousand times in stories or watching it on TV. I will never get tired of Fushimi Inari!
My first time ever in Japan made a huge impact to my life of course I just had to go back! My family went to Tokyo for New Years last 2015, but did not enjoy it as much due to it being a family trip so I was not able to explore as much as I wanted to, which is why I decided to go back again on my own, but this time, a different city. I always wanted to visit Japan during the Cherry Blossom season. It did not have to be in full bloom, but at least have some of the flowers remaining. I decided to try Kyoto and Osaka, since everyone has been telling me that Kyoto is so amazing and authentically Japanese in history and architecture. Osaka on the other hand, is well known for its delicious food, affordable shopping and budget friendly places, which was more than enough to convince me to go there.
This pocket wifi will be your best buddy when traveling alone! It is a life saver I swear! From teaching and guiding you where to go, to entertaining you at the most boring times!
This time on my third time back, I wanted to be more prepared to travel by myself so I did a lot of research such as finding the top places to go, which airline was the most affordable, which pocket wifi I should get, and of course, which hostels I should stay at. I usually look at airbnb.com or couchsurfing.com to look for very affordable hostels that I could stay at. I really feel like going back to Japan every year for the rest of my life if I could just because there are so many amazing things that this country has to offer. Every time I go back, there's always something that surprises and amazes me there. I can't help but feel excited every time I am back! Plus, the people are so nice and helpful, which is more than enough to make me come back and discover more!
When you preserve what Mother Nature has given to you, it really does show it's true beauty! I wish it had more nature where I lived! It felt so fresh there!