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!

So I started with researching for the most affordable ticket to Osaka Kansai International Airport via Skyscanner app. I even went to search during a ticket expo event when it was happening in Manila. Until I saw a blogger by the name of Asiatravelbug who wrote a review on her experience with Jetstar. She traveled to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan just like I planned to. She mentioned several things such as buying a certain type of train ticket to even renting a pocket wifi called Pupuru, which she wrote an entire article about it. It had so much detail in it, that it convinced me to go and get that pocket wifi for myself! That blogger was the start to my wonderful and exciting journey to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan! It all starts with finding an affordable plane ticket to there!
The kitchen of the hostel I stayed at in Kyoto via Airbnb! Airbnb has been so good to me blessing me with this amazing hostel and an incredibly kind and loving host!
Now I know that countries like ones in Southeast Asia or even typical Hong Kong or Taiwan are closer and could be cheaper, but please, give Japan a chance! It can be expensive, but with good money management skills, efficient decisions, and willpower I promise you that Japan will be one of the best countries you will ever go to not only in Asia, but perhaps the entire world! That's how I felt the first time I went there, and that's the reason why I still keep coming back, and yet never get tired of it! The key to not getting bored is to keep visiting different prefectures and cities. I usually like to go where locals go to, stay with locals, and even mingle with locals! Trust me, there are countries that you get tired of the more you keep visiting them but so far, Japan has not yet been one of those!
My eyes were wide open to experience this incredible beauty right here! It didn't bother me that there were so many tourists there. I was too focused and amazed at how naturally beautiful it was in Kiyomizu-Dera!
Now plane tickets to Japan can be expensive for a Pinoy/Pinay, which could be priced as much as even a ticket to a western country. But luckily, budget airlines such as Jetstar (which is what I often take) and Cebu Pacific have promos going to several cities in Japan. Tickets can get lower than Php10,000 or $200 USD for a roundtrip ticket depending on season and promo, but definitely affordable. So far my plane tickets to Japan have not cost me past Php20,000 or $400 USD, and I am hoping there will be even more affordable plane tickets going there in the future! However if you can afford it, try out Japan Airlines or ANA (All Nippon Airways) for their excellent service and hospitality! I was able to try it once and it was wonderful, from their meals to the service staff! It's no wonder the modern Japanese people have been known to be so well-mannered and polite!
I never knew orange could be such a beautiful color for a temple! I didn't mind the amount of tourists that were there. They were well-behaved and it just goes to show how famous Kiyomizu-Dera is!
Their nice personality and well-behaved character was enough for me to want to keep coming back to the Land of the Rising Sun! Now I mentioned that I use Jetstar a lot when going to Japan, and it's because not only is it affordable for me, their staff are very friendly, too! Despite it being a budget airline, the Japanese staff are still accommodating, and so far, none of the flights I have taken to Japan have been delayed! The problem with other airlines is that they leave in the afternoon, which in turn, makes you arrive in Japan at night, which makes you lose one days worth of meaningful activities! Jetstar Japan's hours are usually around 12 midnight for departure and around 6AM arrival there, since Japan is 1 hour ahead from Philippines. It's good since I am the kind of person who can sleep inside an airplane, even though it can be pretty tight at times!
Since it was Sakura cherry blossom season, I decided to try some Sakura tea made with pickled Sakura! My host Hidemi was generous enough to give me a packet of this!
When arriving at the airport in Osaka, Japan, once you get through immigration and customs, the pick up center for the Pupuru pocket wifi will be on the left side of the exit. It was at the arrival area booth called JAL ABC Counter, which the tourist information center was kind enough to show me. No problems here since most of the staff can speak English. After signing up and unwrapping the package, I went to get my train ticket heading straight to Kyoto! I followed the advice of Asiatravelbug again because it did make sense to get a Haruka Icoca Card that went straight to Kyoto after arrival. This area was right outside the airport and had a long line of foreigners and employees who thankfully, still could speak English. I should say ahead of time that I can speak a decent amount of Japanese and read as well, so in general, I was able to get by the areas by myself. So that card was not only convenient, it also gave me a 45% discount for the one way ticket to Kyoto, just like Asiatravelbug had promised me! Off I went to Kyoto station or Kyōto-eki (京都駅) in Japanese.
Matcha and strawberry swirl soft serve ice cream is one of the greatest combinations ever! I swear I went to get another one at the end of the day. This time, Sakura flavoured! Look how perfect it is!
I swear the hospitality and politeness of everybody in Japan is so infectious! It just motivates you to do better. Whenever you struggle, there will always be someone there to help you out as best as you can! Contrary to popular belief, a lot of Japanese people have some knowledge of English these days! They are just so very shy to speak it, but with reading and writing? Almost no problem. The kids these days have a good amount of knowledge to be able to hold a decent conversation with a foreigner. If they cannot, they will try their best to find someone who could help you or even use a translation app (which you should never be shy to use in another country!) It just shows you how connected the world is these days! Try it out for yourself and see why I keep coming back!
Simplicity at its best! This strawberry doughnut was just a doughnut from a convenience store at a random train station! So tell me again why this one already looks so damn delicious?!
As I arrived at Kyoto station, I asked around which train I need to take next to Nagitsuji (椥辻) Station. I got some snacks while I was around the area, and I swear even the simplest things in Japan taste LIGHTYEARS away from what convenience stores in Philippines or any country I been to serve! From a simple doughnut to a moist, juicy and flavourful chicken fillet! It doesn't take much to eat well in Japan. You don't have to dine at a pretentious, fancy shmancy restaurant in order to experience the best of Japan. Even food at their convenience store is already good enough to make you say "Oishii!" (美味い/おいしい) I should know because it did it for me! When I arrived at the hostel address that my host stated, it took me a long time to find it as well as obtaining the keys. This is how it started out: she left the keys to the hostel at her house which was quite a far walk if you are not used to walking for 5 minutes straight. However, once you get the keys, everything else just made sense. Her hostel was quaint and wonderfully homey! You could feel the love put into it! What's more, when I got lost, her neighbors (hostel and actual house) were more than friendly enough to help me find her house since I arrived at her hostel with no key. And speaking of safety, I left my luggage to pick up the keys first. When I came back, my luggage was still there, untouched! Japan is a very safe country in general! I swear you will not find another country like this!
This was inside Hidemi-san's mailbox at her house, with such a sweet greeting card along with the keys to the hostel, as well as a guide map to the wonderful city of Kyoto!
I had a lovely time mingling with Hidemi-san's neighbors in both the hostel and house! The kids of one of them was noticing my huge bag and they were too adorable! Japanese kids are absolutely the cutest! People here are so formal! I asked them in Japanese where Hidemi-san's house was and they all told me that I must refer to her as her last name, Shiotani-san because that's the right way! But it understandable since I was a foreigner there. As I got into the house, I relaxed first at the kitchen area since the first floor is where you take off your shoes as well as where the toilet and washing machine is located at (ironic, huh?) The second floor contains the kitchen as well as the private room for the couples who prefer to have their own rooms. I was at the third floor, where there were three shared beds in one spot as well as the room of a long staying student there from Galicia, Spain! This hostel was cute, but if you're a big person or dislike walking up and down the stairs constantly, then this may be a challenge for you! All in all, I was not complaining because I was enjoying the vibe of the hostel as well as the view I got from the area! This hostel provides so much information such as maps, catalog magazines about where to go, and the best that Kyoto has to offer from where to eat to where to go for hotsprings or onsens!
I didn't mind getting lost as long as I got to see wonderful views like this! It just feels so peaceful and calm while I was there. Breathing felt so clean here!
When I finally got settled down in my room, I decided to visit one place that seemed not too far from the hostel, and that was Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺). My experience going here was interesting. Since it's my first time ever in Kyoto, I decided to use Google Maps to go there, and it recommended that I take the bus! So when I arrived at the bus station, an elderly woman with a face mask on was there waiting for her bus. I approached her, and asked her in Japanese is this the bus station to go to Kiyomizu-dera? She said yes, and then I said thank you, and sorry my Japanese is not good. She asked where i was from, and when I replied Philippines, the bus arrived. This surprised me so much because I can understand Japanese more than actually speak it. When the door opened, she spoke to the bus driver for me! She told him to drop me off at Kiyomizu-dera station, and also to indicate to me that the bus is at Kiyomizu-dera when we arrive! I was in complete shock as to how nice this lady was to me! It was not her bus, yet she was super kind enough to help me out taking the bus properly. I was ecstatic! I said to her that she was super kind to me, and thank you very much, as well as take care of yourself, then off I went to ride the bus. I swear it's moments like this that make me love traveling to Japan every time!
Tourists are kind enough to take my picture here! As you can see, I am excited here to witness something beautiful!
As I was riding the bus, the bus driver helped me and I told him I don't have a value card with me, only cash. In the buses in Japan, there is a machine there that will change your bills into coins. You have to give exact coins when paying because it's in an automatic machine. So be prepared for that. I eventually got used to doing that so I always have coins ready every time I go back to Japan. When I finally arrived at the station walking distance to Kiyomizu-dera, I got in, paid for my entrance ticket and started to explore the place. One thing I wish Manila, Philippines would have more are preserved areas like this, with lush trees, and plants all over the place! I felt at peace with the beautiful nature surrounding me! The weather was good, and the wind was just right at the time! I know in Manila especially it's difficult to go around without sweating heavily or having sticky skin. I really recommend Kyoto as a place to explore if you want better weather and extremely beautiful places!
Almost everyone here is wearing a kimono or yukata! I swear I felt like I was in Classical Japan there! So authentic!
When I arrived in Kiyomizu-dera, I was amazed at the amount of trees, flowers and structures that were around! No wonder there were so many tourists from all around the world there! Definitely the most tourists came from Europe because I could hear many British accents around! People were kind enough to take my picture since I was traveling on my own! This place is affordable to visit since I remember it costs 500 yen or around $4.50 USD or 200PHP to enter since it is well maintained. I saw several cafes here that serves ramen, desserts (MATCHA!), omiyage, and several stores that do things like caricatures and handmade items! I had good conversations with the people drawing at the caricatures. That place definitely I will go back to if ever I visit Kiyomizu-dera! This place has so much stores that look similar to ancient Japan so I'm not kidding when it comes to authentic! Kiyomizu-dera has a lot of stairs so be prepared to walk a lot. Actually, that's my advice for when in Japan in general! HAHA!
I think Japan has some of the sweetest and most beautiful strawberries ever! So worth every yen! Notice the dried mangoes on the side! Hehe!
Ordering at a takoyaki stand at night! The best tasting ones are the ones that are just on the side where even locals dine in!
I can definitely imagine getting lost in wonders in this place! At night, I got some strawberries as well as some takoyaki to take home and share with others!  Even if you don't speak Japanese and they don't speak English, they have got an English menu and you have this mutual understanding with each other. I went to have dinner at a nearby restaurant from my hostel! In Japan, I have to tell you: they have the most amazing tasting food around! Even from the convenience store, the food already tastes good, and it was affordable! I ordered a Katsu-don and Chicken Karaage set at this restaurant called Matsunoya (松のや椥辻) where you just place your order on a vending machine and give to the server when you arrive. I did not grow up having something as convenient as this, so I really appreciate having this to enjoy in Kyoto! The vegetables and soup so fresh, pork katsu cutlet so crispy and tender, with piping hot rice and unlimited condiments makes me feel so good inside. Delicious taste makes me feel what comfort food really is! If you are in Kyoto, katsu-don is one of the meals you should have while here!
Pork cutlet katsu, chicken karaage, lettuce and soup with rice to warm up the soul at night at Matsunoya! So good!

Tell me this does not captivate you? I feel so wonderful while I was walking up the stairs here!
As I walked home, I finally got to meet my host! Her name is Hidemi Shiotani (塩谷英美) and she is definitely one of the sweetest hosts I have ever had not just on Airbnb, but also in whichever place I have stayed at! I gave her several dried mangoes that I brought with me, and we socialized along with a long-stay guest named Rafael from Galicia, Spain! Ahhhh Shiotani Hidemi-san! I cannot express enough how extremely kind and hospitable this woman is! I had such a nice time getting to know both of them, and it was a surprise to both of them that I could speak Japanese and Spanish! I enjoyed getting to know his country more, and he was so fascinated getting to know mine, as it was also a former Spanish colony. Definitely surprised as how he actually spoke to me in pure Spanish because I definitely wanted a challenge from it to learn more. What an amazing feeling to be surrounded with different cultures from all over the world in one place! It is something I constantly crave for and will keep finding wherever I may go! Hidemi-san is just awesome! She gave me mochi, sakura tea and did so many random nice things to me while I was in her guest house! Guys! Her place is very affordable to stay at! If you need a place to stay, I highly recommend her place! You will have fun with the surroundings as well as get to know people from different countries! I was able to meet people from Spain, Shanghai, UK, France, and Canada here! And if Hidemi-san is not busy with work, she actually drives you to certain spots that are nearby for you and even drops you off at train stations whenever she can! I can go on and on, but that will be for the next part of my wonderful journey at the Land of the Rising Sun! Stay tuned!

Say hello to one of the nicest people you will ever meet in Kyoto, Japan! If you need a place to stay, I really recommend Hidemi-san's place!

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