Japan | Kansai | Day 1 & 2, Arrival in Kansai and Kyoto

Believe it or not, this was my first trip to Japan. Yes, I am also kinda shocked myself. I mean I love anime and I have two Japanese-styled influenced tattoos on my body yet I have never stepped foot on the land of the rising sun. I don't know. I always have this impression that I need a lot of money to be able to have a vacation trip there. Well, after this trip, I guess it's kind of true but I bought a lot of stuff there, so I might be spending more than I need to.

// Breakdown of expenses //

So before I start on pouring out the pictures. Here are some breakdown of my Japan trip expenses. I'll be referring to SGD as $ from here on out.

-- essentials --
AirAsiaX return flight (KL - Kansai airport) // RM1369, ~456$ per person **including 20kg check in baggage
Airbnb Kyoto 4 nights // 267.82$, ~22.32$ per person per night
Airbnb Osaka 6 nights // 336.72$, ~18.71$ per person per night
Japan Wireless PocketWifi // 6950yen, ~82$ for 10 days

We also changed 1000$ per person to yen to be used there.
So I could say that we roughly used around 2000$ per person in total for our Japan 11 days trip that includes:

-- optional --
Gion Nanba Kaiseki // 8000yen, ~ 96$ per person
Universal Studios Japan // 7600yen, ~90$ per person
USJ Express Pass // 11478yen, 138$ per person
Kobe beef // 30000yen, 360$ for 3 person

We did not really held back with food or snacks. We just went ahead with anything that tickles our fancy. So, you could say we weren't really frugal with our money. Cause we live to eat. Haha. But I did find some cheaper transportation alternatives by taking advantage of Japan's tourist tickets! Like for example, Kyoto Access Ticket, Osaka Kaiyukan ticket that includes one day transportation in Osaka, and also some other perks for foreign tourists! I'll talk about them more in details in my blog below when relevant.

// My experience with Japan Wireless //

Around 3 weeks before our trip to Japan, I made a booking for a mobile Pocket Wifi with Japan Wireless. I have researched a few company but I found that Japan Wireless gives the best offer. I think the winning point is that it offers unlimited wi-fi usage! I find  most of the companies offers capped data usage but not Japan Wireless. You have to be extra careful and read all the fine prints here. Because I didn't, I suffered some consequences. 

That said consequences was that.. I did not receive my Pocket Wifi on time. 

I'm gonna start my story now. So, I rented the mobile wifi with Japan Wireless and set the pick up point to the post office closest to my AirBnb place. I could have set it to Kansai Airport Post Office but unfortunately the Post Office only opens until 5pm. Our flight was scheduled to land at 3.25pm so I figured it was kind of rush and there was also chances that our flight might get delayed or so. Therefore, my decision. So, after we landed, prepared everything at the airport and went on to the post office. It was not an easy feat to navigate without google map, for some reason I can't save any offline maps of Japan. But luckily, I had Ulmon app which can be used offline. 
Alright, anyway, yes.. to the post office. I passed my voucher to the very nice post office lady (some Japanese post office opens till late night, they have a counter called ゆうゆう window/Yuu-Yuu window) and she was searching for quite a long time. Few mins later, she came out without any parcel on her hand. My heart leapt out. It turns out they did not receive any parcel of such. Nobody in the post office knows how to speak English too so I had to whip out my google translator (which thank gawd, can be used offline). I asked if it is possible to call the company and asked about it for me. 

After trying for another few minutes, she told me nobody was picking up. Then I realize, they don't have any 24-hour hotline. Looking back at my e-mail containing the voucher, their office is only reachable from 10am-7pm. It was already 8pm by the time we were at the post office. Then, I saw this as well....

It was then that I realized, I did not receive any so called e-mail from them that has some tracking information. It was so frustrating because I depended a lot on the internet. I mean I had to use google map to find out where we were, where we are heading to, how to get there and also how to get back. Luckily, my brother is a DiGi subscriber and there was this very cheap RM25 3 days roaming + 2GB package we could use. Thank goodness for that. 
After my moment of hysteria, I e-mailed back to Japan Wireless to ask for a solution. In the end, we got a replacement the next day but we had to collect it at Kyoto Post Office instead. Got the tracking info, but it was actually for another customer, because the name of the recipient were not of mine but whatever. 

Overall, the pocket wifi works really well. It comes with it's own bag, and extra battery bank. Battery life was good, we only had to connect once to the battery bank in the evening mostly. The coverage was very good too but limited connection when we were going to Koyasan but I guess that's normal because we have to go through some pretty rural areas. Other than that, we had really good internet speed. Customer service was good, despite not sending out my pocket wifi on time, they manage to give me a replacement in less than 24 hours and also they refunded some money since we did not get to use it from the date that I have set. 
So yeah, I would still recommend Japan Wireless. If you are using their services, make sure that you get the tracking info from them 1-2 days before your trip to avoid any disappointments!

Day 1 // 20 Nov 17 // Flight day, reached at 3.25pm

/ Touch down at Kansai Airport 
/ Buy passes from Tourist Info Centre at Airport
/ Go to Kyoto from Kansai Airport
/ Settle down in our AirBnb

Sleeping with mouth open, it runs in the family
It was a long 6 hours flight from Kuala Lumput to Kansai. Somehow I manage to faint throughout the whole flight. Like knocked out. I usually can't sleep that easily on budget airline, I wonder if they changed the air pressure or something. I seriously couldn't keep my eyes open during the first hour of the flight. When I woke up, miraculously, we were already in the last hour of the flight. It was the same when I was on the flight back. Hmmm, makes you wonder, doesn't it.

After touched down, the first thing I did was to queue up at the Tourist Information Center on1st floor. I highly, highly recommend for people visiting Japan to do so too because they sell all the cheap tickets and packages to most of the attractions in Japan! But of course, it's better to research about them first before you buy them there. Even if you haven't, you could do that at the inquiry counter (not the purchase counter please) and ask the staff for more info but of course, you would need extra time for that. There were a few people in front of me who took their sweet time on talking and choosing the tickets which I think is not really cool.. I mean.. you know, it's kind of like making other people behind you wait for a long time too. So I prefer to know what I want beforehand and just buy them there. 

I forgot to take a picture of the tickets I bought, but here is just the run down of what tickets I bought and how much they cost.

-- Kansai Thru Pass 2 days, 4000yen **we used this for Arima onsen, Kobe, and Koyasan trip, it also comes with some coupons which you can use to get discount into some temples or attractions in Kansai area. 
-- Osaka Kaiyukan Ticket, 2550yen **including 1-day unlimited travel in Osaka
-- Osaka 1 day pass, 600-800yen **Sorry, I don't remember exactly how much this was. But according to the internet it seems like it cost 800yen for weekday and 600yen for weekend. Honestly, we kind of wasted this pass because we did not really travel as much as we intended to. 

There's honestly too much pass to choose from, I did not really read all the available passes. I think I would be very overwhelmed. But good to dive into if you are looking to save up some cash and also it's easier too. For example, for the Kaiyukan ticket, we did not need to queue up and buy the ticket again at the Aquarium, we could just go in. So it saves up time also.

As for travelling in Japan, we got the ICOCA card at the ticketing machine and Kyoto Access Ticket, 1230yen at Nankai Ticketing Office *how to locate in this link*. A lot cheaper than the JR Haruka pass and also the normal conventional way (1600yen).

I've heard many people singing praises for the public transportation in Japan about how easy it is to travel around. Guys.. Yeah, it is easy, I do admit it but it's so confusing! Especially with the day passes. I wish I could explain it clearly but it's difficult!
First of all, there's different company managing different rails, self explanatory if you look at the rail names on the Kansai Thru Pass website. Good new is that, you can use ICOCA card on whichever.
HOWEVER, if you buy day passes like me, you'll most likely have a headache. The passes (listed above) we bought only covers the metros and subways, but not JR lines. So, we had to pay extra to use the JR route/Osaka Loop line. Keep that in mind yo! Second of all, there's different type of trains in Japan. E.g. local, semi-express, express, rapid, limited, limited express. I still have problem understanding this. I mean I know they are categorized by different speed but I also thought that we have to pay extra on limited express trains, but some times, I see that we could board without having to pay that extra fee.. ??? BUT the most important thing that I have to tell you is to check if the train stops at the station you want to go to! Some of the faster trains will skip some stations, so be sure to check on the boards while you're waiting for the trains.

Anyway, here's a website explaining Japanese trains, it helps me understand, maybe not all, but at least a little. Sorry for my long rant. I'm normally a quiet person but when I type, I tend to type every little details out.

grab a seat while you can for the long journey! Because it will get crowded along the way

AirBnb in Kyoto, near Nagaokakyo

I booked a place in Nagaokakyo for 4 nights in Kyoto. Despite the listing name, it isn't near to Gion at all. We need an hour mostly to go to the attractions in Kyoto, and it's 1.2km walk away to the nearest station. It's not very far from the station but when we have to walk the whole day... I mean I would probably appreciate more by shortening that walking distance as much as possible in my future trips. I am not sure why I booked this place in the first place. I'm sure there's better Airbnb in Kyoto that is also around that price range. Maybe there wasn't any availability during the period of my stay? I don't know, I don't remember honestly.
Anyway, the place we stayed is a typical old Japanese house hosted by an Obasan that only speaks Japanese. I only realize this way too late. Obasan is really friendly and is quite talkative but unfortunately, we do not understand. Well, at least my brother and me understood a little. The only thing we could respond with is "daijobudesu". She is not around the house normally, she will only come over when there's people coming over or going away.
Also another downside, the house could host 8 guests max at one time and there is only 1 bathroom and 1 shower room. So yeah, you could imagine the waiting time during peak hour. Despite all my complaint earlier, the house is really cute. Well, at least we had the experience of living in a typical Japanese house in Japan.

The entrance

The entrance way
The kitchen

Stairs that creaks like how old houses does. 

and the main attraction, the basin-styled bathroom

Honestly, this came as a shock to me. It just looks like a huge human basin in my opinion. Hahahaha. Maybe it serves as a mini aluminium tub, I don't know. Somebody please explain to me, why.

Our room
Originally, I booked this place for 2 person but my mum said she wanted to join in the end, so I requested one more person. Obasan said the room is only meant for 2 people, so 1 person from our group can stay in another "room". But the original space was big enough for 3 of us, so we insisted that all 3 of us could stay together in the room. She was of course cool with that. Most of the rooms were not "rooms" exactly. It's just compartment-ed with curtains. Fortunately, the futons and blankets were very comfortable. We had no problem sleeping at night even though we could hear our next-room neighbor coughing and sneezing loud and clear. We weren't exactly very quiet either, so... *shrugs*.

we had our dinner in a nearby restaurant
We made a new friend, Monzy from Mexico when we arrived, it turns out she was also checking in on the same day. At first we thought she was half Japanese because the Obasan was talking to her a lot in Japanese. It turns out that she was also on the same boat, she didn't know what Obasan was saying but Obasan still mumbles on. Hahaha. We asked the Obasan if there were any restaurants nearby that we could go to (with my limited Japanese vocab), she was nice enough to take us there even though it was already dark. We ordered ramen and burger steak with rice. Both were so yummeh. First meal in Japan was satisfying.

Had the chance to witness this during our night walk to family mart and back to our Airbnb. This was already mindblowing for me because I usually only see this on Anime but not irl. Easily amused.

Also, this random picture I asked my brother to posed for because the lightning is perfect. So artsy fartsy.
Funny story regarding the first night there. There's actually some other guests on the other side of the sliding door. So at night, one of them wanted to go to the toilet. To do that, he/she had to go through our "room" first through the sliding door. Somehow, he/she manage to knock out one of the sliding door. Gave a shock to my brother because he was just sleeping next to the door. But they managed to popped it right back. *laugh*

Day 2 // Kyoto

/ Fushimi Inari Taisha
/ Nishiki Market
/ Ninenzaka & Sannenzaka
/ Kiyomizu-dera 
/ Gion Corner - performance
/ Gion Nanba - Kaiseki dinner

very cute parking lot identifier. (> w <)

Fushimi Inari Taisha

We actually took the wrong train when we went there. We were on the correct direction and correct rail. But we took the wrong type of train (rapid train) that skipped this particular station. And it was a looooooong detour this one. But we could see that we were not alone, there was also a few tourists that had the same problem as us. So, we then figured out how to get back, by riding the correct local train. We reached there at 9am, as you can see the crowd was already pouring in at the train station but it was still bearable at the shrine. It was much crowded later. If possible, it would be best to come much earlier like 8am to get good pictures of the thousand tori gates.

some street food stalls in the area but we didn't get any.
Though I bought a wooden sauce dish from one of the vendors there because I really like handmade stuff.

I only took this picture because of the presence of high school students. LOL. I'm secretly a pervert. 

It's really really hard to get a good photo without any photo bombing. Also, we are not the only ones there with the same mission. Just think about it, every section is occupied by tourists who wants to take photos. 5% chance of taking a good one. UNLESS we can reach there really early. Like really really early. OR we are extremely lucky. Or we could just camp out there for a really long time but we do not have the luxury of time in our hands. 

This was the best one I could get

Nishiki Market

Most probably our favorite part of the trip. I'm gonna review and recommend the foods that we tried. Some are just so incredibly good, you have to try! 

We only tried the tofu skin and doughnut from this shop

Definitely a first to eat cold tofu skin with soy sauce and wasabi. The texture is very interesting, I'm sorry I could not explain it in details. If you have not try this before, it's worth to try at least once! 

Apparently these are mini doughnut made with soy. I ordered the original one without any sauce or dipping. It is already a little sweet on it's own and it is very fragrant. Recommended item!

Naturally, fresh sashimi is a must! Everything was so fresh and quite cheap too! The winning sashimi for me would be the tuna toro. I love salmon but the tuna just melts in my mouth. I'm not even remotely joking. And it only cost 700yen! Recommended!
You might want to try the soft cod roe too... which is actually fish sperms. Yes, fish sperms. We didn't buy it in the market because we didn't know what it was but we had the chance to try it during our kaiseki dinner. And found out what it was. It's creamy but the taste didn't really appeal to me. But recommend to try as I have never really seen soft cod roe sold anywhere else before.

I saw this shop selling something very weird. We didn't dare to try it. Cod roe flavored ice cream anyone?

Trying out Konyaku facial cleanser. Me and my mum bought one each.

Grilled mochi. We didn't like either of the varieties. Well, maybe it's just not our thing. Basically the mochi is tasteless but the sauce surrounding it, is sweet. It's very chewy but they taste like nothing.. or... some.. weird.. thing.

Looks like sushi king, but it's not

It's a snack shop. Selling quite cheap stuff here. Recommended to visit.

Mochi with sweet filling. I forgot what the filling was. But most of them are in Japanese so it's hard to know what the choices are. Again, not our thing. Just wanted to try them out. 

Who can resist that beautiful display of cooked jumbo shrimp on a stick? Fresh and refreshing (lol, I just typed that). Definitely recommended!

Didn't know chestnut came from hairy pods

My mum really like chestnut, so she was very intrigue by this and bought a pack of roasted chestnut. I think I only took a bite but it was very sweet. The size was also formidable. I don't think I have seen chestnut of this size before. Also, another recommended item. 

and then there is this random giant cabbage for some reason with "camera OK" sign

Last but not least, I saved the best for the last. This super duper delicious black sesame soft serve with more roasted sesame sprinkle. They have their own distinct taste but they just go so well together. The combi is just heavenly. *mimics Shokugeki no Soma's hyperbolic food reaction/clothes bursting apart*. If you're not an anime fan, you won't get that reference. I'm otaku like that. 
Right, anyway, this is definitely the most recommended item from me! Don't miss this out! The shop also sells other sesame products and you could also sit inside to eat. 

Shinto shrine near Nishiki Market

Bridge crossing Kamo river

Ninenzaka & Sannenzaka Streets

Well, not all the pictures below are taken at Ninenzaka & Sannenzaka. We were just walking from Gion to those streets by chance. Simply get lost there, and you'll find yourself surrounded with lots of wonderful sceneries. I don't remember the names of course, but thanks to my iPhone photo location, I can at least copy the "area" names. The first few pictures below are taken at Kamibentencho, Shimokawaracho, and 石塀小路.

Reminds me of an anime scene
Was trying to take picture of the house but there's just non-stop photobombing left and right

Ventured into the small streets, and the scenery is just lovely (and it's not that crowded. Bonus!). We had quite a few chance encounter with some models.. or maybe not models, just some tourists wearing kimono that hired some photographer to take pics of them(?) or the other way around. And you know what, most of them are not Japanese. They are either speaking Mandarin or Cantonese. Hahahahaha. What is this new culture thing that the social media made this time. I guess it's kinda nice to wear traditional Japanese clothing and walk around Kyoto. There's a lot of rental shops that rent out kimonos and also could do your hair-do for you for a fee. You can rent by the hour or by day I think. It's cute, but not worth our time this time around.

And this is near Sannenzaka. Very crowded as you can see. 

Stepped into a souvenir shops along the streets and found this really cute fridge magnet of the Tori gate with a white fox. Also, some really cute postcards! There's just too many shops, we spent quite awhile window shopping there and tried a lot of snacks too. We spent like an hour along the streets but possible to spend longer there if you like to explore each and every shop. There's also this super cute Japanese Starbucks shop along the streets because it was using one of the traditional buildings as their shop. We didn't go in because we were short of time and also there were too many people in there. If I would go again to Kyoto, I would like to visit that Starbucks branch. 

Kiyomizudera Temple

Sunset view at Kiyomizu-dera

Really cute Japanese lucky charms. Great as souvs. 

And you know what... just our luck, the temple was under renovation when we were there. *Cry* I didn't know about that. But despite the renovations, a lot of people came. Especially students though! I don't understand. I mean anywhere we went, there seems to be a lot of kindergartners/middle-schooler/high-schoolers swarming in. It's not like there's 2 or 5 people in a group, it's literally a whole swarm. Like the whole class room or even more. Is there so many school trips happening? Or it's just the season for school trips? 

Also saw a lot of middle-schoolers trying to lift this thing up but to no avail because it's effin heavy. I have no idea for what and there isn't any explanation on the khakkhara (yes, that monk stick thing is called khakkhara). 
Okay guys.. I found this blog post explaining the legend of "The Spear of Benkei", I'll just quote from there.
Towards the entrance of Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, there is an abnormally large spear placed in a hole in the wooden walkway. The staff itself is rectangular and smooth, about 8 and a half feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds. Legend has it, that the giant warrior-monk, Benkei, used it as a walking stick and left it at Kiyomizu temple. Also, according to legend, if you can lift it, you will prosper.

Since we had some time, we went to the love shrine aka Jishu Shrine. It's very popular apparently especially if you're still single. There's also two very interesting stones at the shrine that also have their own legend. I'm gonna get some reference again, this time from this website.
In front of the shrine you will find two love stones, which are 18 meters apart, and lots of couples looking to confirm their love. Legend says that if you can find your way from one stone to the other with your eyes closed (no cheating) you will find true love. If you unfortunately miss the stone then your desire for love will not be fulfilled. If you find the task too challenging, don’t despair, you can have help with someone guiding you to be successful in finding the stone. If you need help to find the stone, this means that you will find love, but a go-between will also be needed for you to find this love as well. 

Enjoyed sunset view and got this amazing shot. 

Back to the shopping street towards Gion

quick bite before dinner

Performance at Gion Corner

Found out that Gion Corner was actually selling cheaper tickets to foreigners. It's a one hour performance that includes 7 different acts (more info below, I took pictures of the brochure they gave out). Mostly about Japanese cultures or traditional plays. It was very interesting for me (but not for everyone I am afraid). We actually went there early in the afternoon to buy the tickets, turns out that the ticket booth doesn't open until half an hour before the first performance starts. Unfortunately, there isn't any info about that in their website. But anyway, we went back there again in the evening. 

Normal price of an adult ticket costs 3150yen, but if you are a foreigner, you can get it for 2500yen by showing them your passport! 

Click on the pictures for larger images so you can read them. As you can see, there are 7 performances; tea ceremony, japanese harp, flower arrangement, court music, ancient comic play, kyoto style dance performed by a maiko (apprentice geiko), and puppet play (which needs 3 people to animate!).

Tea ceremony on the right side of the room

On the stage, harp playing and flower arrangement are all happening at once (together with tea ceremony). 

court music

Maiko dance

Puppet play. There's 3 people handling the puppet. The third one is kneeling. I am not sure why the leftmost man is not wearing a black head mask like the other two though.

And lastly, my family sleeping. This is what happened when you bring somebody with not much interest to these kind of stuff. He is also very prone to falling asleep. He could literally fall asleep while walking. No shit. I witnessed that first hand. 

Kaiseki dinner at Kyoto Gion Nanba

It was quite difficult to find the restaurant because the entrance is along a small alley. And there's a lot of small alleys in the area. We were on the wrong street at first. Most of the names are written in Japanese, and not English. Usually they are only displayed on a small lantern (like the above) or on a noren hanging at the doorway. 

I have researched for quite a few places for kaiseki dinner, unfortunately most of them only take phone reservation and you have to know how to speak Japanese in order to do that. If you are living at a hotel, it would be easier to make the booking by asking the receptionist to help out. Since our choice is limited, I just chose whichever restaurants that has an English website. I made the booking online through e-mail which I got from their website. Their lunch kaiseki is very cheap but we got the dinner meal instead because we planned to go to the market for lunch. I got the 8000yen for all 3 of us. Our set is an 8 course meal, and I have no idea what they were going to serve beforehand. I am not even sure if I can ask for the menu actually. 
There's 3 setting to choose from; bar, Japanese styled room, western styled room. I ended up with the western styled room because the others were fully booked on the date that I chose. I made the booking quite late actually, I think it's best to book at least one week before. Anyway, the restaurant itself is very very small. It can only fit a few people. So, it's very private. The western-styled room is placed on the second floor and we were the only ones in there. It's quite intimidating somehow, I felt. 
There's also this very traditional Japanese lady serving our dishes. Unfortunately, she doesn't speak English so she couldn't explain what was being served. Only a little. Via google translator but it was quite a feat, so I gave up on that. Haha. 

This was the dish that has the fish sperm

I find this bowl very cute and fascinating. ahhhh, I want one 

Very autumn themed look

Probably my most favourite fish out of all. Mushroom Takikomi gohan.

Oh yes, this is also very good.
If you are asking for my honest review. The food are all just mediocre. Most of them have yuzu, I have no problem with yuzu but my brother doesn't like them so he's not a fan of most of the food there. And then most of them uses the fish element. Some I couldn't stomach because it just smells weird and also they feel cold. We were very thankful for the grilled saba fish dish and rice.
Most probably the food does not suit our taste. But I would really want to try another Kaiseki again in the future. Maybe in a ryokan! It's much more expensive but I would really like to try at least once in my life to stay in a ryokan.

They did not neglect their toilet deco too. There's even a rock garden in there for display! It does give the toilet a high-end-ish feeling to it. 

// Map //

// Bonus Vlog //

Please watch in HD!
***Day 1 & 2 Vlog***

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