Saturday, 31 July 2010

Leaving Japan - What we will miss in Japan

Seeing as we are leaving Japan after close to 11 months, we thought we would do a quick post of some of the little things we already know we are going to miss. In no particular order:

711 - from late night beers and munchies to a quick lunch or dishwashing liquid, 711 has it all, without paying and arm or a leg!

PM: Boss coffee - my favourites are Gold and Rainbow, a perfect pick me up in the morning or arvo. The ads featuring Tommy Lee Jones aren't too bad either (check Youtube).

Vending Machines - the sheer convenience of so many vending machines can't be beat, if only vandals would leave them alone in Australia, we too could bask in the vending convenience. PM: Oh and our little flat had a Boss vending machine right out the front, location location location!

JH: Daiso (105 Yen Shop) - a place you can find everything you need, and all the things you never thought you did... and all at one super low price!

Ramen - of course we will miss all Japanese food, but Ramen (or Tsukemen in the summer) is our favourite. Upon leaving we estimate to have visited between 45 and 50 different places.

JH: Gyudon (file photo) - the only option for a late night snack. The 711 ones were particularly good.

JH: Flavoured Kit Kats - it seemed like every 2 weeks a new flavour came out... on top of that there are the different regional varieties!

Yebisu Beer - our favourite Japanese beer - although not to take anything away from Coopers which still remains our all time favourite. Also, strangely we are going to miss canned beer, cans are the norm in Japan, perhaps to reduce cost and waste, whatever the reason we became quite attached to slurping from the metal vessels.

Shochu - Japanese spirit that can be made from barley, wheat, rice, sugar and our favourite sweet potato, best enjoyed on the rocks.
Izakaya - there just isn't much to fault with being able to sit back and relax in your own little booth and eat and drink at basically any hour. Sure we missed the humble pub, but we think we will miss our regular izakaya visits too (particularly fun are the order by touchscreen ones).

Friday, 30 July 2010


After a rather uncomfortable overnight bus ride from Tokyo, we arrived in Kyoto an hour before scheduled on Wednesday morning (28th July). This would have been very welcome if it wasn't 6:30am with nothing yet open! After a brief search we arrived at our hostel and checked our luggage in, ready for a day of exploring. First up was Fushini and the walkways covered with Tori gates, a nice enough site but not terribly awe inspiring. Impressive is probably a better word, and to be honest is a great place to take snaps. After that we had a lazy afternoon with some lunch and getting a few things purchased and finalised before our trip. For dinner we headed out to Gion and found a great laneway that ran parallel to the river with many restaurants that backed onto and had outdoor balconies looking over the river.We found a great little place called 'Mimasuya' that was both in our price range and had a range of interesting dishes. We had Kyoto eggplant balls, tempura prawns with almond flakes, grilled carpaccio, tuna with shisho sauce, udon wrapped in beef with a delicious sauce, tofu and spinach mousse and many more.

Joss in the tori gate tunnel

The stretch of restaurants by the creek in Gion
Around Gion

Thursday (29th) not deterred by a rainy start (in fact having been told kyoto can be like a sauna in summer, a rainy and cool day was welcome), we headed out to the Romantic Train Sagano. After a bit of a transport mix up we ended up missing our original train and had to wait and hour for the next one - during which time we couldn't help but have a go of the large drive your own train set. The train itself was run by JR so held impeccable timing and wound it's way along a river and fantastic scenery for 23 minutes. We could see the scenic boats in the river which looked like a lot of fun, but a bit too wet for us to try, so we took the train back and took a stroll through the bamboo forest.

View outside the train, because it was raining no-one was sitting in the open carriage so it was perfect to stand in and take photos
The bamboo forest walk

In the afternoon we wandering around Shinbashi Dori in Gion which is said to be the most beautiful street in Asia (judge for yourselves), before getting a few last minute supplies and heading back to our hostel to get ready for dinner - to the wonderful restaurant we found the night before. Before we got there however, we were stopped by a very friendly old Japanese man who obviously liked chatting (his English was great) and we ended up standing on the street with him for an hour! His name was Shoji and he was 91! No joke!

Paul and Shoji
Us at Mimasuya and one of the tasty dishes, tofu and spinach mousse.

After dinner we packed out bags, ready to leave what ended up being a great hostel (K's hostel Kyoto) early in the morning to get to Osaka for the Ferry. That concluded our brief stop in Kyoto, it really wasn't enough time to do a proper tour and we would love to go back and see more of the impressive shrines and temples... next time.

We were sad to leave Japan but excited about the next part of our adventure.

PM: Now because I am a patriotic sort, I managed to burst a blood vessel or something else equally gross in my eye in the shape of Australia, just as we were leaving Japan. Pretty neat I reckon.

July Our Last Month in Tokyo

Although we had a busy time organising our trip and shipping, we still had time to head out and do a few of the things on our to do list. On the weekend of the 3rd and 4th we made one final visit to our favourite shopping area Kappabashi Dori to get ourselves some pottery and cooking knives to send home. We also incorporated a quick visit to Sensoji Temple and a cruise down the Sumida River. On our way to the cruise starting point we also happened upon a street festival with lots of people and food and drink stalls (and of coruse being Japan they all sold beer).

The street festival and boat

Our second last weekend (17th - 18th) we bought tickets to a day and night music festival called Audio Tokyo which was held in a great venue: the overseas passenger terminal that had a great view over Tokyo. We had a fun night and met a few new friends.

Early on in the afternoon

And early on the next morning...

PM: Last but not least was my final darts night, I have been playing each week with my language exchange friend Akira and a bunch of other dart enthusiasts. I was sad to leave, but we had a great send off night.

The darts crew (from top left): Nakano, Paul, Akira, Hamaji & Rika.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Hong Kong for Joss' Graduation

As most of you know Joss completed the final units of her degree at Macquarie whilst studying in Tokyo at Sophia University. This meant that during the year we were living in Tokyo her graduation ceremony would take place. Not wanting to miss her graduation but with a return trip to Sydney not terribly appealing, Joss did some investigation and found out that she could graduate in Hong Kong. This meant she would be able to make the graduation, with the added bonus of being able to have a long weekend Hong Kong (HK). Joss' parents Jan and
Grant also made the trip over.

Thursday night (8th) we caught a flight to HK, and we made our way to our temporary home for 4 days: Butteryfly on Morrison at Causeway Bay. After arriving quite late we headed out to grab some grub. First impressions of HK: hot! And the food even hotter! We stumbled across an alley way with tables and chairs set up at midnight with heaps of locals eating cheap but tasty food. Being a bit daring we tucked into some local style prawns, which ultimately ended up swimming in chilli before being devoured.

Picture from our hotel room - although not taken during the night we arrived obviously

Friday (9th) was spent getting acquainted with HK and picking up some very stylish robes for Joss. After some tasty air conditioned lunch we headed on the ferry to Kowloon for a bit of wandering and window shopping. After returning back to our trusty hotel we headed out to dinner at Red Pepper, a lonely planet recommendation that was close by. The food was delicious, and despite what one might expect, the food was at a palatable level of spicy (Joss' parents can also agree).
On the way to the hotel we stopped off for a drink at a nice outdoor bar in Causeway Bay.
Dinner at Red Pepper

Saturday (10th) we were greeted with what the locals must say was a lovely morning, but what visitors like us could only describe as bloody hot (PM: in fact i would use more expletives but this is a PG rated blog). However we battled on and headed up to The Peak for a sticky beak (and a drink). For those who have witnessed the views there is not much else to say as you know how impressive it is, for those who haven't have a look at the photos, although they still don't do it justice.

The view from the top of the peak

And us, just to prove we were really there

After a relaxing visit to the Peak, we got ourselves together for a night time cruise around the harbour to see HK's impressively show off at night with a coordinated light show. It was an hour or so cruise with some
spectacular sights, again refer to the photos. After the night cruise we went to a local dumpling restaurant close to our accommodation for yet another great meal, this time at Jan and Grant's recommendation.

The lights of HK

Sunday (11th) brought to us the main event - Joss' graduation at the Grant Hyatt ballroom, a very impressive venue for a graduation! It has to be mentioned also that Joss was the only Caucasian person donning a cape, and the last to graduate! Afterwards we headed for some celebratory drinks and dinner. (Although it has to be mentioned that we tried to make it celebratory drinks with yum cha, but arrived just as the yum cha was finishing, much to our frustration!)

Before the ceremony
Joss with old mate
Drinks after the big ceremony

Monday (12th) was our final day and we finally got to do some yum cha at the airport. It was a branch of a famous yum cha restaurant from HK city. It was of course delicious and a great way to finish off a busy and exciting weekend.

Egg tarts with birds nest (the nest is essentially sparrow spit), which tasted like a sweet jelly.