Wednesday, June 30, 2010

JAPAN! Blog-on-the-Spot! Day 7: Kyoto

This day we left the lovely little town of Hida-Takayama and departed for another city.After a few hours of train rides, we finally arrived in Kyoto. Kyoto is like Tokyo, but less the Shinjuku madness. Kyoto itself is rather modernized but is where historical monuments are embedded among the city. It is not difficult to walk down the streets of Kyoto and find a historical shrine or temple among modern shops and buildings.Since we were late, we could only visit the nightlife of Kyoto. No better place to do so than to visit Gion, where Japan's most preserved culture of geishas still work their trade.
In one of the many expensive traditional teahouses, we spotted a geisha!
Among the busy city streets, many small narrow lanes with teahouses can be found.
We came across a temple that is open for 24h. Hence, we went into to see how the lovely temple is lit up by traditional paper lanterns.
We have only just began, Kyoto, Japan.

JAPAN! Blog-on-the-Spot! Day 5 & 6: Hida-Takayama

Two days of updates in a row, because only have lobby internet and Japanese keyboard available.
Day 5 we departed on the Shinkansen and switched to the Wide View Hida Limited Express train and arrived on Takayama.

Leaving the ever crowded main Tokyo Station.

On board the Wide View Hida is definitely a wide spectacular view of the rarely visited country scenery of Japan!

Valleys and rivers are common sight especially we are heading for the high mountains.

This is the conserved old shophouse in Takayama.

Something that you probably see in the TV? Lovely old short shophouses!

Smalll shrines are scattered over the town.

One of the main highlight is to visit Shirakawago, where old houses with "praying hands" straw roofs still stand against modernization. This UNESCO village is hidden away from modernization among the mountains. So it can only be seen if you are up the mountains or through the mountain passage. Majority of this straw houses are still homes to the locals.

People living in these straw houses are mainly farmers who survive on growing of rice or others on tourism.

A dog lies and watch the tourists go by.

Back in the old town streets of Takayama again!

Heading of to Kyoto next!
The land of the Shrines!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

JAPAN! Blog-on-the-Spot! Day 4: Ueno, Harajuku, Shibuya

Getting from my accomodation to Harajuku means that I would need to take the JR train from Okachimachi Station, which would be a direct ride to JR Harajuku Station.
On our way to the JR Okachimachi Station, we came across Ameyoko, a shopping street that runs next to the JR tracks leading to JR Ueno Station. The street was not really a tourist attraction, but for people staying in Ueno, Ameyoko is part of their daily life, where they get their wares and sundries.We arrived at JR Harajuku Station via Yamanote Line. We were immediately greeted by the biggest crowd ever. JR Harajuku Station is not very big, hence the tourists and locals who visit this place on a Sunday, made it jam-packed! Where were the cosplayers? Didn't really see much, but did see a lot of "Lolitas".

Before leaving Harajuku, we visited the Meiji Shrine. It was a huge compound, probably bigger than our Botanical Gardens. The road to the actual historical sacred shrine, was paved with gravel and lined by tall green canopies. The shrine precinct itself seemed completely cut away in another dimension from the modern lively Harajuku.

We managed to make it to Shibuya as our last stop in Tokyo. Shown above is the famous Shibuya crossing, where the traffic from all sides will stop and the junction will flooded with pedestrians from all directions. At Shibuya, I managed to find free WIFI in the street and did some Facebook and Buzz updates and checked some emails. We were rather unprepared to visit Shibuya. But we did managed to find the Burberry Blue Label, Burberry Black Label, Tokyu Hands and Loft. By the way, we first came to know Loft only as a Japanese stationery store in Bangkok. But the actual Loft in Japan is like Tokyu Hands, which sells everything that is interesting. I was rather tempted to get a LOMO, HOLGA or a buildable LEGO digital camera.

That is the end of our trip to Tokyo. Sadly, I never score any toys and caught any cosplayers at Akihabara. Well, at least leave something when I re-visit Japan again.
Tomorrow, we will be taking the Shinkansen and leave Tokyo. Where will we be heading? Will we get internet access in the Ryokan? Check out here tomorrow!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

JAPAN! Blog-on-the-Spot! Day 3: Shinjuku

I thought that we could cover Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya in one day, but I guess it was really a joke to put that into plan. There is absolutely no way you can finish Shinjuku in 1 day!
That is a fact, coming from a none-shopaholic point-of-view (am I really one?)!
Shinjuku is practically packed with giant malls, correction, SUPER malls, biggest being larger than Vivocity and small ones smaller than Isetan Scotts. It is kinda like Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. Everywhere you turn, it is a mall. So could I ever complete Shinjuku in one day? Never!
Help! I am already getting lost in Shinjuku, even with a map!
A udon-only shop. I was utterly lost for words to describe how a cheap and plain bowl of udon with clear broth and diced spring onions can be super nice! No other udon in Singapore which I had, can everr compare to this simple bowl of udon! With never-ending stream of customers, I think I just found a gem in some narrow street.
Getting lost in Shinjuku is easy but you can just find your way around with big malls as landmarks. However, getting lost means discovering interesting small malls.
When my brother told me to visit Tokyu Hands, I was like "stop it already!". But after being in there, I totally understood what he meant! There is definitely something to get, because they have everything! Not just your regular departmental store, it is dedicated to "Creative" stuff. They have everything such as super-compact stylish umbrellas, Porter bags, USB sticks that do crunches and humping actions, stylish furnitures, tons of cute stationery, snazzy kitchen utensils, etc. No one was able to resist getting something. Everyone had to walk out with a bag or two! I was not spared! I could have spent all my budget at Tokyu Hands! I resisted!
The building on the left is one of the many OIOI malls. The one shown above was OIOI Current, a mall dedicated to young people fashion (yes! I'm old!). The one on the right is my haven, paradise! BIC CAMERA is one of the major electronics chain store, kind of like Harvey Norman. But as the name suggests, with major emphasis on cameras. Another major player is YODOBASHI. I went literally crazy inside these stores! How?
The latest cameras from major brands like Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus, Pentax, Sony, Ricoh, Yashica, Fujifilm, etc. They have the latest models of cameras to let you get trigger happy! I had so much fun on the fancy coloured Panasonic GF1, the lastest G2, Olympus PEN EP-2 in exclusive silver colour, the latest PEN Light EPL-1, Pentax Kx in many candy colours, the latest micro-SLR Sony NEX-3 and NEX-5 , Ricoh GX that never made its way to our shores, high-end Canon 7D and Nikon D700 SLRs. Not to mention the complete range of latest lenses for you to play without being hassled by the sales representative, something that you can never do in Singapore! No way you will see an expensive camera in such a worn out state!! Dedicated outlets also include dedicated Mooks level, film-processing equipment level, studio equipment level, basically a camera-otaku's heaven!
Apart from cameras, I get to play with the latest iPads to my heart's delight! Damn fun I must admit! I was evenn tempted to score a WIFI 16GB iPad at ~S$600+, too bad we do not have microSIM available at Singapore Telcos, if not, I would score the WIFI+3G 16GB at ~S$800+. It sure saddens me when I see people unravelling their spanking new iPads at the Apple dedicated service stations. Wait, Singapore don't even sell iPads officially! Haha! Maybe I should score one back just to show-off!
Wait! Show-off? I might as well bring back an iPhone 4! Yes, I had so much fun with iPhone 4. Japan is currently selling iPhone 4 only with contract with reservations. But the sales lady was kind to let me play to my heart's delight. A good 15mins play was nice, or was that longer? So no iPhone 4 for me to bring back to Singapore, what about the many eye-dazzling iPhone 4 accessories? Of course! I could get them here and use them when the slow Telcos in Singapore finally bring in the handset! But I might just get a Docomo special version RX-78 Gundam phone. Of course, it is not an RX-78 phone, but it is a white clamshell phone that sits on cradle which is a RX-78 Gundam in Ver.Ka finish.
So have I finished Shinjuku? Not really! I have not visited Sakuraya Toys Store, a rumoured floor dedicated to Gundam, and other floors of many other toys. I will try to make it back to Shinjuku. But let's see what happens tomorrow!
Japan is super fun!

JAPAN! Blog-on-the-Spot! Day 2: Tsukiji Fish Market, Asakusa, Akihabara, Ginza, Odaiba

On Day 2 of our Japan trip, we decided to pay the famous Tsukiji Fish Market.
We were there rather late, 9:00PM. All the hype was already over, as we missed the early morning auctions. Nevertheless, we did manage to sneak in and catch some really interesting seafood.
Kaminari Gate at Asakusa is one place that is a must-visit! The temple streets were flooded with tourists and locals.

The next stop is Akihabara, or "Electric Town". I thought I was otaku, but I put my hands up! I am not match for the real otaku in Japan. The eye-candy cosplay maids really got me excited though! Of course, not to forget all the gadgets. Yes, they do have iPads on sale. So tempting!

Ginza, the high-end fashion precinct will definitely have something for us, who come from a city that everyone only knows how to shop!

The last stop was to visit the Odaiba area. Getting there requires the purchase of special day-passes on its only Yarikamome Line. We managed to got it at a steal, so that we have been there done that!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

JAPAN! Blog-on-the-Spot! Day 1: Arriving in Tokyo

I am in far east!
In my opinion, the "promised land"!
Because I am an otaku!
Japan to me is all about technology, cameras, home of Nikon, video games, home of Playstation, anime, home of Gundam, toys, home of Revoltech, Bandai!
Not to forget home of .... (see last pic :)
Japan definitely has the best things in life!

In this series "JAPAN! Blog-on-the-Spot!", I shall attempt to blog daily highlights as promptly as possible!
However, complete photo gallery and in-depth blog will come later after I return.

Smokes dispenser rocks!
Getting NEX (Narita Express+SUICA)
Catching a train in Japan's amazing train system.
This is heaven!!!!! Alright!


Monday, June 14, 2010

Hong Kong Trip '10: [PART 6] Visiting Stanley

Visiting Stanley
Stanley is a tourist attraction town located on the southeastern part of Hong Kong Island. Normally, I would recommend people to avoid weekends to avoid the crowd. However, it is on weekends, when you get to see tourists and locals all coming together to enjoy a relaxing weekend at Stanley. Recommended to visit Stanley in the morning and spend half a day there.

Getting to Stanley by bus is the easiest and cheapest,
for convenience, take an MTR to Central Station, figure out the complex network of exits and eventually make your way to the Exchange Square bus interchange.

New World First Bus
To/From Stanley Market: 65 (Terminus: Exchange Square)
To/From Stanley Plaza: 66 (Terminus: Exchange Square)
To/From Stanley Prison: 6 6A 6X and 260 (Terminus: Exchange Square)

From the double-decker bus, go on the upper deck to get a better view of the city as the bus zips through the city.
Shown above is the Happy Valley Racecourse.

After the bus goes into the tunnel expressway, you will soon find yourself approaching Repulse Bay. Those who fancy exploring the beach, can get off here. I have earlier visited Repulse Bay in 2009.

Reaching Stanley, you can start off from the left and explore Stanley Market.
Many things are rather "touristy" but you might just find a couple of nice souveniers to bring back home.

Depend on your liking, you can deviate from the Market and you can discover these lovely little houses that is a lot quieter. You might even spot a feel locals getting on their daily life.

You will find yourself taking more pictures here along with the many tourists and even locals.

when you get adventurous with the climbing, remember that you will still need to make your way out, else you will be pulling your hair!

Proceed on towards Stanley Main Street, and you can relax your feet and have a meal or a beverage.

Make your way to the end of Stanley Main Street and you will find yourself at the jetty,
where you can enjoy a cool sea breeze.

You can also check out the restaurants available at Murray House.

Otherwise, you can grab a coffee or snack at Stanley Plaza.

Make your way back to where you started and you are done with Stanley.

Grab yourself some fresh fruits and you can make your way back to Central.

Since we had some time before we head back to do some packing for departure the next day,
we decided to go back to Causeway Bay to do any last minute shopping.

That is all from our Hong Kong Trip 2010.
To explore the earlier Hong Kong 2010 posts, go here:
Part 1: A380 to Hong Kong
Part 2: Casino-hopping in Macau
Part 3: Largo do Senado, Macau
Part 4: Ruins of St. Paul's & Forteleza do Monte
Part 5: Sunset at Aberdeen; Eat & Eat!

I love Hong Kong!
Special bonus!!

Photography & Editing by William Tan 2010
Documented using my reliable Nikon D200 equipped with
Tamron 18-270mm VC, the one lens you need to cover all your travel needs,
Panasonic LUMIX-LX3, the Legendary compact camera which still held its reputation and price after 3 years!