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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Japan : Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden, Okayama

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Hotspot #15 and #16 : Crow Castle and Back Garden

After a good sleep, we packed our things and checked out. Anyhow, we left our bagpacks at the reception, since we will be coming back to the hotel area.
From my experience, exploring Okayama via tram and bus was easy and straightforward. They are two tram lines, Higashiyama and Sekibashi, with 100yen flat rate per ride in central area. Anyway, almost all Okayama’s attractions can be reached by foot. And looking at those daring old folks walking in the speed of “amputated cockroach” (lipas kudung) without knowing where they were heading, we felt humiliated.
“If they can walk, we can too.”

“Walking?” I looked at the tram, as if I wanted to hug it and said please take me from this crazy monster. “But we are they going?”

“To the castle, for sure! See, other directions are clear. Trust me, they are wearing hats and with group flag, sure to castle oneeeee…” Hubby fortune-telling.

With a quick glimpse on the road map, we tried to catch up with the group but being left far behind, was a totaled big slap on our face.
“Cannot laaaaa…Japanese walk so fast!” We surrendered and laughed.

We were lucky enough to know that we finally heading to the right direction. The first thing that caught my eyes was…naked statue? Okayyyy. And the one and only sakura tree, right before the canal, with blue canvas down below the tree.
“Let’s play hanami!” I giggled and forced hubby to sit on the mat, while I set the tripod and camera.

“Eh, can sit ka?” He looked around, confirming that the canvas had no owner.

“Cannnnn…they purposely lay the mat for public. Sit! Sit!” And I clicked.
Right before us, there was one BIG garden that nothing we could see, except canal and bridge. Such a breathtaking moment, the minute we saw those tiny fresh flowers, that really looked like a fake one.
We walked further up, to ensure that we didn’t miss any exciting scene. Without a doubt, we didn’t. There was some sort of company’s outdoor activity being held, that was kayaking around the Korakuen Garden. While everyone was cheering from the bridge, we joined them and captured the event, with Okayama Castle as the backdrop.
Unlike other castles around the world that were surrounded by canal for protection, Okayama Castle was built without one. It was due to its location, which quite near to Asahi River that used as a moat. This castle was built during Azuchi-Momoyama period and famously known as “crow castle” due to its black exterior. Anyhow, it was reconstructed, for the original castle was actually destroyed during WWII.
“Japan castle are all look the same, huh?” We stared at the 6 story castle keep.
After a few self-snapped pictures, we walked back towards the bridge, entering the Korakuen  Garden. This garden was actually know as the “back” garden that was constructed as a place of entertainment for the ruling family, as well as a location for receiving important guests.

Occasionally, the public was permitted to enter the garden, till date. Yet, it is now ranked as one of the top three best landscape gardens in Japan.

“Pay 400yen, then it is good to explore.”

The moment I stepped my foot into the garden, I had my jaw dropped! It was beautiful, gorgeous, stunning, striking, whatever adjectives you want to describe. With lines of pinkish sakura trees on the left, huge brownish grass at the front, small man-made calm ponds on the right, with Japanese house and zen-shaped lamps and semi-eyeglass wooden bridge, ahhh…SUGOIIII!
No wonder it is chosen as pre/post-wedding outdoor set!
Well, funny though…we really chased and followed those bride and groom, and copied which angle the wedding photog took! Hahaha! They were sport enough to let the visitors took their pictures and not even once, they shoved us (tourist) away.
“I want to wear kimono…” I looked at hubby with kitty cat face.
And he turned around and captured the birds, koi(s), and local souvenirs. Well, nice to meet you, Mr. Don’t Really Care.
We made one big round where we ended up seeing locals enjoying hanami. BEST GILE! Either they were on leave on that day, or their company was good enough to give them the time to enjoy sakura. Dang…why we don’t have sakura here in Malaysia???
“I don’t care, I want to do like what I did in Nami Island.” I hinted hubby.
I knew that he was timid, so he asked me to walk further and he snapped from a distance. Pfft! Now I played Mrs. Don’t Really Care. Hahaha!
I posed, and posed, and posed, continuously.

“Ok. I’m done. It’s a wrap!” Sendiri belakon, sendiri direct, sendiri publish.
We went back to the hotel and picked up our bagpacks. From there, we took a tram ride to Okayama Station.

“Hiroshima, here we comeeeeeeeeeee!” 

Read HERE for Travelista version.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Japan : Lake Ashi, Hakone and Harajuku, Tokyo

PREVIOUS - Read HERE for Hotspot #12
NEXT  - Read HERE for Hotspot #15 and #16

Hotspot #13 and #14 : Lake That Hid Fuji and It's Cosplay Time

“Thank you soooooooo much for the amazing hospitality.”

“Nothing la…wanted to bring you for local foods, but you guys slalu balik malam, gile punya itinerary.”

“Hahahaha! Kan…”

It was our last day in Tokyo. Since we failed to get Okayama night train (Sunrise Seto), we had to drag our plan to an earlier train, via Shinkansen Hikari, on reserved seat.

We left our bighearted host and her family, and walked to Gyotoku Station, to catch a train to Otemachi, on Tozai Line.  From there, we changed to Tokyo Station, on Marounochi Line, that cost only 230yen with the help of JR Pass along the way.
It was quite challenging to find the platform, at first, since it was Saturday. Compared to weekdays that full of men in suits and women in coats, weekends gave us an idea about fashionable and trendy yuppies.

“Can’t wait to experience Harajuku!” I said. “It’s been my dream to go there, besides Shibuya Crossing.”

“Wait…we meet Fujisan first.” Hubby slapped my face.

In Tokyo Station, we looked for coin locker around the Shinkansen area but failed to look for it. Without wasted any longer, I asked one of the officers and she pointed the direction, where all lockers were located at one floor below. We purposely took the nearest locker, just right in front of the escalator, to ease the trace.
There were three types of sizes…small, medium, and large, which each and every size came in different prices…300yen, 400yen, and 600yen. Since my bag pack was quite bulky and bigger than hubby’s, we took a medium-size locker that cost us 400yen per day. I snapped the picture of the locker location and walked back to the Shinkansen platform.

“Ok…so where to?”

“Hakone.” The natural beauty for locals who looking for a break from Tokyo city. It is part of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park that famous for hot springs.

“We need to wait for Hikari 483, car no. 6. Let’s look for the correct platform.”

Hubby then explained clearly on the differences of green cars, reserved cars, and non-reserved cars. Before I got myself confused with the numbering, I followed hubby to the correct platform. Suddenly…
“WHOOOOSHHHHH!”

“WHAT WAS THAT???” I totally stunned.

“Shinkansen la.” Hubby gave me a smart face.

“I know la Shinkansennnnnn! But was that a Nozomi?” I was hoping to see Nozomi, the fastest Shinkansen to date.

“I don’t know…maybe…”

Within 3-4 minutes, again…“WHOOOOSHHHHH!”

“OMG! SO FAST! I FEEL LIKE BLOWN AWAY!” More and more Shinkansen passing by. 500 series, 700 series, you name it. It came in different shape but all of them were remarkably handsome!

I was crazily excited and tried my best to capture the moment on still picture, but it wasn’t easy! So I took videos after one and another, but I was too slow to catch the motion! Hahaha!
“Ah…the great Shinkansen…I finally got to ride one!” I had butterfly in my tummy.

“Not only once, could be more than 10 times! We are soooooo going to over-utilize the JR Pass!” Hubby laughed evilly. (Read on how do I get my JR Pass, here.)

A bit of facts on Shinkansen. All Shinkansen is under JR Group. It is divided into 5 operators, Hokaido, Central, West, East, and Kyushu. Each operators having different names, ie: Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku and such. And every Shinkansen has different names like Hikari, Kodama, Sakura, Nozomi, as well as different series like 500, 700, etc. I will, for sure, try Hayabusa, next time I go to Japan :)

When our ride came, we walked into the coach with a smiling face. We straight away looked for the reserved seat, but were confused with the scene, where reserved coach was quite full compared to unreserved coach. Huh…? Baik tak reserve jer kan…hahaha!
There was not much different if to compare Shinkansen with bullet train from Tianjin to Beijing, but Shinkansen has stewardess. Hehe. Nice…and she bowed before entering and going out from each coach. I mean, EACH coach!

It’s been said that Mount Fuji can be viewed along this stretch (Tokyo to Osaka). Indeed, along the way, we were presented with nice view of Mount Fuji from afar. The snow can be clearly seen from far, just like what we’ve seen on the Hazeline Snow day cream. Hahaha!
It was a 30 minutes ride before we finally reached Odawara. I quickly went out and went to the end of the platform, to pose with the aerodynamic famous face. Mancung hidung dia!
From Odawara Station, we looked for Tozan bus station, located outside the station. Since we can’t simply cross the road like what we always do in Malaysia, we tried to find the connecting tunnel to the other side, but later, went out from the wrong exit. Not once, but twice!
At this moment, the cloud started to group, covering the sun. AH SUDAH!

We purchased the Tozan bus day pass that cost us around 1700yen and waited at the designated platform. While discussing the route (Tozan bus has three main routes) and looking at the Tour Cookbook, two bus attendants came and greeted us. The spoke English quite well and told us that it was quite late to view Mount Fuji since it was already 10am. Plus, it’s going to rain. (Blame the forecast weather!)
With doubt, we had no choice but to proceed with the plan, since we had allocated the day for Mount Fuji viewing from Lake Ashi, one of the Five Fuji Lake (Fujigoko). We prayed hard, for God will grant us the chance to experience nice view, along the way.

Good enough, it wasn’t raining…but the sky wasn’t clear either. After an hour of bus ride, we reached the Moto-Hakone Port, the most recommended place to view Mount Fuji by the famous Lake Ashi. It was a very cold windy day that once in a while, we had to stop and hide from the breezy wind.
“I don’t see Mount Fuji. Where exactly the spot?” I started to lose patience. The highest dormant volcano mountain with height of 3776 meters was not in presence.  
“It should be somewhere in between the hills.” Hubby pointed to the right, where on top of the hill, I saw one cable car on ropeway, riding down the hill.
I gave him a sad face.

I looked at the quayside, there were two to three men, fishing. I looked at the lake that was formed after the eruption 3000 years ago, there was one big red Tori Gate standing still. There was sightseeing boat cruising around the lake.
I almost cried. And I sobbed...but I smiled...
Hubby tried to soothe me. “I swear, regardless Moto-Hakone or Hakone-Machi, these are the best place to view Mount Fuji. It’s all about luck.”

I recalled, I read somewhere on the internet, you have to consider yourself lucky if you get a clear view of the mountain (by Japan EGuide). Redha jer la. Luckily we had a clear glance of Mount Fuji during Shinkansen ride earlier.
We walked towards the main road and waited for the next bus. This time, we planned to catch an Tozan Railway train (scenic option) at Hakone-Yumoto Station, since it is covered under Tozan Pass. In 20 minutes, we reached Odawara Station and took a Shinkansen back to Tokyo Station.
Where do broken hearts go?

Harajuku!

We knew that we’ve reached Harajuku Station once we saw more and more yuppies in fancy clothes and colorful hair. The station exit was super duper packed and we had to queue in order to get out from there.

Guess what? It was triple packed outside the station! Well, as everyone knows, Saturday and Sunday are the correct time to visit Harajuku, in order to experience the teenage culture and its most extreme cosplay (costume play). That was why we PURPOSELY chose Saturday. From the station corridor, over the flyover, to the other side of the road, came back to the station entrance, all were OVER CROWDED!
I quickly asked hubby to cross the road while snapping pictures of those yuppies. Hubby later, suggested for a better aerial view from the flyover. Without a doubt, from this view, with zoom lens, we able to capture more Harajuku girls.
“There! There!” I pointed, hubby clicked.
3 minutes after, “There! Another one!” We repeated the craziness for almost half an hour.
There was one Harajuku girl in big hair tied with big ribbon sat still near us. I consistently asked hubby to snap tones of her photos but hubby didn’t care much. He said “She looks fake…like wannabe…and she’s Eurasian.”

Ah…no wonder. But later, another Harajuku girl came. This time, she’s a Nihonji.

We then went to Meiji Jingu (Shinto Shrine) but decided not to explore the whole area since we need to give some buffer time to catch the Shinkansen to Okayama at 6pm.
From Harajuku Station, we took JR Yamanote Line (the only line that encircling Tokyo city) and stopped at Tokyo Station. We did some quick window shopping on local souvenirs, mainly on snacks and desserts. I swear, I almost wiped my saliva on the floor, knowing that they were so delicious (judging from the look), but I can’t have them! Dang!
And what I bought was only onigiri. Sob sob.
It was getting colder. While waiting for the bullet train, I was struck by one local man, walking attractively in yukata. I approached him and he agreed to pose for me. In the train, we grabbed the chance to pose with the seats (don’t ask me why), just to show that how empty the Shinkansen was. Hahaha!
In less than one hour, we reached Okayama, the largest city in Chugoku Region after Hiroshima. Since we booked Okayama Business Hotel Annex last minute, the price has cost us a bomb! 6000yen per night was definitely double up from what we’ve got for other pre-booked hotels.
Locating the hotel was not difficult as we earlier, snapped the map directly from the internet. The hotel was clean, presentable, and pleasant. The reception officer spoke minimal but understandable English.
In the room, we enjoyed wearing yukata and watching TV. "Haiiiit!" I played karate kid.
“Eiiii! So cold la!”

“Where’s the heater?”

“Got heater ke?”

“Just turn on the air-cond, and set to the highest temperature. Jadi la heater.”

“Oooooooo…” I seriously never thought of that.

“Sleep, sleep. Tomorrow need energy to explore the Castle and Korakuen!”

Read HERE for Travelista version.  

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