Winter Trip in Japan from 21 Dec to 31 Dec 2018

It has been a great 2018 and what other better way than to end the year by spending quality time with family to mark the end of 2018.

I manage to get a good deal from Singapore Airlines for an open jaw ticket (arriving into Haneda Airport and flying out from Kansai Airport) and this certainly helps when travelling in a family of 5.

This trip will focus on covering Tokyo, Takayama, Wakayama, Kobe and Osaka. I have decided to travel via public transportation instead of doing a self drive as it will take a toll when driving across various prefectures.

After working out the sums, it makes more economical sense for me to purchase the 7 days unlimited JR pass as compared to paying for single trip ticket.

It is highly recommended to purchase the JR unlimited pass outside Japan prior to visiting Japan. You may purchase it from JTB, JR Rail Cafe or Changi Recommend. A 7 days unlimited JR pass costs ¥29,110.

You will be issued with a coupon for exchange of the JR pass when you arrived in Japan. The unlimited pass allows you to place advance ticket reservation with the desired departure timing and seat reservation at the same time.

With the initial logistic portion settled, I am all set to go. 😊

Without second guess, enjoying myself with a sumptious breakfast at the TGM Lounge prior to departure.

This is a morning flight and I will be expected to arrive into Haneda International Airport at 15:35 hrs local time.

Arriving into Haneda International Airport as scheduled.

Upon custom clearance and baggage claim, headed straight to the JR East Travel Service Centre at Haneda Airport to exchange for the JR Pass.

At the same time, did a prior seat reservation for the train ride from Kamata to Takayama.

Thereafter, proceeded to Level 1 bus bay #11 to board the bus to Kamata Station. It is a quick 20 mins ride before reaching and the hotel is just 150m away from the bus stop.

The sky is already dark as we reached the hotel at 5pm. I will be staying at the Grand Park Hotel Panex for the next 2 nights.

After checking in, immediately off to target some of my planned food list. 🤤

Starting with onigiri, this shop is located right outside the JR Kamata Station east exit. It has the most elaborate varieties of freshly made onigiris to whet your appetite. 🤩

Following up will be none other than dango with injeolmi. The glutinous rice balls with soybean powder is super power for sweet tooth lovers. Not forgeting the strawberry daifuku which is another star item too.

Long awaited dinner at 活 conveyor belt sushi.

Champion quality sushi at economical pricing. You will have to brave long queues just to enjoy as it is always packed and extremely popular with their locals.

Our accomplishment! 😅

Another cheap & good tempura joint that cannot be missed, Tempura Tendon Tenya Asakusa Tokyo. This outlet is found inside the Sunrise Alley right across the west exit of Kamata Station.

Great appetizer for a start

Boiled spinach

Cold tofu

Tempura and Cold Udon Set with prawn, squid, scallop, maitake-mushroom, pumpkin and okra

Prawn and Chicken Tendon with Cold Soba Set

Assorted Tempura with prawn, squid, white-meat fish, pumpkin and okra

This trip focuses primarily on family bonding, enjoying the cold weather and settle on food cravings. Well, we have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves this evening catching up on a couple of planned food lists and certainly a great way to end a great night.

Waking up to a bright cheerie Day 2 after a good night sleep.

There is no second guess on where to go for breakfast next.

Yes, it is none other than my all time favourite Doutor Cafe near JR Kamata Station.

Ham & Egg

Ham & Cheese

Tuna Sandwich

German Hot Dog

Calzone with Bacon & Cheese

Matcha Latte

Coffee Latte

It is a MUST go place for breakfast each time I am in Japan. Strictly no compromise! 😎

Thereafter do my rounding at Don Quijote. They have a wide range of varieties compared to back home. The prices are at a fraction as well.

Picking up some useful kitchen utensils from the store.

Thereafter, went off to Ueno for more food snacks.

Starting with Oskar Kebab in Ameyayokocho.

Mixed Kebab Sand with beef & chicken. This is one of those champion kebab that I ever had.

Super long potato fries. Crunchily delicious.

Followed closely by…..

Japanese style pasta with grilled chicken and three types of mushroom

Grilled Eel (from Miyazaki Prefecture) Rice Bowl

Cute animal-shaped bread from a confectionery store.

Next up, visited Shibuya for the Shibuya Crossing experience. It would be a shame to come to Tokyo and not take a walk across the famous intersection outside Shibuya Station.

Shibuya Crossing – known to be the world’s busiest intersection (at least in Japan). It is like a giant beating heart, sending people in all directions with every pulsing light change.

Scene of Shibuya Crossing on a wet day

Scene of Shibuya Crossing on a dry day

View before the start of Shibuya Crossing

View after the start of Shibuya Crossing

Savouring afternoon tea at J.S. Pancake Cafe at Shibuya.

Classic Pancake

Caramel Brownie Pancake

Strawberry Banana Pancake

Iced Cafe Macchiato

Their pancakes are mouth-wateringly delicious. Oishi desu!

Picking up fresh strawberries and grapes from Tokyu Foodhall supermarket. Their fruits are super sweet but comes with a high price tag too.

In Tokyo, there are festive celebration with fireworks during Christmas & New Year season. In the month of December, there will be fireworks display over 4 Saturdays in Odaiba at 7pm sharp.

Since I am here at the right day and right place, I have the opportunity to make a trip to Odaiba seaside park just to soak into the festive mood & cheers like many others.

Look at the beautiful fireworks display.

Enjoy the video for the live experience to feel the festive mood.

Grand fireworks finale

Catching up for dinner at Saizeriya right across Decks seaside mall.

The food quality is way better than at home. Well, probably its made in Japan I suppose. 😀

Day 3, time to depart Kamata for Takayama.

Had a simple and satisfying breakfast at one of the udon/soba eatery joint inside JR Kamata Station for breakfast this morning prior to hotel check out.

Mini Katsu Don Set with Cold Udon

Kakiage Tempura Soba

Chikuwa Tempura Udon

After which made my way to the train station for the local train ride to Shinagawa to change to a Shinkansen ride from Shinagawa at 10:40 hrs bound for Nagoya.

Arriving into Nagoya at 12:17 hrs as scheduled.

Changing over to the Limited Express Train from Nagoya at 12:48 hrs bound for Takayama.

Enjoying bento lunch on board train while cruising alongside with the beautiful scenery. This is really what enjoying life should be all about. I will look forward to such lifestyle when I retire in the near future.

Arriving into Takayama at 15:07 hrs as scheduled.

The entire train journey takes about 4.5 hours.

As it was still early for my check in at 4pm, took the opportunity to get away from the cold by grabbing a tea break in Cafe Takayama right at the JR Station.

Kihachiro’s Beef Bun with Hida Beef

Their seasonal Tiramisu Cake

Norman Apple Tart

Iced Caramel Latte

I am staying over at the Establishment Takayama Station (120m away) located right across JR Takayama Station.

Since being in Hida Takayama, it is definitely a must to pay homage to their signature menu. Needless to say, it is a must to have a good quality Hida Beef meal.

Dinner is at one of the restaurant in the intersection shopping street specialises in Hida Beef.

Hida Beef Gyoza

Hida Beef Noodle

Hida Beef Premium Noodle

Hida Beef Nigiri Sushi

Hida Beef Bowl with Soup

Definitely a great way to end another wonderful day with this meal.

Waking up to a light snowy Day 4 morning as forecasted. This is one of the key reason of visiting Takayama as my eldest daughter and youngest son have not seen actual snowfall before. Finally, I can fulfill my call of duty to make it happen for them. The sight of seeing their joyous smile satisfaction on their faces simply gives me a great sense of achievement. The feeling is exceptionally good especially it is on the eve of Christmas and makes it even more meaningful to spend a white Christmas as a family.

Visited the Hida Kokubunji Temple along the way to Miyagawa morning market.

This temple is a National Historical Site and Important Cultural Treasure. There is a huge ginko tree over 1200 years old and a triple pagoda in the precinct as well as a bell tower gates. The main temple building is the oldest structure in the city.

Had a make-shift breakfast at 7-Eleven near Miyagawa Morning Market.

Miyagawa morning market is a daily market held near the river with stalls selling vegetables, fruits and other local farm products.

Enjoying hida snacks at Gyumaru-ya

Hida-Beef Skewer

Hida-Beef Croquette

Snacking along Miyagawa morning market

Goheimochi – A traditional Takayama treat. Polished, refined rice placed on a stick, the surface is brushed with sweet miso sauce and baked.

Takoyaki

Grilled Shitake Mushroom – freshly deliciously good

Strolling the streets of Takayama thereafter.

Lunch is at 梗絲 restaurant, serving quality A5 grade hida beef.

Hida Beef Chirashi Sushi

Hida Beef Sushi Set

Hida Beef Hitsumashi

Hida Beef Steak with rice

Hida Beef Skewer

Yellowtail Fish Sushi

Another awesome Hida Beef lunch for the family on a Christmas Eve.

After a good meal, proceeded for a short hike to the woods in search of the Ruins of Takayama Castle.

Scenic view of Takayama from afar.

Unfortunately, most of the restaurants are fully booked or closed for the night. Luckily, managed to find this Indian Nepali Restaurant, Royal Nan House (highly recommended by Trip Advisor) for our dinner.

Nepali Snacks Platter – Chicken Sekuwa, Mutton Sekuwa, Prawn Sekuwa, Pork Sekuwa

Reshmi Kebab

Seekh Kebab

Mutton Masala Curry

Chicken Tikka

Indian Fried Rice – this fried rice is really champion with a good mix of Indian spice.

Tuna Cheese Naan – another wow dish, just like cheese pizza.

It turned out to be a satisfying dinner with everyone enjoying ourselves with the superbly delicious meal that we have to encore a couple of the dishes. 👍👍👍

Day 5, Merry Christmas to one and all. This morning I will be departing Takayama for Wakayama.

2 change of trains will be needed. One from Takayama to Nagoya followed by Nagoya to Shin-Osaka and Shin-Osaka to Wakayama.

Enjoying a quick breakfast meal at McDonald’s before departing Takayama as requested by the kiddos. They do have different food varieties option like mega muffin, strawberry croissant, caramel melts, etc. which is not found back home.

Boarded the train at 09:38 hrs as scheduled bound for Nagoya.

Arrived into Nagoya Station at 12:04 hrs and thereafter transfer to Shin-Osaka at 12:19 hrs via Shinkansen Hikari 509.

Arrived into Shin-Osaka Station at 13:26 hrs as scheduled.

The next train transfer to Wakayama via Kuroshio 15 departs at 14:15 hrs.

Managed to grab a quick lunch at Jim Beam Bar inside Shin-Osaka Station prior to boarding the next train.

Grilled Sausage

Various Mushrooms and Bacon in Garlic Oil

Garlic Shrimp

Bite-sized Minced Meat Cutlet

Roast Beef Rice Bowl

Beef Millefeuille Sandwich

This lunch though simple but tastes extremely good. The dishes are amazingly delicious.

Time to depart for Wakayama. It will be another hour ride before the next destination.

Arrived into Wakayama as scheduled.

Proceeded to City Inn Wakayama for my check in before spending the rest of the evening at JR Wakayama station.

I love spending time shopping at Seria (100 yen shop). They are really good with practical & ingenious items.

Before I knew it, I was out with some household items. 😀

Dinner was at one of the restaurant beside the station.

Well, I am not exceptionally impressed with the food quality though. This is the first time in Japan that I find the food quality not up to standard.

The yakisoba was way too salty and the beef skewer too tough to chew. ☹ The dining experience was certainly compromised though food presentation looks impressive.

Well, it is one of those days that things don’t turn out as it is supposed to be. Anyway, stay chill and look forward to a better day tomorrow.

Night view of JR Wakayama Station

Day 6, road trip day. I will be covering a couple of sightseeing attractions for today.

Settle the morning tummy warming at Lotteria prior to car collection.

Picked up my rental car (Toyota Sienta) at around 8.30am from the Toyota Rent-A-Car Shop near JR Wakayama Station.

As usual, did my routine car check upon collection before setting off.

Departing for the 1st attraction, Nachi Falls which is about 178km away. It is a scenic coastal drive along Route 42.

Nachi Falls is in Nachikatsuura, Wakayama Prefecture and is one of the best known waterfalls in Japan.

With a drop of 133m (and 13m wide), it is the country’s tallest water fall with single uninterrupted drop.

More scenic views.

Enjoying Kyoho Grape flavour ice cream amidst the various selection choices on a cold weather.

Lunch is at 美山亭 (Miyamatei) near Nachi Fall.

Gyudon Teishoku – Bowl of rice with sliced beef and onions, combo with sesame tofu, small dish and miso soup

Wakayama Ramen Teishoku – Chinese noodles with roasted pork fillet and edible wild plants, combo with 1 rice ball (wrap in Japanese pickled leaf), sesame tofu and small dish

Kumano Soba Teishoku – Hot buckwheat noodles with seaweed and edible wild plants, combo with 1 rice ball (wrap in Japanese pickled leaf), sesame tofu and small dish

After a hearty meal, headed off to the 2nd attraction, Hashigui-iwa Rocks.

Here you get to see lovely natural rock formation near the coast and certainly worthy of a picturesque.

You can get to see the rocks up close and personal by walking down the rock beds.

The next attraction coming up will be Cape Shiono-Misaki, a cape located in the Kii Peninsula in the south of Wakayama Prefecture in Japan.

Paths leading up to the look-out point.

Cape Shiono-Misaki is the most southernly point of Honshu.

Views from Cape Shiono-Misaki

Can you spot the Shionomisaki Lighthouse?

Final attraction along the way, Koibito Misaki Cape before heading back to Wakayama city.

The day trip takes about 10 hours of drive with more than 400km in distance.

I must qualify that this is one of the most daring attempted drive as normally I would not recommend driving more than 200km a day.

Grabbing a quick bite at Sukiya, one of our favourite joint in Japan as well to satisfy our immediate craving before car return.

Gyudon (Beef and Onion simmered with sweet soy sauce served on rice)

Ginger Pork Bowl (Pork and Onion simmered with sweet soy sauce and ginger served on rice

Sliced Tuna Bowl

Karaage

Here I am, back for the car return time at 8pm.

I happen to chance upon Coco Ichibanya which is located one street away from Toyota Rent-A-Car shop. Having been to Japan for so many times but have yet to really try out them out. So, we decided to settle there for our late dinner.

Sides to go

Tuna

Corn Soup

Curry Bread

Fried Chicken Platter

Pork Cutlet Curry with Soft Boiled Egg

Cheese Filled Hamburger Curry with Sausage

Roast Chicken Soup Curry

Woo….their curry spice level 8 is steamingly hot that I even get to perspire in winter! 😅

Overall, it has been a tired, fun, enjoyable and fulfulling day doing all the attractions.

Had a great morning start up at Doutor Cafe as we always would wherever possible. Best breakfast joint ever! 👍

Afterwhich, we took a leisure walk (about 20 mins) from the JR Wakayama Station to visit Wakayama Castle.

Wakayama Castle (和歌山城) sits at the mouth of the Kii River. It was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II but was rebuilt in 1958 out of concrete and is open to the public as a symbol of the city and historic site.

Today, it has become one of the must visit iconic attraction in Wakayama.

Magnificient view of Wakayama Castle from afar.

After the historic visit, we had a quick bite snack at Kintetsu supermarket before departing for Kobe.

All the food in the various stalls looks so inviting that I could not simply resist especially the 551 Horai (specializes in steam meat bun and siew mai) which sees a long queue for it.

Time to bid farewell to Wakayama for Kobe. We will need to take a limited express train bound for Shin-Osaka (新大阪) at 12:49 hrs and change to a JR Rail bound for Kobe.

At Kobe, we are staying over at Hotel Crown Palais Kobe which is located right across JR Kobe Station and can be easily access via underpass from the station.

After check-in, spent the rest of the day shopping around Kobe Harborland. There is a huge shopping mall, Umie (similar to Mid Valley in KL) directly connected to the hotel with many shops distributed over the north and south malls.

Scenic views at Kobe Harborland.

There is also an all food mall, Mosaic with 3 floors of great dining options that you will be certainly be spoilt for choice.

In Kobe, one of the must eat item will be none other than the acclaimed A5 grade premium Kobe Beef and this is precisely one of the key reason for this visit. 😎

There is no prize in guessing where to go for dinner next.

Yes, dinner will be an all beef feast at 8 Eighth Beef on Level 1 Mosaic

Kobe Beef Hamburg

Kobe Premium Beef

1 Pound Diced Skirt Steak

Sirloin Steak

What can I say, the Kobe Beef literally melts in your mouth! I would strongly urge you to try it if you ever do have a chance to visit Kobe. You need to mark it down on your must eat list to avoid regrets. It will be money well spent. Trust me on this!

Next up, came across this restaurant, Hopstand Yakitori and likewise had to check it out too. 😉

Chicken and Green Onions & Chicken Meatballs

Tender with Cheese & Loin

Roast beef round from Australia with Japanese-style steak sauce

Fried Chicken

Shrimp & Broccoli Ahyejo with Baguette

This is what enjoying life means to me (at least)!

Time really flies, we are already into Day 8 of our trip.

I found Komeda’s Coffee just right beside the hotel. I had it when I was in Nagoya the last trip and it is their local favourite coffee joint.

So, without hesitation, breakfast was decided.

Ogura Sweet Beans and Toast (local specialty)

Egg Bun

Pork Cutlet Sandwich

Croquette set

Shrimp and Macaroni Gratin

With a satisfying meal, proceeded next to Mount Rokko for a fun cable car ride.

Most of the people come here for snow ski-ing at the snow park during winter. Well for us, its mainly to enjoy the nice magnificent view from the mountain.

It was snowing when we were up at Mount Rokko. Guess we are pretty blessed to experience snowfall again and that is definitely a pleasant surprise for the family.

Shots from the Tenran Observatory Deck.

How to go to Mount Rokko?

From Sannomiya Station, take the Hankyu Kobe Line to Rokko Station (about 7 mins) followed by a 10 mins bus ride on Bus #16 to the base station of the Rokko Cablecar. The cablecar ride takes about 10 mins.

Moving on next to Himeji to have lunch at Cuomo Salvatore (directly opposite Himeji Station on the 2nd floor multi-level building).

I was highly recommended to try its value for money lunch buffet at ¥1200.

Simple but good food.

The other reason for visiting Himeji (other than the buffet lunch) is to pay a visit to Himeji Castle.

Himeji Castle is a hilltop Japanese castle complex situated in the city of Himeji located in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan.

It is the largest and most visited castle in Japan and was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country.

There are 6 different levels to the main keep and a small keep inside the castle.

Mini-Shrine on Level 6 of the main keep. It is a common site for visitors to donate money in the box and ring the bell to pray for well beings.

Up close view of Himeji Castle after touring.

Beautiful view of Himeji Castle from afar.

Having afternoon tea break at Nana’s Green Tea before heading back.

Spotted Bikkuri Donkey at Mosaic and we decided to have our dinner there after a great dining experience we had in Kushiro during our last Eastern Hokkaido trip.

It feels good to be able to experience it again.

Day 9, we will be departing Kobe for Osaka and spending the last 2 nights before ending our year end holiday.

Breakfast was at one of the Udon Shop inside Kobe Food Terrace at JR Kobe Station.

Simply loved their cold udon. Though plain but super tasty.

Thereafter, had our 2nd round breakfast at Doutor Cafe.

We try not to leave things to chance and live with regrets later. 😀

We had a champion Yakiniku lunch at Ryu-En.

One for the road Kobe Beef meal prior to leaving Kobe.

Kobe Chuck Rib

Kobe Strip Loin

Kobe Beef Fillet

You get to savour the sizzling marble fats while on the grill. The Kobe Beef literally melts in your mouth and can be easily cut off using chopstick.

Woo…this is so heavenly but of cos comes with a hefty price tag too….😲

Guess I have to do it when I am in the home of the Kobe Beef. A once in a lifetime experience.

With this meal, it brings the beef adventure to an end. We have accomplished what we have planned out for this trip on the savouring of Hida and Kobe beef. This is so satisfying and feel so blessed. 😊

Thereafter, make our way down to Osaka for our final 2 nights.

I am staying over at Wafu Ryokan Uehonmachi while in Osaka due to the lower cost for accommodation and it is conveniently located near to Osakauehonmachi Station as well.

After check-in, we hop over to Namba and Dotobori to spend the rest of the day exploring the area and street snacking alongside.

Takoyaki – Osaka specialty

Kushikatsu – another Osaka specialty

Charcoal Grilled Crab

Rikuro Ojisan Jiggly Cheesecake – swing by and have a taste of their fluffy baked cheesecake with sweet raisins. The staff will brand the cheesecake in front of the customers and ring the bell throughout the branding ritual. Really interesting.

The shop is easily spotted with long snaking queues for the freshly baked cheesecake. There is also a shorter queue for those cheesecakes baked 2 hours ago.

I tried out the cheesecake immediately upon purchase since it was fresh from the oven. Oh. It tastes fluffily good. Really lives up to its acclaimed reputation!

Make it a point to try if you happen to be in Osaka the next trip! 😉

We are already on Day 10 (2nd last day of our trip), today is retail therapy day. We will be spending the entire day at Rinku Town Premium Outlet shopping to our hearts content.

Trying out Yoshinoya breakfast for the very 1st time in Japan.

Beef Sukiyaki Hot Pot

Beef and Salmon Meal

Broiled Eel and Rice Box Set with Miso Soup and Beef

Food quality is nice and comparable to Sukiya.

Here we go at Rinku Town Premium Outlet.

Had a cold udon at the food court while enroute to the outlet mall.

Finally, I had a chance to have a proper lunch at Kua Aina with their proclaimed Best Burger from Hawaii which I missed it the last time round when I was here.

Their burger is really champion. So glad that I have a chance to experience it this time round.

After a good charged up, continue with more retail therapy.

Savouring chocolatory moments.

The long awaited dinner at 喜神 (Seacle near Rinku Town), a restaurant that specializes in fried rice.

Their fried rice is just so good that you need another plate to fully satisfy the cravings.

Cleaning up all our laundry with thanks to the coin launderette facility so that we can have peace of mind when we reached home. Guess this is what most of our biggest nightmare will be after a long trip! 😀

Day 11, final day of our family holiday. Today we will be departing Osaka back for home. Can’t help but having mixed feelings. Sad to leave as 11 days just passed with a blink of an eye as we are still having not enough of fun. Happy to leave so that we can look forward to the next holiday as all good things will have to come to an end.

As a consolation, we are still able to spend another full day prior to our red-eye flight tonight.

We have decided to spend the entire day around Dotobori to catch up on all our food trails.

First on the list, had a great bowl of Ichiran Ramen. They really serve power ramen as they are focussed in only serving 1 type of ramen.

Next on the list, Sushizanmai.

This is also one of the must visit joint whenever I am in Japan.

Followed by Luke’s Lobster.

The lobster roll is really value for money with huge chucks of lobster meat with each mouthful bite.

Continuing with our last minute shopping spree before making our way down to Kansai Airport for our flight home.

Celebrating New Year in Japan is a major affair and most of the shops and restaurants closes early for the people to go for their celebration.

Final meal to end 2018 for the family at Pronto.

Tomato sauce spaghetti with chucky tomatoes and mozzarella cheese

Japanese-styled spaghetti with pork and seaweed

Cheering off with a Mega Jim Beam Highball (Jim Bean with Soda)

Ending it off with a nice dessert, Pablo Cheese Tart.

Overall, it has been a great family bonding trip, spending quality time with one another and importantly accomplishing what we have set out to do especially on the food gourmet.

This is a truly symbolic moment for the family to bid farewell to 2018 & to welcome 2019 on air. As I will cross the new year while on the air, allow me to wish one and all a Happy and Prosperous 2019 and may all your dreams come true. A new year, a new beginning, a new day & a new hope. Happy New Year and hope you like what you read.

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