At long last, I am able to continue with my pursuit on my journey to visit Japan, where I left off 3 years ago.
This trip holds great significance for me. I came back from my last Shikoku trip on 9 Feb 2020, where WHO declared then that Covid-19 was a global health emergency. Coincidentally, on 5 May 2023, WHO declared that Covid-19 is now no longer a global health emergency.
This time round, I will be covering 3 more Prefectures, namely Nara, Mie & Shiga. It will be a road trip round Kansai Region, where I will be driving relaxingly across 6 Prefectures (Nara, Mie, Shiga, Kyoto, Hyogo & Osaka) in a week. How exciting!
The adventure can only begin after getting past the departure gate. 😲
My all-time favourite lounge. Always looking forward to it.
Shhh…Let you in a little secret. I always attempt to go to the airport early so as to enjoy the lounge facilities.
Awesome dinner without fail. 👍
Time to depart for the Land of the Rising Sun. Yay!
Till we meet in Osaka……cheers!
Sky dining will be a choice meal specially curated by Mr Yoshihiro Murata. A respected authority who has helped shape Japan’s culinary culture, Yoshihiro Murata draws on European influences without compromising on the authenticity of traditional Japanese cuisine. He brings his recommendation for a most exquisite dining experience in the sky. Itadakimasu 🙏
Kuchitori – Omelette with Eel, Fish Cake, Jelly Fish Salad with Pollack Roes, Asari Clam, and Fava Bean with Mustard Dressing
Yakimono – Grilled Miso Flavoured Halibut and Braised Duck Leg, Candied Walnut and Sudachi Lime
Takiawase – Simmered Bamboo Shoot, Yam, Turnip, carrot, and Shiitake Mushroom
Gohan – Steamed rice Topped with Baby Silver Fish and Sansho Pepper
Assorted Pickles – Tome-Wan
Miso Soup with Asari Clam and Spring Onion
Safe arrival to Kansai Airport after a good night sleep on board.
After custom clearance, headed to the car rental company, which is right across aeroplaza from the Kansai-Airport Station.
Here I am on Level 2 at the Alamo Car Rental to pick up the car.
I rented a light automobile car for this 8-day road trip. So smallie so adorable. Well, now I am ready to scoot off and start my relaxing adventure.
It is always enjoyable to stop by highway rest stop for snack break.
This is a scene that I miss most. Look at the store offering. 😱
Enjoying light snack on the go.
You will never go wrong with noodles in Japan. Almost guaranteed. 👍
My first loot from the rest stop. 😅
While on the way to Todaiji Temple, I chanced upon this amazingly huge peanut, and without second thought, I quickly made a detour to check it out. This is the best part of going on a road trip. Expect the unexpected. 😀
Nakanishi Peanut is a popular specialty shop in Nara selling peanuts.
Look at the nutty affairs. Driving you nuts literally. 😅
Over here, you can enjoy lovely peanut ice cream being sold here. They only have one flavour with maple & nuts.
I love the peanut shaped waffle, and important it’s also deliciously good.
How could I leave the store empty-handed?
Continue on to where I am supposed to go next, Todaiji Temple. My last trip to Nara was more than 17 years ago. However, it just seems like yesterday when I am here now.
Todaiji Temple was built in the Nara period (710 – 794 AD) at the behest of Emperor Shomu. The temple was officially positioned as one of many state-established provincial temples. However, since the chief object of worship of the temple is Vairocana Buddha (Buddha that shines throughout the world like the sun), a magnificent temple was built to reflect this important.
Main entrance to the Great Buddha Hall.
The road leading to the Great Buddha Hall from the main entrance.
These are all the sculptures that you can view inside the Great Buddha Hall.
One of the sixteen arahats (carved in wood), who were disciples of Buddha outside of the Great Buddha Hall.
Typical area where temple goers can drink and wash themselves.
Loved the beautiful, calm, and serene view of the lake right outside of the temple coupled with the rain drops background.
Couldn’t help but to capture a nice lovely little quaint shot of the Torii Gate across the lake.
A visit to Nara will not be complete without the deerie affair. Nara Park is a large park in Central Nara and is home to hundreds of free roaming deers. It has also become a symbol of the city and has even been designated as a national treasure.
Taking a slow stroll to Kaidan-in next.
Kaidan-in (戒壇院) in Nara, is part of the Todaiji Temple complex and located in the west of the temple’s grounds.
Kaidan-in in Nara was the first of Japan’s three ordination halls built for Buddhist priests in the Nara Period.
Unfortunately, it is undergoing restoration and reconstruction now.
These look like some sacred Buddha stones to me which surfaced out of nowhere.
Isuien (依水園) is an attractive Japanese garden with a variety of features, such as the use of Todaiji Temple’s Nandaimon Gate and Mount Wakakusayama as “borrowed scenery”. Isuien means “garden founded on water”, and the garden’s name is derived from the fact that its ponds are fed by the small adjacent Yoshikigawa River. Well, you may pay a visit here too if you are keen. 😉
Time for some snacks along the streets of Nara.
Woo…saw this cool, nice & chill Starbucks located above Nara Park Bus Terminal. Decided to take a coffee break and soak in to the atmosphere.
Thereafter, headed over to Gyukatsu Katsugyu right opposite Starbucks to catch a super late lunch.
Oh mine, the Sirloin katsu is deep fried to perfection with the crispiness of the katsu while retaining the tenderness of the beef doneness. Oiishi desu! 😋
The minced beef juiciness is locked well in the croquette that gives each bite a feeling of umph.
Afterwhich, I drove back to the hotel for my check-in for the night.
I will be staying over for a night at Daiwa Roynet Hotel Nara, which is located next to JR Nara Station.
This is another of my favourite hotel chains in Japan.
The room size is spacious, well arranged and organised. I love the deer painting on the wall. In Nara, everywhere is depicted and associated with deers. 🦌 🦌 🦌
This hotel provides for free public bath facilities. However, all guests will be subjected to an onsen tax surcharge of ¥150 per guest for the stay regardless of whether you use the facility or not. Guess I have to make my money worth to use it then.
With a good charge-up at the onsen, did my usual recce to roam around the vicinity. However, the rain has dampened the spirit since the start of the entire afternoon. Well, this is what travel is all about. Just have to embrace and be chill about it. Afterall, it’s a leisure trip. 😉
Spotted this Izakaya joint, Torimero specialises in chicken.
Definitely, a satisfying dinner to end the wet night.
Day 2, waking up to a bright and chilly morning, though it’s forecasted to be raining for the entire day. Wish I could do so back home.
With such nice weather given, I took the opportunity to do some sightseeing around Nara.
Nara Centennial Hall is a multi-use complex in Nara, Japan. It opened in 1999 as part of the centennial celebrations of the municipality of Nara. There is a large hall that can sit up to 1720, a smaller concert hall with a capacity of 446, and a gallery.
Located outside Nara train station, a place where travellers can get information about Nara.
Onyado Nono Nara Natural Hot Springs is a business hotel (offering bathhouse and free dinner) located in Nara area beside the Nara City Tourist Information Centre. Reminds me of Dogo Onsen in Ehime.
Enjoying a simple breakfast at Café Gusto.
Comes with a thick slice of toast bread with butter and strawberry jam.
Checking out from Daiwa Roynet Hotel Nara and proceeding to drive over to Mie Prefecture.
Swinging by Iga Ninja City while enroute to Mie
Beautiful view of Iga Ninja City taken from the top of the high stone wall.
Line of Torii Gates within Iga Ueno Park.
Mesmerising sight where you can experience the quietness away from the hustles and bustles.
Stopping by Nexco Ano rest stop for a quick lunch break.
Thereafter, I continued with my journey to Tsu Castle before reaching Mie Prefecture.
Tsu Castle was built by Nobukane, younger brother of Nobunaga Oda in 1580. In 1608, Takatora Todo became the lord of this castle.
This castle, located in the centre of Tsu, had a castle tower (Tenshukaku) surrounded by many other branch buildings and several moats to protect the castle from enemies.
In 1600, the castle tower was burned down in a fire and was never rebuilt.
Today, Tsu Castle ruins are famous for their beautiful pine trees and stone walls.
Headed off next to Ise-Jinggu Shrine.
Ise Jinggu consists of 125 jinja (Shinto shrines) centred around Kotai-jinggu (Naiku) and Toyo’uke-daijinggu (Geku).
There are many affiliated jinja and some auxiliary jinja in and around Ise city. More than 1,500 rituals are conducted yearly to pray for the prosperity of the Imperial family and happiness of the world.
Ujibashi Bridge spans across the Isuzugawa River at the entrance of the Naiku and is said to separate a sacred realm from the daily world. The architectural style of the Ujibashi Bridge is purely Japanese and its length is over 100 metres and is rebuilt every 20 years.
Beside the Ise-Jinggu Gate, you will find Oharaimachi, an old-fashioned town street about 1km long and home to dozens of interesting shops and restaurants.
Caught hold of this not so prominent store on the side alley at the start of Oharaimachi and decided on a quick snack break.
Heavenly is all I can say. The matsusaka beef is tenderly soft due to its high fat-to-meat ratio.
As the rain is getting heavier, I decided to do a check-in at Hotel Castle Inn Ise Meotoiwa instead.
I will be staying over for a night here.
Room size is spacious, clean and as good as Daiwa Roynet hotel chain.
Settled for dinner at Sushiro. Interestingly, I did not have it back home and it’s my first time trying it in Japan too.
I am surprised to learn that the sushi conveyor belt does not have plates of sushi moving around now. Could it be the norm or is it I haven’t been to a sushi conveyor belt chain for a long time that I am out of touch? 🤣
The new norm now. You will be informed beforehand on the ordered items that will be flashed on the screen in front of you to prompt you to pick it up. 😀
Had a satisfying meal as expected and the quality of food is almost guaranteed.
All the above meal costs just ¥2,030. It was literally cheap and good. 😱
I’m heading back to the hotel for my private reservation onsen bath after dinner.
The hotel has 5 reserved private rooms, which guests can make prior reservations for in addition to the public bathroom for both male and female guests.
Decent size for a private onsen. Relaxingly refreshing.
Ending a long rainy day with a nice yakisoba with ham for supper. Bon appetit!
Day 3, greeted with a bright and sunny morning. Hope the weather stays through for the day. 🙏
Start the morning early by visiting Meoto Iwa (夫婦岩, the Wedded Rocks).
Meoto Iwa are two sacred rocks in the ocean near Futami, a small town in Ise City.
The larger of the two rocks represents the husband and the smaller one represents the wife. Both rocks are connected by a shimenawa rope which acts as the division between the spiritual and earthly realms. In a ceremony, the shimenawa rope is replaced three times a year.
Visitors are advised to visit the Meoto Iwa during high tide when the rocks are actually separated by water.
Not far from the Meoto Iwa is the Futami-Okitama Shrine,
where a number of shinto deities (kami) are enshrined. Many frog sculptures can be seen in the vicinity of the shrine as they are believed to be a type of charm for bringing people or things back.
The term for frog in Japanese (kaeru) uses the same phonetic term for the verb “return”.
Enjoy the beautiful, lovely scenic picturesque view taken from afar at various angles.
Interestingly, there is a mini Meoto Iwa outside the hotel entrance too if you are not able to catch hold of the real thing.
Took a slow leisure stroll back to the hotel for my scheduled complimentary breakfast at 8 am.
Oishii desu! 😋😋😋 Arigatogozaimasu! 🙏🙏🙏
After a good breakfast fix, time to check-out from the hotel before starting my trip for the day.
Make my first trip to Toba Observatory Deck in Ise-Shima National Park, Mie.
It is a hilltop complex offering sweeping ocean panoramas, with a cafe, restaurant & souvenir shop.
While at the observatory deck carpark, was so amused that I had to take a picture of this cute retro bus. ☺️
From there, I drove further down to Shima Spain Village, reminiscent of the exotic atmosphere of a Spanish townscape and brimming with Spanish charm.
This is a theme park that offers plenty of rides, shows, restaurants, and shops. Similar to Disneyland, with the exception that there is no crowd here so you can play for all you want without having to queue and wait.
Real thrill-seekers, this is for you. 😱
Pulling over for a quick lunch fix at Ano rest stop before continuing with my journey.
As I will be driving down to Shiga Prefecture for the night stay, I decided to break my journey by making a slight detour to Koka Ninja Village. Unfortunately, Ninja Village is closed on Mondays upon reaching there. Lesson learnt, always check for the opening hours and not take things for granted. 🤣
Well, that’s what travelling is about. As I always reiterate, stay chill, be cool about it, and enjoy the process.😀
From there, I head straight to Hotel Route Inn Hikone for my check-in and have an early night.
This room size is extremely huge by Japan hotel standard.
Look what I found, Bikkuri Donkey, another one of those favourite dining chains that specialises in hamburg steak.
Holy Holy!! The hamburg steak is tenderly juicy. 😋
Hot coffee couldn’t have been more apt on a coldy night.
Round 2 at 饺子の王将, I have been seeing it almost at every small town that I drove past. How to take it lying down?
I love the fact that they offer small-size menu so that you can have the option to try out most of their dishes. 👍
Day 4, another bright and sunny morning awaits. I am extremely thankful for the kind weather.
Starting off the day with a sumptuous complimentary breakfast courtesy from the hotel.
This morning, I will be driving up to Kyoto where I will be visiting Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion).
The entrance ticket is uniquely different from what I come across.
Immediately, you will pass through the main gate after purchasing the ticket.
Kinkakuji is a Zen Buddhist temple in northern Kyoto, whose top 2 floors are completely covered in gold leaf, and one of the most popular buildings in Kyoto, attracting many visitors annually.
Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond. Isn’t it amazing?
Snacking on the grilled mochi stuffed with azuki bean paste. It’s so good when eaten piping hot.
Next, driving off to Kyoto in search of the % Arabica flagship store in Arashiyama.
Stopped over at Kura Sushi for lunch while en route.
This is another sushi conveyor belt joint, and this time round, it will inform you once the order is ready and it will be sent to you via a separate conveyor belt.
Itadakimasu 🙏🙏🙏! Oiishi desu 😋😋😋! The food quality is much better than Sushiro, in my opinion.
When it comes to billing, you are required to slide the empty plates into the slot, and it will auto-calculate the amount due to you.
After a happy tummy, continue my journey to % Arabica flagship store in Arashiyama.
The store overlooks the Oigawa, the river that runs through Arashiyama.
You may book for the private room if you feel rich to do so (just like me 😅)! Only by doing so will you be able to be seated comfortably and pose for your picture instead of taking it out. 😉
This is definitely one of those must-do activities when you are here.
Scenic view of the Togetsukyo Bridge and the Oigawa.
Thereafter, time to check-in to Citadines Kyoto Karasuma-Gojo for my night’s stay.
Wow! This is a big and spacious apartment hotel that comes with a king-sized bed. Awesome surprise to me.
Afterwhich, went in search of koé donuts. A chic cool place in Kyoto with a minimalist vibes serving thoughtfully sourced, imaginative donuts and coffee.
koé donuts is a hands-on donut factory where you can enjoy freshly made donuts.
Their donuts are doughyly good. Donut lovers, this is for you. Make it one of your to-do lists the next time you are in Kyoto.
Saw this Onimaru Sando Shop and there is no need for second guess. 😀
Look at the varieties of the sando and rice balls. Oh man!
The omelette & pork sando is really delicious and they do cater for eat-in guests too.
Had my dinner at Mr Young Men specialises in okonomiyaki before calling it a night.
Enjoying the best of both worlds. 👍👍👍
Time flies, I am already into Day 5 of my trip. Woke up to another sunny morning.
Lovely morning view taken from the balcony of my room.
Beginning my day with a good breakfast fix at a 24 hour restaurant joint right beside the hotel.
Breakfast set comprising of grilled mackerel, egg omelette, corn with tofu salad, miso soup & nori. Simple, comfort tasty traditional Japanese breakfast.
Checking out of hotel next and proceeded to Bread House Pain no Tubo. They only have one outlet in Kyoto and importantly selling cheap and quality bread at a flat price of ¥130. Wow right?
Look at the bread selection! Literally leaving you spoilt for choice.
Had a go at their #1 signature, curry donut, bacon with cheese, butter sugar raisin & Hokkaido milk bread. Really wish I have the capacity to try out all their breads. 😅
Café hopping next to Café Kitsuné Kyoto.
These 2 drinks are their Kyoto Specials.
After a good tea break, headed over to Menbaka Fire Ramen Kyoto Restaurant for lunch.
This is one of my key agenda for this Kyoto trip. They only have one outlet in Japan (Kyoto) and their first outlet outside of Japan in Singapore.
I love the humour exuberated by the boss of the restaurant. He even wears a “Boss” tag on his T-shirt. 😲 他实在是很有性格!
The restaurant only has limited counter seats, and diners are expected to follow his laid down rules. 😅
Ordered their Fire Ramen Special Set that comes with a bowl of ramen, fried rice, karaage and gyoza with add-on ajitama egg and nori.
Sit back, have fun and enjoy the experience.
A momento (badge pin) for diners who ordered their Fire Ramen Special Set. 👍
It was a fun & wonderful lunch experience, and I am glad I made this visit. From here, I made my way to Kobe.
I made a detour to Arima Onsen (有馬温泉) before checking in to the hotel in Kobe.
Arima Onsen is a famous hot spring town within the city limits of Kobe, but on the opposite side of Mount Rokko from the city centre.
The town lies in a natural mountain setting, yet is close enough for Kobe and Osaka residents as an easy day trip or weekend getaway.
I will be staying over for one night at Hotel Okura Kobe, located right across Kobe Harborland.
Big room size with a great sea view.
Took a leisure stroll to Kobe Harborland for dinner at 8 Eighth Beef Steak & Hamburger Restaurant.
There are some photo spots along the coastal area that you can spend time with.
Panoramic view of Kobe Harborland just before sunset.
The same spot with the contrasting night view.
My long-awaited dinner as my last visit was 5 years ago.
Holy cow! It’s really good and worth the wait certainly.👍That brings Day 5 to an end.
Day 6 – a hot sunny morning awaits. Thankfully, the temperature is at 23 degrees.
Prior to check out, took a morning leisure stroll from the hotel to Kobe Chinatown (Nankinmachi).
Nankinmachi (南京町) is a compact Chinatown in the central Kobe and a centre of the Chinese community in the Kansai region. It is a popular tourist attraction for shopping and dining.
Two main streets run through the district, meeting each other at a small plaza in the centre. They are packed with shops, restaurants, and food stands that sell popular items such as steamed buns (manju), ramen, tapioca drinks, and various other Chinese dishes, many of which have been Japanised.
The next 2 days’ agenda will be on a lighter end, focusing primarily on food, café and shopping as I park myself in Osaka for the last 2 nights.
Finally, I can have a go at Doutor Café. How I miss this café.
All are my favourite to-go items. 😋😋
Went over to Sannomiya Hondori Shopping Arcade for some retail therapy.
You can shop for all you want in this covered shopping street and this is what I love about shopping in Japan.
Time to head over to Daiwa Roynet Hotel Osaka-Uehonmachi for my check-in.
This will be my final accommodation for the last 2 nights in Osaka.
Clean and spacious as expected of Daiwa Roynet chain.
Took a quick lunch fix at 丸亀製麺 (Marugameseimen) right opposite the hotel.