Japan: Back Where I Belong

November 17th, 2016

“If you love something, set it free. If it keeps coming back to you, it’s yours forever.”

I guess that’s how Japan feels about me. She keeps letting me go but I keep coming back. Japan will always have a special place in my heart. No other country has made me feel this way. Why? Because it’s Japan. Because of the perfect balance between traditional and modern elements. Because of their culture, their people, the food and quirky knickknacks. But the most important reason for my coming back over and over again is because every time I’m there, there’s always something new to do, someplace new to explore, new things to see and try.


It’s the second weekend of November, perfect time to use up my annual leave. Jumped on a plane and I arrived in Haneda International Airport, Tokyo on a Saturday at 10.30pm. This marks my first day in Tokyo. Did not book a hotel for the night so I spent the night at the airport to save a few bucks (as I always do). I (barely) slept at the arrival floor; bad mistake. It was so noisy with people walking, pulling their luggage, flight announcements. Departure floor seems like a way quieter option.

Got up at 4.30 am and went to the observation deck cause I wanted to watch the sunrise. Way to early at this time of the month. It was freezing so I left. 6.30 I took the Keikyu line to Kita-Kamakura for some temple exploring. Wanted to visit the Meigetsuin temple, unfortunately I was too early (I expected it’d be crowded) so I ended up jaywalking. Opening time for Meigetsuin temple is 9am-4pm. Too bad the hydrangeas weren’t in bloom. However the little circular window with a view was nice.


Then I took the train to Kamakura Station to visit two other temples (shrine) on my list; Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Hokokuji. Honestly, I wasn’t at all impress with Hokokuji. Maybe because I’ve seen “better” bamboo grove in Arashiyama, Kyoto. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu on the other hand was crowded.


There was a celebration or some sort on that day (can’t remember what it was). Little boys and girls dressed in kimonos and yukatas. So kawaii! Oh and Komachi street was absolutely a treat! Snacks galore! I pretty much stopped at every store where there was crowd and joined in the queue.


A little after noon, I made my way to Hase to visit Kokoku-in and Hasedera. Again, the crowd was horrendous. The emerald giant Buddha was a remarkable sight.


Unfortunately I did not go up the Buddha due to the long queue and I was pressed for time. In Hasedera you could clearly see (I think) is Enoshima coast. Surfers, sailboats. Moved on to Enoshima on the electric train. I basically did the touch-and-go in Enoshima. Blue waters, locals with their barbecues set up, dogs swimming, surfers riding the (not so big) waves.


If I had more time, I would’ve stayed till sunset but I had to go back to Tokyo before 6pm. I rushed back to Tokyo because I had a reservation at the owl cafe – Akiba Fukurou. Being in Japan, tardiness – major no-no! There are a few owl cafes in Tokyo but I chose the one in Akihabara. Got there just in time after getting lost trying to find the place even though I had printed a map. I’m absolutely terrible with maps and locations! Once you’re in the owl cafe, you have to be very very quite and not make sudden movements as to not disturb the owls. When I was there, most of the owls were sleeping and you can touch sleeping owls. The owls were so cute; mostly baby owls and there was one owl which was huge despite it being only 3 years old!


You can touch them (only with one finger) and rest them on your arm or shoulder. Some big owls require gloves which you have to put on before they hand over the owl to you.


No videos allowed. Taking photos (without flash) is fine. And they’ll take your picture for free, print and give it to you. If you go to TripAdvisor and write a review (within 10 days), they’ll email the photo to you. You have to make a reservation prior to visiting the owl cafe. Note that they close on Tuesdays.


The owl cafe is in fact not a cafe. Just made to look like a cafe but without the food and drinks. I believe it’s a once in a lifetime experience for anyone who loves owls as much as me. Price-wise maybe a tad expensive (¥2000) but hey, name me one thing that isn’t expensive in Tokyo! The owl cafe was my last curtain call for that day so I headed to my capsule hotel to rest up for the next day.


The next day I woke up real early to catch the bus to lake Kawaguchiko to see Mount Fuji. I’ve been to Hakone last year but the fog covered up the mountain so I couldn’t really see it. Middle of this year I went again but it was raining the whole week I was in there so no Fuji. This time around I was determined to see Fuji up close and when I got to Kawaguchiko, the weather was perfect. Even on my way there, I could already see the majestic Fuji-san through my bus window.


I finally reached the Kawaguchiko station and it was freezing (12.5°C). Bought the 2-day retro bus pass (there’s no 1-day pass) bound for areas in Lake Kawaguchiko (red line) and Lake Saiko (green line). If you don’t want to buy the pass, you can just pay per stop. The further you get, the more expensive you pay, so for me, the pass was worth it. I boarded the red line bus to the last stop which was the Natural Living Centre. Here you could view Fuji, the garden, have coffee and whatnot.


I didn’t go inside the Centre, just went around it. Then I walked to the Momoji tunnel from the centre. Took me about 20 minutes to get there and on the way there are great stops to view Fuji-san. The whole stretch was lined with trees with golden, red, orange leaves which was absolutely beautiful.


Walking back, I was picked up by two lovely Japanese ladies who offered me a ride to the maple leaves corridor (thank God, otherwise another 30 minutes of walking!). The corridor was crowded but beautiful. Two stretches of walkway lined with maple trees in autumn colours.


There were plenty of stalls selling local products which provided a lively atmosphere. Then I took a stroll along Lake Kawaguchiko with the magnificent Fuji on full display. The sun was high up which provided a stunning view of Fuji.


Walking along the street nearby, I came across a store with a long queue. Naturally, I went in to join them. The Fujiyama cookie. No wonder people were queuing up. The cookies were delicious! There’s green tea, strawberry, chocolate, earl grey cookies shaped like Fuji. Bought a few to take home. Then I took the green line bus to Lake Saiko. Unfortunately, it was raining quite heavily so I didn’t get off at any of the stops. Furthemore, you can’t view Fuji from Lake Saiko. But the lake was surrounded by beautiful autumn coloured leaves and trees. The journey on the green line was long. Took about 40 minutes or so to complete the route. Back to Kawaguchiko station and I managed to change to an earlier bus since it was raining and there was no point in staying. It rained through the night. I went back to Shibuya again for dinner and shopped like a crazed woman. Gotta love Japanese cosmetics!

For my last day, I had a mission – to try the famous Suzuki-en green tea ice-cream. I reached the shop at around 11.30am which was still pretty early, so not that crowded. It was amazing seeing all those different shades of green tea ice-cream: from the tame level 1 up to the wild level 7.


I tried the level 2 and level 7 matcha ice-cream and boy was it good! The level 2 was just nice, smooth and not bitter at all. The level 7 on the other hand was intense. But a good kind of intense.


It was not awfully bitter, still a hint of bitterness but not overwhelming. The texture was smooth and easy to go down throat. After I got the matcha ice-cream out of my way, I tried the crunchy black tea and black sesame. The “crunchiness” came from what I believed to be crushed oreos and it was good! The flavour of the black tea was so nice.


They captured the flavour so well. The black sesame was just okay maybe because I’m not really a fan of sesame seeds. After my ice-cream adventure, I went to the Sensoji Temple to have a stroll. I’ve been here before, but during night time. Quite a magnificent temple I must say, located in the middle of Tokyo.


It was crowded and it got worse by noon with tour groups and school children. After that, it was time for souvenir shopping along Nakamise street. If you’re looking for souvenirs, this is the place to be. Umbrellas, t-shirts, food, keychains, japanese goods and knickknacks are sold here. Price-wise: cheap.


I spent nearly 4 hours in Asakusa and headed to Tokyo Station to continue my food hunting. I’ve never seen a train station with so many shops and goodies before! I went crazy trying the various snacks on offer. Bought a few things to bring home. There are many so-called streets in Tokyo Station – character street where you find those popular Japanese cartoons/manga, ramen street with stall after stall selling ramen noodles. It’s highly recommended to reach there before 3pm if you want to head over to ramen street otherwise most of the shops are closed/on a break. I didn’t, couldn’t explore all of the shops in Tokyo Station as it is huge! Did all my last minute shopping here before I board the train to the airport to catch my red-eye.


It was a well-needed break from my hectic schedule. I think I should do this regularly – spent 3,4 days in a Japanese city like a therapeutic session. Domo arigato and sayonara Tokyo till next time. Rest assured I’ll be back for new adventures!

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