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Seoul, South Korea: A Travel Guide

Traveling Guide for First Timers to Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, South Korea

Introduction

Seoul, South Korea is located in the inner part of the Korean peninsula and is a few hour drive to the demilitarized zone (DMC) between North Korea. It is a beautiful metropolitan city and the capital of South Korea. Like most of its Asian neighbours, you can find a mixture of tradtional and modern within the city streets.

Seoul is probably the most technologically advanced city in the world and super traveler friendly. Almost every restaurant and cafe you go to you can get free wifi. If you want free wifi all the time then you can go to one of the airport counters and ask to get a SIM card or rent a machine called EGG which gives you a wifi hotspot.

If you are talking about convenient then Seoul is probably one of the most convenient metropolitan cities you can will find in Asia. The subway, train and bus system covers a large scale making it very easy to access to all the sight-seeing spots.
Airport to city

If you came on an international flight then most likely you will be arriving at Incheon International airport. Now, Incheon airport is actually in a separate city called Incheon city and is no where near Seoul city. However, there are a few possible public transportations that can take you all the way to Seoul city or even directly to the step of your hotel.

1. Limousine Bus

In front of Incheon airport there are many different bus companies with many different buses going to different areas of South Korea. Very similar to the train, there are two versions of the limousine bus: all-stop bus and the express bus. The all-stop stops at all the stops where as the express one stops at major places and hotels. As for pricing the all-stop is cheaper than the express one.

2. Taxi

Out of all the ways to get to Seoul city this might be the most expensive way. Although you can travel without needing to interact with other travelers or locals, sometimes there just isn't enough luggage space nor seats. Just a side note that many taxi drivers in Korea do not speak English so it is best to know some Korean or have someone who can speak Korean to help you out.

3. Direct Train

This is probably the best way to get into Seoul city if the buses do not stop at your hotel. It is a non-stop train from Incheon airport all the way to Seoul station and only costs 8000 won. If you have many luggages then I would suggest this route since you will definitely get seats, space to put your luggage and goes all the way to Seoul station in around half an hour.

4. All-Stop Train

If you are on a budget and do not have that many luggages then this route might be good. Since one way from Incheon airport to Seoul station is just 4150 won, but it takes more than an hour to get to Seoul station. If you have time to spare and want to save up on transportation then this is the best way to go.

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Transportation around the city

Seoul is a metropolitan city and like any other metropolitan city has a great public transportation system. The city is pretty easy to navigate and the public transportation within the city is also quite traveler friendly and easy to figure out even if you do not speak the local language.

1. Bus

Buses are a really good way to travel around Seoul. There are some places where you cannot access by subway but certainly can by bus. It is also a better way to be able to enjoy the view of the city.

2. Subway

This is probably the most easiest and convenient way to travel around Seoul city. You can nearly go almost anywhere with the subway in Seoul. However, some of the lines are quite far and is a walk from one another, it is definitely easier and cheaper way to navigate around the city. There are subways maps around the stations so do not be afraid of getting lost. If you own a smartphone or any other smart devices then you can download some apps which guides you to the station you need (will be talked about in a later section).

3. Taxi

Out of all the ways mentioned so far this is probably the easiest but most expensive way to get from one place to another.

4. Walk

Although some attractions are a bit far from each other, there are some which is pretty close like Namdaemun to Myeongdong. For the closer ones I do recommend walking to save some money on transportation. For the further ones I do not suggest walking because the distance is really far. If you do not mind the distance and want a nice walk while observing the city then it is a good way to explore.

Helpful Apps

There are a few helpful apps for those visiting Seoul.

1. Subway Korea

This app is probably the bext app out there for the subway system in Seoul city. Not only it can help you navigate the cheapest/fastest route to your destination but also tells you when the last train will be.

2. Korea Tour

Although I only seldomly use this app due to before hand researching of restaurants and tourist attractions, this app can help you and suggest you good restaurants around the area you are in.

3. Google maps

The most useful app you can have nowadays. Not only does it tell you where you are but also tells you the route to get to the destination of your choice! Everytime I get lost I turn on Google maps and I am right back on track!

Food

Many of us know Korean food as spicy and Korean BBQ. This is probably the only stereotypical image most of us who has never been to Korea and know nothing about their culture would think. In reality, Korean cuisine is much more than spicy food and Korean BBQ. Here I will be mainly talking about the dishes which I have had or seen during my recent trip to Seoul.

Gamjatang

This is a spicy stew dish with a lot of porkbones. Don't let the bone part scare you because there is plenty of meat stuck to the bones. If you are lucky you might even get some marrow. The spiciness differs from restuarant to restaurant and region to region. This is a must try dish if you don't mind getting yourself a little messy.

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Samgyetang

This is probably one of the most healthiest dish in Korean cuisine. It is made from boiling a whole chicken stuffed with rice in a gingseng soup with jujube, scallions, garlic and some other spices. Even though it is a hot stew, it is meant to be eaten during the summer because most of the ingredients according to Chinese tradition helps the body to cool down. The soup is very clear and has a clean taste so most people just add salt to their liking. Koreans usually take some of the chicken out and break off the bone then dip it in salt before eating since the chicken been boiling in the soup for a long time and lost most of its flavour.

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Tteokbokki

A very traditional and well-known Korean street food. It is ricecakes boiled and served with a sweet and spicy sauce. The level of spiciness differs from restaurant to restaurant and region to region. The ones you usually have back in the west are the toned down version. Expect the amount of spiciness to increaser while you're in Korea.

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Hotteok

This is another very traditional Korean street food. Most of us probably have not heard of or seen this outside of Korea but it is a quite simple snack. It is basically fried dough with brown sugar stuffing.

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Kimbap

A very famous comfort food amongst Koreans. It is rice, vegetables (pickled or not), eggs and meat/fish wrapped in toasted dried seaweed. Kimbap is different from sushi because they do not use rice in their vinegar, the seaweed they use is also different but the most notable thing would be the fillings. There is a miniature version called the "mayak gimbap" where it is smaller in size compared to the normal kimbaps and they use fewer ingredients. Since they do not mix the rice with salt and sesame oil, they have a side of yellowish dipping sauce to eat with.

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Sundae/Soondae

In most Asian cultures, eating congealed blood is part of their heritage and Korea is no exeption. Unlike the kind blood sausage they serve in the U.K, the Korean version adds more ingredients like glutinous rice; soybeans; barley; scallions and more. The texture might be the harder thing to adapt than the taste because it is much more squishy and soft than normal sausages.

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Bindaetteok

This is the more filling version of the jeon (Korean pancake). Unlike the jeon, which is thin, this is a very thick mung bean pancake packed with a lot of ingedients like mung beans, kimchi, pork and other vegetables.

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Sikhye

The shikye is a popular traditional Korean drink and it is usually drank during the summer or on a hot sunny day. The drink is made of rice and sometimes pine nuts. The Japanese also have a rice drink called "amazake" but the the making of the drink and the use of ingredients are different. The Japanese version uses fermented rice while the Korean version uses normal cooking rice. The taste of shikye is a little bit sweet but not too sweet like amazake.

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Mandu

These are dumplings/potstickers. The difference between the Japanese gyoza, Chinese dumplings and the Korean mandu usually lies within how thin or thick the outer skin is and the stuffing inside. You can often get these goodies steamed, fried or in a soup.

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Fried Chicken

Korean fried chicken is very popular comfort food in Korea. In fact, they might have the best fried chicken in the world. For sure they are better than those chicken chains like KFC and Popeye's so if you are here in Korea, might as well try it yourself.

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Dak Galbi

This is traditional Korean dish where they cook the chicken and vegetables in a sweet and spicy sauce in front of you. The chicken is cooked till its tender, juicy and moist so you will have no problem savouring the flavour. After the meal you can ask them to use the remaining sauce in the pan to make you fried rice or in Korean Bokkeumbap (cost extra money) if you like. I went for it and it was an amazing experience.

  • Other must try food: samgyeopsal, soondubu, kimchi jjigae, jeon, galbi, ramyeong

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Kkultarae

This is a traditional Korean confectionery and is made of honey and malt. The confectionery is pulled into 16,384 strands of thin strings and then wrapped around crushed nuts and sugar stuffing. Chinese also has a similar candy called dragon's beard thus it looks like dragon beard. In modern day Korea, there are different stuffing than the traditional version of crushed nuts and sugar like chocolate and red bead paste. It makes a delicious snack to buy for yourself or as a souvenir for friends and relatives.

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Night Markets

Like many Southeast Asian countries, night market is also a thing in South Korea. You can find many around the city of Seoul. Here, I will be mainly talking about the few which I have had the opportunity to stroll through on my recent trip.

1. Gwangjang Market

The Gwangjang market is located near Dongdaemun and is filled with street food stalls as well as stalls selling vegetable, meat, seafood and other Korean goodies. Most of the street food you can find here are: jeon, bindaetteok, sundae, kimbap, tteokbokki, odeng, bibimbap, mandu and more. This is probably the biggest and most historic market in Seoul and a lot of travelers as well as locals come to this market for a bite to eat. You know that a place is good when even the locals come!

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Most notable street food stalls: mayak gimbap, jeon, bindaettoek, mandu, bibimbap, sundae

2. Namdaemun Market

Namdaemun is a market full of not only food but also other things such as textiles, clothing, furniture, spices, and etc. If you are looking for cheap souvenirs then I do recommend this place. Now the food scene here at Namdaemun is different than say Gwangjang and Myeongdong market because the food stalls here are kind of limited. In order to make up for that if you go into some of the alley ways you will find restaurants serving really authentic Korean cuisines like kimchi jjigae, army stew, soondubu, jeon and so on.

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Most notable street food stalls: hotteok, gyeranbbang

3. Myeongdong Market

Out of all the markets I have mentioned, the Myeongdong market must be the one that is directed towards tourists the most. In fact most of the things here are a bit overpriced comapred to the other markets. There are more food vendors and some of them sell interesting and unimaginable street food. There are also many drugstores, clothing stores and restaurant around if you want a more comfortable scene to do some shopping and eating.

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Most notable street food stalls: grilled lobster, honey ice cream, kulttare, dakggochi

Attractions

The attractions in Seoul varies from historical and cultural sites to modern architectures.

Gyeongbokgung

This is one of the world heritage UNESCO site in South Korea. Gyeongbokgung is the largest palace in Korea and was the main palace to hold the royal family during the Joseon period. Most of the palace has been destroyed during the invasion of the imperial Japanese army but reconstructions of parts of the palace has been started. Remember that the palace ground is actually very wide so make sure you plan enough to time wonder each and every part of it.

Changdeokgung

This is another world heritage UNESCO site in South Korea. According to history, this is the palace with the most famous and beautiful garden is. Many previous emperors in Korea frequent this place because of that. You can actually visit this secret garden but requires a separate entrance fee and can see only though guided tours. Once the guide tours are booked up for the day then

Myeongdong

Myeongdong is one of the more famous shopping area in South Korea. Aside from brand name shops, drugstores and restaurants; there is also a street food scene there. Athought some of the street food stalls are overpriced it is well worth it if you are in this area and want a quick special bite.

Insadong

Insadong is the area near Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung. It has many restaurants and local souvenir shops there. However, what makes it so attracting are the food vendors on the street. They sell a various range of local traditional Korean street food like the hotteok and tteokbokki, just to name a few.

Hongdae

This is the area near the Hongkik University. Since this area is catered towards the younger generation, you will be able to find the latest food and clothing trends here like Forever 21 and other local brands.

Dongdaemun

This is probably the best night market you can find for street food in Seoul. They have a huge assortment of local traditional street food like mayak gimbap, mandu and sundae, just to name a few. Most of the Korean food vendors and merchants moved here from Namdaemun during the war with Japan so you will find a larger variety of food stalls here.

Namdaemun

Namdaemun was where all of the Korean food vendors and merchants gathered before the Japanese invaded Korea. After the invasion, the Koreans move their market from Namdaemun to Dongdaemun. There are various different kinds of stores you can find here ranging from textiles, spice, clothing, souvenir, food, etc. They also sell some of the more famous traditional Korean street food in this area like hotteok, gyeranbbang and so on. If you go into the sheltered alley ways, you will find many more restaurants serving Korean comfort food.

National Folk Museum of Korea

This is a museum about folklore and mythology of Korea. The museum is actually located right beside Gyeongbokgung and there is a passage way to get there from inside the palace. There is a large variety of artifacts and reconstructions of how ancient Korea looked like. If you are interested in ancient Korean history then this is a really good museum to visit because it tells you valuable facts and secrets.

Bukchon Hanok Village

This is a village in the area of Insadong right between Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung. Travelers from around the world like to come here because you can see old traditional Korean style houses. It is also a great place for taking pictures of sceneries and selfies too, especially if you are wearing a hanbok (Korean traditional dress). Although it is free to walk around and take pictures, please remember people do live in this area so do not be too noisy.

Restaurant and food stalls visited:

Hotteok food stall at Insadong

The hotteok as mentioned before is a traditional Korean snack where you can find almost anywhere in Korea. I had the opportunity to try it on my first day in Seoul at Insadong and it was mind blowing. I am sure the way of making and cooking it might be the same wherever you go but the ingredients used and how long they fry it differs from stall to stall and area to area. Therefore you will most likely get a different taste each stall you go to.

Tteokbokki food stall at Gwangjang Market

Tteokbokki is the comfort food of Korea. No matter where you go you will see food stalls and restaurants selling it. The level of spiciness and the type of ricecake use depends on the restaurant and region you are in. Seoul has the more palettable version of the tteokbokki (if you go further down south of the country, it becomes much more spicier). The food stall I went to they used long thin cylinder type of rice cakes and a pretty sweet with just the right amount of spice sauce. If you decide to go to another food stall within this market, you might get a different flavour than what I have had.

Sundae/Soondae food stall at Gwangjang Market

Sundae or soondae is another beloved comfort food in Korea where you can almost find where ever you go. It is made of pig blood, barley, glutinous rice and various different kinds of spices and then made into sausage form. It is usually served alongside other innards and a side of salt for enhancing the taste. Since this is my first time having sundae, I think that depending on the food stall you go to, the texture of the sausage varies. The food stall I went to, their sundae was soft and you can taste the glutinous rice and the casing (intestines) of the sausage clearly. I do not know if there was much blood taste since I grew up in a Chinese household and often order pig's blood while we go drink tea. I would say that it wasn't that bad at this stall and would definitely try again next time I come back to Korea, maybe at a different stall.

Gyeranbban food stall at Namdaemun

Gyeranbban is a famous traditional Korean snack. As mentioned above it is a sweet cake like bread with a hard-boiled egg inside. This food stall is actually very famous and close to the Namdaemun Underground Shopping Centre on Camera street Exit 6 at gate 3. A few steps away from this food stall is a very famous hotteok food stall with long line-ups usually.

Mandu food stall at Gwangjang Market

Mandu is the Korean version of dumplings or potstickers. The difference between the Korean version and the other versions amongst Asia is thickness of the skin and the filling. Some stalls will have more different kinds of mandu to choose from but the one I had there were only 2: pork and chives or kimchi. I got the mixed plate and both were delicious.

Mayak Gimbap food stall at Gwangjang Market

The food stall I went to for mayak gimbap (please refer to the food section for the difference between kimbap and mayak gimbap) was the same one where I got the tteokbokki. I had kimbap before but have never heard of or tried mayak gimbap but tasted really good with the yellow mustardy sauce on the side. If you go to a different stall they might use more or less vegetables. This one as I remembered use two types: carrot and pickled raddish. I will for sure be having this again but at a different stall just to see how different it will be.

Sikhye at Gwangjang Market

Sikhye is a popular traditional Korean rice drink and you can find it through out the markets in Korea. I actually had the luxury to try it at two different stalls; the first one being at the one where I had tteokbokki and mayak gimbap; the second one is near the main entrance of Gwangjang Market close to the Jong-no 5ga station of Line 1. The sikhye at both of the stalls didn't really taste that much different. They both had a very strong taste of diluted rice water, not too sweet and occasionally having a grain or two of rice to chew on. A pretty refreshing drink overall and definitely will have again the next time I am in Korea.

Grilled Cheese at Myeongdong Market

This is one of the new generation of food in Korea. Recently they have a fetish towards cheese and are trying multiple ways to use cheese. This grilled cheese is basically skewered cheese and ricecakes and they finish it by topping it off with condensed milk. If you walk around Myeongdong market you will come upon many stalls with the same name selling the same street food. It was an unusual combination but a great experience. The flavour wasn't bad since you get salty and sweet in the same bite.

Korean Fried Chicken at a food stall in Myeongdong Market

The food stall I went to was near the main entrance of the Myeongdong market. Although not the type of pure fried chicken I wanted to eat, it was the next best one since it was cheaper than eating at a restaurant for only fried chicken which can cost up to 26,000 won. The type of fried chicken they selled here at this stall were boneless. They first deep-fry the chicken and then toss it in a sweet sauce along with some ricecakes. It kind of reminded me of BBQ flavoured popcorn chicken. The chicken pieces were very tender and juicy and the ricecakes were cooked just right. Although everything was covered in the sweet sauce, it wasn't that over powering so you could basicallyl still taste the chicken. It was good enough if you are on a budget because it only costed 5000 won. The next time I visit Korea, I will be visiting one of the famous fried chicken restaurant to get a true taste of Korean fried chicken.

Dak Galbi at Yoogane in Hongdae

I actuall have never had dak-galbi before coming to Korea, so it was something new to me. I ordred 1 person portion of their original dak-galbi and a serving of fried rice afterwards and it was definitely enough. First off they will cook the dak-galbi in front of you. When it's ready they will tell you to eat it and call them over again when you finish. Once you are finished they will help you make your next dish with the remaining sauce and other leftovers in the pan. I ordered fried rice here but there are other things you could order like ricecakes, noodles, white rice, etc. The fried rice I had was pretty amazing since you have the taste of fried rice and dak-galbi together. A taste that my mouth will probably never forget.

Samgyetang at Nonhyeon Samgyetang in Gangnam-gu

Samgyetang is a popular soup dish amongst Koreans and is eaten through out the year because both chicken and gingseng root has a cooling factor which helps to cool your body down if you are over heating. This concept might seem ridiculous to some people but for Chinese and Koreans this is a medical concept wheere people can be too hot or too cold and need to eat corresponsive food in order to balance the body temperature. The samgyetang at this restaurant was extremely good because the soup was very clear, had a clean taste and not over seasoned. Although all the essence of the chicken has been transferred into the soup, it wasn't as dry as I thought it would be. If you dip it in the salt supplied on the side it remoists the chicken and brings out the remaining flavours of it. The rice is inside the soup cooked along with the chicken so if you like porridgy rice then this is a great dish to try. If you find the soup too bland then it is perfectly fine to season it yourself with the salt and pepper shakers at the side of the table (all Koreans do that). They serve the dish on the bland side because of medicinal purposes.

Gamjatang at Somunnan Seongsu Gamjatang near Seongsu station

This is probably the most popular Korean comfort food amongst Koreans. You will find gamjatang places packed at night filled with businessmen, people with families, people with friends and so on. This is also the Korean dish I miss the most. Back in Canada where I am from, I could find this dish at almost any Korean restaurant I go to but since moving to Japan, I have never ever seen any Korean restaurant having this on their menu. The thing that makes this dish so popular is the amount of food you get for the price. You get a spicy stew with a few porkbones with meat, a side of rice and all-you-can-eat side dishes. Overall there was plenty of meat and potatoes in my portion and was quite filling. Although the soup was kind of on the bland side, the meat was very tender (not enough to fall off the bone) and the potatoes were super soft. I will give this restaurant another shot the next time I am in Korea to test the soup since it was only 8000 won.

Posted by Ohana_Matsumae 07:20 Archived in South Korea Tagged taxi travel adventure world cuisine transportation south_korea seoul namdaemun subway chicken hot asia korea explore seafood insadong mandu yummy yum dumpling travelers eat spice bone delicious pork sundae cheese discover fried authentic hongdae spicy grill tasty night_market first_time myeongdong gyeongbokgung sundubu soon_tofu kkultarae samgyetang gamjatang gwangjang dongdaemun changdeokgung bukchon_hanok hotteok tteokbokki soondae gyeranbban potsticker sikhye dak_galbi bindaetteok kimbap mayak_gimbap Comments (0)

The Hidden Place in Hyogo

The Beauty of Takasago City

Whenever asked what prefecture is beside Osaka, most people will say Kyoto to the right and Kobe to the left. That's what most travelers refer to Hyogo prefecture, they call it Kobe because that's what most if not all travel books teach them. I am not saying that they call the prefecture Kobe but a huge prefecture like Kobe and you only talk about Hyogo, it will definitely cause a misunderstanding that the whole prefecture's name is Kobe. Outside of Kobe, there are many other great places to visit in Hyogo prefecture like Himeji, Awajishima, the castle in the sky Takeda Castle to name a few. However today I am going to be talking about a hidden secret of Hyogo prefecture that even most Japanese people don't know about. Today I will be talking about a small city called Takasago city which is located near the shore of the Harima-nada sea facing Shikoku Island. I had the luxury of visiting this wonderful city and learning about things I have never knew about thanks to Hankyu Travel International for this wonderful one day complimentary tour!

Takasago city is the smallest city in Hyogo prefecture with only around 90,000 people living in it (according to our tour guide Ms. Tomomi). Although being the smallest city in the prefecture, it has many old historical buildings to see and one of the three hidden mysteries of Japan. Our trip first started off at Osaka station then to Sannomiya station (in Hyogo prefecture) and then last to Kakogawa station (in Hyogo prefecture) to pick up fellow travelers like myself before we made our way to Takasago city.

Once in Takasago city, we made our way towards the Oushiko Shrine. This shrine is a very famous local Shinto shrine in Takasago city and is mostly known for its mysterious rock called the "ishi no houden" or simply known as the "rock ship of Masuda" in English. This giant monolith rock is known to have been there way before the shrine was build in the Nara period (710-794 BCE). According to our tour guide, the story behind this rock was a god and goddess who wanted to build their castle in that specific spot in one day. The structure was left unfinished due to the to the god and goddess being too tired after helping fellow deities around the area. After looking at the mysterious megalith, we hiked up a little hill to have a look at the top of the rock as well as the beautiful view of Takasago city. While we were making our way back to the bus, we were greeted by a local festival at the bottom of the shrine. They were carrying a "mikoshi" or a palanquin to transport diety while shouting and playing music on flutes and taiko drums along the way. It was a fun and exciting experience to see a local festival (that wasn't one of those big ones) up front.

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The next stop after Oushiko Shrine was having lunch at a local restaurant in Takasago city. We dropped by this restaurant called "Akashi Kaikyo sushi" for a complimentary lunch provided by Hankyu Travel International. It was like a little "kaiseki" set meal where there were little portions of sashimi, tempura and pickled vegetables. Rice and miso soup were also provided, but the main course was this sukiyaki hotpot where you have to mix the egg along with a few pieces of fried fish and dump it in the pot to cook. Although the portion was small (Japanese size), it was overall satisfying. The flavour was there and everything seemed fresh and well prepared.

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After lunch we strolled around the old part of Takasago city looking at historical houses. Although they are supposed to be taken care of by the city, most of them were falling apart. You could really feel that you were back in time looking at these houses and the materials that were used and the style. Along the way back to the bus we were offered into a local Buddhist temple to be shown around and observe the reading of the sutras. It was definitely a great experience having that most Buddhist temples I went to had an entry fee.

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Our last stop was a little flower field a little bit outside of Takasago city, right in front of a farmers' market to see Cosmos. There were 3 large farm fields of Cosmos flower along side a few farming fields of probably farmers living nearby. Aside from the Cosmos we saw vegetables and frogs jumping around. I have never seen frogs in the wild before so it was pretty exciting for me and wanted to go catch some. Before heading back to the bus we went into the farmers market to look around. Many of my fellow travelers bought fruits and ice cream but for me I bought something called the "Uzushio Purin". In Japanese, the word "purin" usually means the French dessert we call Flan. However in Japan it seems that anything very custard like they call it purin (pudding). This purin which I bought was a local specialty of a nearby area called Awajishima. I was lucky to have found it at the farmers' market there or else I would have needed to go all the way to Awajishima (although it's not like Awajishima is not on my to go list before I head back to Canada). The one day complimentary tour started from 8:30 and was supposed to finish at 6 but it went an hour over so when I got back to Osaka station it was already 7:00pm. I am not complaining about the trip going over time because it gave me an extra hour to feel that I was still traveling!

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Once again special thanks to Mr. Kubo and Hankyu Travel International, our tour guide Ms. Tomomi and Mr. Ono from the Hyogo Tourism Bureau for making this trip happen!

Posted by Ohana_Matsumae 04:41 Archived in Japan Tagged buildings snow food fish salmon flowers hiking history ski snowboard romantic rock farm field hot milk shrine seafood kobe bears hokkaido mystery sake cold dessert shinto otaru sapporo sushi mythology gourmet fried oysters genghis ramen butter spicy niseko hakodate cosmos soup_curry genghis_khan kaisen_don seafood_don jigoku_ramen furano asahikawa hotate snow_festival yukimatsuri sapporo_tv_tower hankyu chanchanyaki robatayaki kaki hyogo takasago purin Comments (0)

Sapporo, The Winter City

Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture

==Introduction==

Hokkaido prefecture is the most northern island of Japan, right above Aomori. The capital city of Hokkaido is Sapporo and is one of the most visited cities in Japan. Though Hokkaido is known of its cold winters, they do have a lot to do even during the harsh of winter. Most people love to go to Hokkaido during the winter season for skiing and snowboarding while others like to head there for its food and scenic views. Every body has their own reason to go to Hokkaido and mine is definitely for the food. To keep this blog short, I will only be focusing on Sapporo here.

Food

Though there are many different kinds of famous dishes in Hokkaido, Sapporo is one of the cities where you set foot to eat. To describe the type of cuisine served in Sapporo is hard because it is all over the place. You can find Japanese style dishes like sushi and seafood bowls to Western dishes like steak and cakes to Mongolian barbeque.

Soup Curry

So what is Soup Curry and what is so special about this dish? As many of you know curry can come in two forms; one more saucy and gravy like while the other form is much more of a soupy texture. Of course each has its own unique texture and flavour and each of us has their own preferences but even if you don't like soupy based curry, you will definitely like this. The curry is really soupy with a strong herb taste and kind of reminds me of Thai curry and Singapore's Fish Head Curry. The rice is served on a separate plate and is sometimes seasoned with herbs.

There really isn't a correct way in eating this dish. You can take a scoop or rice and then soak it in the curry to eat it. Another way is to eat them separately or just dump a few spoon fulls of curry on to your rice. Whichever way you choose you will get the same delicious curry taste exploding in your mouth.

Soup Curry at Asian Bar: Ramai

Soup Curry at Asian Bar: Ramai


http://www.ramai.co.jp/

Genghis Khan

Reading the name Genghis Khan in the food section might either spooked you out or thought that I have made a mistake, however this is no mistake. Genghis Khan might be a historical person's name but in Hokkaido it is also a name of a dish every here loves to eat. The origin of the name is actually unknown. While some say that it was because it resembled the way Genghis Khan cooked his meat but no body really knows.

Genghis Khan is actually a barbeque dish kind of like yakiniku but is mostly associated with lamb. You basically cook your meat in the middle of the flat grill and put the vegetables around on the side to cook. The vegetables served are always bean sprouts, onions and pumpkins. After cooking the meat, you dip it into a sauce and eat. The sauce itself is made of soy sauce, miso paste, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and apple juice so it is a little sweet, sour and salty. :Though the taste of the sauce might sound weird, it actually makes the lamb taste really well because it counters the gaminess taste of the meat.

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Kaisen Don

Kaisen don is a dish where they put fresh raw seafood on top of a bowl of hot rice. Though this dish can be normally found all around Japan, there is not better place to eat it than Hokkaido, where the seafood is most fresh. There are numerous different variations of Kaisen don but the most popular ones are topped with uni (sea urchin), crab, scallop, ikura (salmon roe) and/or shrimp. There is something called the Katte don meaning doing your way bowl of rice. For this dish you can choose your own fresh seafood toppings. If you go to fish markets in Sapporo or the Hokkaido region, the chances are you will find a shop that serves Katte don.

Kaisen don at Nijo Market

Kaisen don at Nijo Market

==Attractions==

For a first time in Sapporo there are many places I would recommend travelers to visit and see. Below is a list of the recommended sight seeing spots based on my first hand experience.

Sapporo Beer Factory

This place is for beer lovers who wants to know more about the Sapporo brand. You will walk along inside the museum learning about the history of the Sapporo brand and how it has changed through out the history. At the end you will get to sample your free beer with a pack of nuts. If you want to try more different types of beer by the Sapporo brand you will need to purchase meal tickets from the machine near the restaurant. The prices are different according to the drinks you want to order.

Sapporo Beer Factory

Sapporo Beer Factory

Shiroi Koibito Factory

Though this place do seems like it is for couples, it is still a must see place. The reason is because Shiroi Koibito is a well known white chocolate biscuit brand all around Japan. Almost all Japanese people who visits Hokkaido will bring back a pack or two of Shiroi Koibito as omiyage (souvenir) for their family and friends. Recently there is an increase in tour groups and foreign travelers coming to this place. If you are a sweets lover, then this is a place you cannot miss out on.

Shiroi Koibito Factory

Shiroi Koibito Factory

Odori Park

Odori Park is located in between Sapporo station and Susukino and is accessible from the underground mall from Sapporo station to Susukino. In mid-February the Yuki Matsuri is held there and is a must see at least once in your life time.

Sapporo TV Tower

Sapporo TV Tower is located in Odori Park and it over looks the park and the surrounding parts of the city. The best view is at night during the Snow Festival when there are illuminations lighting up the ice sculptures.

Sapporo TV Tower illuminating at night during the Snow Festival

Sapporo TV Tower illuminating at night during the Snow Festival

Susukino

This area is like what Namba is to Osaka or Shinjuku is to Tokyo. If you looking for the spot to be in here in Sapporo, look no further than Susukino. You can find almost all you need here; restaurants, shopping and entertainment. There is a shotengai (shopping arcade street) area in this area called Tanuki-koji where you can comfortably shop and dine. If you want ramen, head no further than the Ramen Yokocho (Ramen Alleyway) for taste of Hokkaido ramen.

Sapporo Factory

This is one of the biggest malls in Sapporo city. It has many shops as well as restaurants to dine in at. During Christmas, there is a large Christmas tree displayed there and is another popular place for couples to hangout during the Christmas season.

Sapporo Factory (a huge mall complex not far away from Sapporo station)

Sapporo Factory (a huge mall complex not far away from Sapporo station)

Clock Tower

What makes this structure so famous is because it was built in 1878 as part of Sapporo Agriculture College which is now Hokkaido University. The area around the clock tower was part of the university campus. Now it is a historical museum that talks about the history of Sapporo and Sapporo Agriculture College. This place is a must visit if you come to Sapporo because this is one of Hokkaido's important cultural sites.

Sapporo Clock Tower

Sapporo Clock Tower

Sapporo Station

The Sapporo station we see today is actually a new complex built in 2003 and is nothing like what it was back when the station first started out in 1908. There are various hotels around this area so it makes it a great place to stay. There is also a huge mall complex built into Sapporo station making it super convenient to get your shopping done and your stomachs happy. If you feel like having ramen, there is a Ramen Republic for you to chow down on local yummy ramen to warm you tummies before going out into the cold.

Sapporo Station

Sapporo Station

Ramen Republic

Ramen Republic

Sapporo Underground Mall

Underneath Sapporo station is a huge underground more which stretches all the way to Susukino area. Most of the locals who live in Sapporo city use this walk way to get from Sapporo station to Susukino or vice versa either by walking or the subway. During the winter season most of the people will use this walk way to avoid the harsh and cold weather outside.

==Hotels==

I have been to Sapporo many times and the followings would be my personal choices of hotels to stay at.

Hotel Route-Inn Sapporo Chuo

  • http://www.route-inn.co.jp/search/hotel/index_hotel_id_590

The Hotel Route-Inn Sapporo Chuo is a wonderful hotel located near Susukino station. I personally have stayed at this hotel and the service and hospitality which they gave were excellent. The last time I stayed here I forgot my iPad charger and emailed them to send it to me and I will pay for the fees. I got an email from the hotel manager saying that it was sent and upon getting it I found out that the hotel paid for the mail fee for me. I am really grateful for what the hotel has done for me. I would recommend this place to anyone who wants good and quality service.

Cross Hotel Sapporo

  • http://www.crosshotel.com/eng_sapporo/

This is the first ever hotel I stayed at in Hokkaido. This hotel is located not far from Sapporo station and is quite unique. The architectural design is quite nice and looks like a very hip modern business hotel. The check-in counter is on the second floor and the views are fantastic. The room I got had a view of Odori Park and the Sapporo TV Tower. If you are looking for a hotel closer to Sapporo station then I would suggest this hotel.

Cross Hotel Sapporo Key cards

Cross Hotel Sapporo Key cards

Spa Hotel SOLE Susukino

  • http://www.solesusukino.com

Is a capsule-cabin hotel catering to guys. If you are traveling alone then this might be the best place to stay since it is cheap and located right in the red light district Susukino. The hotel itself is around 10 minutes away by foot from Susukino subway station.

The hotel also has its own spa to use so it is a really good deal. After a tiring day of traveling and partying you will need that hot spa to help your body recover. The staff also knows how to speak English so it is foreigner friendly.

==Getting Around==

The easiest way to get around Sapporo is by foot. It is actually not a long walk from Sapporo station to Susukino area. Even during the harsh winter many people choose to walk the distance because it saves them money and because they have a huge under ground walk path from Sapporo station all the way to Susukino.

Other really good ways to travel around Sapporo is by the subway or by bus. This however, depends on where your destination is going to be. If you plan on to go to the Sapporo beer factory then taking the bus would be the easiest way since it stops right in front of the factory. If you are planning to go to the Shiroi Koibito factory, then subway is the better way to go.

Snow Festival

The Snow Festival or Yuki Matsuri in Japanese is the largest and most well-known winter festival in Japan. It is usually held on the second week of February and during that time many travelers from Japan and all around the world would fly over to see this amazing event. Every year they create different ice sculptures; some made by the locals, some by professionals all around the world. Aside from only looking at ice sculptures, they do have some with illuminations and 3D mappings.

The Snow Festival is broken down into three parts: Susukino, Odori Park and Tsudome sites. Each of these sites has their own specialized theme; Susukino for local ice sculptures, Tsudome for kids snow park and Odori the main attraction of the whole Snow Festival. If you have the time I would suggest going to all three of the sites but if not then I would recommend going to the Susukino and Odori Park sites since they are the main attractions.

Aside from getting beautiful view of huge ice and snow sculptures with 3D mapping and illuminations, there are many food stalls which serve many of Hokkaido's local food like skewered venison, hot milk, miso ramen, etc. If you a food adventurer and love to try new kinds of food I would suggest come during this festival to sample local delicacies you won't be able to get in other parts of Japan.

3D Mapping of an ice/snow sculpture @Odori Park site

3D Mapping of an ice/snow sculpture @Odori Park site

Illumination on an ice/snow sculpture @Odori Park site

Illumination on an ice/snow sculpture @Odori Park site

More 3D mapping @Odori Park site

More 3D mapping @Odori Park site

Love Live! ice sculptures @Odori Park site

Love Live! ice sculptures @Odori Park site

Ice sculptures by locals @Susukino site

Ice sculptures by locals @Susukino site

Ice sculptures by locals 2 @Susukino site

Ice sculptures by locals 2 @Susukino site

Posted by Ohana_Matsumae 04:44 Archived in Japan Tagged mountains night food fish salmon ice snowboard rice castle festival seafood hokkaido otaru sapporo onsen ice_cream gourmet powder matsuri genghis ramen niseko matsuyama hakodate soup_curry genghis_khan kaisen_don seafood_don jigoku_ramen furano asahikawa hotate snow_festival sapporo_tv_tower jigoku gengis ebi kaisen ehime imabari soul_food yakibuta_tamago_meshi negi_yaki tonpei_yaki Comments (0)

Nagasaki, Trading port to the West

Introduction

Nagasaki City is located in Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu Island. Through out its long history, the city itself has seen many changes due to it being an important and only trading port with the West during the Edo period of Japan. If you are interested in Japanese history then Nagasaki City is for you. This place is full of history, every road you walk down and every curve you take you can see historical structures and monuments left from different eras of Japanese history.

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Food

Nagasaki is a place greatly influences by the Chinese and the West and it shows in their cuisine as well. You have noodle dishes influenced by the Chinese like Champon to Saraudon and Western influenced dishes like Toruko Rice to Castella.

Champon is a soup noodle dish that is very different from ramen. The broth is made from chicken and pork bones while for the noodles they use egg noodles instead of the normal ramen noodles. As for topping cabbage, various kinds of seafood, pork, kamaboko and is finished with a touch of green onions on top.

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Saraudon is a noodle dish on a plate. Egg noodles that's pan heated until crisp is used as base while kamaboko, chicken, pork, cabbage, and various seafood is added as topping. This dish is very similar to a dish in Chinese cuisine called 'Guangdong chow mein'.

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Toruko rice or Turkey rice is a dish with Western influence. This dish is actually a mishmash of many different things. One half of the dish is covered in white rice while the other half is in spaghetti. In the middle is a friend pork cutlet with curry sauce dumped over the whole dish. There definitely isn't anything Turkish about it but it does combine East and West together to create this dish.

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Castella the dessert of Nagasaki. Most Japanese people who visits Nagasaki will bring back Castella as souvenirs for their family, friends and colleagues. This is how famous and popular it is in Japan. It was brought by the Portuguese to Japan during the 16th century. Castella is a type of sponge cake made into a long rectangular shape. If you drop by Nagasaki and is thinking of what to get as souvenir, let me give you a hint, it starts with C.

Attractions

Since Nagasaki City is full of historical tourist attractions, no matter where you go or walk you will see one every here and there. Walking around you will see statues, Chinese related monuments, churches and shrines. By learning the history of Nagasaki you will see how it has become the place it is today, multicultural.

When people talk about Nagasaki everybody will automatically think of atomic bomb and peace park. Well they are right. The A-Bomb museum and the Peace Park are the two top attractions of the city. They are located near the tram station Matsuyamamachi and is around a 5-10 minute walk. If you are a history fanatic then I would suggest you to drop by these two places because it will make you relive that moment before and after the dropping of the atomic bomb.

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Not far from JR Nagasaki station is the Dejima tram stop. Here lies the reconstruction of the man-made island Dejima for Portuguese merchants. During the sakoku, or when Japan was closed up during the Edo period up until Perry's blackships, the West and the Chinese were only allowed to trade within this area. Dejima is really an interesting attraction to go to and have a walk around. You can feel what the traders felt back in those days under the Tokugawa regime.

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Nagasaki has one of the three only Chinatowns in Japan. While the one in Yokohama is known for fine dining and the one in Kobe known for street foods, Nagasaki's Chinatown is known for both. Champon and Saraudon are the most famous and well-known here by visitors and travelers. This Chinatown is actually the smallest of the three but still worth going to and explore. You might find something different which you cannot find in the other two Chinatowns.

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Gunkanjima or Hashima is an island near the city of Nagasaki. Though you can not head to the island alone by yourself, there are tours by several different companies who can take you there. Most of the island is off limits but there is a pathway constructed for tours to go within the island and back out. Being on the island gives you and idea on how those people back then lived.

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Nagasaki is also home to one of the three famous night views of Japan atop of Mount Inasa. You can get there from Nagasaki station by bus or take the tram to there nearest station Takaramachi and then either walk or take the taxi there. Upon arriving at the base of the mountain there is a Nagasaki Ropeway which takes you all the way up to the observation deck level. The ropeway costs 720 yen one way or 1230 yen for a round trip ticket. This is a really great scenic view and I do highly recommend it if you have the time to go up Mount Inasa and see Nagasaki's past, present and future come together as one for a special romantic view.

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Posted by Ohana_Matsumae 09:24 Archived in Japan Tagged park mountain rice nagasaki peace atomic bomb udon dejima inasa jr castella toruko_rice toruko champon saraudon abomb Comments (0)

Okinawa, The ropeway to the South

Introduction

Okinawa is situated in the middle of South China Sea and in between Taiwan and Kyushu. The word Okinawa can be broken down in to 2 characters, 'oki' meaning open sea and 'nawa' meaning rope, and it basically means ropeway within the sea. It probably does not make much sense looking at it the way it is, however if you look at the Okinawan Islands on a satellite image, it actually looks like a rope connecting Kyushu to Taiwan and the rest of Asia. This is the reason why I came to name this blog entry "the ropeway to the south".

Okinawa prefecture itself is formed by many islands within the South China Sea. The more notable islands are Miyakojima and Yaeyamajima. All these tiny islands form the Ryukyu islands with the furthest one being near Taiwan.

In this blog entry I am going to focus on the main island of Okinawa since I have spent sometime working and living there. I would like to deliver the message of how good a place Okinawa really is and what it has to offer.

Food

The food within Okinawa might make you have second thoughts about coming here since none of it resembles what you have encountered as what Japanese cuisine is. This is true since Okinawa culture is much more closely related to Chinese culture, therefore the food also followed the same path. Here I will name a few famous dishes that you will often here people say or encounter during your stay in Okinawa.

The first dish that I am going to talk about is the goya champuru. It is basically a stir fry dish with goya, tofu, vegetables, and spam. The usual stir fry sauce which they use varies, some like to use soy sauce while others would just use salt. It is also true that you would hardly hear or even see spam dishes with in the rest of Japan however because Okinawan is influences by the US, spam became a part of their food culture.

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The next dish I would like to talk about is called Taco Rice and is my favourite dish. To easily describe this dish would be taco toppings on white rice. If I have to explain it in more detail then if would be minced meat, lettuce, tomato sauce, tomato slices, and cheese on white rice. Kind of reminds you of Loco Moco doesn't it? You can add a little Tabasco to it if you like spiciness and it does create a whole new dimension to the dish. How do you eat it? Well you mix everything together and try to get everything in one bite. Believe me, one bite is what it takes to fall in love with this dish.

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Every Japanese prefecture has its own noodle dish and Okinawa is no exception. Okinawa soba is a well know dish and is one of locals favourite fast food. If you are expecting a very Japanese-ish taste to this dish then I am sorry to shatter your dreams because it tastes nothing like the Tonkotsu ramen you had in Hakata nor the Miso ramen you had in Sapporo. The soup is actually made with pork and bonito stock and salt is added for flavouring. So you actually have a much clear taste of pork than the thick Tonkotsu ramen soup you had in Fukuoka. The soup reminds you of 'shio' soup base ramen rather than Tonkotsu soup base. The noodles are called soba but its not what you think. Okinawa soba is made of flour and not buckwheat, that is why it much more thick and has a yellowish colour to it. They finish this dish off with kamaboko, sallions and a piece of san-mai niku (pork belly). There is another version of Okinawa Soba called Soki Soba where it is topped with pork spare ribs Okinawan style (soki).

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If you head to any izakaya in Okinawa, you will sure find a dish called Umi-budo or sea grapes. They are like little green fish roes with a strong salty flavour to it. There are people who like it and there are those who hates it. Since you are all the way in Okinawa, why not give it a try and see if you are the like it group or hate it group?

Umi-budo is the neon green thing on the left hand side.

Umi-budo is the neon green thing on the left hand side.

There are two types of famous desserts in Okinawa and they are sata andagi and zenzai. Sata andagi is actually deep fried dough balls, kind of like the Tim Hortons' Timbits but imagine it being larger. If you miss Tim Hortons Timbits while on vacation in Okinawa, grab some sata andagi instead and trust me it will make you feel you have never left home.

The next one is zenzai. Within Japan 'zenzai' basically mean azuki bean soup, however in Okinawa it is kind of different. When you order zenzai, you do not only get the azuki bean soup, but you get shaved ice on top with toppings of your choice. The usual toppings are mochi and condensed-milk. This is a favourite dessert among locals especially during the summer time to cool down your body and regain some liquid. If you are heading to Okinawa then this is a must try.

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Attractions

Since Okinawa is quite big, the attractions are scattered all around the island. The most notable ones will be Churaumi Aquarium, American Village, Pineapple Park, Shuri Castle and Kokusai-dori. While the lesser known ones would be Himeyuri and the Peace Memorials, Okinawa World and Ryukyu-mura. Let me first take you through the more notable ones.

Churaumi Aquarium is located in the city of Nago in Okinawa, which a little big above the center of the island. This aquarium is the largest aquarium in Japan and has a tank that's filled with multiple whale sharks. There are also many other sea creatures you will find in the aquarium which can only be seen with in Okinawan waters. Outside of the aquarium is a park called Ocean Expo Park and is broken down into three regions. By going through all three regions you can see the history of Okinawa as well as the ocean life of nearby waters. If you come to the aquarium the dolphin show is a must see.

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American Village is an entertainment and shopping complex in the Chatan area of Okinawa. It is called American Village because it wants to make the Americans who are currently working in the military to feel like they are back home. However, if you have been to American you will definitely feel like the US. This is all the image of what Japanese think and feel like America really is. Walking around this complex makes you feel you are in vintage America.

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Pineapple Park is located in Nago city and is a park for tourist to ride a automatic golf car around the pineapple field while listening to tapes of recordings explaining about pineapples. If you have kids this might be a great place to visit since it is fun riding around in those cars. Near the exit there is a place for you to refresh with some free all-you-can-eat pineapples.

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Shuri Castle is located in Naha city and can be easily accessed by the Yui monorail train. Do not let the word castle fool you in Shuri castle because it definitely does not resemble of castles which you see in Japan. This is more of a Chinese court rather than a Japanese castle but however since it is named that way we will stick that. The most outstanding part about this castle is the use of colouring. The whole castle itself is red with colourful pictures of dragons all around it. This building kind of reminds you of Forbidden City in China but on a smaller scale. If you want something different for a change, visiting Shuri Castle will definitely make your day more interesting.

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Kokusai-dori or international street is the heart of Naha tourism. This street is full of great dining restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops. It is also close to the Makishi Ichiba (famous fish market in Okinawa) and the entertainment district of Matsuyama. You will have the best experience here if you choose this area for your stay.

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Now for the lesser known places.

Himeyuri and the Peace Memorials are located in Itoman city (southern part of the island). These two attractions are closely related to World War II and the Battle of Okinawa. Himeyuri Tower is a memorial dedicated to the nurses who took part in adding the Japanese troops during the battle and died, while the Peace Memorial is dedicated to those veteran soldiers who gave their life during the war. If you are history person then this place is a must go for you.

Okinawa World is located in Itoman city and is a part theme park walking ad part cave exploring. You go spelunking and explore old Okinawan style houses and culture. There is also lessons on Habu, one of the poisonous snakes you can find in Okinawa as well as daily Eisa dances (Okinawan style dance). It is a fantastic place to go for couples, family with or without kids.

Ryukyu-mura is located in Onna-son in the middle part of the island. This is another Okinawan culture theme park but much more houses to explore and more to learn about. This is for people who want to learn something new during their trip to Okinawa.

Anime Relation

In every blog post I try to incorporate some anime relation to the place I am talking about. There are anime that takes places in Okinawa where some have special episodes which takes place there. Off of my mind I can think of 'Asobi ni Ikuyo' and the 'Monogatari series'. I haven't seen the former so I cannot say anything about that. The latter one is a modern classic and probably all anime fans knows about it. There is an episode where the main female protagonist flies to Okinawa to meet with a guy named Kaiki. There are drawings of them being at the Naha Airport, the Churaumi Aquarium and the Shuri Castle.

Posted by Ohana_Matsumae 08:03 Archived in Japan Tagged beach rice castle okinawa aquarium naha nago anime tofu taco pineapple shuri churaumi spam soba shisa itoman goya champuru Comments (0)

Takayama, The Hidden Gem of Gifu Prefecture

Introduction

Takayama(高山) is located in Gifu Prefecture located in the Chubu region of mainland Japan. It is sandwiched in between Fukui in the north, Aichi in the south, Nagano from the east and Shiga from the west. The region is called Hida-Takayama and is most well known for their beef as Hida beef is one of the top ranked beef in Japan along with Kobe beef.

The region was formerly known as the Hida Province where Nagachika Kanamori was the lord of the region. Since Takayama is such a common city name around Japan this city is mostly known as Hida-Takayama(飛騨高山) instead. Takayama derives from two kanji letters 'Taka(高)' meaning tall or high and 'Yama(山)' meaning mountain. Since Gifu is a prefecture surrounded by mountains and nowhere near the ocean, it gives you a different experience by coming here.

Food

The most famous gourmet within Hida-Takayama has to be their beef. You can actually find Hida-beef being used in various different styles of cooking from ramen topping to side dish to yakiniku. My favourite of all would be savouring the Hida-beef yakiniku style because it really brings out the true taste and texture of the meat.

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Hida beef musubi

Hida beef musubi

Hoba Miso Yaki(朴葉味噌焼き) is a traditional dish eaten in the Hida region of Gifu. You can find it as souvenir in most places in Hida-Takayama or Shirakawa-Go if you plan on going up. This is a dish made with green onions and miso paste wrapped in a magnolia leaf and being grilled under a fire. I was fortunate to have this dish during my trip to Shirakawa-Go and it was off the charts. The sweetness of the miso paste and the little spiciness from the green onions really works well together. It makes a great sauce for Hida beef or topping on a bowl of white rice.

Hoba Miso Yaki grilled with Hida beef

Hoba Miso Yaki grilled with Hida beef

Since we are still in Japan we can not get out of the grasp of Japanese' favourite comfort food, ramen. Takayama ramen is different from all other ramen like you had in the rest of Japan. The soup base is mainly made with chicken stock and mirin while they also add a special sauce of soy sauce and katsuo on top. Before you eat, you are to mix the sauce and the soup together in creating an extraordinary flavour that you will not forget. If you like chicken soup based ramen then this one is for you, if not it is still worth a try since some shops does offer Hida beef as a topping rather than regular pork.

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Anime Relation

Hida-Takayama is mostly known for its relation to an anime called 'Hyouka' meaning Ice Candy. Many anime lovers from all around Japan and the world come to visit this place especially during the Ikibina-matsuri. During this matsuri people will get the chance to see the real festival which the anime depicted and also get to participate in a stamp rally. You can get different items by completing different routes. Some routes requires you to take the train while others you just walk around the area.

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Ikibina-matsuri is a festival where girls dresses up like Hina dolls and walk from a starting point to an ending point. The festival starts off at a shrine called Minashi Jinja (水無神社) in Hida-Ichinomiya walk a huge circle and then back to the shrine. The reason for this festival is to pray for the happiness for girls as well as having a prosperous year in farming. Nine unmarried girls are chosen and would walk this path every year on April 3rd. At the end of the festival they allow people to take pictures with them. During this festival every shop, hotel and inn will have a set of hina dolls as display to show their support.

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Posted by Ohana_Matsumae 21:04 Archived in Japan Tagged mountain ice festival candy yakiniku beef anime matsuri ramen dolls takayama hida hina hyouka gifu Comments (0)

Kanazawa, The City of Gold.

Introduction

Kanazawa (金沢) is located in Ishikawa prefecture in the Hokuriku region of Japan, which is situated along the west coast of the main island facing the Sea of Japan. Like Kyoto, Kanazawa is a city of modernity with reminiscence of history that can be traced quite far back in history. Not many people mention nor visit Kanazawa because it is too hard to access from all the major international airports. There is currently no Shinkansen that runs to the Hokuriku region either until late 2015, but that is what makes this place a true hidden gem of Japan.

People might ask what Kanazawa means? Well "Kana(金)" means gold while the last part "Zawa(沢)" means swamp or marsh. This area was ruled during the Sengoku era by the Maeda clan, and the most notable of them all was Maeda Toshiie, who was the founder of the Kaga domain. As told by native Kanazawans, there is a legend to the name Kanazawa. It was said that there was once a potato farmer named Togoro and one day he found a sack full of gold flakes. While he was on his way to buy food and clothing he came along this rice paddy where a flock of wild goose were and tried to find a rock to throw at them to scare them off. Unfortunately he couldn't find any and threw his sack full of gold flakes. When he got back he was scolded by his wife Wago, but said in defense that "we can make it back or maybe even more by selling our potatoes." After that they went to their field to harvest some potatoes, and while washing them at a near by fountain, a stream of gold flakes came out instead and became rich. This route is recognized by the Kaga clan and a well with in Kenrokuen (one of the 3 famous landscape gardens in Japan) called "Kinjo Reitaku" was created to commemorate this event.

Food

Even though the Kaga province does no exist anymore, the cuisine which they have had back then still remains. Things they would eat are dishes like 'jibuni' (治部煮) which is a soup dish with duck meat. The duck is covered in flour before it is cooked in a pot with a sukiyaki like soup base. Other things they would add to the dish are vegetables and jibuni meatballs. Jibuni meat balls are made from the remaining bones and meat still stuck on the bones and grinding them in to a fine paste. Then they form them into balls and cook them in the sukiyaki soup. Other dishes they will serve along side are all made with local vegetables and seafood.

Aside from traditional cuisine, Kanazawa has created many modern gourmet food items which are currently only available within Kanazawa while some are spreading all around Japan and the world. One of these item is Kanazawa Curry. The thing which makes Kanazawa Curry so different from the other curries around Japan is that the sauce is much more thick and brown like gravy. They also like to serve cabbage as a topping along with the curry. The taste is much richer and because the curry is too thick, they prepare a fork for you to eat instead of a spoon.

Other special creations you can find within the city are Melon pan Ice and Coronette Ice. Melon-pan Ice is where they put two of Japan's favourite desserts together as one. Melon-pan is a round-shaped bread with a crusted layer on the top covered in sugar with patterns made to imitate a melon. They will cut it in half and put either vanilla or chocolate ice cream inside, kind of like the modern day classic Ice Cream sandwich in the west. If you have a tooth for sweet-things, this is a must try when you head to Kanazawa. The other one is called Coronette Ice and it looks just like a swirl of ice cream on top of a freshly baked Coronette.

Attractions

There are plenty of sightseeing places just within the city of Kanazawa alone, both modern and traditional. What beats getting off of the train at a station and already being at one of those famous sightseeing spots within the city? Kanazawa is just that. After you get off the train at Kanazawa station you are greeted by the 2 newly finished structures of Omotenashi Dome and Tsuzumimon (both finished in 2005). Omotenashi Dome is a huge glassed-roof complex which also holds a stage for various events to take place. If you walk further down to the main street you will see a huge bronze coloured wooden gate like object called Tsuzumimon. This may look like a gate but the concept was for it to be made like a 'tsuzumi' which is a type of single-handed drum used in Noh plays. Since Noh drama is deeply rooted into Kanazawan culture, they made the choice of using it as a greeting symbol to receive travelers and visitors.

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Right in the heart of the city is where Kanazawa Castle once stood before it was burnt down in 1888. There is a reconstruction project going on but however only part of it has been restored up to this date. Beside the castle ruins is a huge Japanese style landscape garden called Kenrokuen. This is one of the three most famous Japanese gardens in Japan along with Korakuen in Okayama and Kairakuen in Mito. You can walk along the same paths during different times of the season and have a totally different experience and feel. During the winter time they have illuminations and also coils called 'yukitsuri' wrapped around the trunks and branches to prevent the snow from damaging the trees.

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What is a trip to Japan without visiting samurai districts? This 'bukeyashiki' (samurai district) within the Nagamachi district is well preserved and you can really feel that you are actually walking back in time when it was still feudal Japan. You can see many of the mud and stone walls and 'komo' or straw mats that act like covers to shelter the walls from being worn away by snow in the winter.

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Anime relation

The city of Kanazawa has grown in popularity since 2011 since the anime 'Hanasaku Iroha' came out. Since then, many more Japanese as well as people from all around the world come to visit the city and see the anime sites. The story of 'Hanasaku Iroha' takes place in a nearby hot springs town called 'Yuwaku' where a 16 year old girl try to live a new life working for her grandmother's 'ryokan' (Japanese styled inn) called 'Kissuiso'. While Kissuiso does not really exist, many of the other structures, buildings and scenery are actually drawn from real life. The most recognizable will be the welcome sign to Yuwaku Hotsprings with all the different 'ryokan' names written under it. Other recognizable spots are the samurai district, Tsuzumimon and the Shiinoki Cultural Complex building of Ishikawa Prefecture.

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There is a festival called 'Bonbori matsuri' which takes place around the 2nd week of October to commemorate the anime. The festival itself actually developed within the anime. For this festival, people will write their wishes on wooden boards and then they put it in to a wooden cart and sends them off for it to come true in the near future. During the festival there will also be paper lanterns lighted up with wishes written on them being sailed off in a river nearby. If you are interested in anime or want to see something amazing and spectacular, I would recommend at least coming to see this once.

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Posted by Ohana_Matsumae 08:55 Archived in Japan Tagged city castle gold ice_cream anime kanazawa melon kenrokuen jibuni tsuzumimon coronette hanasaku_iroha Comments (0)

Life in Nagano Prefecture

During my stay in Japan I have lived in Nagano Prefecture twice on separate occasions. I was placed to work as a gondola operator at a famous ski resort with in the Hakuba Village called 'Hakuba 47 Wintersports Park'. At first the job was tough, needing to wake up 5am in the morning, eat breakfast and make it to be before 6:30am. From there on all the lift and gondola operators will gather for a quick meeting before we set in to two teams. One team will work at the summit while the other will work at the base.

First of all the Team Leader at the base will decide who goes into the operator's room at the base to control the out going of the gondolas and constant relay of information with the summit operator as well as the members doing visual maintenance of the cable towers. The Team Leader will then push the few gondolas out before spacing the last few out so they will synchronize with the inputted time and ratio.

Members doing the visual check has a tough task ahead of them. They need to constantly check out for snow and ice build up in between the cable line and the wheels. After the check up, the members were to help push the gondolas out and help set up for opening. The base crew would return back after everything is finished and help with the setting up of the base.

Before the start of work rotation would be decided first and work will start. The members would rotate roles every half an hour so that people doing the gondola attendant job or ticket usher job would not freeze. For the base job there are 5 different roles: Operator, Ticket Usher, Lift Attendant (Ascending Line), Lift Attendant (Descending Line) and a person on break/watch out. As for the summit there are 3 different roles: Operator, Lift Attendant and a person on break/watch out.

The hardest thing about this job is being able to watch out for the wind while controlling the speed of the gondolas. You do not want the cars to shake that much because it might lead it to bump into the cable towers or cause derailment. The priority is always to deliver a safe ride for the customers and if in any case you feel that it is too dangerous you can just stop the running of the gondola for the time being.

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Posted by Ohana_Matsumae 08:53 Archived in Japan Tagged snow mountain ski snowboard resort nagano gondola hakuba powder Comments (0)

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