Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thank You 2017

Grateful for...
  • my source of income which is my sole source for travel funds: my job.
  • my manager for approving all my planned leaves.
  • no urgent tasks/deadlines scheduled when I was on leave.
  • God for keeping me safe and, when I was not in the pink of health, I was at least not totally down while on travel.
  • my good friend from highschool and her family for the hospitality when I visited Tandag (Surigao del Sur): for picking me up at the airport, feeding me, letting me stay at her house, showing me around, accompanying me to Cabgan Island in Barobo, and contacting her aunt's driver when I had to go to Butuan because my flight from Tandag to Cebu was cancelled and changed to Butuan to Cebu.
  • my friend's aunt's driver for picking me up at the bus terminal and finding me a cheap but clean transient hotel so late at night.
  • my friend and her family for taking me to Laswitan Lagoon. Unfortunately, there was no "laswit" at that time (late February). They say the best time to go for a higher chance of seeing the "laswit" is from November to January, and surely when there is a typhoon coming!
  • another friend for letting Baktin and me stay in his house in Toledo, for showing us around his city, and for taking us to Malubog Lake and the hidden local's hideout through the tunnel.
  • Centro Coron for sponsoring two nights stay.
  • Brennan of Baktin Corporation for striking a deal with Kawil Tours for the 30% discount.
  • my butt for not wanting a toilet while out at sea when it was battling a bad case of diarrhea.
  • girl/boy scout travel buddies for donating medicine for the above!
  • having a toilet on the islands of Malcapuya and Banana. Because diarrhea. Ugh.
  • PAL for providing free accommodation, meals, and airport transfers when they cancelled the flight back to Cebu.
  • my brother for volunteering to drive from San Remegio to Cebu City. Because I am a lazy ass driver.
  • my sister's friend for volunteering to take her car to Moalboal and driving to/from Basdiot for lunch/dinner so we could find something to eat.
  • the chance to try out Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) with friends. I enjoyed it and SUPed thrice this year!
  • website translate tools. Though it doesn't do a perfect job, at least I get to find the information I need.
  • all the random strangers who answered my email inquiries when I was preparing for my trip to the Chubu region of Japan. I know it is their job, but I am amazed that they respond promptly (unlike in the Philippines where email addresses are provided but most of the time does not work or is not answered).
  • patience and keeping my cool when Cebu Pacific cancelled the second leg of my flight when I had already arrived in Manila.
  • my friend for adopting me for a night when I was stuck in Manila because of above.
  • those who have taken time to leave a comment.
  • passers-by, people who have taken the time to read one or two of my blogposts, and loyal readers (if there are any?)—forgive me for I have been very lazy in updating this blog this year. 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

What's in a (Business) Name? Sesenta y ocho

You'll have a relaxing time here. I am 200% positive!
Spotted along Rizal Avenue Ext., Puerto Princesa City, Palawan

For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

What's in a (Business) Name? Sesenta y siete

Have a cup of joe at 14°30'34.81"N, 121°0'48.12"E
Spotted in NAIA Terminal 2 by Zhequia of FTW! Food, Travel, and Whatevs
Thanks Zhequia!


For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wisdom from the Road #57

On waking up early
They say: The early bird gets the worm.
I say: The early bird gets to avoid the crowd.

I probably won't make a good travel buddy because I wake up early (no matter how much I want to sleep in, I always wake up early) and go to wherever it is I am going before everyone else has had breakfast. The advantage of this is that I get to enjoy the place (especially if it's a touristy one) before the droves of people come.

Exhibit A: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto. The beautiful photos we see on the internet that had us putting the bamboo grove on our to–visit list is always a picture of tranquility. To catch this zen moment means arriving early.

There were only half a dozen souls at the bamboo grove at 830am.

I arrived at the grove around 830AM and there were only five or six other people there. When I passed by the grove again in the afternoon, around 2PM, it was flooded with people. It was an "expectation versus reality" moment, and not a smidgen of zen.

The 2pm crowd

I have no Exhibit B, but you get my drift.

Monday, October 30, 2017

What's in a (Business) Name? Sesenta y seis

Imagine all the people lemons, living for today...
only to end up in a plastic cup to quench your thirst.
Spotted in SM City Dasmarinas by Zhequia of FTW! Food, Travel, and Whatevs
Thanks Zhequia!

For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 4.5: Todaiji, Yoshiki-en, and Kofukuji in Nara Park

November 26, 2016
1PM (very hungry!)

Next mission: lunch near Nara Park. Big mistake. All the hungry people have converged in restaurants near the park, specifically in Yume Kaze Plaza. Because it is near a tourist area, meals here are expensive. But I am too hungry to find a cheaper option. I add to the long line for Tenpyoan Cafe and wait my turn.

After eating a ton of carbs (rice and noodles for energy!), it is time to join the hordes of tourists in Todaiji to visit the world's largest bronze Buddha.

Todaiji
東大寺
Todaiji's Daibutsuden:
April to October 730AM to 530PM
November to March 8AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 600 yen

I dodge tourists and deer as I walk towards Todaiji's Nandaimon (Great South Gate). I hate crowded places but a place as famous as Todaiji and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site? I just have to see it!

With every person I brush past, my expectation of Todaiji goes down a notch. In my head, the number of tourists is inversely proportional to the site's ability to make me go "wow". But, Todaiji, you prove me wrong. The humongous, ancient-looking wooden gate (Todaiji's Nandaimon, the largest temple entrance gate in Japan, designated as a National Treasure), the two dusty, old, wooden guardians (Kongo Rikishi, built in the year 1203, also National Treasures) residing in the gate, and the Daibutsuden or Great Buddha Hall (the largest wooden structure in the world) make me understand why many people come to see this place.

Nandaimon

One of the two Kongo Rikishi

Daibutsuden or Great Buddha Hall

The Great Buddha Hall up close

In the center of the Great Buddha Hall is one great—no, gigantic—bronze Buddha! The Daibutsu or Vairocana Buddha is also a National Treasure. My neck almost snaps as I tilt my head, straining to see the Buddha's head. (I am exaggerating, but believe me, it's big!)

Daibutsu

Inside the hall are other ancient looking statues, scale models of Todaiji from different periods, and a long line of people waiting...to crawl through a hole in a column! The hole is said to be the same size as the Daibutsu's nostril and whoever can crawl through it will be granted enlightenment in his or her next life. I don't attempt to crawl through it because I know I will only plug the hole and prevent the rest of the visitors from finding out if they'll find enlightenment in their next life.


Scale models of Todaiji

Somebody's going to receive enlightenment in her next life

There are smaller buildings and a museum in the temple grounds but I skip those and go to the small lake with a wooden boat. Some people take a break on the benches around the lake, some go for a bit of souvenir shopping in the shops by the lake, others, including me, treat themselves to a cone of soft serve ice cream (mine is peach—it's really good!).


Peach-flavored soft serve ice cream

Since Yoshiki-en, a garden recommended by Yoshiko, the Naramachi Walking Tour guide from this morning, is just nearby and free for foreigners, I swing by. (Isui-en, another garden, is also nearby, but requires an admission fee of 900 yen. Zero yen versus 900 yen? Easy choice.)

Yoshiki-en
吉城園
9AM to 5PM
Closed February 15 to 28
Admission fee: 250 yen (free for foreign tourists, just present your passport)

In Yoshiki-en I walk through a pond garden, a moss garden, and a tea ceremony garden. It is late in autumn and most of the leaves have already fallen off, but still I find the garden beautiful and peaceful (zen!), especially the moss garden.

Pond garden



Moss garden


Since the Naramachi Walking Tour this morning only skirted past Kofukuji, I decide to give it a thorough visit and check it off my World Heritage Site list. It's just an 8-minute walk from Yoshiki-en.

Students practicing their music near Kofukuji

Kofukuji
興福寺
Temple grounds open 24 hours

National Treasure Museum
9AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 700 yen

Eastern Golden Hall
9AM to 5PM
Admission fee: 300 yen

Combination ticket (National Treasure Museum and Eastern Golden Hall): 900 yen

Kofukuji, designated as a World Heritage Site, was established in the year 710 and some time in the past had as many as 150 buildings. Today, only a few of the buildings remain: the Tokondo (Eastern Golden Hall), five-storied pagoda, three-storied pagoda, and two octagonal halls (northern and southern). The Central Golden Hall is currently being reconstructed and scheduled to be opened in October 2018.

Kofukuji's Tokondo (Eastern Golden Hall) and Five-storied Pagoda

The current structure of the Tokondo (Eastern Golden Hall) was built in 1415 (the original was built in 726 and destroyed by fire and rebuilt five times). Inside the Tokondo are bronze and wooden images of Buddha, designated by Japan as either a National Treasure or an Important Cultural Property, some dating back to the 7th or 8th century. In the nearby National Treasure Museum are more Buddhist statues and Buddhist art. (Taking photos inside the Tokondo and the National Treasure Museum is not allowed.)

Southern Octagonal Hall

Three-storied Pagoda

Having had my fill of Buddhist art and images, I head back to Hiloki Hostel to get my luggage and haul ass to the next city on my itinerary: Kyoto.


Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1.5: West Side of Koya Town
Wakayama: Days 1.75~2: Okunoin, Three Times
Nara: Sleep, Eat, and Explore Nara City
Nara: Day 3: Horyuji, Hokkiji, and some Japanecdotes in Ikaruga Town
Nara: Day 3.5: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
Nara: Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Nara: Day 4.25: Naramachi Walking Tour
Nara: Day 4.5: Todaiji, Yoshiki-en, and Kofukuji in Nara Park (you're here!)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 4.25: Naramachi Walking Tour

November 26, 2016
A few minutes before 10AM

I enter Kintetsu Nara Station and scan the faces to see if I can spot the female guide whose photo I had seen on the internet. I don't. I walk into the Tourist Information Center and inquire. They point me outside. Anywhere outside the Tourist Information Center is the meeting place.

A few minutes of standing around and scanning faces, a familiar looking woman hurries to where I am standing, asks if I am here for the tour and apologizes for being late (she's not really late, I am just early); she is Yoshiko Hatcho, the guide. Another Japanese woman joins us, she is here for the tour, too. We wait a minute or two more and no one else comes along. And so we start our Naramachi Walking Tour. (Woohoo! Just two guests—it is like a private tour!)

Outside the station we stop outside a fountain with a statue of Gyogi Bosatsu, a Buddhist monk who had many contributions to Japan not only in religion but also in civil works. In front of this statue monk was a real monk that seemed like a statue: standing silent and unmoving. The living, breathing statue monk is there every day with his little pot for alms, so the guide tells me.

 

We leave the two monks behind and walk in an alley beside the station where the guide points to a display of sushi wrapped in persimmon leaf—kakinoha-zushi, a specialty in Nara. I want to try a piece, but it is sold by box, so no can do. As we walk along, Yoshiko sees some shops displaying food and tells me about seasonal specialties (such as persimmons for autumn). She also sees a small altar tucked along an alley and tells me about Japan's religions: Shinto and Buddhism.

Plastic kakinoha-zushi on display

We reach Kofukuji, or at least the oldest structure in the temple complex: its three-storey pagoda. She tells me Kofukuji also has a five-storey pagoda, the second tallest pagoda in Japan, and that we will see it later. Near the three-storey pagoda, we observe some people pouring water over and praying to Jizo, the guardian of children and travelers.

Kofukuji's three-storey pagoda

Praying to Jizo

We leave Kofukuji, descend some concrete steps and cross the street to Sarusawa Pond, where, from across the pond, I can see Kofukuji's five-storey pagoda jutting behind some trees. We admire the reflections on the pond as Yoshiko tells us about the local life, and then we go southward to the houses and shops of the historic town, Naramachi.

Sarusawa Pond with Kofukuji's five-storey pagoda in the background

The streets of Naramachi are deserted. We see narrow houses side by side by side, along narrow streets. Yoshiko points to some details on the houses that I would otherwise have overlooked: the wooden nameplates by the doors and the fierce looking guardians sitting on rooftops to scare away evil spirits.

 Naramachi

Side by side

Shoo away, evil spirits!

The guide also tells us about the one thing that I did notice hanging by the door of many houses: red ball-like things made of cloth. These are called migawari-zaru; migawari means substitute, and zaru means monkey in Japanese. Each ball a good luck charm for each family member.

Migawari-zaru

We also see many interesting houses, shops, geisha houses and ochaya (tea house where geishas entertain patrons), houses that have been turned into cafes or restaurants, an old and very popular tea shop called Tamura Seihoen (open 10AM to 5PM; closed on Wednesdays), and Naramachi's oldest pharmacy called Kikuoka which sells traditional medicine.

Shops and cafes

Kikuoka Traditional Pharmacy

Yoshiko points to a simple looking establishment—Teahouse Tsuruya, an ochaya that serves lunch! I want to try it, but it is too expensive and reservation is probably needed since they can only accommodate up to ten persons a day for lunch.

Teahouse Tsuruya

We enter two lattice houses that are open to the public (free admission). One is Nigiwai-no-ie, built in 1917.

Nigiwai-no-ie
にぎわいの家
9AM to 5PM, Closed on Wednesdays

Yoshiko, the guide, opens a small door off to the side of the property and we enter into the garden. The flat stones lead to a tsukubai (wash basin to purify oneself before entering the tea room) and a small low door which opens into a tea ceremony room. Yoshiko tries the small door but it is locked and we have to go round to the main entrance. From the outside, the house looks small, but inside it is quite big, with the property stretching towards the back. The narrower the front, the smaller the land tax.

She leads us into the house and shows us the Japanese-style rooms with tatami mats and sliding doors, the traditional kitchen, and the tea ceremony room, where we spend a few minutes as she shows us the elements of a tea room.

Main entrance of Nigiwai-no-ie

Inside Nigiwai-no-ie

Nigiwai-no-ie's tea room and the tsukubai outside

Yoshiko inside the tea room

A few steps dozen steps from Nigiwai-no-ie is Gangoji, a UNESCO world heritage temple, but we don't go in. Instead we move to the southern portion of Naramachi and visit another lattice house, this time a reproduction of a machiya (merchant house) called Koshi-no-ie.

Koshi-no-ie
格子の家
10AM to 5PM, Closed on Mondays

A staff of the machiya shows us a big, plain-looking wooden door. Within that big wooden door (agedo) is a low, small sliding panel (kugurido), where residents of the house pass when the agedo is closed. But how does one open the agedo? It looks heavy! Amazingly, the staff effortlessly swings the agedo inward and upward and lets it hang on a hook so that it remains open.

By the entrance is the mise-no-ma, where the merchant can talk business with his customers. Along the corridor, the staff shows us how to open the high windows with the use of pulleys.

Clockwise from top left: agedo with the kugurido open,
high windows, tokonoma, mise-no-ma

The room next to the mise-no-ma is a tatami room with a hako-kaidan or box staircase, so called because it has drawers and cabinets beneath to save on space. Through the sliding doors is another tatami room with a tokonoma, an alcove with a scroll painting and an ikebana flower arrangement. I take pictures of the tokonoma, and Yoshiko tells me that to appreciate the art in the tokonoma, one has to sit seiza style. I take another photo, this time on my knees, with the scroll eye-level. Sitting seiza style, one also gets to appreciate the beauty of the inner garden just off to the right of the room.

Hako-kaidan (left) and the kitchen stove (right)

Inner garden

In the back end of the property is a storage house, a white building separate from the main house. If fire strikes the house, all the treasures in the storage house will be safe. Good thinking.

Storage house

Like any Japanese town, there are also temples and shrines. We stop by a shrine (Goryo Shrine) and Yoshiko points out the two komainu (lion-dog) standing one on each side of the red torii. One has its mouth open as if it's saying ahhh (a, the first letter in sanskrit) and the other has its mouth closed as if saying um, the last letter in sanskrit. Like alpha and omega, it signifies the beginning and the end.

Inside the shrine, Yoshiko shows me the Shinto way to pray, tells me about omikuji (fortune papers) and why some are tied to a tree, and answers all the random questions I have about Japan's two religions. We take a break in the shrine's gazebo in the center of its small garden, and just enjoy the serenity and the light late autumn breeze.

Goryo Shrine


Omikuji

Goryo Shrine's garden in late autumn

It is almost the end of our tour, Yoshiko tells me and the Japanese guest. We make our way to the Former Daijoin, our last stop, and to get there we have to cut through Jurin-in Temple. Before doing so, Yoshiko asks me if I don't mind passing through a cemetery. I don't. And we proceed to walk between headstones.

At Jurin-in

We end the tour with a view of the garden of the Former Daijoin. There Yoshiko gives us a rundown of the tour route, tracing it on a map she had produced from her bag.

Former Daijoin Garden

She asks me where I am headed next. So hungry, I forgot about going back to Gangoji Temple. All I could think of at the moment was lunch.

Naramachi Walking Tour
Saturdays 10AM to 1PM
See website for tour schedule.
Tour fee: 2000 yen per person



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan
Wakayama: Day 1.5: West Side of Koya Town
Wakayama: Days 1.75~2: Okunoin, Three Times
Nara: Sleep, Eat, and Explore Nara City
Nara: Day 3: Horyuji, Hokkiji, and some Japanecdotes in Ikaruga Town
Nara: Day 3.5: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
Nara: Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Nara: Day 4.25: Naramachi Walking Tour (you're here!)
Nara: Day 4.5: Todaiji, Yoshiki-en, and Kofukuji in Nara Park
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado