Thursday, August 3, 2017

Should we go to Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan and Tennoji Zoo?

I'm an animal lover. I love all animals except for ants, cockroaches and spiders... but I digress.

I've read a lot of different reviews, and I'm torn whether or not we should visit Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan and Tennoji Zoo in Osaka.

Whale shark at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan (Photo from Odigo)

First, let's talk about Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. Some say the aquarium is really nice and that you shouldn't miss it when you're in Osaka; others say it's a heartbreak for animal lovers. They pity the whale shark because it's put in a tank that's too small for it and with no vegetation. They say the penguins are stressed because people take pictures with the flash on even when flash photography is prohibited. They also say that the manta rays in the petting zoo have nowhere to hide when they want to get away from hands that poke at them.

Elephant in Tennoji Zoo (Photo from Welcome Kansai)

As for Tennoji Zoo, I've read similar stories. Some say they enjoyed going there; others say avoid it at all costs! They say the animals don't seem happy there, that they're obviously stressed and aren't in good condition, and that they're put into enclosures too small for them.

It's my principle to not patronize something that will encourage the mistreatment of animals. For example, I do not eat shark's fin siomai or soup because I do not want sharks killed just for their fins. And I will never buy dogs and cats from pet stores because I have seen (on YouTube) the abuse and mistreatment that goes on in puppy mills where the animals are bred. But I've never been to an aquarium or zoo as large as the ones in Osaka, and I'd like to go there. I'm not even sure what the reality is. Different people have different opinions.

To go or not to go? That is the question.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Gyudon in Japan is like a Starbucks drink???

Did you know that you can customize your gyudon or beef rice bowl in Japan like you can customize your Starbucks drink? I didn't know until a few minutes ago, but apparently you can at Yoshinoya, one of the three largest gyudon chains in Japan (the other two being Sukiya and Matsuya). There are supposedly as many ways to customize your gyudon as there are ways to customize your Starbucks drink, but here are two that I plan to try when we eat there:

  • tsuyudaku - extra gyudon sauce
  • atama no omori (アタマの大盛) - extra helping of meat

Gyudon @ Yoshinoya, SM Seaside Cebu
Another thing I've learned is that you have to specify the size when you order since gyudon comes in a range of sizes from kid-sized to mega-sized. We'll probably just order the nami (並盛) or normal-sized one. One person suggested in his blog to order the kid-sized gyudon plus side dishes of vegetables and miso soup to create a healthier, more balanced meal. That sounds like a good idea.

Beef Misono @ Yoshinoya, SM Seaside Cebu
To order a normal-sized gyudon with extra sauce, you say, "Gyudon nami tsuyudaku de." I want to try the one with green onions and egg on top so I should say, "Negitama gyudon nami tsuyudaku de." Or maybe I'll try getting one with an extra helping of meat and extra sauce: "Negitama gyudon atama no omori tsuyudaku de." Or I can just point to the picture and say, "Kore desu!" (This one!) ;-D

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Where to buy Ohgiya Noriten and Wasabi Aji Fried Ika in Japan

I've been researching where I can get the items in my Japan shopping list, and I realized that two of the items, which I really like, are either unknown to locals or not very popular in Japan.
wasabi seaweed tempura (noriten)

This wasabi fried squid is addicting!
For example, when I googled "where to buy ohgiya noriten in osaka" and "where to buy wasabi aji fried ika in osaka", most of the results I got were from Japan import/export companies. I saw someone on Tripadvisor ask where he could buy Ohgiya Noriten in Nagoya and the Japanese person trying to answer his question didn't know what he was talking about. I also asked our Airbnb host and he has never heard of both delicious Japanese snack items either. (I even messaged him the pictures just to be sure he knew what I was talking about.)

Then I asked my sister-in-law, who had given us some as pasalubong from her trip to Japan before, where she bought them. And guess what? She bought them at the airport.

So are Ohgiya Noriten and Wasabi Aji Fried Ika just for tourists? You know, like dried mangoes and otap for us? (Tourists always buy dried mangoes and otap as pasalubong when they come to Cebu but we locals rarely eat them. Well, speaking for myself anyway.)

Actually, our Airbnb host did say that maybe wasabi flavored snack items are popular in the Kantou area (around Shizuoka or Tokyo). In the Kansai area (especially in Kyoto), it's matcha flavored everything. So it's most probably more of a regional thing. Each region has its own specialty, and a person may not be familiar with another region's specialties. I know there are many times when someone goes home to some province and brings back a local delicacy that I've never heard of. It's probably like that.

Now I know that these two yummy treats are not native to Osaka, but I'm still hoping to find them in a Family Mart, 7-Eleven, Don Quijote or Matsumoto Kiyoshi. :-)

*A "pasalubong" is what Japanese people call "omiyage." It's a customary gift you give to your boss, colleagues or family when you get back from travel. It's kind of like a souvenir. But I think this custom is only practiced in some Asian countries? So you might now know what I'm talking about.

Friday, July 28, 2017

What To Buy In Japan (My Shopping List)

One of the things I am excited about is buying things from Japan that I either can't get / don't have enough choices of in my country or are cheaper when bought in Japan. And to make sure I don't miss anything, I'm making a list and checking it twice!

Here is my list of things to buy in Japan:

  • Kose Sekkisei Moist BB cream shade 01
  • My Sekkisei BB cream is running out! I don't think it'll last until November. :-(

  • cosmetics - I wonder if they have the Maybelline Age Rewind concealer in Japan. I've heard good things about it. I've been asking salesladies at the malls if they have it, but the answer is always "it hasn't been released in the Philippines yet."
  • Wasabi Aji Fried Ika わさび味いかフライ 
  • These wasabi flavored fried squid are very addicting.

  • Ohgiya noriten のり天
  • Ohgiya noriten tastes way better than the seaweed tempura available in our supermarkets!

  • takuan - daikon pickled in a rice bran-based fermenting medium rich in bacillus subtilis
  • shibazuke - chopped cucumbers and eggplant pickled in red shiso
  • ninniku misozuke - garlic cloves pickled in miso paste
  • takuan

ninniku misozuke

  • nori
  • furikake
  • green tea
  • Ippudo Instant Ramen 一風堂
  • Nissin Raoh Instant Ramen
  • Nissin Chilli Tomato Cup Noodle
  • Maruchan Instant Yakisoba
  • chopsticks and chopstick rests
  • Who can resist the cuteness of cats?!

  • Japan keychain - to replace my more-than-ten-year-old favorite Beautiful Malaysia keychain that I've had to glue together to keep the inner part from falling off
I love this keychain. It's just the right size. I like the design and metal quality; the edges are so smooth. It looks exactly the same from the other side. The inner circle spins around.

  • bag with a cat design - just because I like cats
    Look how cute these cat rucksacks are! Can't decide if I want the グレー (gurei or gray), ブラック (burakku or black), or アイボリー (aiborii or ivory).

  • Osaka and Kyoto refrigerator magnets - to start my refrigerator magnet collection of the places I've been to in Japan :-D

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Kyoto Bicycle Route (Plotted on Google Maps)

I was plotting our Kyoto bicycle route using Google Maps today and I wanted to save it, so I did some research. And yes, you can save routes! I'll post the link to where I found the instructions at the end of this post.

But first, here's the route I came up with:

We're staying in Osaka for the entire duration of our stay in Japan, so we'll have to take the train to Kyoto Station early in the morning. Luckily, Kyoto Eco Trip where we're going to rent bicycles is just a few minutes' walk away from Kyoto Station. Our Kyoto bicycle adventure starts there.

Bike to Gion 祇園.
  • Ride through Hanami-koji Dori 花見小路通, the heart of Gion found in tourist books. Wooden buildings - tea houses and restaurants - line both sides of the street.
  • Ride on to Shirakawa-minami Dori 白川南通 which is one of the most preserved streets in Kyoto. It is one of but a handful of streets in Kyoto that has both a traditional look and no telephone poles or wires.
  • Wander the back streets as well to escape the crowds.

Bike to Oshokuji Dokoro Asuka お食事処明日香 for lunch.

Bike to Nanzen-ji Temple 南禅寺.
  • Park bicycles in the small bicycle parking area near the main gate. 
  • Explore the Zen Buddhist temple complex, especially the Sanmon, the most famous temple gate at Nanzen-ji.

Bike to Philosopher’s Path 哲学の道.
  • Ride to the end of the 2-kilometer stone path, appreciating the autumn foliage along the way.

Bike to Kamo River 鴨川. 
  • Ride all the way down the riverside until Shiokoji-dori 塩小路通, where you turn right to reach Kyoto Station.
  • Return bikes at Kyoto Eco Trip.

Eat dinner at The Cube Food Court, 11th floor of Kyoto Station Building 京都駅ビル.

We take the train back to Osaka right after dinner, and we'll probably fall asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow! 

According to Google Maps, our planned trip is 17.3 kilometers and approximately 3 hours and 28 minutes on foot, so we should be able to complete the journey at a leisurely pace by bicycle. If our legs don't fall off halfway through the route, that is. I still haven't started my Three-Part Training For Japan, so I might be in trouble. ;-p

(For those who are interested, here's where I found the instructions on How to Plan a Road Trip with Google Maps.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cycling Osaka: Minami Temma Park and Osaka Castle Park by Bicycle

We plan to cycle two parks in Osaka following this 10-kilometer route.
First, we take the train to HUBchari Dinana Matsuya Building (center of the above map screenshot) where we rent bicycles for the day. That is where our half-day bicycle adventure begins.

Bike North to Minami Temma Park 南天満公園.
Bike up the park along the riverside until you reach the Osaka Mint Museum.

Bike to Osaka Castle Park 大阪城公園.
Explore the whole park instead of taking the usual tourist path from the station to the castle. Ride through the plum grove, the apricot trees and past the fountain. Find a spot to sit and enjoy being in nature.

Bike to Saizou 菜蔵 for lunch.

Bike to HUBchari America-mura and return bikes.

We spend the rest of the day on foot checking out Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street, Ebisubashi-suji Shopping Street, two of Japan's famous discount stores: Matsumoto Kiyoshi and Don Quijote, and the also famous Ebisubashi Bridge (where the Glico running man is). The we eat dinner at Oretachi no Curry Ya, which is just a short walking distance away.

Has anybody tried cycling through Minami Temma Park and Osaka Castle Park? I'd love to hear your opinions and suggestions, because I'm not quite sure our legs will hold up in Shinsaibashi after a 10-kilometer bike ride!

Monday, July 24, 2017

9-Day Food Itinerary: Where to Eat in Japan (Osaka and Kyoto)

No trip to Osaka is complete without a food trip. It is, after all, called the "kitchen of Japan". I have already researched and planned where we're going to eat lunch and dinner during our entire nine days in Osaka so that when we're there:
  1. we don't waste time looking for good places to eat;
  2. we get to try the "best" restaurants in the areas we'll be exploring;
  3. we don't break our piggy banks overspending on food.
(If you're wondering about breakfast, we plan to just get something from a convenience store or department store basement food hall the night before and eat at the apartment before heading out for the day.)

I don't know how accurate or up-to-date my internet sources are, but here are the places that I chose based on reviews and average prices per meal per person.

Day 1

Day 2
  • Lunch: Saizou 菜蔵 - heigawari teishoku or daily set meal, around ¥700
  • Dinner: Oretachi No Curry Ya 俺たちのカレー家 - full option curry plate, around ¥900

Day 3
  • Lunch: Kuromon Ichiba 黒門市 food trip - fresh seafood, oden, takoyaki, etc., around ¥2,500
  • Dinner: Ippudo Namba 一風堂( なんば店) - ramen, around ¥1000

Day 4 (Kyoto)

Day 5
  • Lunch: Okonomiyaki Chigusa お好み焼き千草 - okonomiyaki, around ¥1,000
  • Dinner: Hanamaruken Hozenji 花丸軒(法善寺店) - ramen, around ¥950

Day 6
  • Lunch: Universal Studios Japan
  • Dinner: Ootoya Gohan Dokoro 大戸屋ごはん処 - teishoku or set meal, around ¥1,000

Day 7

Day 8
  • Lunch: Sukiya すき家 - gyudon (beef rice bowl), around ¥590
  • Snacks: Kushikatsu Daruma Tsutenkaku 串かつだるま - kushikatsu (fried skewers), around ¥2,000 for a samplers set
  • Dinner: Dotonbori Food Trip (Kuidaore! Eat 'til you drop. Last night out ;-p)

Day 9

There are still a few more restaurants I wanted to try out, but I couldn't fit them in. Just as well or I probably won't fit in my clothes by the time we leave Japan!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Three-Part Training for Japan

In order to get in shape for our nine days of adventure in Japan, I have come up with a three-part training plan:

Part 1. Walking
Part 2. Cycling
Part 3. Speaking Japanese

Walking is something that we're going to be doing a lot of when we go to Japan; and my meager 15-30 minute leisurely walk home isn't going to cut it especially when I'm mostly sedentary the whole day. So I'm going to gradually increase my walking time and walking intensity.

Stage One: 1 mile walk, 16 minutes a day

Stage Two: 2 mile walk, 30 minutes a day
Sorry, the 2 mile walk video has been deleted from YouTube. But I already downloaded it a couple of years ago so I can still do it. :-)

Stage Three: 3 mile walk, 46 minutes a day

Bloggers say Osaka and Kyoto are the ideal places to cycle in Japan. So I thought we'd give it a whirl. The problem is my biking skills or lack thereof. Yes, I know how to ride a bicycle, but I have next to no experience riding on public roads where there are pedestrians and other vehicles. So I need to practice. Of course, I'm not going to bike on the streets of Cebu. I don't want to die just yet. We were thinking of practicing at Camp Lahug. Anybody have a spare bike I could borrow for a couple of months? :-D

Speaking Japanese
I have been trying to learn Japanese since I was in college (after falling in love with Saito Hajime and Aoshi Shinomori of Rurouni Kenshin ;-p). I have a few books on learning Japanese and the Pimsleur's Japanese audio courses. I've also watched countless Japanese movies, TV shows and anime. But after all these years, I still haven't reached a level of fluency where I can converse in Japanese. Why? Because I have chronic lazinitis. I just do not have enough self-discipline and willpower to persevere with the lessons day after day after day. Why can't we have one of those The Matrix-like contraptions where you just stick a cable into the back of your head and download a language into your brain?!

Anyway, cue the theme from Rocky and let the training begin!

Itinerary Overview: 9 days in Japan (Osaka and Kyoto)

Yes! I'm finally done with our itinerary. For now, anyway. Actually, it was already done months ago. But everytime I opened the file I kept making revisions. I was beginning to think it would never get done. Ha! Me and my OCD.

Here's the overview: 

Day 1:
Arrival and check in

Day 2:
Minami Temma Park
Osaka Castle Park
Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street
Ebisubashi Bridge / Ebisubashi-suji Shopping Street

Day 3:
Minoo Park
Kuromon Ichiba
Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shotengai

Day 4:
Gion: Hanami-koji Dori, Shirakawa-minami Dori
Nanzen-ji Temple
Philosopher’s Path
Kamo River

Day 5:
Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street
Hozenji Yokocho Alley

Day 6:
Universal Studios Japan

Day 7:
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Tempozan Marketplace / Naniwa Kuishimbo Yokocho / Mount Tempozan

Day 8:
Tennoji Zoo / Tennoji Park
Nipponbashi Den Den Town
Shinsekai: Jan-Jan Yokocho Alley, Tsutenkaku

Day 9:
Check out
Departure from Osaka

The itinerary I made is actually a lot more detailed than this overview. I scheduled everything to the minute, but it's just a guide so the schedule is flexible in case there are unforeseen delays or the train schedules on Google Maps aren't accurate or we get lost or miss the train. I also included some additional information that might be helpful. For example, here are the details for day 1:

Osaka Day 1 Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 in Osaka, Japan [Click on image to enlarge.]

I'm so excited! This is going to be the greatest adventure of my life... so far. ;-D

Saturday, July 22, 2017

What?! No more Cool Japan in Universal Studios Japan???


Cool Japan 2017 in Universal Studios Japan was only until June 25??? Evangelion XR Ride, Attack on Titan: The Real 4-D:2, and Godzilla: The Real 4-D were the top attractions I wanted to visit when we go there this November! Wah!!! I wonder what's replaced them.

Looking at a USJ studio guide a friend of mine brought home from her trip there last May, the only attractions left that I find interesting are:  

Dragon Quest: The Real
Immerse yourself in the world of Dragon Quest all on your own, with weapon in hand, to embark on a thrilling adventure! It's the first Dragon Quest theme Real Battle Attraction ever!  

Jurassic Park - The Ride
A desperate situation! Then a 25.9 meter, headlong drop to escape a dinosaur!  

A boat tour of fear, where a gigantic man-eating shark attacks!  

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey in 4K3D
Soar across the vast sky above Hogwarts and feel the powerful excitement of the thrilling immersive realism as the Golden Snitch races by as if whithin reach on this amazing unrivaled attraction.

Spiderman, Terminator, Backdraft, and Waterworld are just meh... and I've seen pictures of the Hollywood Dream rollercoaster ride and I am not getting on that monstrous thing. I'd like my food to stay in my stomach and my brain inside my head, thank you very much.

So I guess we're going to have to hang out with Elmo, Snoopy, Hello Kitty and the Minions. Or I could just take my 7,600 yen and go on a food trip. :-p

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cycling in Osaka & Kyoto

I've read many blogs that recommend biking in Osaka and Kyoto. They say it's relatively easy even if you're not an expert cyclist. I'm thinking of giving it a try. The thing is, even though my husband and I know how to ride bicycles, we haven't tried riding on the road with cars before. It's always been in beach resorts. So I'm a little apprehensive about it.

Here's what I had in mind.


9:00 am - Bike from bicycle rental shop to Minami Temma Park. Explore the park on bikes.
10:00 am - Bike to Osaka Castle Park. Explore the castle grounds on bikes.
11:00 am - Lunch at Saizou. (I wonder if they have bicycle parking.)
1:00 pm - Bike back to bicycle rental shop and return bicycles.

That shouldn't be too hard for us biking amateurs, right? A half day cycling through parks? Now cycling in Kyoto is going to be more challenging. We're only going to be there for one day so we have to make the most of it.


9:45 am - Bike from Kyoto Station to Gion. Explore Hanami-koji Dori and Shirakawa-minami Dori by bicycle.
11:45 am - Lunch at Oshokuji Dokoro Asuka. (Again, I wonder if they have bicycle parking.)
1:00 pm - Bike to Nanzen-ji Temple. Park bicycles and explore the temple grounds.
3:30 pm - Bike to Philosopher's Path. Ride up the path until the end.
4:30 pm - Bike to Kamo River via Imadegawa Dori. Ride along the river to Kyoto Station.

This one I am more worried about because I also read that cycling in Kyoto can be quite chaotic. One blogger even described it as a "war" between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Although he did also say that most drivers in Kyoto are considerate towards cyclists. But I'm not completely at ease about the idea yet. I even tried asking a blogger from Kyoto for advice. I'm waiting for his reply.

What do you think? Should we try cycling in Osaka and Kyoto? Or is that too ambitious of us?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Oops, sorry!

Hey, everyone. I'm sorry I didn't see your comments until today. I had no idea people have been asking me if I can email them my Pimsleur's Japanese notes. I'm sorry to say that I can't. I don't have them anymore. Honestly I haven't even continued level 3. I've been meaning to but just can't get over my chronic lazinitis. Ha!

Well, I can try to help you guys out with certain words you're having difficulty hearing. If you can tell me which lesson and around which minute, maybe I can transcribe the words that aren't so clear to you. Good luck with learning Japanese. :-)

Friday, June 2, 2017

We are going to Japan!!!

At last! After thinking about it for years and years, we are going to Japan! I can finally put one check mark in my bucket list.

In less than six months, we'll be eating takoyaki, okonomiyaki, kushikatsu, ramen, gyoza, and Japanese curry in Osaka! Nine glorious days in Japan's Kitchen... and a side trip to Kyoto. I can't wait! In the meantime, I am busy making our itinerary. I have a feeling I might never get it finished since I keep changing and tweaking it every day. Hah!

It's my first time travelling out of the country because I was such a cheapskate before. Now I have decided to be a cheapskate no more. Life is short. What's the point in working to earn money if you don't spend it and enjoy the fruits of your hard labor? I'm going to live life NOW. NOW is when everything happens. Well, okay. Six months from now is when this particular something is going to happen, but you get my drift.

My shopping list is getting just as long as my list of what to eat while in Japan. I want to buy Japanese cosmetics while I'm there. I wonder what drugstore brands are good, and where should I buy them? Food items like tsukemono, nori, noriten, instant ramen, and wasabi aji ika furai are also in my list. Chopsticks, a nice metal Japan keychain to replace my broken Malaysia one... the list goes on and on. But I haven't figured out where the best and cheapest places to buy them are. Maybe you know? :-)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Good News & Bad News

Hi, everyone. For those who are wondering where my Pimsleur's Japanese notes have gone, I am sad to say that most of them have been taken down. I have received DMCA copyright complaints so I will not be posting my notes anymore. Actually, I haven't been doing my lessons lately anyway. I have chronic lazinitis. Haha! But I have good news. We're going to Japan this year! Osaka, to be exact. And we plan to stay for 15 days. Yay! Hopefully that will get me motivated enough to continue studying Japanese. Would be nice to be able to converse with people when we're there. Anyway, just wanted to post a quick hello. I'm off to bed now. Goodnight, world. :-)