JAPAN 2017 | Naoshima: Benesse Art Site

Breakfast on a Shinkansen

Benesse Art Site is a collaborative project by Benesse Holdings, Inc and Fukutake Foundations, and aims to be a space where nature, art and architecture are able to interact, creating an unique experience depending on the time of the year you visit, and the time of day you see each art piece.

Today’s agenda is short and sweet – to spend a day on one of three islands that forms the Benesse Art Site – Naoshima.

You would definitely benefit from spending the night on the island, having a lot more time to explore, but unfortunately I couldn’t fit it into the trip this time round.

So knowing that it takes just under four hours to get to Naoshima, I got up nice and early, and got on the Shinkansen after making a short stop at 7/11, which ended up being where I picked up all of my meals on the day. The trip is outlined in detail on the website of Benesse Art Site, and although time consuming, it was all quite straight forward.

Once you arrive at Naoshima, there is a local bus that you can catch right next to the port. But it is much easier to rent a bike and ride around the island to get to the various art projects and museums. Unfortunately for me, someone who somehow never managed to learn that skill, I had to use the bus. And then next thing you know, I somehow got off at the wrong bus stop, and the next bus wasn’t going to come for an hour, so I decided to just walk around and see what I could find.

There are definitely worse places to get lost in than Naoshima though. Everywhere you turned, there was something worth stopping for, and I actually really enjoyed just taking my time and soaking up the serenity of the island.

A couple of hours later, I made my way to Chichu Art Museum, one of the most immersive museums I’ve visited to date. The architecture by Tadao Ando really compliments the limited number of art pieces that are in the museum, and the fact that the museum is built underground really lends itself to take on the changes in the weather throughout the season. It really is something that I think you have to experience to appreciate fully.

Yayoi Kasuma’s signature pumpkin was another one of my favourites on the island. Deceptively simple yet stunning in person, especially against nature as a backdrop.

I really enjoyed taking things slow and having a somewhat unplanned day in Naoshima. There was a lot to see and explore on the island, and I’m definitely going to plan an overnight stay next time! I managed to get back to Kyoto just after 12am, and was excited for my last day in Kyoto!

Spending Tracker

Ferry ticket: 540JPY ~ 6.7AUD
Breakfast from 7/11: 840JPY ~ 10.4AUD
Lunch and pens from 7/11: 1525JPY ~ 18.8AUD
Chichu Art Museum ticket: 2040JPY ~ 25.2AUD
Souvenirs from Chichu Art Museum: 1020JPY ~ 12.6AUD
Shinkansen bento box: 940JPY ~ 11.6AUD
Snack from 7/11: 400JPY ~ 4.9AUD
Total: 7305JPY ~ 90.2AUD

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JAPAN 2017 | Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji; Kiyomizu-dera

After a quick meal at a tonkatsu restaurant near Shin-Fukushima Station, I caught a shinkansen to Kyoto!

Breakfast

Classic Tonkatsu Set

Although this was a chain restaurant, the tonkatsu were quite tender, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was also unlimited rice, which were delicious in itself, with each grain separated, just the way I like them. I may or may not have had three bowls of rice, which was actually great planning on my part, considering that I didn’t eat my next proper meal until around 9pm.

Kinkakuji

The Kyoto Shinkansen station was located in the middle of my hostel and Kinkakuji, so instead of heading to my hostel first to drop off my backpack, I decided to go straight to Kinkakuji to save some time.

Kinkakuji is probably one of the most iconic temples in Japan, known for its gold leaf covered exterior. The temple was definitely stunning in person, but it was also kind of hilarious as to how many people gathered by the lake to get some identical snaps, myself included.

Regardless, it was quite serene walking around the different areas in the temple. Located near the exit was where you could grab some omamori, which were basically little charms that are said to bring luck. I don’t necessarily believe in it having those powers, but they were very cute, and made for great gifts for family and friends back home, especially given their size. Some people went crazy over them though, buying up to 20!

Kiyomizu-dera

My hostel was located by Kamo River, and was only a short walk to Kiyomezu-dera, there was plenty to see on the walk too.

The architecture of the temple is stunning, with great amount of details throughout. I’m not an architecture buff by any means, but I was left in awe by various parts of the temple.

The hillside location meant that you could get a great view of the city of Kyoto. I was there during the golden hour, and the view left me speechless.

Another popular souvenir in Kyoto is the Melabranche matcha white chocolate biscuits. I wasn’t planning to go out of my way to buy them, but they were actually on the road that leads directly to Kiyomizu-dera, so I bit the bullet and bought a box on my walk back. And let me tell you, although pricey, they were so good! It was truly a struggle to save some to take home.

Dinner

A bowl of warm ramen was exactly what I needed after that walk, and I went into the first ramen restaurant that I spotted. Piled high with green onion, this went down a treat.

The river looks even more serene at night time, and I had an early night, in preparation of a day trip to Naoshima the next day, exciting times ahead.

Spending Tracker

Tonkatsu: 630JPY ~ 7.8AUD
Juice: 110JPY ~ 1.3AUD
Public transport: 690JPY ~ 8.2AUD
Kinkaku-ji ticket: 400JPY ~ 4.9AUD
Omamori from Kinkaku-ji: 600JPY ~ 7.4AUD
Taiyaji: 150JPY ~ 1.9AUD
Kiyomizu-dera ticket: 400JPY ~ 4.9AUD
Omamori from Kiyomizu-dera x3: 1400JPY ~ 17.3AUD
Malabranche biscuits: 1390JPY ~ 16AUD
Sakura Kit Kat and matcha lollies: 513JPY ~ 6.3AUD
Postcard: 110JPY ~ 1.4AUD
Ramen: 800JPY ~ 9.9AUD

Total: 7193JPY ~ 87.3AUD

JAPAN 2017 | Osaka: Lucky Owl Cafe; Dotonburi

Excuse the long pause between the travel posts, they take a lot longer to write and law school’s already catching up with me! Anyway, let’s continue on my first day in Osaka. After spending a couple of hours at Kuromon Ichiba Market, I made my way to Lucky Owl Cafe!

Lucky Owl Cafe

All sorts of weird cafes can be found in Japan, maid, robot, alpaca, just to name a few, but I picked owl cafe to go to, because, well, owls!

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It took me a while to find Lucky Owl Cafe, because it moved location sometime last year, but only the old location was shown on Google map. After finally finding it however, the owls made it all worth it.

You had to buy one drink, and there was a time limit of one hour. The waiter there was extremely helpful, and explained to me where each owl came from, how they look after them, and just some more random owl facts, which I’m all for.

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The full lineup!

The owls were mostly quite friendly, and you can pet them on the beak! The hour flew by and it was time for me to say goodbye to the owls.

Before heading into Lucky Owl Cafe, I was quite concerned about the way that the owls may be treated in these types of places, however I was very happy to learn that they are cared for by the people at the cafe, and enjoy their limited time with people everyday.

Dotonburi

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Lucky Owl Cafe was on a side street in the busy neighbourhood of Dotonburi, aka where all the iconic neon lights, bridges, alleyways filled with restaurants and shops are found. I took my time and walked around pretty much aimlessly. These are honestly some of my best memories in Osaka, absorbing the energy of the city and enjoying being part of the hustle and bustle.

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I spent ages in Loft, a lifestyle store with a focus on stationery, which I bought plenty of haha. It was in the same building as Muji, and the things at Muji were comparatively cheaper than back home, so I finally bit the bullet and bought the aroma diffuser, something that I’ve had my eyes on for a while! I went into another drugstore as well, hunting down some more things on my list.

Dinner

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For dinner, I settled on a yakitori bar that I stumbled upon. It was very cozy and the food was decent. Although each skewer on its own doesn’t seem like much, it certainly did fill me up.

I got back to the hostel at around 11, and was knackered, but also so excited for the next  day because it was going to be Universal Studio time!

Spending Tracker

Drugstore: 5004JPY ~ 62.8AUD
Owl cafe: 1500JPY ~ 18AUD
Socks: 432JPY ~ 5.3AUD
Forever 21: 949JPY ~ 11.7AUD
Muji: 10047JPY ~ 125.1AUD
Loft: 2790JPY ~ 32.8AUD

Total: 20722JPY ~ 255.7AUD

JAPAN 2017 | Osaka: Osaka Castle; Kuromon Ichiba Market

My first day in Osaka was packed full of activities, and it’s a bit photo heavy, so I’m going to split the day into two separate blog posts!

Osaka Castle

It was raining the entire day, but when you’re travelling, that’s just something you gotta deal with unfortunately. My first stop was Osaka Castle because I wanted to beat the crowd, it was around half an hour walk away from the closest station, but the walk was very scenic and serene, and I had the ugliest yellow raincoat on to protect myself from the rain.

The castle itself was magnificent, and inside, there were eight levels. It is recommended that you go to the eighth floor first, and then make your way down. There was one level dedicated to artefacts from the Azuchi-Momoyama period, another to the life of Hideyoshi, the lord that was responsible for the construction of the castle.

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Kuromon Ichiba Market

After that long walk, it was time to hit up a market for some food, aka one of my favourite things to do while overseas. I marked down Kuromon Ichiba Market as one of my must-visits the moment I heard about it, and it certainly did not disappoint.

Full of food stalls, random nick-nacks, and fresh produce, I happily spent a couple of hours eating my way around the market.

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Kobe Beef

There are a number of stalls that sold Kobe beef, I picked one that had a large selection of cuts, and was more akin to a butcher shop that locals would frequent. The meat were simply grilled on a hot plate with a light hand of salt and pepper. The moment I took the first bite though, legit died and gone to meat heaven. The meat was so tender yet flavoursome, it’s really something that you have to try at least once!

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Uni

Next, I went to get me some uni, aka sea urchin. Again, I picked a stall that was reasonably priced, and had a range of sizes. After you pay for the seafood of your choice, the uni is prepared in front of your eyes, and then handed to you ten seconds later, it really doesn’t get much fresher than that.

Uni is an acquired taste though, so be prepared for something that’s a little slimey and soft, and very, hmm, ocean-y LOL. If you are a fan of uni already, then make sure you get your hands on these!

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Takoyaki

Takoyaki was next on my radar, do you see the pattern of hot and cold yet? Anyway, Osaka is famous for takoyakis, so I did have high expectations already, but these little balls of heaven blew my mind away.

I’m going to list down three reasons why they are the best things ever, because lists are fun.

1. They were piping hot, and when I say hot, I mean it, I burnt the roof of my mouth because I couldn’t wait, but hey, worth it.

2. The outside was crispy and the inside was so god damn creamy, like legit, the sticks they give you are pretty useless because of the gooeyness inside, so the balls literally just collapse when you try to pick them up, which means you gotta think fast and act even faster in order to shove them in, hence the high chance of burning your mouth.

3. There are legit little octopus pieces inside each ball!! Okay scratch that, they’re not little at all. Because of the creaminess of the batter, the octopus pieces have even more of a contracting texture, making it all-so-delicious.

Have I sold you on these takoyakis yet? Please please please, get some when you’re there. The ones in Melbourne suck so much in comparison, and to think that I used to like them, urgh.

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Tuna Sashimi

The fatty tuna sashimi is another must-eat in Japan, but seriously, everything in the market is a must-eat imo. There’s a stall in the centre of the market that specialises in tuna, and the chef is literally slicing up the sashimi right in front of you. I got the one with three types of tuna, and they were all great in their own ways, but of course, the star of the show was the toro, aka tuna belly, it literally melts in your mouth!

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Wagyu Beef

I wanted to try some wagyu as well, but damn it, I should have gone to the same stall that i got the Kobe from. The skewer was a lot smaller in size, and only a fraction cheaper. That being said though, the beef was still really tasty, and the splash of soy highlighted the umami.

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Croquette

To finish off, I got a random croquette thing, which I also regret tbh. I thought the croquette would be fresh from the fryer, or at least heated through, but it was cold and sad. Although it was still really crunchy, but that was the only good things about this.

And that is the end of my food-venture! For now anyway haha, Osaka is known for being the food capital of Japan, and I can definitely see why! Kuromon Ichiba Market showcases the outstanding produce that Japan has to offer, and is a great place to sample a range of different things in one go. Most of the market was undercover as well, which makes it a great place to visit on a rainy day too.

Spending Tracker

Lawson: 140JPY ~ 1.7AUD

Public transport: 420JPY ~ 5AUD

Osaka Castle ticket: 600JPY ~ 7.4AUD

Osaka Castle Coin: 730JPY ~ 9AUD

Postcard: 50JPY ~ 0.6AUD

Kobe beef: 1555JPY ~ 19.2aud

Uni: 1500JPY ~ 18.5AUD

Takoyaki: 450JPY ~ 5.6AUD

Tuna: 1500JPY ~ 18.5AUD

Wagyu: 1000JPY ~ 12AUD

Croquette: 100JPY ~ 1.2AUD

Total: 8045JPY ~ 98.7AUD

JAPAN 2017 | Tokyo: University of Tokyo; Yokohama: Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

University of Tokyo

My friend is currently doing her Masters in University of Tokyo, so of course, on my last day with her, she took me on a personal tour after a quick breakfast of oden from 7/11.

I think visiting universities is something that doesn’t get as enough attention in the travelling community, but I personally find it very eye-opening and enjoyable. We took a stroll around the campus, and it was really impressive! Although most of the buildings were more reminiscent of a Western style, the Akamon, aka the Red Gate, is something that was retained from the Edo Era.

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Waterfall (!!)
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Lake opposite the waterfall (!!)
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Akamon

Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

After visiting University of Tokyo, it was time for me to take my first Shinkansen to Yokohama! I had only one place on my list to visit in Yokohama, and it was the Ramen Museum to no one’s surprise.

The museum had three levels, and the bottom floor was set up like traditional Japan in the 1950s. The ordering system is quite simple, there’s a vending machine outside each ramen shop, and you press the button of the item that you want to order, and then insert the cash, take the ticket, upon entering the restaurant, hand the ticket to one of the waiters, and then wait for your ramen to arrive.

There was a total of 9 ramen shops, and I aimed to try three of them, but unfortunately was full to the brim after two, first world problems I know.

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Tonkatsu Ramen from Najima-Tei

The cloudiness of the soup meant that there was a ton of depth to the soup, and the ramen itself was perfectly al-dente. The only negative though was there the soup was extremely salty, which meant that as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t drink all of it.

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Spicy Miso Ramen from Ryu Shanghai Honten

I also tried the spicy miso ramen, since it’s something that’s not as commonly found in Melbourne. After mixing the spicy miso paste to the soup, it did help cut through the richness of the soup, which I didn’t expect! I think this ramen was more akin to traditional ramen, where there is a layer of oil on the soup, and you have to kind of stir the soup around if you don’t want the oily bits.

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Spicy Miso Ramen from Ryu Shanghai Honten

Hokkaido style ramen was featured here, known for being thick and slightly curly, it had a bit more bite to it than the thin straight kind that I’m used to.

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I arrived in my hostel in Osaka at around 8pm, and was so tired, so instead of my original plan to visit Dotonburi, I decided to stay in the hostel and just have some down time, write in my travel journal, and figure out how to buy Universal Studio tickets online, you know, all that good stuff.

Spending Tracker

7/11: 635JPY ~ 7.8AUD
Drug store: 6365JPY ~ 79AUD
Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum Ticket: 310JPY ~ 3.8AUD
Ramen from Najima-Tei: 750JPY ~ 9.3AUD
Ramen from Ryu Shanghai Honten: 870JPY ~ 10.8AUD
Lollies from the traditional lolly shop in the museum: 140JPY ~ 1.7AUD
Postcard: 411JPY ~ 5AUD
Osaka accommodation: 8900JPY ~ 106AUD
Universal Studios Ticket: 7400JPY ~ 89AUD

Total: 25781JPY ~ 312.4AUD