Horse meat 馬刺し!

In the last last post, I wrote about my trip to Mt. Aso in Kumamoto prefecture. I got impressed with Kumamoto and decided to go there again on my graduation trip. It was a very short trip since we went to so many cities in Kyushu on a 4 days trip. This time I traveled with my friend who is from Fukuoka so she knows a lot about Kyushu and introduced me to so many things. When we got to Kumamoto, we had dinner at an izakaya. The food was great and since we were in Kumamoto, she wanted me to try all the famous things there. So, we ordered Kumamoto’s famous horse meat!

To be perfectly honest, it was quite tasty! It was a bit strong but with a special sauce, it tasted very good. As you can see in the picture, the meat looks different, that is because they are from many parts of horse…now I know what you are thinking 😉 ! I liked it and bought a horse meat senbe (thin cracker) back but still, I felt like “I ATE A HORSE”. I think that was the only thing that didn’t make it so OK but I did try and liked it.

Now the question is….

WOULD YOU TRY?

20121117-092153.jpg

Outlet malls in Japan

LOVE SHOPPING?

For people who love shopping like me, taking a day trip to an outlet mall is a great fun! I love bargains and sales so outlet mall is kind of awesome especially outlet malls in the US with all the shops outside and the whole place divided into zones so I can walk and enjoy the atmosphere. In Japan, there are so many outlet malls all over the country with different size, style, facilities, and attractions. So far I have been to 5 outlet malls. In Fukuoka, Shizuoka, Saitama, Tokyo bay, and Yokohama. Here are the list of the ones I have been to.

1) Gotemba Premium Outlet mall @Gotemba city! (somehow I thought it is in Shizuoka)

This one is my most favorite malls out of all the ones I have been to. This outlet mall is located in Gotemba city which means it is close to Hakone and Mt. Fuji. The view is beautiful and the atmosphere is pretty much like outdoor outlet malls in the US. Gotemba outlet mall has probably the biggest numbers of shops and foreign brands. Since it is huge, the area is divided into two big zones with a bridge connected the two. The shops are great and the atmosphere is lively. Also, the price and bargain are pretty good, too. The only downside of this mall I could think of is that there are not many selection of restaurants so it was really crowded in the food court. In my opinion, the food in the food court could have been better too.

To get to this outlet mall, you can go by direct bus, train, shuttle bus from Gotemba station, or by car. I would recommend to go by bus as it may be the most convenient way. I took a bus from Yokohama station straight to the mall. The price for a round trip bus is reasonable and you can enjoy the scenery along the way!

Did I mention that it started raining right before we left? ..Still, it was a great day out!

20121116-133635.jpg  20121116-134246.jpg

All the details in the website here.

2) AEON Lake town outlet  @Saitama

Lake town outlet is located in Saitama which is close enough to Tokyo that you can visit easily from the metropolis. It is the largest shopping center in Asia since it is a combination of AEON malls and an outlet mall together. I remember there are about 4 malls in the same place (HUGE). I like this mall because it is an indoor outlet mall which means it really doesn’t matter if the weather is on your side or not, you can go anytime!

At first, I did not plan to go to this mall but I actually went to Costco to get some pizza (yum!) which is a few stations away if I remember that right. So, I decided to visit this outlet mall too since I’ve heard that it’s new and good. The bargains are pretty good! I got so many things discounted even more than the already discounted price because my student ID was still valid at that time. 😉 There are various choices of restaurants and shops here. I really enjoyed it very much although I prefer outdoor malls. The access to this place is quite easy to get to as well so if you’re in Tokyo, this is probably a great choice for you!

Click this link to the website here.

20121116-142016.jpg

Pic from JNTO site

3) Marinoa city @Fukuoka-Kyushu

This outlet mall is in Fukuoka, down south in Kyushu. Since I used to live in Beppu, Fukuoka was the nearest big city around so I usually went to Fukuoka when I felt like shopping and sightseeing. Marinoa city is an outlet mall located about 30-40 minutes away from Fukuoka city center. It is right on the beach so the atmosphere is quite relaxing and lively. I took a direct bus from Tenjin (the city center of Fukuoka) to the mall. I am certain that there are many other access routes from Hakata station and others as well. There were not many foreign brands and not much variety of shops but I did enjoy it. The prices are reasonable. I got a lot of stuff this time! I really gotta say that Coach shop here has great bargains! Bags are discounted to around 15,000 yen in average. Some, even less than 10,000 yen. For those of you who love COACH, this is a place to be. I did got a wallet from there. It was so cheap I HAD to buy but sadly, after using it for a year, someone stole that wallet at a train station here in Tokyo…but that’s another story.

I had lunch at a Mexican restaurant near by the beach there. It was great. Then we walked around with our cups of GODIVA’s chocolate-chips frappucino. It was a great day. I can’t seem to find pictures I took here but if you are in the area, definitely go check it out especially if you like to spend a day shopping in a beautiful place.

Visit the official website click here!

4) Venus Fort @Odaiba, Tokyo

Venus Fort is actually a mall with an outlet on the third floor. It is small and not exactly like an outlet. My friends and I were actually planning to go to a  mall called “DiverCity” which is right next to Venus Fort and is located where the big Gundam monument is. But, after getting out of the train, we saw Venus Fort first so we went in an explore a bit. It was not bad. There was a Hawaiian fair at that time so there was a Hula dance show too. I wouldn’t recommend this place if you want to go shopping. There were not many shops and bargains except LEVIS which seemed to me like the only store with big discount. However, if you plan to visit other places in Odaiba (Tokyo bay), it is not a bad idea to go to this place too. We went to take pictures with the giant Gundam after that and late at night (I cannot remember the time), this Gundam started to show movements and lighting! It was a great show. ^^ We also went to a Oktoberfest that was going on at that time and had a great time strolling around the rainbow bridge.

20121116-143332.jpg 20121116-143340.jpg20121116-143336.jpg

Venus Fort website! & DiverCity Tokyo Plaza!

MY NEXT TARGET! -> Grandberry mall @Machida!  This mall is not very far from the center of Yokohama so I can visit any time I want! I’ve heard good things about it and would love to go soon. Interested in going? >> Official site.

There are many other outlet malls in Japan, too. Here are some of the popular ones:

ENJOY! Have fun shopping! 😉

Mt. Aso, Kumamoto -A wonderful destination

Mount Aso is located in Kumamoto prefecture which is down in Kyushu island, the southern island of Japan. Since I used to attend a university in Beppu city, Oita prefecture which is a neighbor city of Kumamoto, Mt. Aso was easily accessible.

Mount Aso (阿蘇山) is still an active volcano which is the largest one in Japan and is said to be the third largest active one in the world. Its latest eruption was in 2004. I took a short trip to Aso city and Kumamoto in spring 2010 with my mother, just when sakura flowers were just starting to bloom. The weather was indescribably wonderful and I got to see this extremely beautiful volcano that I still wish to revisit ever since.

20121116-231602.jpg  20121116-231558.jpg

At first, we took a train from Beppu to Aso city. It took a very long time comparing to the short distance between Kumamoto and Oita. That was because I mistakenly bought a normal train instead of an express one which would have saved us a lot more time. We got there after a few hours and went straight to the hotel I book through favorite Japanese traveling site -> rakuten travel. The hotel is inside a golf club so many customers were golfers from all over Japan. I don’t recall the name of the hotel but the place was beautiful, surrounded by woods and mountains. The room we stayed was very big since it is not a business hotel. However, the downside of it was that it is located quite far from any train station so we had to call taxi when we wanted to go somewhere.

In the first day, we took a bus from our nearest train station to Kumamoto city. The city was very refreshing! Unsurprisingly, since Kumamoto is the third largest city in Kyushu island, the city center looked very lively to me. There were interesting shops and restaurants everywhere. Kumamoto is also famous for raw horse meat or basashi (馬刺し) in Japanese . We didn’t try it this time but I did try the second time I visited Kumamoto. To be honest, it was delicious but somehow made me feeling weirdly guilty…

We went to Kumamoto castle (熊本城) first since it is right in the middle of the city center. The castle is huge which definitely shows the signs of power related activities in the historical event of Japan. I really enjoyed exploring the castle. It has river course surrounded it..the garden was beautiful with sakura and the museum was very interesting!

20121116-213752.jpg

I officially love Kumamoto after exploring the castle. The atmosphere was relaxing and simply bright. The castle was quite big so it was impossible to explore everything but it is highly recommended for those of you who like taking photo or have an interest in Japanese history. Click here for more information about Kumamoto prefecture.

20121116-231607.jpg    20121116-231611.jpg

On the second day, we went up to Mount Aso. Again, the weather was on our side. It was such a lovely day. We went to Aso station and took a bus that goes up to the foot of the mountain. From there, we decided to take a rope way up to the top. If you like hiking or mountain climbing, there is a long route from the foot of the mountain to the top as well. The scenery along the way was picturesque. It did remind me of a similar view in New Zealand somehow. I enjoyed both the bus and the rope way ride very much. Once we got toe the mouth of the volcano, I could see that it was very much alive! The lava was vividly green and the volcano was producing massive amount of smoke! It was quite exciting and the view was breath-taking.

20121116-213801.jpg   20121116-213757.jpgt

My mother and I explored the volcano for a while. We took lots of pictures and walked along the trails designated for mountain climbers. It was a lot of fun!

20121116-213805.jpg   20121116-213809.jpg

Mount Aso is definitely a highlight of Kumamoto prefecture. You wouldn’t want to miss it if you visit Kumamoto. There are also a lot of things you can do in Aso city as well. You can go horseback riding, playing with animals in the farm, visiting flowers garden, going onsen, hiking, and even hang gliding! In this trip, we didn’t have much time but we did get to visit a flower garden, too. 🙂 Click here for more information about Aso city.

20121116-213813.jpg

Look at the smoke!

20121116-213817.jpg

Rocks from mount Aso

20121116-231546.jpg   20121116-231551.jpg

Seeing these old photos really makes me miss Kyushu even more. Mount Aso is highly recommeneded as a great destination for people who enjoy nature and want to explore Kyushu. So much to see down there in the Southern part of Japan! Be aware that you may need to check the volcano’s condition before booking your flight/train/hotels, etc because there is a chance of a restricted period that prohibits tourists entering the area depending on the lava and dangerous smoke from the volcano. Mount Aso trip was very memorable and I am hoping that I would get the chance to visit again sometime soon.

20121116-231617.jpg