Yaki-Tate Melon Pan 焼きたてメロンパン – Not a normal melon pan!

What’s a Yaki-Tate melon pan (焼きたてメロンパン)?And how is it different from the normal melon pan sold at convenient stores and supermarkets?

As you may know, melon pan is a melon-flavored bread. Bread in Japanese is ‘パン’ pronounced as ‘pan’. It is a round-shaped bread with rough sugary texture that looks like checker prints. I personally love this ever since I came to Japan. But last year, I found something even better than normal melon pan-Yaki-Tate melon pan 〔焼きたてメロンパン)!  This literally means it is a melon pan that is fresh out of an oven. It may seem to be not so different from the normal melon pan, but I can tell you it really is.20130429-111350.jpg

One day when I came out of my station and about to walk home, I saw this melon pan van. The smell was mouth-watering but I did not pay much attention and just walked away. 20130417-184712.jpgThe second time this van, there were so many people waiting in line and I thought…maybe this is good. So I bought one melon pan just to try if it was special. There were Hokkaido and butter flavors. I chose the butter one. The bread was freshly-baked from the oven. I took a bite and then…I LOVED IT! So soft and it tasted really good. Since then, I loved it and I looked forward to this van coming to my station every week. This is definitely different from normal melon pan sold at supermarkets. Obviously, it is sold in a van and since it is fresh out of the oven, it is hot, soft and just yummy!

This just started to sound like a confession from a FAT GIRL AT HEART. 😉

Apparently, it is not that easy to find this melon pan van. After I moved from Tokyo to Yokohama, I never saw this again until last month when I went to view sakura in Naka-Meguro 〔中目黒). That’s when I found this van again. Judging from the long line of people, I guess I’m not the only one who love this!20130417-185259.jpg

I also found a website with schedules of this melon pan van ‘HAPPY HAPPY’. Check the schedule to see if you’re close by. It’s delicious. Definitely my favorite although some people may find it too sweet. (I have a sweet tooth) 😉 Website: http://www.happy-happy.jp/

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Other than the van HAPPY HAPPY in Tokyo, I also found one right near my place in Osaka. This van has even more flavor…even strawberry flavor. They also sell apple pie and others as well.

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If you haven’t tried, I suggest you do so. 🙂

Stroll Around Kyoto (京都) in a Kimono (着物)

Have you ever wanted to stroll around Kyoto in a kimono? I have always wanted to do so seeing many tourists walk in beautiful kimonos sightseeing around beautiful temples and shrines of Kyoto. I always thought to myself that I must do this at least once while I am in Japan.

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Kyoto is definitely the most famous place in Japan to do kimono fitting since it is an old capital with numerous wonderful old shrines and temples. A lot of Japanese traditional things that pop up in your mind when you think of ‘Japan’ or see in movies are here; for instance, Maiko, Geisha and other forms of arts, traditions, sweets and so many others. As you may know, I have done Maiko transformation before and it was such a great experience. You could never get closer to a Japanese traditional culture than this. 😉  This time, I wanted to simply wear a kimono and walk around Kyoto city, especially to visit Kiyomizudera temple (清水寺)and take photos for memories.20130422-110309.jpg

I finally did it and I had a great time. It was worthwhile. As of how to do kimono rental (着物レンタル)in Kyoto, very easy!

HOW:

  •          First, plan you trip to Kyoto.

Leave a day or at least half a day in case you don’t have time for this experience since you obviously want to take a lot of photos while you’re wearing kimono. If you stay in a ryokan (旅館) within Kyoto, some kimono rental stores may allow you to return the kimono the next day at your hotel. But, in case you stay in a nearby city, you must return the kimono by the designated time at the store (until 5pm in my case). Keep this in mind when you plan your visit.

  •          Select store and decide the places you want to visit.

For this, you want to choose a kimono rental store close to your hotel or tourist attractions that you want to visit. Especially when you’re wearing a kimono and walk around in kimono shoes, you want to be as close as you can to the places you are interested in.

          Recommended kimono rental stores

  1. Yume Kyoto (夢京都)– I visited this store for kimono fitting. It is located right next to the entrance of Yasaka shrine (八坂神社)in Gion (祇園)district (central Kyoto) and only around 15 minutes on foot to the famous Kiyomizudera. Yume Kyoto also has another branch near Todaiji temple. They have kimono rental plans from 3,500 to 5,250 yen depending on the type of kimono. For 3,500 yen plan, you cannot choose kimono but for the 4,000 and 5,000 yen plan, you can choose kimono, bags and accessories as well. I liked their kimono choices. They also give free Tabi (kimono socks) for free and you can bring home as souvenirs.
  2. Okamoto (岡本)– This store is located in Kiyomizudera area which can be convenient for people who wants to visit this temple. I remember seeing in just on the bottom of Kiyomizudera!
  3. Yume Yakata 〔夢館)– The cheapest plan of this place is 2,500 yen which is pretty ideal. This is also the place I did my Maiko transformation.

In addition, if you are a traveler from abroad with limited time to plan, you may opt for a package tour for this kind of kimono experience. Many are sold within the city such as at big JR stations and travel companies. Some are also sold in websites for tourists from abroad. See this discount tour for a great 1 day plan with hotel pick up, English speaking guide and admission fees included (Input code L2AI9 when downloading their app to get free credits! –apple, android). 🙂

  •     Make a reservation

Make sure you reserve in advance so you can be sure you will get a place and time you want.

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PLAN & PRICE:

Usually, the price ranges from around 3,500 to 5,250 yen for Kimono rental. However, depends on the type and prints of kimono, it can also be much more expensive or less expensive if you are very lucky. At Yume Kyoto, I chose 5,250 yen kimono and got my hair done for 1,500 yen. So in total, it was 6,750 yen. Unlike Maiko transformation, you need to do your own makeup. After you are done dressing up, you are free to walk around in kimono and return it at the store or at your hotel depending on the store’s policy. Beware not to spill anything on your kimono. You may need to pay for the cleaning fee if you do so.

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PROCESS:

  •           Go to the store at your reserved time and tell your name.
  •          They will lead you into a room full of kimonos. Choose a kimono of your choice, then choose obi (similar to a big belt). In my case that I chose 5,250 yen plan, I could choose a rope which is a layer inside the kimono, too. You can see my reddish collar inside my kimono which is not a regular white layer.
  •           Then, they will start dressing you up. Starting from the rope, inside layer, then kimono. After that, they will tie you with some more ropes and Obi. And then, you’re done! It took less than 30 minutes for me.
  •           After you’re done dressing up, they will lead you into a hair section where you can choose a hairstyle that fits you the most.20130422-110338.jpg

The whole process took about 40 minutes for me.

TIPS/ADVICE:

It is important to bring a friend to take photos for you. I was lucky as my friend’s friends join us with their professional cameras. So, we got very good photos. Also, prepare to smile a lot because so many people will ask to take pictures with you or try to snap a photo of you.20130422-112409.jpg

Last but not least, CHECK THE WEATHER before you decide to do this. It is hard to predict the weather as you may want to reserve in advance but the day won’t be as fun if it’s raining, so try to avoid it!

And…of course, ENJOY! 😉

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At the ladders in the front entrance of Kiyomizudera

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In front of Yasaka shrine

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We met two tourists dressed up as Maiko-san, too.

Big thanks to two amazing photographers Kenichi Sanguan-ngern & Nichchima Anongjanya.

Japan Mint Cherry Blossom Viewing, Osaka 2013 – Yaezakura

In a few posts before, I talked about Yae-Zakura (八重桜) which is double cherry blossoms and the event for Yaezakura viewing at Japan mint bureau (造幣局) in Osaka head office which is now officially opened to public from April 16th-22nd.

Yesterday, I finally got a chance to go to the event. I choose to go on a weekday expecting that there will be zillions of people on the weekend. As soon as I got out of Temmabashi station (天満橋駅), I could see sign saying ‘Cherry Blossom viewing’ (桜の通り抜け) with police shouting and pointing out the direction toward Japan Mint Bureau.

From the station, we walked across Ogawa river (大川)and turned right.

20130419-092553.jpgSo many food stalls were all along two sides of the road making the place look like a festival.

I got there around 5 pm, just before everyone gets off work so there were not too many people but still…I wouldn’t say there weren’t a lot of people. 😉

As soon as I passed through the crowd into Japan Mint, I was in shock for a few seconds… Most of the sakura were gone! The area was mostly green and some sakura trees had zero blossoms or some with withered blossoms. Before going there, I had some doubts whether the timing of the official event was a bit too late or not too since the weather this year got warm faster than other years. However, despite a little disappointment, some sakura trees were still very beautiful. 🙂

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This one was still full of blossoms. This type of sakura is just beautiful. The blossoms look like little bouquets hanging on a tree.

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Apparently, even among Yae-zakura, there are so many types as well. Unfortunately, this year we could not see the green and yellow Yae-zakura which must have already fallen a couple of weeks ago.

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The area inside Japan mint is somewhat similar to what supposed to be a cherry blossom tunnel with coins and metallic objects factory along side.

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Most sakura trees started to have green leaves indicating that the blossoms are about to fall. Still, it is beautiful. But as we all know, sakura is short-lived. At night, all the sakura trees were lit up and the night sakura view is said to be enchanting. I did not stay till the light up this time.

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There were also so many food stalls from the exit gate of Japan mint till the main road. I had lots of delicious festival food. 🙂

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Then, I walked back to the station pass the beautiful Ogawa river. Across the street, a huge crowd of people who just finished working were marching down to Japan Mint bureau to see Yaezakura.

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Beautiful view of Ogawa river in Osaka city

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People walking from Temmabashi station toward Japan Mint

Website: http://www.mint.go.jp/category/eng

Kinkakuji (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都) – Amazing Golden Pavilion

Kinkakuji (金閣寺) or the Golden Pavilion is definitely one of the most renowned temples in Kyoto and probably very easy to say, in all of Japan. It is also one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Kyoto. Of course, as well as the beautiful Kiyomizudera (清水寺), I also visit this place every time I get a chance to go to Kyoto.

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The first time I ever saw this golden pavilion, as many may have been the same, I was amazed by its beauty. The Golden Pavilion is situated in a garden surrounded by a lake. The shadow of the pavilion reflects in the calm water creating a very picturesque sight. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful landscapes in Kyoto where you can take post card-like photos and enjoy its beauty and peaceful surroundings. Even in winter, the place is just breath-taking. I luckily got a chance to visit during winter holiday as well.

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The Golden Pavilion has 3 stories and each of the stories has its own meaning. Not only the fact that it is a beautiful temple, but also Kinkakuji is a place where the relics of the Buddha are kept; thus it is highly treasured. This place was originally a retirement villa of Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After his death, this place was turned into a zen temple following his will. According to many sources, Kinkakuji has also been burned down several times in wartime and was rebuilt in 1955.

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After viewing the amazing Golden Pavilion, you will find a trail to the back to the temple where it is surrounded by garden and forests. During my latest visit, I also noticed a tea house in the back of the pavilion near the exit after I came out from the trail. It seemed like a lovely place to enjoy an afternoon tea.

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Other than Kinkakuji, there is also a temple very similar to Kinkakuji but instead of gold, it is a silver one called Ginkakuji (銀閣寺). This one is another beautiful temple worth seeing. But all in all, if you visit Kyoto and not go to Kiyomizudera or Kinkakuji, you are missing some wonders of Kyoto!

How to get there: From Kyoto station, take a bus number 101 or 205 to Kinkakuji-mae (金閣寺前). The ride is about 40 minutes. It can take a bit long so alternatively, you can take a train to Kitaoji station (北大路駅)via Karasuma subway line (烏丸線).

Operating Hours: 9:00-17:00

Map:

Nara park (奈良公園)- Don’t get bitten by a deer!

Deer are cute, aren’t they? Well, I always thought they are until a couple of days ago when I visited Nara. My family is here for a visit after my recent move to Osaka so I guided them around traveling in Kansai area and visited Nara (奈良)the other day.

This is my first time in Nara. We went to Nara park and some famous old temples around. Nara is also a famous tourist spot since it used to be Japan’s capital in the past similar to Kyoto in which it has a great glorious history. It is also famous for wild deer!

As soon as we got to Nara park, we saw so many deer. They were there waiting for FOOD! We were told not to feed them or be very careful if we do. I was taking pictures of the area with my brother when I turned and saw my father running away from those deer. The deer were after ‘senbei’, a salty Japanese crackers. They could smell it and followed that smell! 😀

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The deer wouldn’t wait one second! lol

As I was in the park, I could see that the deer’s antlers are cut off to prevent them from attacking people (in some certain level anyway).

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Warning!

This is a senbei stall where people can buy deer food.

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Look how hungry they are!

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That’s the closest I would go close to a deer.

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Some deer can also be shy.

It was a fun experience walking in a park full of deer. So much nature! I loved it. A must-visit place if you pass by kansai area.

Yae-zakura (八重桜) – Double-layer Cherry Blossom

There are many kinds of  cherry blossom. Yae-Zakura is a double-layer type of sakura which is famous for its beauty and strength. The normal type of one-layer sakura tends to be fragile and easily be blown away by strong wind or rain. I believe that a lot of us have never heard or seen this type of sakura before.

I recently visited Osaka castle wanting to see some sakura but sadly the storm had blown all the blossoms away. However, I did found this one tree of Yae-Zakura that was still full of blossoms. This type of sakura is just truly beautiful! Definitely worthwhile to see.

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I have read somewhere before that it used to be found only in Nara prefecture and mostly up on Yoshino (吉野) mountain where you can go up by rope way to view the whole mountain full of beautiful cherry blossoms. But these days, it seems to be found everywhere. I also found some information about where to see Yae-Zakura in Osaka. Apparently, there are some exhibitions and places to see this particular type of sakura.  Yae-zakura blooms a bit later than the normal sakura and the exhibition is only opened to public officially when they are in full bloom. The hanami may have been over but Yae-zakura is still here!

Where to see: Japan Mint – Osaka Head Office. This organization is an Incorporated Administrative Agency where coins, medals, metallic art objects and others are produced. You can visit the factory and see the facilities and how the objects are produced. This sounds a bit strange as a place to display Yae-zakura but the special thing about this place is not the metallic objects they produce but the fact that it has so many Yae-Zakura trees inside the place.

This year, the official opening for cherry blossom viewing is from April 16th to 22nd. Every night, the lanterns are also turned on so you can enjoy beautiful night views of sakura. Hopefully, I’ll get to visit when the event starts! 🙂

Info on the official event: http://www.mint.go.jp/enjoy-eng/sakura-eng/toorinuke-eng/eng_osaka_viewing2013.html

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Kiyomizudera (清水寺), Kyoto (京都) – Beautiful all year round

Recently, I just moved from Yokohama/Tokyo to Osaka for less than a week. I’m still not at all familiar with life in Kansai yet. However, the good thing about being in Osaka is that it is close to many great places in Japan – Kobe, Nara, Kyoto, etc. So many places to explore. All my weekend schedules are now filled. 🙂

This is probably the 7th time I visited Kyoto ever since I came to Japan and this temple is one of places I never miss every time I go – Kiyomizudera (清水寺), one of the most celebrated temples in Kyoto. Kyoto is definitely one of my favorite cities in Japan. It is an old city with so many beautiful temples and  historic places. Everything is just so charming here.

I came to this temple many times in different seasons. First time in winter..then fall, summer and now spring. Summer is not recommended since the sun will burn you like you are on the beach. Spring and fall are probably the best seasons to visit especially fall when the leaves turn yellow and orange. This temple is just magical in so many ways I can never explain. It is huge and the view from the temple is just amazing.

How to get there: Kyoto station -> Bus number 100 or 206 to Gojo-zaka (五条坂) or Kiyomizu-michi (清水道) stop. Each ride is 220 yen so it is recommended to buy 500 yen 1 day bus ticket.

From the bus stop, you can walk up to the temple. Along the way, there are many shops you can buy Japanese souvenirs, snacks, ice cream and others. One thing I always have to buy here is the Kyoto famous snacks- Yatsuhashi (八ツ橋). It is a thin slice of flour..mochi-like snack with stuffed flavor inside. If you don’t want to buy, don’t worry! Go try some they give out for free with a cup of tea. 😉

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I have some of the pictures from my earlier trip to Kiyomizudera in winter and the recent one in spring. Can’t remember where I put other photos from other trips. You can see that this temple is beautiful all year round.

Winter 2010

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Spring 2013

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Now in spring, sakura is visible and it goes perfectly with the temple. Just beautiful!

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(I wanted to sit on this guy’s spot and take a picture! oh well…)

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