How I went to Japan and how I left…

It was March 2007 when I first visited Japan. It was a very short trip. We visited Osaka first, and then Tokyo and some other cities like most other tourists would do when they visit Japan for the first time. Growing up, I have always been familiar with Japanese food and culture although not very deeply, but to some certain degree. And for some reasons, I was not very interested Japan but instead I always found myself going to English-speaking countries for home stay or go somewhere far away to travel.

In that very short trip, I met a girl on a bus in Osaka. She was in a senior year of an international university in Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. Since she was also from Thailand, we greeted and chatted a little. She told me she received a scholarship from her university and that Japan is great. She encouraged me to apply to her school. It sounded to me like a good opportunity. Although I had zero knowledge about Japan, during that trip, I realized Japan was probably the cleanest, safest, and probably one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to. And that was only the first impression I had of Japan which followed by thousands of things I love about the country during my almost 6 years there. I also noticed how good the service was. I felt very welcomed during that visit. I was impressed with how polite people were and how unbelievably organized everything looked and not to mention so many unique things I had never seen anywhere else. There were just so many places and things that are beautiful and also very different. The beautiful sakura, the shrines and temples, Maiko-san on streets, vending machine in every corner, the cool toilet (!) and so on.When I returned home, I applied to her university and I was very fortunate to receive a 100% scholarship from the university. My university is called Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University (APU). It is an international university in a very small city called Beppu located in Oita prefecture – the city of onsens (hot springs). I took the chance and went to Japan. I was 17 years old, fresh out of high school just two weeks before I left for Japan.

I am not going to mention much about how I adjusted to the life there but like other people, I struggled for a couple of years trying to learn the language and culture and figuring out how everything works in Japan. I remember some of my first incidents in Japan were using a cooking sake (alcohol) as cooking oil, using mochi instead of normal white rice, carrying my bed across town with my friends when I was moving out, etc. When that period was over (although there were always things I had to struggle with :P), it was mostly the fun part. I explored the country, met new people, and just simply let myself experience.

I moved to Chiba after I finished all my credits in fourth year first semester to find a job. Although, everyone warned me working in Japan is not easy, I decided to take the challenge. After so many hand-written resumes, web tests and interviews, I received a job offer. Then, I changed my visa, moved to Tokyo and started working! And yes, like what people had warned me, I encountered several hardships that I considered that time to be one of the toughest times I had in my life. When the first company did not work out, I tried to change my job. It is not easy to change job in Japan as a new graduate but I was determined to get out of the situation I was in, and so I did. After two months working in the first company, I received a job offer from a very big and well-known Japanese company. I thought things were going to be alright finally but before it even go anywhere, things were just really wrong. I was fired right after I told my first company my plan to quit, I was asked to move out of the company’s dorm, I had an accident in the middle of a mall in Shinjuku and was rushed to hospital, I could barely walk, I became completely broke, and so on. It was a very rough time but I got through it and after all that, I think I definitely added a few layers on my skin for sure. Like they say, life is a struggle. All in all, it was a good learning experience. What can I say? I became salary woman in Japan and also a real shakaijin (社会人- working adult)!

After that, I moved to Yokohama and commuted to my new office in Tokyo every day. From my office I could see the beautiful Mt. Fuji view every morning. The new company was great, everyone was nice, things were right again. Then, they moved me to Osaka. The workplace and the people were completely different. People are more casual and fun. Everybody has some sort of energy which I tend to think it’s only-in-Kansai. They are fun, energetic and have a strong Kansai dialect that I got used to after a little while. In Osaka, I woke up to a buffet breakfast provided by my company, I walked 10 minutes to work, and then when I finished working, I went out and then I came home to a nice hot bath. What could be better than that? My weekend schedules were also full of travel plans to other cities in Kansai areas and even a farther trip to Okinawa and others. I had the best time!

Then, I decided to further my studies since I have always wanted to do so. This reason, along with some issues just made me go for the graduate school plan. I chose to come to Bristol, UK for my master degree. After so many years, I decided to leave which was a very hard decision but I knew it is not going to be forever (hopefully). Japan has given me so much from the start. It is one place I feel like home in many ways. One way I like to see it is that part of me grew up there. I may have become the third culture kid who understands the culture while also choosing to follow and not follow some of the traditions but I guess that’s the whole purpose to go live abroad which is to broaden your horizon and become an open-minded person.

I have been putting off writing out me leaving Japan for a long time because I simply wanted to spend time with people I knew I was going to miss and do things I knew I couldn’t do here. On top of that, I was overwhelmed with UK visa application and things I had to do before leaving Japan. If you noticed, I also didn’t go into details of many stories but maybe I can write more into it later.

So I am here in Bristol for a few weeks now. School has already started. I don’t know many people, or where to go, what to do, what to eat and others. I am still homesick. There are just millions of things I miss about living in Japan…but the main things are probably the food and people, even Thai food in Japan is quite authentic enough that it rarely let me down. The only things I don’t think I miss are those typhoons and earthquakes…and maybe morning trains on rush hours. 😛 Although wanting to go back every day, I am here now and I intend to not forget what I am here for and make this time the best. So…may new the adventure begins! 🙂

As for this blog, I will definitely continue writing more about Japan since I have so many posts in the drafts already and I may as well update you on how I am over here sometimes.

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One of the hottest day in Tokyo this year (you can probably tell).
Taken with my best friends in Sensoji temple, Asakusa(浅草寺、浅草).

My Last Trip in Kansai (for a while) – Universal Studio Japan

I moved to Osaka in April which is very recently but I am leaving Kansai (関西)soon in less than 2 weeks. Time flies when you’re having fun! I have ended things with my company peacefully and about to move back to Tokyo before moving…again. But that is another story for later.

In Osaka, I live one station from Universal Studio. Believe it or not, it is even within a walking distance. So, I saved this place for last.

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My coworker has a platinum year pass (year pass = nenkan pasu年間パス) for Universal Studio Japan (USJ), a pass that allows unlimited entrance for a year with some exceptions of New Year count down or additional fees for some special shows. With this pass, he can reserve seats for shows or new attractions before other people and receive some other privileged deals. That day, he was also able to get us discount tickets for 1 day pass (400 yen off – better than nothing!). The normal price for 1 day pass is 6,600 yen so in case you live in Osaka area, a year pass is much better than a 1 day pass. Gold year pass (スタジオゴールドパス) is 15,800 yen and platinum year pass (スタジオプラチナパス) is 22,800 yen (adult price). The differences between these two are the limitation and privileges. There are also express passes for attractions so you do not have to wait hours to ride on one attraction. However, it is an addition from the regular entrance fee.

Details on year pass -> Here!

Details on 1 day, 2 day and express passes -> Here!

For those coming from abroad, some travel companies do offer cheaper day pass. For example, this website offers discount tickets with further credit on their app download (Apple, Android – Input L2AI9 when downloading the app for bonus credits). For details of the pass, click here!

20130610-153248.jpgWe got there early in the morning. USJ opens at 9 am but they would usually open the gate about 30 minutes before. Since we live close by, we were able to get there very early and got our tickets. It was an extremely HOT day in Osaka! The sun was so bright I knew I was going to burn in the day out there.

20130610-153239.jpgWe got in and played a few fun attractions such as Jaw, Jurassic Park、and Back to the Future.;) There were not that many people since everyone were lining up for the newest attraction called ‘Back Drop’ (バックドロップ) which is a roller coaster in which you ride backward! The waiting time there was about 260 minutes so we gave up on that one.

Then, we walked around and took lots of pictures. The whole place was lively and fun despite the sun. I got my kiss with Spiderman! 😛 This and many other sets are scenes for people to take picture by the staff and if you like it, you can buy the picture, mostly for 1,500 yen each.

There were shows scheduled for many times of the day. We got to see so many fascinating outdoor shows! The staff told us to put our UV umbrellas away. …NOOO! My coworker’s phone was even too hot to be used. We were so surprised to see a message on his phone saying something like ‘気温が高すぎる’ (the temperature is too hot).

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One show I found myself praying for the man’s safe landing.
He was doing jump roping in the air!

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Besides attractions and shows, there are arcades and game booths all over the place. We all played lotto game for souvenirs. Each draw is 500 yen for one item. My poor lovely friend got an outdoor mat two times in a row! They wrote in the lotto as ‘レジャーシート’ which literally translates to ‘leisure sheet’. What a great way to make it sound better! 😛 For me, I got a small mascot doll and a bath towel.

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Besides our fun times playing games, I went around observing and cheering on little kids determined to win a prize. 🙂

20130610-153417.jpgWe also got to see Kitty! This was very funny. We went into Hello Kitty house full of little kids. They taught us to say ‘Kitty’ when they say ‘Hello’ = HELLO -> KITTY! They made the scene as if we were meeting a Hollywood star in her house which is a huge privilege…in this case, it was Kitty-chan. 😀

After walking till noon, we had lunch at Jurassic Park restaurant. It was great but not exactly what we thought dinosaurs would eat. We had so much food throughout the day: caramel popcorn, churros, pretzels, etc.

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My friend got sick after eating so much and took a ride. Luckily, there is a first aid room so we got her to lie down for an hour while we went on a roller coaster called ‘Hollywood Dream’. After a bit of rest, she was fine after. 🙂

There are just so many fun attractions inside USJ. We also got to see WaterWorld show, Rock n Roll show, The Terminator, some 4Ds attractions like Shrek and many others. All day till the night parade, we went on every attraction except the Snoopy and some kids’ ride.

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The night parade was pretty awesome! So many characters we all familiar with. Some were Disney characters…yes, I was surprised as you all probably are right now, too. 🙂

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After that, we had a few more snacks and walked home! Had a great time.

Universal Studio website:

http://www.usj.co.jp/e/ (English page)

http://www.usj.co.jp/ (Japanese page)

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I haven’t got a chance to smile. The photographer took a shot too fast!

A Weekend in Okinawa (沖縄)

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Traveling is one thing I can say I would invest on when I have the time, chance and some pocket money. A lot of people have asked if I am a secret agent, rich or if I am a professional traveler but I am none of that (although the last one sounds amazing). I started traveling since I was little as much as I can to broaden my horizon and to fulfill my own little curiosity. I prefer to spend some time in a certain place than a couple of days in order to really experience what the place is all about but that, of course, always up to time, money and for sure, some luck.

That say, this time I had a special 3-day-weekend holiday, a department holiday which is although short, I decided to spend this holiday on the beach and explore another interesting place I had never been in Japan – Okinawa.

Okinawa (沖縄) is a prefecture with group of islands located in the southernmost of Japan. The islands can be grouped into three: Okinawa islands where the main island (本島) with its capital, Naha (那覇市) is, Miyako islands (宮古島), and Yayeyama islands (八重島). It is also a site for American military bases even after WWII. It is said to be the Hawaii of Japan. Okinawa is also known as Ryukyu islands for its own culture, art, and language of the Ryukyu native culture which is very interesting.

I planned the trip quickly right after my move to Osaka in April. I got a package from HIS, paid for the trip, and then prayed for the good weather. May is supposed to be a rainy season in Okinawa which starts earlier than other parts of Japan. After May, it is the typhoon season which may easily blows off my plans. Whichever the case, May 24th – 26th was the travel date, and it was all set! I kept checking the weather and it seemed to be raining almost everyday but then suddenly, the weather for Friday May 24th changed to cloudy. I was very lucky. The weather was nice the entire trip. 🙂

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Our hotel is located in Onna-son(恩納村)or Onna village in the main island of Okinawa (本島 Hon-to) which is around an hour by bus from Naha airport (那覇空港). We flew from Kansai airport which took around 2 hours. We got to the hotel in early afternoon and the first thing we did after checking in was finding information on marine sports. We went out snorkeling just half an hour after we arrived. Our hotel is called ‘Hotel Moon Beach’; it is a beautiful resort with various marine activities and a warm indoor pool.

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This was the first time I went snorkeling with a wet suit. I was quite surprised since in Thailand, we never have to wear one except for diving. 画像 2522The fish in Andaman sea of Thailand are visible even within one meter deep water (I miss Thai beaches!). We got all the equipments, and then they started explaining how to use them. Then, we got out to the sea! The water was unexpectedly cold…like Titanic-cold as I am so used to the warm water in Thailand. The wave was quite strong. We got out and started snorkeling…so much fish life! We gave out some bread, saw more fish, and then back to the port. It was quite an exercise but definitely fun! Our hotel offers so many marine sports such as diving, para-sailing, snorkeling, canoe, and something called fly boat & so much more!

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Cool, isn’t it?

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Snorkeling time 🙂

We went out to dinner that day at an Okinawan food restaurant called がちまい(Gachimai). I found the food to be quite different from everywhere else in Japan. The variety of food and drinks were interesting. I had more than just a fun time trying all the food and drinks. 😉 The guava drink, the famous shikuasa drink (シークワーサー), and so much more yummy things that should be sold widely in Japan!

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Yummy fried crabs

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Okinawa-only ice creams

Not only the food I found different, it was the people and the dialect, too. めんそれー!(Mensore) meaning welcome as in general Japan would say いらっしゃいませ(irasshaimase) was visible almost every tourist places I went. 画像 2642The people, too, looked different from Japanese people in general. Some of them even looked like foreigners. I have heard that Okinawa people or Okinawans are actually native Ryukyu people with different cultures and dialect they had formed way before Okinawa islands became part of Japan. I do not know much about this but it is very interesting and I would definitely find out more about it.

The next day, I visited Ryukyu Village (琉球村) to explore more into the Okinawan culture. We took a taxi from our hotel for about 15 minutes.

When got there just in time for Ryukyu dance show. There was a parade, song, and then a dance I had never seen before. They used some kind of wooden instrument to make sound when dancing. Their heads and faces were so still… After the dance, they all got us dancing, too!

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We had the famous そーきそば (so-ki soba) there. It is a famous Okinawa soba with pork and flat yellow soba. The pork was so soft and tender…delicious!画像 2598

Inside the village, there were small cottages with some exhibitions in each one, for example, silk making, Okinawan musical instrument, pottery, and others. All of this, you can pay a small fee and do a trial session by yourself. Then, there were the famous water buffaloes which is quite unusual to be seen in Japan and then some goats! We explored a bit and got back to the hotel. I saw later at night that the hotel also offers a day trip to 4 different places with one lunch meal and the cost is only 4,700 yen. This is definitely worth it if you want to visit many places.

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After Ryukyu village, we got back and went out on a dragon boat (ドラゴンボート)! I am not quite sure about the difference between a dragon boat and a banana boat. In other places, it is called banana boat, a boat people ride with the intention of the driver to make it flip so that people fall into the water. However, the banana boat has only one row while dragon boat has two. So I guess that is the difference.

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Our tour package includes a buffet Yakiniku (焼肉) dinner at Okinawa Beer Garden (沖縄ビール園). What could be better than this? I couldn’t think of any. A guy from the restaurant picked us up by car to the beer garden. That good thing about this place is the free pick up. Then, everything went pretty quickly…next thing we knew, we were strolling on the street in front of the hotel trying exercise a bit after a huge meal.

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The next morning was the last day. We had the buffet breakfast, headed out for a walk on the beach and left for the airport. We had a wonderful time. Definitely a great place to visit. There are so many places in the main island to visit such as Nago pineapple park, Churaumi aquarium, Ryugujo butterfly garden, and so much more. Next time, I would love to go to other islands in Okinawa especially Ishigaki island (石垣島), an island a bit far from the main one with deep blue ocean. 😉 Time was limited, but it was a great trip.

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Airport Okinawa themed Purikura

More information on Okinawa

Travel guides:

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Late Night Conbini Run – 11PM Opening, First 50 Customers

How many of you can say you have been to a convenient store ‘Grand opening’…at 11 pm at night?

I don’t think there are many of us who have done so.

I live in my company’s dorm in Osaka not so far from the company, close enough for me to walk to work everyday. It is a pretty fancy place but that’s another story for another post. The area around the place I live is mostly covered by my company’s facilities: our office, factories, hospital, dorms, employees club, gym and other facilities. So, besides these, there are not many things despite being located only one stop from Universal Studio. No McDonald’s, no Starbucks, forget about walking in a mall after work. Thus; when something new opens around here, we all get excited (I guess?).

This time, it’s a convenient store – Family Mart! Convenient store = Conbini コンビニ in Japanese, shortened from コンビニエンスストアwhich is a direct katakana translation from English. This new Family Mart is right in front of my company. It was built and decorated in less than a month. Then, when it’s finished, they put up a sign ‘OPEN 5/22 at 11PM – First 50 CUSTOMERS GET FREE PRIZES!’ We saw a lot of people stopping to read that sign and we got interested, so we set up a goal to be one of those 50 first dates customers! As odd as this may sound, this is probably one of the funniest moments since I’ve been in Japan and one I’ll remember…

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Something to do before going out to get the prizes!

9:30 PM, we gathered at one of my coworkers’ house right next to the new Family Mart. While waiting for the time to come, we managed to snack ourselves, laughed, and played Wii!! 😀

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Some snacks for the Wii night.
POPCORN PAPA and Umai 〔うまい)

At 10 PM, we went out to see our ‘competitors’. About 10 people were already there! We got a coupon from one of the Family Mart staffs to exchange our presents. She said although the coupon says 5/22-5/23, 5/22 11 PM- midnight is the only time we can use. So YAY! We surely can get the prize now. Went back to play Wii with peaceful minds!

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Present exchange ticket

Then, it was pretty much like what pictures tell. So funny being there, coming out to a conbini at 11 pm. I kept laughing while standing in line.

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10:45 pm
LOOK LOOK..There are there already!!

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10:50 PM

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Photo for memory… 😀

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We were not the only ones looking forward to this ‘grand opening’

The place was surprisingly packed. Believe it or not, some people brought their babies. Even at this time of the night. First thing we were handed when we went in was this little bag.

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The prize for the first 50 customers!

Then, we bought their Fukubukuro 〔福袋) or Happy/Lucky bag just for fun. In my head echoed (YAY YAY YAY!).

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Family Mart Happy Bag – 500 yen!

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The store got so packed…

I started laughing till my stomach hurts seeing everyone, including myself, got all excited over a new Family Mart. I have to admit, it was kind of…fun.

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Store front: The open sale

We got back and opened the bags. Both bags were filled with snacks and drinks.

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Stuff in the lucky bag!

I guess I got my breakfast…

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The first 50 customers bag

やった!YATTA (Finally).

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11 PM Convenient store opening
CHECKED!

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WOO HOO!!

This was just a very funny night. Made me thought of my time as a college student in Beppu city 〔別府市) when I would walk outside at night to the only McDonald’s and have a few laugh with some friends while devouring the M size french fries. Everywhere, city or suburban, there are always things and events to enjoy and laugh about. ❤

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.

4 days in Taiwan (Taipei)!

I was so desperate to make an excuse to get out of the office for a couple of days. So I thought of traveling somewhere.  Some of my friends said it’s even cheaper to go to a nearby country than within Japan so I thought of Taiwan having heard that Thai citizens with a valid Japanese visa are exempted from Taiwanese visa. And I can brush up my Chinese, visit new places and EAT all the delicious food there.

I booked a package for H.I.S. – 4 days 3 nights for 30,000 yen with hotel and air tickets included. We got a super great deal. I personally would recommend H.I.S. for international travel package. We picked 自由 (ji-yuu) plan which means no tour is included and we are free to travel by ourselves. Airport pick up and sending are set up by H.I.S. which is very nice. However, with this price, we knew we couldn’t expect the hotel to be Grand Hyatt or anything fancy. The hotel turned out to be quite small but nice room in a nice area so I guess that’s more than enough. But the plane…that’s another story.

Now let’s get to the travel part!

Day 1: Tokyo -> Taipei, Ximending, Shilin night market

We left Tokyo in the morning by an airline called ‘Sccot’ スクート, a low cost airline I’ve just first heard of. My impression with this airline is NOT good at all. They plane was not very stable. It felt as if I was in a roller coaster ride for about 15 minutes when it started flying.  After everybody got to sleep, they also woke us up by ringing bells to sell ice cream.

We finally got to Taipei airport in 3 hours. There, we exchanged our money. We thought that the rate would be cheaper there but actually exchanging at Narita airport gives better rate. We exchanged only 15,000 yen for the trip.

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Our hotel is located in a shopping district Ximending- Ximen MRT station. They say it’s like Harajuku/Shibuya of Taiwan. We  walked around and ate a few things before heading to the famous Shilin night market!

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We tried a lot of food at the market and bought a lot of souvenirs. The food was great. We also found so many strange things as well.

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And the bubble milk tea, my favorite drink, is so good in Taiwan as it’s the origin of bubble milk tea.

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I have to say the MRT is very convenient and it’s quite easy to get around in Taipei. Lucky that we can also speak Chinese so that helps a lot too. If you visit Taipei, Shilin night market is a place you MUST visit. It’s full of interesting food and stuff that you don’t see very often. This picture is an example- a massage using knives at a shop called Alien study center!? It’s actually  not as scary as it looks and felt a bit good somehow.

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Day 2: Chiang Kai-Shek, Tamsui, Zhonghsan area (mall), Taipei 101

Staring off our day at Ximending since we had to get on the MRT from Ximen station. Everything was still closed at that time. But we found this amazing food on the street. I don’t know what it’s called but it’s made of flour..kind of like Roti (Indian food) and we can order eggs or pork and so many other toppings to add to it. I ordered the original one with eggs. My friend ordered a pork one. It was delicious and very cheap!

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After that we went off to Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall (國立中正紀念堂). There, it locates a monument in the memory of Chiang Kai-Shek, former President of China.  Next to the monument is a National Theatre and National Concert Hall. The area is surrounded by a big park. We were a bit surprised to see all the teenagers gather to dance and practice their performance at the memorial square. Unfortunately, the memorial hall was under construction. But the whole area was still beautiful. The weather, however, was extremely hot. Bring a hat when you visit this place!

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After visiting Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall, we decided to go to the last station on the red line, Tamsui (actually it is read as ‘Dan-Shui’). It took us around 40 minutes from Taipei city center. It is  located by the seaside in Northern Taipei. It is popular for Fisherman’s pier/wharf, the food, water activities, and the outdoors such as clycling.

We went straight to the market for lunch and found so many interesting food. The picter below on the left is fish balls with noodles inside and the right picture is pork…it was our lunch!  Other than this, we found interesting food and drinks such as almond drink, black eggs, and so many others. I bought some of them back to Japan. 😉

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After lunch, we headed for a walk around the beach. The sea breeze was so refreshing despite the hot weather. Many people were cycling, taking a boat ride and others. I was very impressed with this place locating close to the city and so peacefully lively at the same time.

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Even with a full stomach, you can’t go wrong with another cup of bubble milk tea. I recommend this shop with the nuber 50 in the logo. It is a franchaise all over Taiwan. There is another shop I like called Cha Time but I prefer this one more since you can personalize your own cup. You can choose from the jelly or the stuff to put inside, the size of the bubble(pearl?), then the sweetness from 10% to 100% (I personally chose 70% every time). The taste is very good. I personally like the normal size of pearls in the bubble milk tea and the grass jelly is also a very yummy one.

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After Tamsui, we went back to the city center. We wanted to rest a little since it was such a hot day so we decided to go to the big mall in Zhongshan area. This area has a feeling of Shinjuku-sanchome. We went to Mitsukoshi mall having heard that it is one of the biggest malls in town.

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Then, we headed to Taipei 101! The landmark of Taipei which is a skyscarper with a mall inside. It used to be the tallest building in the world as well. I love the exterior and interior design of the building very much. It is unique and very grand. There are many offices in the building as well.

We got there by shuttle bus from Taipei city hall station. We went to eat first. The food court in the B1 floor is AWESOME. Various choices to choose and not expensive either. We went to the restaurant on the same floor where they have dumplings and real Taiwanese/Chinese style food. The best I’ve ever had!

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Then, we went up to the observatory of Taipei 101. Waited in line about 40 minutes till we got to go up. The night view of Taipei city was beautiful. The observatory is wide and organized. We could see the whole city and how it is nicely arranged.

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We took a taxi back to our hotel in Ximen that night  since we stayed until the building closed and there was no more shuttle bus. Even around 20-30 minutes on a taxi, it only costed us 280 yuan (less than 1,000 yen).

Day 3: Longshan temple, Sun yat sen memorial hall, Taipei 101, Shida night market

Starting off very relaxing on the 3rd day because the flight on the next day was very early. We went to Carrefour supermarket to see some interesting products they sell in Taiwan. I got a lot of instant ramen, snacks, sauces and others.

I couldn’t wake up to have breakfast at the hotel so I went to a convenient store and bought Taiwanese oden. This is the bag they gave me. Reminded me of my art class when I was little.

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After a full stomach, we headed to Longshan temple but before we got there, we passed a place which is some kind of a historical center. We couldn’t read all the Chinese explanations so we only knew that the area used to be a school and an important place for ceremonies in the past..also related to the period when Japan colonized Taiwan.

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Finally, we got to Longshan temple. Again, it was very hot. We prayed and stayed for a while before another cup of bubble milk tea and lunch at Taipei 101 food court.

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After lunch at Taipei 101, we went to Sun Yat Sen memorial hall. It is a memorial hall for Dr. Sun Yat Sen, China’s national father. Inside the hall, Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s life and legacies are displayed there with an enormous monument of him similar to that of USA former president, Abraham Lincoln. There was a small ceremony for changing military officers as well.

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Outside the hall is like a square- a multi purpose ground for people to exercise, fly their kites, walk their dogs, etc. The place was lively and sort of bright.

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We could see the Taipei 101 building from this place as well. It is only a station away and it is actually within walking distance.

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Another great day in Taipei!

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Finishing off with Shida night market. I had the best pork bun (?), fried chicken and so many other food at this market. My friend also tried the smelly toufu, too. After eating like it was our last meal, we went back to the hotel and get ready for a 6 AM flight.

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The flight was too early. Maybe we should have paid a bit more for them to arrange a better flight. I would definitely do that next time.

We had a great time this trip. So glad to be able to travel again. Taiwan was great and I hope I get to go again someday.

Just FYI – Taipei MRT map

http://www.chinatouristmaps.com/assets/images/travelmapst/Detailed-Map-of-Taipei-Metro-System.jpg

CUP NOODLES MUSEUM – Make your own Cup Ramen!

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This museum is the coolest museum ever! Everyone who visits here would definitely enjoy the experience at this cup noodle museum. This museum was established by Nissin, a company that produces many of our favorite instant noodles such as Chicken Ramen, Cup Noodles, UFO, and even the space ramen for astronauts!!

The inventor of instant noodles is Ando Momofuku, one of the Japanese heroes! He was well-known all over the world as Mr.Noodles. His story is inspriring. I really enjoyed learning about how he created this invention very much. I have heard of him many times before since he was a PhD graduate from Ritsumeikan University, a mother university of my university and Nissin gives scholarship called Ando Momofuku scholarship to our students. But I’ve never really knew who he was and it was very interesting to hear about his stories!

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I live very close to this museum which is located in Minato-mirai, Yokohama but I’ve never really got a chance to visit since it is always full and I couldn’t make my own cup noodles every time I went there. This time, we went early in the morning around 10.30 and there was not many people so we got in a paid 500 yen for the tickets. Then we went upstairs to reserve a session for making our very own CUP NOODLES! We decided to go for the cup noodles and not chicken ramen since Chiken ramen takes a lot of time making it from the scratch. And cup noodles are fun!

So, let’s talk about how to make your own cup noodles!

First, after getting our 整理券 (sei-ri-ken), we waited a while and went up there when it was our time (11:30). We got in line and paid 300 yen for a blank cup, wash our hands and then we were led to our seats where we can decorate our cup noodles.

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It didn’t take very long to finish drawing and painting our cups. It was very fun! Here is the front part of my cup noodles.

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When we finished, we took our cups and lined up to get the cups filled. First, we put the noodles into the cup! This one is another one of Ando Momofuku’s big innovations.  He thought of how to put the ramen in the cup in a good shape and he came up with the idea of putting the cup over the ramen, then roll it over so that the ramen goes in nicely. We got to experience this as in the pictures!

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After putting in the noodles, it was time to choose flavor and toppings! There are many choices of stuff to put in but we can only choose 4 toppings with 1 flavor (normal cup noodles, spicy tamato, curry, seafood!). I chose the original flavor with shrimp, eggs and others. 🙂

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After filling in the flavor and the toppings, it’s time to put the cover and the package! The first put on the cover and then a plastic bag that became flat and stick to the cup after heating it up.

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And then…Tadaaa! We put our cup noodles inside a plastic bag and pumped some air inside and then it’s done. 🙂

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After making our own cup noodles, we went to look around the museum for exhibitions. It was very cool to see the development of instant noodles from decades ago. I found many that I absolutely love including instant ramen in other countries as well!

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The room next to the instant noodles showroom is Momofuku Theatre. There, we watched the origin of Momofuku’s life and how he invented this instant noodle in a cartoon version. It was pretty impressive! After failing everything with only his house left for him and his family, he still able to find ideas right out of the kitchen when he saw his wife making tempura which sparked the idea of frying the ramen and then put in water again.

We got to see the model of his house where all the ideas happened too. 😉

20130306-104114.jpgAfter that, we saw many stories on the wall in chronological order. Apparently, Ando Momofuku san lived a very long and happy life after all his hard work and died when he was 96!! We got much information about instant noodles industry…It’s unbelivable how so people people in the world are consuming cup noodles these days.

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Having seen all the exhibitions, we went up to get some lunch. There is a cup noodles park right beside the restaurant.

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The restaurant was quite fun as well. I never imagine a restaurant in a museum would be like this. In front of the restaurant, there is a Tuk Tuk (three-wheel car), the famous vehicle from my homeland-Thailand. Inside the restaurant, everything is decorated as if it was Thailand or somewhere in South East Asia. I have to admit that it really felt like home. We had a few cups of noodles-Tom Yum noodles, Mi goreng, etc. *happy*

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We can go out to the balcony and see the view as well!

Don’t forget to visit this cup noodles museum in Yokohama if you have a chance. You won’t regret it! 🙂

More information on the Website –> Click here

For interesting discounted day tour of Yokohama from Klook, click here! (Also, get free credits from their app download & input L2AI9 to get bonus credits)

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Look at the smoke!

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Rocks from mount Aso

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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.

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