Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Osaka Hanami

On Sunday I went hanami-ing in Osaka!

Sakura in Makino on my way to the station.
Thankfully I managed to find time for it--I won't have the chance to go again until this weekend. Wednesday is my only semi-free day, and it's supposed to rain. Oh well. Even yesterday I almost didn't make it, since I had a midterm paper to finish and a bunch of other thing to do, but the weather was too nice to pass up so I opted to pull an allnighter instead of finishing my work during the day instead.

 I'm hoping I'll be able to make it out again this weekend. If all goes well, I'm going to try to make it to Nara one day and Kyoto the next. If not...there's always Osaka Castle again. :)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Omiyage Chocolate


Omiyage that I got from my supervisor the other day. Who got them from someone else. Yummy...but didn't taste anything like plum flavor.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Karaage Tuesday

I'm not a huge fan of the food on campus, but sometimes I can't resist it. Even one of my favorites, the karaage-don, could be better...but I can't help myself every Tuesday. Tuesday's the only day that I have time for lunch, so I always splurge and reward myself for my only 9am class with this beautiful mix of fried chicken, rice, mayonnaise, hard-boiled egg, and nori.

This week's going to be a little rough since it's midterms week. Oral exam tomorrow, grammar/expression exam Thursday, and reading/writing exam Friday. Also 2000-character paper due Friday, introduction poster due Friday, need to choose classes for next year asap, work Thursday, and no time this weekend to go anywhere because of my other midterm next Monday and the International Festival on Sunday.

...I might have to make time to stop by the cafeteria tomorrow and pre-reward myself for all of this.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Roll Cake and Pierogies in Japan

Yesterday I probably should've done one last spring break trip, but after my Osaka adventure, I was still worn out (and a little short on cash). I would've just spent the day catching up on stuff at home, but I still really wanted that cake I couldn't get the day before, so I went down to Hirakata Station for my cake.

I really love the roll cakes from near the station, though they're kind of expensive...1260 yen for one (less if you go to the different shop, though there aren't strawberries on top of it). Although they are huge (especially if you're devouring one by yourself), so that kind of makes up for the price.

I also splurged a bit and bought flour and potatoes. To make pierogies. I love love love love love pierogies and as a Pennsylvanian whose high school has pierogies on a nearly daily basis, I've been in a pierogi deficiency for the past few months. Somehow, I managed to make some on my own! Most had a really odd shape, except for the last two I made when I finally figured out the best way to put them together. I still have all the ingredients to make more...I may suffer from a pierogi overdose soon.

Super Osaka Excursion

For spring break, I didn't make any plans. I haven't had the time in the past few weeks to figure out an elaborate trip like most people did...so the first day of break I made plans to go to Kyushu, which, after a few hours of planning, I decided was too much, so I made plans to go back to Tokyo and visit the sights in Yokohama and Kamakura that I didn't see last time I went. And then I decided that was also too much, so I ultimately didn't go anywhere.

This worked out in the end, since I really needed this week to recharge and it gave me a chance to go to Hanatouro in Kyoto. But even after that, I made plans to go to Kobe, but mainly because of the weather not being so great (and because I spent too much time wondering about whether to save money with a Kansai 3-day Pass or whether I should just spend the money as I went), I ended up not going there either. Even Nara -- I couldn't go on the trip to Asuka last semester because I had caught a cold and wasn't up to it then, but the idea of going there and renting a bike to explore by myself...seemed too lonely (and again, biking in the rain in an unfamiliar area didn't sound too fun either).

So I decided to stay right here, in Osaka, and have a full-out tourist-in-Osaka day. I bought a Keihan-version Osaka Kaiyu Ticket, which, in addition to admission into the aquarium in Osaka, Kaiyukan,  let me ride the Osaka subway and the Keihan trains unlimitedly (it also gave me discounts to a bunch of sightseeing areas, though I only visited one on the list).

My plan was to use the ticket on the subways as much as possible, since that's my biggest problem when I go to Osaka. To even go from Yodoyabashi to Shinsaibashi is 200 yen, so I always have to either pick Shinsaibashi or Umeda because I don't want to pay the subway fee more than I need to (I could walk, I know...but that takes too much time).

This story gets really long, so click below to keep reading. :)

Very Berry Cafe

After my trip in Higashiyama, I met up with some friends to have dinner. We ended up at a cute cafe near Teramachi called Very Berry Cafe. While it was overpriced, the design of the restaurant makes up for it--it's a completely American-themed cafe. The one we went into (there are a few different Very Berry Cafes in Kyoto) had a huge American flag on the wall, a Simpsons figure on the shelf, and had a TV playing Shrek. I was the only actual American in that cafe, though. :P

Like I said, it was kind of overpriced -- around 1200 yen for the set meal (burger, drink, and small dish of ice cream), but individual items were around 900 yen, side dishes around 500 yen, and desserts all around 700-1000 yen. I settled for just the set meal, but I was so, so tempted by the coconut milk pancakes...next time, I guess.

I really want coasters like this.

Cute ice cream spoon.

Deserted Teramachi.

Hanatouro – Lit Flower Path

Earlier this week was Hanatouro, an lighting event held in Kyoto twice a year. In the winter, it's held in Arashiyama and in the spring it's held in Higashiyama, and thankfully I was able to go to both.

Tenryuji Temple
Arashiyama's Hanatouro is probably most known for its illuminated bamboo groves, which really are kind of spooky to walk through at night...though if it's crowded like it was when I went, it's probably not as bad. I didn't go into any of the temples at night (though I did check out Tenryuji Temple before it got dark). However, I did wander around for a while before I went home, where I saw a lot of the ikebana displays in the area. I also stumbled upon Torokko Arashiyama Station, which was kind of nostalgic -- I remember eating ice cream with yatsuhashi in it there when I was in Japan in 2010. The ice cream stand was closed for the night, but there were a few other food stands set up there as a rest area, though.

Togetsukyo Bridge
Bamboo groves.

Fire pot.
Another plus to the day I went to the Arashiyama Hanatouro is that it was overcast, but it didn't actually rain. During the day when I wandered around the shops near Togetsukyo Bridge, the atmosphere was just more fitting than if it had been raining. In the area near the Keifuku Arashiyama Station (I think? There are a lot of stations there...), where there are a bunch of food and cake shops, they also had little fires set up to keep people warm...it was kind of painful to separate myself from one when I wanted to do more sightseeing. If it had been sunny and warm, I don't think it would have been as memorable of an experience.

The Higashiyama Hanatouro definitely has a different atmosphere than the one in Arashiyama. It might've just been the days I was there, but because Higashiyama is right near Gion, Shijo, and Sanjo, it's usually a bit more crowded with people to begin with.

Shopping near Kiyomizu Temple.
Kiyomizu Temple, with Kyoto Tower visible
In Higashiyama, I did manage to visit a lot more illuminated temples and shrines than in Arashiyama. Of those, and probably one of the most visited spots in this area, was Kiyomizu Temple, which was amazing lit up. The surrounding shopping streets were also open later than usual for Hanatouro, so I had a couple of yatsuhashi sample and tea breaks on my way back. After Kiyomizu Temple, I went to Kodaiji, where the Zen rock gardens and bamboo grove were lit up. I didn't have much time for anything else after this, so I went to Yasaka Shrine, where there were some food stands set up, and had a quick break for dinner before going home.

Kodaiji rock garden
Since there was one more day of Hanatouro left, I decided to go a second time and visit the rest of the temples I didn't have time for the day before. First I went to Yasaka Shrine, where there was a maiko dance performance that I managed to catch part of before moving on to Maruyama Park, where the ikebana display and lit bamboo display was. After that, I went to Chionin Temple and walked through the gardens (although I don't recommend it -- it was expensive and the majority of the lights were free on the outside) and saw the free music and light show that was shown on the back of the main gate (which was really really neat). Before I met my friends at Sanjo Station, I quickly went to Shorenin Temple, where there was a light show in the rock gardens similar to the one at Kodaiji, although I thought the one at Shorenin was more calming...though that might've just been because of all the tiny blue lights, which made it look as though you were looking at little stars.

Yasaka Shrine
The only place I didn't stop at that was on the list of advertised sights for Hanatouro was Entokuin Temple, since it was pricey unless you paired the ticket with a visit to Kodaiji...which I considered, but Entokuin actually didn't have much lighting at all, according to the pamphlet. I haven't been there yet, though, so I'll definitely try to visit sometime...during the day, I mean.
There were a few other events going on during Hanatouro, as well, such as the Kitsune no Yomeiri Procession, where a woman in an elaborate costume and fox mask visited each of the sights with her procession of monks and temple staff.

Yasaka Shrine
If you're in Kyoto for either the spring or fall Hanatouro, I really recommend checking it out! It was chilly both times I went, but just walking through temples at night at Kyoto is a really unique experience and isn't something you can do very often, which made this event even more special.

Bamboo display at Maruyama Park.

Chionin light show.

Shorenin rock gardens.