Pug Cafes, Bamboo Forests, and Hot Springs in Kyoto and Hakone

Since we had that train pass for the bullet train during out entire stay in Japan, we decided to take advantage of it and use it for a couple trips outside of Tokyo.

The first place we went to was Kyoto and we stayed there for a total of about two days because the train ride there shaved a couple hours off a day for us. The winsome hostel we stayed at was actually a traditional wooden Japanese home that was about 100 years old and it was in great shape. It was called the Hostel Haruya Kyoto. It was the perfect location since it was quite close to the train station and it was in the middle of a narrow alleyway that consisted of many food shops. The front desk people were some of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered. They were sure to give us a grand tour of the place and they were helpful in every way. They often sat down with us to ask us about our plans and would even help map out everything to ensure that we had time to see all the things we wanted to. The bathrooms were outside which was hard since it was painfully cold outside in the mornings but we powered through. It was in a quiet area too which was good because I was always exhausted after our days in Kyoto.  Here is some more information on the hostel in case anyone was interested. image1image2image3

I was determined to see the unique pug cafe in Kyoto and thankfully I was able to reserve it for an hour or so at the Dog Salon Living Room Cafe. Although I’m someone who is allergic to all kinds of dogs, I wanted to live life on the edge and see those cuties anyways (I did later break out on my arm and ended up sneezing for the rest of the day but it was worth it) because I wasn’t too keen on seeing owl cafes or cat cafes. I heard great reviews about it from friends and from online blogs so I wanted to see it for myself. It was quite adorable and there were 11 of them in total. The owners of the pugs were really sweet and offered us some sweets along with tea. In addition to this, we were given a family tree that showed us the ages and genders of these dogs. We even got a pug calendar for free at the end of our visit! Be sure to make reservations for it if you’re interested.

The red towered shrine was an attraction that I had heard so much about so we went to find it during our first day in Kyoto. It’s also known as the Fushimi Inari Shrine and it was incredible. It was in enthralling to walk through the paths but it was a bit hard capture it all at once because numerous tourists surrounded us with their phones and cameras. I wished I could have decoded all the characters on the poles since they all had something written on them. The bold red color of the entire shrine was stunning and it was my favorite part of Kyoto.

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Another precious attraction that we could not miss was the golden pavilion that is known as Kinkaku-Ji. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and the reflection of it in the pond water was stunning. There was an obnoxious amount of tourists everywhere but it certainly didn’t take away from the beauty of it all. It’s opened everyday from 9am to 5pm and there is a small admission fee of 400 yen.

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Other things we did in Kyoto consisted of the Nishiki Market that had an endless array of foods and Gion which is known to have wandering geishas if you’re lucky enough to catch them late at night. The market has everything you need from souvenirs to local street food to local sake. It’s worth it to get lost there for an hour or so because you may eventually wander into an area that has clothing shops. My friend and I wandered around Gion to search for dessert and we stumbled upon the Kamo River along with countless restaurants and teahouses. This area is known for geishas but we didn’t see any while we were there walking about. Another thing that became my one of my favorites (other than the Fushimi Inari Shrine) was the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. 

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After Kyoto, we decided to go to Hakone for a quick day trip but we didn’t realize how much time it would take for the train and what not. We ended up getting there around 1-2 pm but by that time, many of the tour guides told us that businesses closed around 5 pm so we’d need to go somewhere that was quite close and easy to get to. It was disappointing to hear because had we known that shops closed at 5, we would have started the day much earlier. The only thing we had time to do was go to this naked hot spring that was located in a fancy hotel. This was unknown to me, but Hakone is actually known for onsens which are hot springs. This was called the Tenzen Tohji-kyo Hot Springs and it cost about 1300 yen to get in. It’s more popular among the locals than it is for tourists but that makes the experience even better in my opinion. I wasn’t able to take my smartphone anywhere so I didn’t get quality photos of the experience but it was a great way to unwind for a few hours. They had various pools of water that varied in temperature and they had a sauna room. A shower was provided which allowed you to clean yourself up a bit before getting in the pools. They had lockers and areas where you could reapply your makeup afterwards. Hairdryers and towels were also present which made this place seem insanely professional and sanitary. Not to mention it felt great to finally feel warm in Japan!

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Robot Restaurants, National Gardens, and Museums in West Tokyo

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I can’t even begin to tell you all that we did on the west side of Tokyo. We saw all the main tourist attractions such as the National Garden and Shibuya Crossing but my favorite thing had to be the Yayoi Kusama exhibit I got a chance to catch at the National Art Center. Located in Roppongi, it was just a short walk from their subway station and it was such a glorious thing to do during some of the last few days in Tokyo. The feeling I got when I walked into the room filled with her artwork was something I can’t describe. Every single piece of artwork she created was hard for me to wrap my head around since they were such intricate details. The colors were stunning and the titles of these pieces of art made me question the thoughts that ran through her head as she was creating these pieces. She is definitely a character that is unlike any other artist I’ve encountered. Her sculptures were beautiful as well and I can’t even believe I got a chance to see it because I didn’t know that the museum would be running an exhibit on her prior to arriving in Tokyo.

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Along with the National Art Center, I’d guide a tourist to go to Eggcellent for brunch in Roppongi because that was truly an experience itself. The entire restaurant is egg themed and it was adorable. I’ve never seen a place like it and they offer heaps of healthy options that will lead you scrambling to decide what to get. If you’re like me and you’re indecisive, you’ll end up getting two meals instead of one. The staff was patient and helpful with the questions we had and they did offer a menu with english on it! Mara got a buddha bowl that looked delicious and I opted for a tweaked version of the eggs benedict along with a chia pudding and veggie smoothie. The interior design of it felt like the perfect place for a nice Sunday brunch with it’s wood furniture and soft music that contributed to the ambiance.

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Shibuya is a nice place to get some shopping done if you have time to kill. There are lots of main streets that are filled with familiar stores such as Zara and Berksha but if you wander into narrow alleyways, you’ll find lots of hidden gems of independant stores that sell clothing, bags, and gifts. I wish I had more time to look through them all. I also want to point out that the Japenese people that I saw had some of the most incredible street style I’ve ever seen. I admire the fact that individuals there are able to fully be themselves and don’t conform to the norms of everyday style. Everyone looked like they were straight out of Nylon magazine and I was loving it. You can also find a cafe on any street really which was a plus cause all I wanted to do was drink hot coffee due to the harsh cold weather.

We walked from Shibuya to the Meiji Shrine since it was close and it was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city life. It’s funny how you could walk a few minutes outside the city and suddenly encounter a large forest that escapes the sounds of the city. There were handfuls of tourists on the day that we went but it was fine because it was still reletively quiet on the quest to the shrine. For residents in Tokyo, I’m sure it’s a great place to get a nice stroll in because the path to the shrine is pretty long. Along the way we saw a huge collection of sake barrels that are apprently donated from sake brewers from all around Japan.

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The shrine itself is dedicated to the Emperor and Empress and the construction for this shrine began in 1915 after the death of the Emperor. Before you enter this shrine, you’ll come across some large gates.

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The last night of Tokyo we went to Shinjuku where we saw the popular Robot Restaurant Show.  We were lucky enough to get some sort of discount because we went for a show that started around 6. I’m sure their later times are harder to get into and it was also a Friday evening. We only paid 6,000 yen each I believe and it was worth every penny. I can’t really put into words what the show was because it was hard to keep up with. Lots of lights, loud noises, and gigantic robots is all I can summarize it up to be. The waiting room was absolutely stunning because it was decorated like something in Las Vegas with velvet seats and neon lights. I mean the toilet was entirely decorated with this abstract floral pattern. There isn’t really a story line to their performance although there is kind of one in the middle of the show. They often had breaks in between parts of the show where they would allow people to use the restroom and purchase additional snacks such as popcorn and drinks. I loved the costumes and the dedication of the performers though and you could tell they were having fun through all of those. Most of us looked stunned in the audience since I’m sure none of us had seen anything quite like this. Although most people consider it a tourist trap, I strongly encourage people to go to the show if they’re ever in the area. It’s funny at some points and it’s just cool to see massive robots in general.

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Shinjuku had this store that sold every type of Kit Kat you could imagine so naturally I bought a bag of each. Let’s just say that the flight home was hard to get through because having one girl fly eight hours on a flight with nine bags of Kit Kats is basically torture. My favorite by far was the green tea ones or the sweet potato Kit Kats. Fingers crossed that they make it back home safe and sound and don’t melt into puddles in my room.

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Fish Markets, Temples, and Maid Cafes in East Tokyo

Recess week at NTU was the week that every single exchange student as been anticipating since the start of the semester and it finally came. The weeks leading up to this week was full of planning and anxiety as people were trying to weigh the pros and cons of their enormous pool of options of where to go in Asia during this time. I chose to travel to Tokyo, Japan along with other places in Japan because I’ve never been there and I was itching to go somewhere cold enough for me to break out my sweaters. The original plan was for me to go on a solo trip which had be geeking out because I impulsively bought plane tickets one evening without thinking things through but luckily one of my good friends, Mara, decided to go with me last minute! Very, very thankful that she came up with me because otherwise I surely would have gotten lost with the entire mess of Tokyo’s subway system.

I’m going to break down my posts into three parts mainly for my sake so I could organize my thoughts and figure out how to describe the incredible experiences from this eight day trip. It all seems like a blur now honestly because we had done so much within the last week that I couldn’t even begin to see how I would compound it into one entire post. I’m going to attach the exact map that Mara and I swore by to get around Tokyo to reference where all these locations were.

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I’m starting off with East Tokyo which is where we spent most of our time on the first day upon arrival. After hours and hours of waiting around in airports due to flight delays, we arrived late at night at Emblem Hostel in Nishiarai and let me just tell you that I can’t put into words how welcoming and sweet they were. Like I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t been to many hostels so I didn’t go into it with any expectations but this place was incredible. It was clean, it was organized, they were helpful in every single way and they played some of the best hip hop music I’ve ever heard. The bathrooms were communal but they almost seemed like they were brand new. The beds were stainless and neat and the locker that came inside the room was spacious enough for me to store my luggage for the entire week.

The next day we started off at the Tsukiji Fish Market that is highly raved about by travelers everywhere and it surely did not disappoint. This is a place where I would recommend everyone to go to at least once if they are passing by the area because it is filled with fresh fish and the sushi is absolutely incredible. I wasn’t there to see the auction but I made sure to go early enough where I would get the freshest foods available. There were also samples on every inch which was great for trying out mysterious things. Ramen bars could be found as well and if you get there early enough, the lines won’t be entirely too crazy. Thankfully, Mara and I are huge seafood lovers and got lots of salmon sashimi. A great start to the day!

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Next, we went to Ginza since it’s a very well known shopping area within Tokyo. It was a short walk from the fish market and it was nice to see the huge city part of Tokyo. This area resembled Times Square in New York for me and the shops were similiar as well. We didn’t buy much besides some snacks here and then such as macaroons because most of the shops in this area were luxury stores such as Gucci and Fendi.

Afterwards, we decided to go to a temple that we had listed on our list of things we wanted to do in Tokyo. We headed off to Senso-Ji Temple. Located in Asakusa, it’s an ancient Buddahist temple that is very popular among tourists. It was absolutely stunning and the area around it was nice as well since it consisted of various food stands and gift shops that carried anything you could think of. The shopping street itself is called Nakamise. We ended up spending hours here walking around because there as so much to explore. You could find traditional Japanese snacks here and souvenirs such as folding fans, magnets, sandals, and more. Later on, I realized that we should have gone at night because people say that seeing this temple at night is like no other sight in the world. When we left, we got a last minute snack from this woman who was selling chocolate covered bananas. It was too cute not to get right?

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124126Lastly, we went to Akihabara because we were both on a mission to find a maid cafe. Tokyo is known for having a wide variety of themed cafes so we wanted to find some during out trip. There are also cat cafes and owl cafes that could be found quite often around Tokyo. We found one eventually called Pinafore Maid Cafe and settled down to have a quick coffee before heading home because we wanted the experience of it but wasn’t hungry at the time. They had an extensive menu of pastas and desserts. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I knew that some maid cafes would put on shows for me but we didn’t get to see one. But they did offer to draw on our coffees which was probably the highlight of my day because Mara asked the woman to draw Hello Kitty but she didn’t understand us well so instead she spelled out the word Hello Kitty. I swear I was going to choke on my coffee when that happened because it was just a simple miscommunication that led to a funny incident. I asked the woman to draw a cat on my coffee to make up for it but it was still nothing like Hello Kitty. A good experience to have though and they do offer you

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Overall, we had a great first day and got to see a lot of what Tokyo has to offer. It was a hard adjustment from the humid and hot weather of Singapore to the cold in Tokyo but I got through it okay with numerous cups of coffee and lots of layering. The people that we encountered on the streets and on the subway stations were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Every individual we came across was eager to help us find our way and managed to communicate with us even with the language barrier. That summarizes all the things we did on the east side of Tokyo and in my next post I’ll talk about the west side of Tokyo which happens to be my favorite.