Monday, April 20, 2015

Chasing Cherry Blossoms and Eating in Osaka

It seems like almost everyone I know who went out of the country for Holy Week went to Japan. I've even heard people refer to it as the new Hong Kong, which used to be the favorite weekend destination for Filipinos mainly because of proximity. I guess you could say that the timing worked really well because the Holy Week holidays in the Philippines were from the 1st of April to the 4th of April (unlike abroad where it's normally only Easter Monday that's a holiday) right at the same time as the forecast for Cherry Blossoms in the Kansai Region.

Cebu Pacific's affordable fares, combined with the more generous Visas given by the Japanese Embassy in Manila really makes it more convenient to visit Japan. Our flight even arrived earlier than scheduled. What came as quite a surprise was how disorganized the Kansai Airport was at processing passengers through immigration.

I'm sure nobody needed to tell them that Sakura or Cherry Blossom season is their peak season, and I'm sure they also know how many visitors they normally receive every year. What I found most disappointing (for Japan!!!) was only 7 out of 20+ counters were open, and they had a long snaking queue - which suddenly ends right before the counters start - then it becomes free for all. Each counter had a semblance of a line - with three ends! It was so ridiculous (not to mention frustrating) for a country well known for being organized.

It also seemed like the guys at the counter, were not even in a hurry. I actually timed them, and they took approximately a minute, to a minute and a half per passenger. Total time we spent waiting to clear immigration was 2 hours. Super que horror.
It was such a zoo that I was able to take this photo of
Sofia, despite the no photograph signs around, and I
was trying to be subtle at that. A lot of the Chinese tourists
around me didn't even try to be subtle.
We took so long to come out that the luggage was all organized in piles,
based on flight number - off the belt, as they needed the belt for the newly
arrived flights (whose passengers I'm sure were still in the bloody line).
This little girl is such a happy camper, though all of us were hungry na by
then. This was past 10pm already.

Good thing Immigration was the only stressful part of our trip.
Taking the Nankai train to Namba Station was a breeze.
Though some of the station exits were already closed by the time we arrived thanks to the Immigration queue, we still managed to find our way to the hotel.
When we saw Kin Ryu on the way, we decided to
stop for a late dinner. You can read Sofia's post for more
details on that here.
We were so happy to see that our hotel was in a really
nice location, in between Namba and Dotombori.
Timing was perfect too, because we arrived just in
time for the full bloom of the Cherry Blossoms.
Our first three days were really chaotic. Since we went to Japan to see Cherry Blossoms, we wanted to catch it before they all fell down, since it was raining, we were pretty sure they were falling off faster than normal.
Our first stop was the 100 Yen shop at the top level of
Bic Camera to buy umbrellas because it started raining.
You can actually see our hotel from the lift of Bic Camera.
Armed with our umbrellas on the subway to Osaka Castle.
Wow! You can already see the Cherry Blossoms as soon
as you get out of the subway.
One of the best places to see Cherry Blossoms in Osaka is by Osaka Castle.
More on that on a separate post, needless to say, it's not that fun looking
at them in the rain.
Like locals picnicking under tents to enjoy Hanami (Flower Viewing),
we also had lunch from the food stalls near the castle under the rain.
Since lunch wasn't really substantial, our first stop upon getting back to
Namba was some to grab some Pon De Ring Donuts! Yummy! 
Then we dragged the family to Sukiya for dinner so Ady and I could
satisfy our Gyudon with Cheese craving.
Sof ordered the Kid's Meal.
We ordered the 2x Beef Gyudon with Cheese (1,100 calories).
I wonder how much total calories it comes out to if you leave most of the rice.
They also have a Yakiniku bowl (grilled pork) which you can have with a
raw egg. I guess it's some sort of Yakiniku meets Sukiyaki peg.
Dotombori was just a street behind our hotel.
We walked a bit after dinner, but this is as close as we made it to the
Glico Man.

We originally planned to go to Kobe the following day because everyone wanted to eat Kobe Steak, but since it turned out to be the only sunny day during our stay, we decided to go to Kyoto to look at more Cherry Blossoms instead.
First stop was our favorite Soba restaurant in Kyoto's Nishiki Market.
Weeping Cherry Blossom tree in the middle of
Kyoto's Kawaramachi Shopping Street.
We didn't have to walk far to see the Cherry Blossoms. We attempted to go
farther, but the family voted to just enjoy the view and take it easy.
Since we were all travelling on the Hankyu Pass, which you can read about here, we still planned to push through with having dinner in Kobe, so we just went shopping in Umeda for a bit before we headed for dinner.
One of Sofia's finds from the Lucua shopping mall in
Umeda is this cool colored pencils set, perfect for traveling.
Since we were very happy with our dinner at Kobe Fuji
when we went in July, we just went to the same place
for dinner.
We got seats beside where they cook this time around, with Sof supervising
the cooking.
We ordered 2 sets of the A5 Prime Kobe Beef, and 1 set of the Kobe Sirloin
Steak for comparison.
It was as good as I remember. The friendly chef even brought out the
plaque to show us that the A5 Prime Beef we ordered was award-winning,
whatever that means.
Nothing compares to A5 Prime Kobe Beef, with pink salt!
To walk off our dinner, we went around the nearby Tokyu Hands before
we headed back. I found the 3D Latte maker that I was looking for.

The next day, we had another busy day planned. 
We rushed so we could visit the Cup Noodles Museum, because Sof wanted
to experience making her own Cup Noodles. Up soon on the blog -
I'll tell you how you can do this without taking too much time. 
Our schedule was hectic because we wanted to make the most of our second day on the Hankyu Pass and the Cup Noodles Museum is accessible through Ikeda, on the Hankyu line. After lunch, we headed to Kobe where Ady and I wanted to visit the UCC Museum, and we also planned to visit the Kawasaki Museum, you can read about our previous visit there here.  There were just too many things we wanted to do and too little time so we decided to split up.
Auntie Celit and Ma decided to go with Ady and me because there was
less walking to go to the UCC Museum.
Museum entrance is 300Yen with Coffee Tasting included,
and an interactive quiz where you can print your certificate.
Sof managed to convince her Lolo to go with her to the Kawasaki
Dream World Museum.
They both had a blast, which you can read about from Sofia's post here.
We were supposed to meet at Tokyu Hands,
but Sofia ambushed us at this corner where she and her lolo
were both resting before dinner.
We went back to Kobe Fuji for our second Kobe Steak Dinner.
Sof as usual was supervising.
Since we already had our fill of the A5 Prime Kobe Beef the night before,
we decided to just order more of the Kobe Sirloin Steak which was also
good, but only half the price.
I can't believe I didn't know that Kobe Steak was also really good
dipped in Soy Sauce with Wasabi. Just imagine steak instead of sushi.
Melt in Your Mouth Steak at that. Yummy.
This time around, we got to try more sides because it comes with the set.
Happy tummies. Happy family.

After our tiring first 3 days, we were finally able to enjoy our vacation in Osaka more. We would meet up at noon, so everyone could sleep in, then we would just go around to eat, we'd split up to shop and nap, then we'd meet up for dinner again.
One of the places nearby that we visited several times was Kuromon Market.
This deserves a separate post since even I was convinced that I love fatty tuna.
Another favorite place which we visited was Ippudo, which offers a
weekday lunch set menu (lower right), so we went for lunch on a Monday.
Though Sof prefers eating pork with rice to the yummy ramen.
Papa playing tourist at Ippudo.
Another must visit place on our itinerary is Toys R Us
in Namba Parks, but Sof may be outgrowing the toys age
because it's the first time she came out empty handed.
Another favorite place we have in the Namba area is Hop Chou a la creme.
The not quite cream puff that's has a caramelized shell with custard filling.
Dotombori during the day.
One of Sofia's favorite meals in Osaka is the Tempura place in the shopping
arcade right beside our hotel.
When she likes the food, she actually knows how to
eat by herself, using chopsticks no less.
We also got a chance to meet up with some friends from work,
Mykee and Adri - so Sofia joined us for a second dinner and drinks.
Then Adri brought us to her favorite sushi place,
also in the arcade very near our hotel.
Not as cheap as conveyor belt sushi places, but look at the quality!
Fresh fish, that's 3x the size of the rice! Low Carb Sushi for the win!
and what we ate pala was not just fatty tuna. it's fattest tuna!
Just look for Osaka Ichiba Zushi in the Namba/Dotombori area.
It was only in Japan did I realize that Sof and I can
actually share socks. I told her we should go out the whole
day with mismatched socks, but her OCness couldn't take it.
Thankfully, it started getting cold during the second half
of our trip, so we started layering. Matching OOTD.
You'd think she was suffering from a hangover after her late night out.
I wanted to take a picture at the ShinsaiBashi Arcade with the crowd in our
Where's Wally shirt, then the crowd disappeared for photo time.
I finally got a chance to eat Takoyaki from my favorite place when the family
decided they wanted to eat more Ramen because it was very cold. 
I love Takoyaki. I should learn how to make this.
Sof ate at McDonald's on one of the days we went back to Kuromon Market
for lunch. She was trying to be independent, clearing her own tray, next
thing I knew - even her tray made it into the trash. Ooopsie.
I guess they don't teach you how to do that even after 2 years of kiddie crew.

Staying at the same place for a week gets a bit tiring, so our our last few nights we were looking for a Yakitori place. We kept walking around until Ady found a Yakitori sign on the second floor restaurant (of the building with Family Mart) across the famous Dotombori crab place.
It was quite funny though because while they had grilled chicken, and Auntie
Celit's favorite grilled chicken tails on the menu, they didn't have any Yakitori
sticks as we know it. The fried rice was really yummy though.
(we ate it so fast, there's no picture).
Since we still had yet to satisfy our yakitori craving,
we decided to eat at the grilled chicken place near our
Yakitori Craving finally satisfied. It just wasn't that cheap because each
person needs to pay 300 for the tofu starter, and order at least 1 drink. 
Mandatory appetizer fee might be the norm for Yakitori places though, as we also had to pay the same thing at the Yakitori (with no Yakitori sticks) place the night before.
If you want to find the Yakitori Place, or the Sushi place, just look for these
signs because they are right beside each other.
The only thing I don't easily find in Japan is mochi Ice Cream. We only found
normal Vanilla Mochi which we can get in more flavors in  Hong Kong.
We didn't shop that much, but our luggage was still
overflowing, and Sof managed to hoard her favorite snacks,
different kinds of Poppin Cookin, and other kawaii stuff. 
Clowning around the Dotombori on our last day.
The classic feed me some sushi pls shot.
Till next time Glico Man! That was fun.
On our last day, since the hotel check out time was 10am, and our flight
was after dinner, we decided to just spend our last day at Rinku Premium
Outlets. Good decision too since they were on sale. 
That was really a fun trip, where we saw the beautiful Cherry Blossoms, we enjoyed the weather - which was a very welcome break compared to the summer heat in Manila, and we were also able to rest and relax in between eating and shopping. I'm quite glad my next vacation is still in June because I never realized too much vacationing can really be tiring. just saying.

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