Japan Day 1 & 2 : From Kyoto to Tokyo

When I arrived in Japan from Malaysia, it was already 10.15PM. By the time I got through custom checks and baggage claims, it was already 11.00PM.

The train I wanted to take to Kyoto, the Limited Express Haruka, had stopped running - the last train was at 10.16PM. The first Limited Express Haruka was at 6.40AM in the morning. Besides, to get my JR Pass, I had to wait until 5.30AM for the JR Ticket Office to open.

This picture was taken at around 5.20AM in the morning, when I was cold and tired out from the night before.

For a brief while before, I had thought of staying at the Hotel Nikko Kansai Airport, which was adjacent to the Kansai International Airport (KIX). I even booked via the website early, which got me a booking rate of ¥9,450.

Eventually, after thinking it over, I cancelled the booking and decided to spend the night at the airport instead - basically meaning a night of not sleeping.

 I could not justify to myself spending RM300.00 on a night at the hotel, especially when I would check in at around midnight and then take the first train out to Kyoto to meet my friend. That would work out to about RM50 per hour, if I spent the night at the Nikko.

Not being particularly rich or anything, I decided to spend the night at the KIX Airport Lounge instead, after having my measly late-night dinner... one Teriyaki Burger from McDonald's'.

Sad late-night dinner for one. 

McDonald's was near the KIX Airport Lounge (to the right of McDonald's, if you come up from the escalators). Lawson was there too, if you feel like convenience food as opposed to fast food.

Here are a couple of pictures of the Airport Lounge - I paid ¥2,600 for 6 hours of watching movies on Youtube, plus free drinks. Not too bad, huh?

Free drink bar, and snacks to buy too if you are feeling peckish.

Two of the private group rooms, for larger groups of people. 

I was the first in the JR Ticket Office as soon as it opened - it was WARM, praise the Lord. I got myself a reserved seat, then passed through the Kansai Airport JR Station, took the escalator downstairs... and then proceeded to wait some more for the 6.40AM train, just sitting inside this little booth for 40 minutes or so, wishing the train would hurry up.

It took 75 minutes to get to Kyoto - when my best friend M said to meet at 'Central Gate', I panicked a little thinking I would get lost in JR Kyoto station. Thankfully, there were signs everywhere pointing to it.

Tadah! Kyoto Station Central Gate. We then took the subway to get to another station.

I was honestly so tired at this point I was ready to slump on the floor - but I didn't. In fact, I spent the morning chatting to M and taking a very long, hot shower. After all, I had not showered for a full 24 hours, and I missed my hot running water.

Thank you, whoever invented Hot Running Water. Thank you. 

For my first day in Japan that didn't involve transportation, I just chucked my belongings at M's place, and went out to catch-up lunch and desserts with both M and my Japanese friend N for a good four hours. Not something very exciting for travelling in Japan, I guess.

N made us walk around Kyoto looking for a ramen shop named Ryukishin (龍旗信) in Kyoto. In fact, we insinuated that the shop probably closed down (due to M's past interaction with N, in which they walked around a lot before N checked on his phone and realised that the shop had closed down), but luckily, Ryukishin was there.

Ryukishin is also available at Kansai International Airport, but fat chance for AirAsia visitors to sample it there, unless you want to wait until 7AM the next morning - it closes at 10PM.

Ryukishin operates by having a ticketing machine in the front foyer of their shop. After you feed it money, this ingenious machine spits out paper with the names of your order on them. You then hand over the strips of paper to the staff / cooks, who will then start preparing your meal accordingly.

I can't remember what I ordered - probably either the store bestseller or the one that is most popular among customers.I am going to assume I ordered something chashu (pork)-related, since I have two pieces of meat in my bowl that looks like the bowl in the online menu.

I didn't get any seaweed, though. Hmm.


What I do remember is that, for an autumn day and a full 24 hours of not eating proper food, I devoured that Ryukishin bowl like a lion attacks its prey. The broth was light and slightly salty, as it was shio (salt) ramen. My favourite ramen is still tonkotsu (pork bones) ramen, though.

We then made our way to a cafe (didn't get the name, sorry!) for some matcha-related desserts, and proceeded to spend about 2- 3 hours just talking in the cafe. The waitresses topped up our water several times, and we joked about them bad-mouthing these customers who only ordered one dish each but stayed so long.

I loved finally meeting my friends after months of not seeing them. It's been so long since Australia, and my university days. It honestly felt like I was back in Australia, only in Japan, with the rapid-fire Australian slang we threw at each other and reminiscing about 'back in the day'.

Oh God, I'm old.

It was good to know that we could all still get along, and poke fun at each other the way we used to. It was the perfect start to my Japan trip, just meeting some of my closest university friends that I met while studying Japanese classes in Australia. I was living the dream that university me had!

Well. Thank you, puri-kura machine. You're one of the very few that thinks so. Also, I don't think anyone is jealous. 

We then took some puri-kura pictures (of course we did), and soon enough in the evening, I was on the Shinkansen AGAIN, hurtling my way towards Tokyo... this time having not slept for 30+ hours.I finally conked out on the train itself unknowingly. The seats were just so comfy.

Having arrived at Tokyo Station, I still had to find another train that took me to Ikebukuro Station, before finding my way to Hotel Sakura Ikebukuro.

photo thelord_zpsb62d8176.gif

^This is fast becoming my new favourite gif image

I did not even have GPS at that point, seeing as that the courier dude could not find M's address. My B-mobile SIM card did not arrive before I left for Tokyo. As such, I had to use the old-fashioned way - asking people for directions.

What is human contact? 
(Being emotionally dead and all, I find it hard to talk to people I don't know - the thought of talking to strangers terrifies me. Funnily enough, my job as a writer makes it a requirement. Ah, life. )

It was not that bad, though. At Tokyo station, relying on my VERY BAD Japanese, I asked the transportation staff which train I should take to Ikebukuro Station. I took the JR Yamanote line, just to get more out of my JR Pass, and it took me an additional 35 minutes to make it to the station.

When you consider that the JR Shinkansen I took took 2 hours and a half to get from Kyoto to Tokyo, you start to appreciate how fast the Shinkansen really is.

At Ikebukuro Station, I asked the station clerk which exit I should take to find the hotel. I got out of the wrong exit (obviously) anyway. I then went to the 交番, a small neighbourhood police station, and asked there as to where Hotel Sakura Ikebukuro was.

I must digress a bit here.


The policeman was giving me directions and flipping this huge book of maps, which I did not understand at all when he showed it to me. The map did not correspond with the next page - he had to flip several pages after one instruction ("Go straight down here, then *flips pages* turn right") to show me where to go. I looked at the book with terror in my eyes.

The policeman was kind enough to repeat his instructions twice. I repeated his instructions after him at the end, and he said: "分かりますか?" (Do you understand [my instructions]?),  and I replied: "分かる。。。と思います。" (I understand... I think). He then smiled at me and said that the hotel should be easy to find, because there would be a huge sign.

>_> / <_<

I'm sort of geographically-challenged, so suffice to say I was really proud of myself when I found the hotel just a few streets away. (WHY DOES IT TAKE A FEW PAGES TO DEPICT THESE FEW STREETS?) I checked in, took another nice long shower, and then conked out on the bed immediately.

Day 1 of my Japan trip was over, just like that. The next time though, I'd probably just fly to Haneda Airport if I was going to go to Tokyo, and make my way down to the Kansai area again, or vice-versa. Hopefully with lighter luggage, so I don't have to suffer hauling things around.



Yeah not going to happen.

Day 2 was a day of more relaxation, catching up with my other best friend K, who kindly agreed to come along on the Tokyo leg of my Japan trip. More Australian friend meetups yay!

First on the agenda was lunch! Well, actually, first on the agenda was buying Studio Ghibli Museum tickets at Lawson, but they were all sold out for the day. The next day too. Not to mention, the day after. The 4th day? Nope, not a chance. Can't get into Studio Ghibli Museum during my Tokyo trip, at all.

Sigh. So I gave the Studio Ghibli Museum a miss, and we headed out for lunch instead. Staying in Ikebukuro and all,  I Googled the place prior and found out that it was actually famous for 'ramen wars', that is, streets filled with ramen stores all jostling for customers.

It was impossible to head for all of them, so I headed for the ramen store which name I saw popping up frequently on websites and blogs - Mutekiya (無敵家). Here's a description from the website itself, if you're too lazy to click on it -

'The soup used in our restaurant is a pork-based stock made from pork thighbones, which have been boiled in a large pot on high heat for 16 hours, resulting in a thick tasty broth. The broth has drawn out the sweet succulent taste of the pork, and though the soup is thick, it has a light refreshing flavour. Please relish the flavour of this exquisite soup stock which is made fresh daily.'

Commas added by the English major in me. 


Funny story: 

I went looking for Mutekiya on K's GPS, and we were searching high and low for a ramen store that had the name 'Mutekiya' in it. At some point we stopped, and K said"Well, it says it is somewhere around here". I was looking across the street trying to find some ramen stores, when something made me turn around as K was still studying his GPS. I then clocked in the line that stretched around the corner for the store right behind us. I looked at the name - it said 'Mutekiya'.

Me: "K. It's right behind us." 


Funny story over. 

Joining the ramen-waiting fray!

We joined the queue, and soon enough one of the store's staff came out handing out menus. As a testament to how popular Mutekiya was, there were even English translations for the Japanese-illiterate tourists.

The line moved fast enough, and in 20 or so minutes we were already seated. Orders were taken while waiting in line; we both decided on the Honmaru Men, with Yaki Gyouza to share.

One of my favourite things about Japanese restaurants is how they hand out wet towels for all customers - in Malaysia, you would be charged RM1 for wet towel usage. Usually in Malaysia I'd hand back the wet towel to the cashier, just to ensure they won't add the RM1 to our tab. Japanese restaurants also usually serve free water, something unheard of in Malaysia.

My friend's N reaction upon hearing that you'd had to pay for water in Malaysia was, 'Are you serious!?', so yes, plain water is usually free at Japanese restaurants.

I am in love. 

The mouth-watering bowl of Honmaru men came out looking exactly like it did in the menu. I added crushed garlic (free!) to my bowl, took a spoonful of soup for a sip... and immediately declared it to be one of the best tonkotsu ramen I ever had, even before eating the ramen.

I just love pork bones broth so much. Thick, creamy, and strong-smelling, the Mutekiya tonkotsu ramen had my seal of approval, even if it does not have CNN's

The gyoza was pretty good too, but I preferred it with shoyu sauce rather than the dash of red pepper and radish spice.

After a satisfying meal, we ventured out to Ueno because I wanted to go to a Japanese park in autumn, thinking I'd see colourful leaves in late October.

Big mistake. 

THE LEAVES WERE STILL MOSTLY GREEN. The sadder part was that because it was a Monday, the Ueno Park Zoo was closed. SIGH. I want to see some dying leaves here!

What is this greenery?!?!

Koi fish in the Lotus Pond section of Shinobazu Pond. No lotus flowers, as summer was over. 

In the end we just wandered around Ueno Park looking at scenery, going to Starbucks, and then getting ourselves to the Shinobazu Pond's Boat Pond section for some boat-paddling.

Swan boats. Don't get them - their necks block views. Also they are the most expensive at ¥700 per 30 minutes. 

Admittedly, the scenery was still nice, even if the leaves were not dying.

Afterwards I insisted on going to Shibuya, because I wanted to see Shibuya 109 after seeing it heaps in fashion magazines.

Yeah, I'm superficial like that. I went inside Shibuya 109 and marvelled at all the pretty shop staff and cute clothes that were mostly out of my price range.

Oh, to be richer.

The shop staff were superbly pretty dressed in their shop's clothes. In the face of all these prettiness, I could suddenly tell why Japanese girls always had this image of looking so good. After all, if everyone around you cared about their appearances, and put in extra effort to look good, you would jump on the bandwagon too and strive to look your best as much as possible.

At night for dinner we travelled to Ginza to look for the elusive restaurant - Meikyuu no Kuni no Arisu Ginza restaurant, or, Alice in a labyrinth Ginza restaurant. It took us a while to find the building the Alice restaurant was situated in - nobody we asked knew where this Taiyo building was, but people definitely knew of the Alice restaurant.

We went to the 5th floor, and immediately the atmosphere transported us into the pages of a book. A waitress came out to guide us in. The waitresses were dressed in Alice uniforms, and were super courteous and helpful.

I went to visit the restroom on the way in - it was dim in lighting to fit in with the atmosphere. Actually, it was a little creepy, so I got out as quickly as I can :/. I was trying to figure out how to get the tap water to run, when I realised there was a button on the floor that I was meant to step on, in order to get the water flowing.

We walked past curtains that looked like the pages of an old, illustrated book - you can check it out in the gallery section of the linked website. We were then led to a table next to the cup in the Teacup Room. I'd love to have sat in the cup, but it wasn't for small groups, and it was already filled with a group of Japanese girls anyway.

The restaurant is pretty small, but looked bigger thanks to clever use of mirrors on the walls. My breath was taken away by the small details the restaurant had, such as the playing cards on the ceiling, the card themes on the tables, even the spider on the ceiling light.

The cutest thing had to be the box that the menu came in, though!

The waitress took out the closed menu from within that box, with actual clock ticking on the top right, and the cutest tiniest details such as a tiny light, and a table plus chair combo!

Let's be honest here, you come here for the ambiance, not the food really. The food was not 'bad' in any sense, but it's still edible. Kind of like a fancy cafeteria school lunch for rather exorbitant prices - I think I must have paid about ¥2,300 - ¥2,500 or so for this. Our 'Alice' waitress explained to us that each person must have at least one drink and one main meal.

Taking in payment for drinks, main meal, and the dessert, I must definitely have paid about ¥2,000++ for this dining experience. Look how cute the dishes are though!

Getting bread and tea, as one is wont to do in Wonderland / Underland.

Basically, biscuits and sweet jam. The waitress told us to look for a hidden Alice. Um, she's right there. ^

The main meal, Cheshire Cat's face on the spaghetti ragu. Of course, his face slowly disappeared, that cat (we ate him, oops).

Dessert! I believe this was chocolate cake with vanilla ice-cream and strawberries.

Would I go back to this restaurant again? Sure. Not all the time, maybe, but every once in a while, being transported to a different world in a physical sense (apart from my favourite other-world transport methods, reading books and writing) does my heart a world of good.

An advice - when asking for the bill, ask for 'check', not 'bill', as that will result in a glass of beer being brought to your table. True story. Lots of 'sumimasens' and 'gomenasai' commenced on both ends, for not understanding each other better.


Next up, Disneyland and DisneySea! Stay tuned. :)