Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Japan - Day 1, Tokyo, Shibuya Street & Akihabara Electric Town


Every year I devote myself to one big vacation. I made sure I have a lot of savings to splurge on that vacation, and calculated all the things that I needed to do or buy.

JAPAN WAS THAT VACATION THIS YEAR.

Not knowing whether I will ever come back to Japan, I decided this trip was to cover most of the areas that I wanted to. Like, simply, staying in a traditional Japanese home, eating sushis in Japan, checking out Tokyo Disneyland, discover manga, the very few Japanese stuff I know of. I really know SO LITTLE of Japan, and decided this was the chance to learn all of that.

Tokyo

We flew in via AirAsia to Tokyo (Haneda) first. Our take off was around 2pm in the afternoon (Kuala Lumpur) and reached Haneda around 11.30pm. We were made to understand that the train stops operating around 12am, and counting the fact that we needed to pay an extra night just for a couple of hours till we move to our airbnb home, we disregard the idea, and stayed the night in the airport.

Apparently, a lot of people opted that too. There were tons of people crashing on the sofas probably having the same itinerary as we are.

The next morning, after checking in and meeting our new friends via airbnb that hosted us, we decided to SLEEP and REST. We were so jet lagged that by the time we saw the tatami mats and futons we crashed and completely forgot our itinerary.


^ Meg and Ume's lovely hall.

First Day

We slept from 9am - 1pm, and actually, we wanted to rest even more. By the time we were out ready to finally explore Tokyo, it was almost 2pm. And lunch, beckons.

I decided the first thing we were going to check out is the infamous SHIBUYA STREET! Where photos, movies and everything else paraded this street as one of the busiest street in the world. Some say, it's the Times Square of Asia. I mean, it should BE!

I even took videos to record the thousands that cross over this path every time the pedestrian's light turns green! I was so fascinated by it!





^Lovely Shibuya at night.


Our mealtimes were all over the place when we traveled, and Japan was no less. By the time we reached Shibuya, roamed around the streets that are so insanely popular for shopping, the inner and outer streets there were, it was almost  4.30pm that we finally decided to eat.

Lunch at Shibuya Street

We searched for high and low for that Robot Restaurant alas, we couldn't find it. It was our first time walking into a Japanese restaurant, and we were so dumbfounded by the idea that we have to pay for our food at a machine before entering the restaurant. Well, there's always a first time, and what better way to learn it than from Japan itself :) 

We wanted something big, one, because we were so hungry, two something to sustain us till dinner. 

^ Love how Japanese restaurants are so animated with greetings and impeccable customer service. 

^ This had a lot of bean sprouts in it.


Akihabara @ Electric Town

We took the train and head to our next stop, the enchanting Akihabara @ Electric Town around 7.30pm. I read so few about it to know what to expect, just judging by the name of the place itself, I wondered, what could possible be there?

Right after walking out of the train I begin to see so people carrying bags and bags of figurines, toys, and other anime related items. And then I was greeted by these;

^Giant anime billboards!

OH! This must be the place where everything is possible I say! From your wildest imagination to your strangest desires. This Is The Place!

So I Googled the significance of this electric town. And it says, Akihabara was famous shortly after World War II for being a famous shopping area for household and electronic goods. Which has since then developed and evolved into a shopping district for video games, anime, manga and computer goods and games.The eccentricity of it all made it a fascinating walk as we stumbled upon maid cafes, adult stores, and anime shops. Everything was vibrant!

This is everything I know Japan of! 

^Pachinko slots EVERYWHERE!

^ I loved the streets of Akihabara.

 ^It took me a while to figure out what this guy was doing and what this service actually was. So apparently, you can rent special DVDs and have some quality time to yourself.


^And everything imaginable. If you want to be a zebra, or fake beard, everything is possible in Japan!

Standing Sushi

We wanted to leave Akihabara but by that time we realised it was already 11pm and we were getting seriously hungry. We snacked throughout the walk (mostly buns, because Japanese buns are amazing), but we wanted something more.

So we stepped into a sushi parlour not knowing it was a standing sushi bar. We were exhausted, but that didn't stop us. We were convinced by the veteran chefs, looking clearly serious in what they do.

We ordered a plate full of variety of sushis and I ordered miso soup to brave the cold. IT WAS HEAVENLY. All these while knowing that sushis are something so fine, and glamour, but seeing that particular sushi parlour not only was small, we had to stand and smelled like fish! Absolutely interesting.

That moment when we took a bite of each other's sushis we were like omg - this is how you do it. This must be how you do it. It was so good we decided to end it just enough to make us remember it that way.



We ended the first night in Tokyo discovering just two areas - Shibuya and Akihabara but we were SO HAPPY. We took everything as easy as it goes, and enjoyed every little walk.

This was that moment when I fell in love with Japan :)

Read More Japan Posts:

Japan Day 2: Disneyland
Japan Day 3: Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto

Love,
Jacqueline Rowena @ Jacqkie.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

5 Ways to Move around Kota Kinabalu

As I walked into my car, sat down calmly, and switched the aircond on, I saw a young Western couple, ploughing their bags into the back of the boots. AH! They drove I thought to myself. I figured, as someone who are from Kota Kinabalu and LIVING in Kota Kinabalu, maybe I should share some insights on how one can move around Kota Kinabalu.

1) By Motorcycle / Bike
My best suggestion to explore the bite-sized Kota Kinabalu is by bike! It's easy on the legs and it's also a breeze to explore with. It's always jammed in Kota Kinabalu, so swerving through with the bikes might just be a good answer. BUT remember, that also means you'd have to be extra careful or vigilant with the big lorries and other daunting vehicles. Most areas around Kota Kinabalu are within 10 - 30 minutes, so really, a bike is the best way!

2) By Bicycle
Although no "proper bicycle" lane, moving around by bike is becoming the favourable choice. It's the healthier one too, and it's convenient because it's always easy to avoid the jam in such a small town like Kota Kinabalu. Like the motorcycle, swerving through corners of busy streets can be great!

3) By Foot 
Yes, Kota Kinabalu is actually very small. And when I mean Kota Kinabalu, I mean the heart of the city, central business district Kota Kinabalu, from Imago Mall to the Jesselton Port. You can actually walk from one end to the other. This whole stretch might take you an hour or less, as it's only 3KM or less. Enjoy the coastal walk, and the coastal is deemed to have one of the best sunset in the world!

4) By Bus 
For whatever reason, taking the bus in Kota Kinabalu isn't so popular. OKAY - maybe it's not as punctual (do we even have timetables?!) as the ones in places like Australia, Singapore and maybe even in KL - BUT the buses do cover local areas including the main city (use City Bus, green in colour), central business district and even local areas like Penampang. Really - buses are the BEST way to penetrate through the local streets.

5) And last but not least, DRIVE!
This should be your last option, unless you don't mind to spend, because driving or renting a car is the most expensive option between all 5. Not the most impractical, because it is quite practical (until you get stucked in a jam), but because there are areas that you require you to drive! Like, most tourists who arrive Kota Kinabalu thinks Kundasang is a stone throw away, but actually it's not. So in any case that you decide to drive further, to other more interesting place, driving might just be the best.


Hope this helps and let me know if you've got questions!

Love,
Jacqueline Rowena @ Jacqkie.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Accommodation via Airbnb in Japan

When I started airbnb a few years ago, I'd never thought I'd be completely smitten by it. During my last trip to Sri Lanka, I fell in love with the idea of staying in the suburbs with a local Sri Lankan. Despite having to brave through the suburbs, finding solace in the homes of the locals' is eventually the ultimate prize. 

Also, in such a short period of time to know the city, the idea really kills a few birds with one stone. 

We did the same in Japan.

I'll share with you here on the places that we stayed using Airbnb. In average, each of us spend about MYR 85 - 100 in one night and that's in a twin setting. I Googled to see some of the average rates for accommodation / hostels in Tokyo, and it would cost from MYR 150 onwards per person. After thinking sometime about it, we figured it's best we use some of our money to stay in a real Japanese house with a local Japanese as the host.


Tokyo

Our first stay in Japan was in Tokyo with the lovely young family of Ume, Meg and Haruka. I chose their home because it was the more affordable ones around, and because of the excellent reviews. Ume and Meg's house is for the young. It's not really far from the train station, but neither it is across the street. It's about an 8 - 10 minutes walk with quaint shops around.

I am especially delighted looking at the beautiful flower shops around :))) I get so distracted by them every morning!


Minus the super location, the young family is such a beautiful family. I wanted to chat with Meg all day long, but I coudn't. I was so enchanted by her life as a young mum and how she'd have to go back to work after a year plus of maternity leave.

Sometimes, when I'm not looking she snaps a photo of baby Haruka.



MUST BE LOVE. THIS PLACE IS LOVE.

The room itself fits us just nicely. It is laid out by the traditional tatami mats with warm futons. Sleeping in a Japanese home has got to be one of my bucket list I never knew.

They had heater which saved us during winter, and the most effective mini bathroom ever! If there is one thing that I truly learn from the Japanese, it's SPACE! They're masterclass at it, and Ume & Meg's beautiful home is no exception.



Airbnb Listing: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4266616 


Kyoto

If there truly was a favourite between all the three place that we stayed in Japan, Rumi's house in Kyoto might be just it.

Cool and suave. Those were my first impression of our next Japanese host, the young and cool Rumi.

There is a greater good and reason to Rumi's built guesthouse. From the wise words of the self-proclaimed grandma Rumi, "this place is for the community around this area to meet and talk. We do not seem to talk anymore, we're so busy".




With a story like that, there is almost no reason to add any salt and pepper to.


A traditional 50 year old Japanese home, Rumi's place is almost like a central point for all the airbnb travelers around Japanese find peace in. Located just 5 minutes away from the less complicated train station between the two cities, also, with flower shops around to distract me with, her home is comfort after a long day out..

Rumi too is an excellent host.

She bought delicious fine sakes on our first night and connected us with a bunch of Italians who are here the first time as well. Like every other travels, we had good laughs and loves.



Cozy is an understatement, this was home.

Airbnb Listing: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4010785 


Osaka

Osaka welcomed us in a good note. We reached Osaka pretty late, around 8pm, and getting lost in suburbs at that time was the last thing we wanted to do. BUT - her instructions were clear and easy.

The heroes of the city were the few people that walked up to us and asked us if they could help us. We were so hesitant at first, but were desperate enough to trust people. We found her (Noco) place in less than 5 minutes.

Noco's home seemed more systematic, and had a lot more guests. The doors were well equipped with some fancy security and even before entering our own room door we had to unlock with our passcodes.

Between these three cities, Osaka felt more -- human. There was a good balance between perfection and loose ends.

Noco's home which is rightfully called Yocola Islands has small walkways, small stairs and small tables but HUGE rooms. The room felt like an entire apartment! It had it's washing area, toilet, another bed before the other room.



We love the tatami mats and futons so much that we were slowly getting accustomed by it by the final city. I loved it so much now I'm missing them!! 

Airbnb Listing: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/372773


WE LOVED OUR HOMES IN JAPAN.

They make up everything one another does not have. They're traditionally Japanese and their hosts are ... just amazing. I hope this helps you in your planning, and if you need any suggestions or help, feel free to ask me! :)

Love,
Jacqueline Rowena @ Jacqkie.