My heart goes out to Kumamoto and the people living in Kyushu who are deeply impacted by the earthquakes. We visited Kumamoto late October last year and it is hard to imagine that many areas of the beautiful prefecture are now badly damaged by the earthquakes.
As part of our 10-day Kyushu driving holiday, we spent half a day in Kumamoto city enroute to Mount Aso where we spent 2 nights in a ryokan. We visited the Kumamoto Castle and had a lovely lunch at a sushi place in the city. We then spent the next two days driving around the scenic Mount Aso countryside and mountain plains, and one of our stops was the Nabegataki Falls.
The Nabegataki Falls is a small waterfall nestled in the Mount Aso countryside. The place is so pretty – it looks like a watercolor painting, or like a frame out of a Japanese anime.
The attraction is easily accessible by car and thereafter, a short walk down to the waterfall area via a flight of wooden stairs. No hiking is necessary but best to wear sneakers with anti-slip soles as you have to walk across some slippery boulders and stone slabs to get from one side of the waterfall to the other side. Although the Nabegataki Falls are nowhere as spectacular as some of the other more well-known waterfalls sprinkled throughout Japan, like the Kegon Falls in Nikko, I feel that it is worth a visit if you are in the Kumamoto/Mount Aso area.
Note: A small entrance fee is required to enter Nabegataki Falls.
We stayed at Hotel Mume in Gion for the first time when we visited Kyoto two years ago. I came across a review of the 7-room boutique hotel on Time’s website. I was charmed by Mume’s design around 4 nature themes of “Butterfly”, “Wind”, “Moon” and “Flower”. However, the only room that was available to us at that time was the “Moon” double room. The room was chic, intimate and elegant but we found the room a little too dark for our liking.
For our second visit, we managed to book the bright and airy “Wind” room (photo above). It is quite difficult to get a room in Mume so we had to plan our two-week Japan schedule around the availability of rooms in the hotel. That is how much we like Mume!
This is Mume’s chinoiserie-style lounge-cum-bar, furnished in dark wood accents, European and Chinese furniture, Chinese lanterns. There is always a huge floral arrangement sitting on the counter. This is where guests gather to have their breakfast, pre-dinner drinks, coffee/snack when you are back from a day out traipsing around Kyoto.
I am fairly sure that we will be repeat guests at Mume. I would say that the level of personal service shown by the owner, manager and staff is the winning factor for me. The Mume folks show an incredible amount of hospitality to its guests, always inquiring about your day and making sure that you know exactly how to get to the restaurants and attractions in Kyoto by printing out maps, train schedules and photographs of the exterior of the restaurants.
We always look forward to chatting with the owner or the manager at the end of the day. They speak good English so that makes for easy conversation. Twice, I have left behind something in Mume after checking out, and both times, they called me at my next hotel to let me know that they have forwarded my things to the hotel through the Japanese delivery service.
I love Mume’s breakfast (which is included in the room price). They serve a daily continental breakfast set comprising fruit juice, homemade yoghurt, fruit, homemade soup, breakfast rolls, soft-boil egg, assortment of jams and coffee from the Nespresso machine. The food is simple, clean, fresh and delicious. I usually skip the breakfast rolls and soft-boil egg because too much food in the morning ruins my appetite for lunch.
Another reason that we like Mume is its location. It is conveniently situated a couple of streets behind Gion, and within walking distance to the Kamo River, the Gion-Shijo subway line, the shopping districts in Shijo-dori and San-jo-dori, as well as the Kiyomizu Temple, Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park.
Just a short walk away from Hotel Mume is the pretty Shirakawa-minami-dori, an old street lined with machiyas, plum and cherry blossom trees. We walk past this lovely street everyday, to get to Shijo-dori or the Gion-Shijo Keihan subway station.
The Shirakawa river runs parallel to the street, with stone bridges connecting the pavement to the restaurants housed in the machiyas. We were here at the start of spring two years ago and it was particularly scenic with the spring-time foliage. This is a popular place for Japanese bridal photo shoots and to see maikos.
Another stretch of machiyas that is very popular with bridal shoots. It is a lovely spot for a morning walk, before the crowds turn up.
Long time away from the blog again. I have just been feeling out of sorts the last couple of months, and spending a couple of days away in my favorite city did not seem to chase away the blues. I think I bought Grumpiness along with me on holiday.
Despite the bout of moodiness that did not seem to go away, I managed to avoid hiding in the hotel room all day, drinking bottles of makgeolli and banana milk. ‘Cos that was what I was tempted to do. I met up with two friends in Seoul and took some head-shots for my charity project.
We went to Garosugil for dinner and wandered along the streets trying to find a bright spot to take some photos. We looked quite silly posing under street lamps and outside the shops along the streets. This black and white one turned out really well.
I like this post-processed photo too. I didn’t like the harsh colors in the original photograph and decided to soften the colors with a Lightroom filter. I wished I had designed this blog to have a bigger space for larger photos.
Update: Omotesando Koffee is no longer in business and is now operating as Toranomon Koffee at Toranomon Hills.
So glad to be able to drink Omotesando Koffee’s brew again. This coffee bar was a regular feature during our February trip to Tokyo. It is a very convenient stop as there is a direct train-ride from our hotel in Shimbashi to Omotesando on the Ginza Line.
Located in a little machiya, on a quiet street in a residential estate at the back of Omotesando Hills, the coffee bar is one street away from Maisen Tonkatsu. We would usually stop by Omotesando Koffee for our coffee fix at around 10.30am in the morning, before strolling over to Maisen at around 10.50am to stand in line when it opens at 11am for lunch.
I hate queuing for food, but when I have to queue, I make sure that I am right at the start of the line!
The place is so picturesque, with a pretty Japanese garden out at the front.
That’s all the available sitting space in the coffee bar. If you don’t manage to grab one of those two benches, you have to stand around to drink your coffee.
Very simple place: one man, one counter housed in a frame that occupies all the space on the first floor of the machiya.
There is something mesmerizing about watching coffee trickling out of the portafilter into the cup.
The barista uniform – a standard lab-coat in powder blue.
Cold doppio cappuccino. I do not usually take cold, ice-blended coffee, and I do not like to try new things when I am very happy with the tried-and-tested (which in this case is their hot doppio cappuccino). So I have no idea what possessed me to order this at Omotesando Koffee during one of our visits. I guess it was one of those random ‘let-me-try-something-different-today’ impulse, and oh my gawd, I am so glad I gave in to the impulse.
The cold doppio cappuccino was shatteringly good. The barista put (what looked like) expresso, milk and ice into the blender and out came this thick and creamy beverage that was utterly delicious. This is now my favorite drink at Omotesando Koffee.
We also like the bite-sized baked custard snacks that Omotesando Koffee sells. The snack goes really well with coffee. Don’t over-indulge in these tasty morsels. They are tiny but quite filling.
Lucky to have these very attractive customers around as subjects when I was photographing the garden.
All smiles, enjoying expresso in his favorite coffee bar, in his favorite part of town.
I will put up directions to Omotesando Koffee shortly. I have got the directions to the place pat down in my brain, but they won’t stay there for long.
Address: 4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Omotesando Station (Ginza, Hanzomon, Chiyoda lines), exit A2 Open Daily 10am-7pm
1. Take Exit A2 at Omotesando station on the Ginza Line. You will see a huge Apple store on your right and the ITO Hospital building in front of you. Turn right at the street and follow the Maisen Tonkatsu signages.
If you are at the opposite end of Omotesando boulevard (the side nearer Harajuku), just walk along the main road in the direction of Aoyama to get to the Apple store. Best to walk on the same side of the main road as Omotesando Hills and you will arrive at the Apple store outside the Omotesando station.
2. Walk along the street till you reach the T-junction at the end. You will see a Scandinavian home decor shop called Flying Tiger on the left of the street. Turn left at the end of the street and you will pass by a cafe called AfternoonTea Tea Stand.
3. Turn right into another street immediately after you walk pass AfternoonTea Tea Stand, (where the lorry is turning out of), following the direction of the Maisen signage again. Walk along the street.
4. Keep walking along the street and you will eventually see this blue building. This is Maisen Tonkatsu. To get to Omotesando Koffee, turn left at this junction.
5. You will see this big open-air carpark on your left.
6. Keep walking for a little while more and you will see a small cross-junction with this building on your right. Turn right immediately at this building and Omotesando Koffee is about 20 steps away, on your left.
I have read so much about the lovely Shimokitazawa neighborhood located not far away Shibuya, I told myself that I must visit it on this trip. Besides the indie vibe that Shimokita is known for, I also wanted to visit it for Bear Pond Expresso and Shirohige Totoro Cream Puffs. Both shops are residing in the Shimokita neighbourhood.
Shimokita is easy accessible via the subway. We took the train to Shibuya station where we switched to the Keio Inokashira line which stops at the Shimokitazawa station, about 4 stops away from Shibuya.
One of the things I like best about strolling along the streets of Japan is turning a corner and being greeted by a burst of colors from a flower shop. Turn a corner in any neighborhood and you are bound to encounter several flower shops. It is a joy to poke around in these shops and admire pots and pots of botanicals that we hardly see in our tropical climate.
We were in Shimokita a little too early in the day. Most of the shops were still closed! And the streets were empty and quiet. Which isn’t a bad thing for me, because I got a chance to see these beautifully painted shutters of the closed shops. I had quite a lot of fun snapping photos of shop fronts and their colorful shutters.
This reminds me a little of the house in Hansel & Gretel.
This is my favorite. Love the cheery sunflower/daisy motifs.
That’s the grumpy husband, who isn’t a fan of these indie neighborhoods. He prefers Omotesando.
I wonder if the shop owners paint these shutters, or do they hire someone to do the job.
I like the shadows of the messy street wires.
Trust the Japanese to jazz up a boring lock with a cute Snoopy ornament.
Useful trolley to transport young kids around. No risk of losing control of a bunch of rambunctious kids on the streets.
It is amazing how many hair-salons there are in the neighborhood. Look at that owl-shaped door!
The Japanese are really good at visual merchandising.
Before we left Shimokitazawa, we dropped by Ichiran for a bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Our first visit to Ichiran, and it was quite an interesting dining experience. You eat your noodles in individual booths, separated from your companions by a divider. A rather anti-social way of eating.
I would have loved to spend more time exploring the cute shops in the neighborhood. If I was on my own, I would have spent the entire day in Shimokitazawa, but not when you have a husband like mine in tow.
I decided to run a simple photo project for charity this year that involves me taking a photo of you, in return for a donation of $10 (people are free to give more if they wish) to any of the four charities that this project currently supports. The four charities are: SPD, Bone Marrow Donor Program, the APEX Rehabilitation Centre For The Elderly and the Children’s Cancer Foundation. I am thinking about adding a fifth charity – the Cat Welfare Society. (I like cats, that’s why.)
This is not a new idea. I read about this project on ShootTokyo a while ago and have been toying with the idea of doing something similar, but I have always been caught up with dealing with various work and personal issues so the idea stayed as an idea. It is only recently that I decided to do something about it. Perhaps the thought of entering mid-life spurred me on as I suddenly feel that more of my life is behind me than it is in front of me. There is no time to hem-and-haw about the things that I have always thought about doing. Let’s just do it.
This charity project is fairly to kick-start. It does not require much planning or financial resources, just a camera and Lightroom! Since I like taking photographs, this will be fun, and I get to do it all at my own time and pace. It also forces me to reach out to friends to meet up. It is also fun for them, since they get to pose for a photo and chip in a small token for charity.
How does one donate? Donations can be made on the GiveAsia website here, using your credit card. The photo is basically a headshot of you – a photo of your upper body and face, and a copy will be emailed to you. I have also set up a Facebook page to share these photos; if you want to contribute to this project, please reach out to me on the Facebook page!
Not sure how this will turn out, but at the very least, I know I am gonna have fun doing it.
I bought a rangefinder manual focus camera recently, and I am learning how to use it. I am starting from scratch with this camera – learning how to compose, focus and click the shutter at the right moment. I took it out with me for some practice shots this weekend. As I am still practising how to focus manually, I place less focus on composition. So my photos with this camera have so far turned out badly framed and some even look lopsided.
Starbucks, Parklane@ECP. The store was very crowded on a Saturday morning. Plenty of cyclists and joggers streaming in after their morning exercise for air-conditioning and breakfast. In spite of the crowds, I love going there on weekends. The store is located in a huge open space with plenty of free parking.
Repetto, ION Orchard. I like wearing their ballet flats. An the Repetto stores look so inviting with their warm colors and chandeliers. I have this thing for chandeliers, and I wish I could have one in my home; pity, the ceiling at home is too low to hang one.
Headline Seoul, Wheelock Place. One of my favorite places to shop for dresses. I like most things Korean, with the exception of their electronics and cars.
Melissa Shoes Singapore, Wheelock Place. I like the quirky decor of Melissa. Whoever did the visual merchandising for them, I like what you have done. Even though I wear mostly flats from Repetto or open-toed Saltwater sandals, I cannot resist popping into the shop to check out their shoes whenever I walk past the shop to get to Isetan. I bought a pair of the Melissa x Jason Wu jelly ballet flats in a pretty shade of blush pink, but pity, the shoes did not fit me so well and I sold them on Carousell after a few wears. I was surprised to receive so many offers for the shoes shortly after listing them for sale. I did not realize that the brand is so popular.
Leica, ION Orchard. The famous red dot. Every photographer’s dream to own a Leica, no?
I usually hang around the Hongdae area that is closer to the Hongik University subway station. That’s where I go to eat my favorite churros at Churro101, or have an expresso at Coffee Lab. This time, I wandered around on the other side of Hongdae, the area closer to the Sangsu and Hapjeong subway stations, where Fell+Cole ice cream and Ok Lu Mongpatbingsu are located, and stumbled onto street art in several places along the way.
In a back ally where a number of interesting restaurants are located.
Musical notes covering the outer wall of a residence.
I like sitting around watching people. A cornucopia of different things that make up an interesting street scene. It looks messy though – with ugly wires criss-crossing overhead, street vendors parked randomly by the sides of the streets, an array of restaurants, boutiques, cosmetic shops with contrasting facades, fashion-conscious youths, the elderly, and a group of nuns strolling along the streets…
What an eye-catching chicken mascot.
I love dessert crepes, especially the ones that come with fresh bananas and chocolate sauce.
Wandered into a colorful playground across the road from the main entrance of Hongik University.
I saw a number of elderly ladies sailing out of this building. I have no idea what it is used for.
I love the vibrant and colorful cafe scene in Korea. Each and every shop – including the chain stores – looks and feels different. There is almost always a eye-catching decor, or a strong stamp of individual style.
Should have bought one of those bags! I was eyeing the one with orange triangles.
I came across quite a number of soft-serve ice cream parlors that have sprouted up all over Myeongdong and Hongdae after my last trip to SOFTREE in Garosugil. Must say that it was the life-size stand-up of Kim Soo Hyun that first caught my eye.
Stumbled on the Hongdae outlet of SOFTREE! Also spotted one at Itaewon when I was there shopping in Comme des Garcons.
We started the day by walking from our hotel to the Chion-in temple. Sprawling grounds, quiet and calming.
A rare photo of me where my face is not out of focused. My husband struggles to grasp the basics of using a DSLR…
From Chion-in Temple, we cut across the Maruyama park to get to the shopping streets around the Kiyomizu temple.
This gorgeous little pussy with liquid gold-coloured eyes was the centre of attraction in the park.
Besides aesthetics reasons, do these bamboo tubes serve any other purpose…?
We walked into the Yasaka Shrine, a Shinto shrine along Gion, and caught the tail-end of a wedding procession.
The bride is so pretty. She looks like Haruka Ayase, the lead actress in Dr Jin.
I have no idea why I am so fascinated with the Kanji characters on these lanterns.
She makes washing the floor look classy and elegant, doesn’t she?
We ate our lunch – hot soba – in this beautiful traditional restaurant.
I am not sure if this is Ninen-zaka, or Sannen-zaka. Hoardes of people were thronging these streets during the weekend that we were there. No matter how lovely these streets are, I wanted to get out of there. I felt horribly trapped by the crowds. Needless to say, we never made it to Kiyomizu Temple. We walked a bit more before heading back to Gion.
Sticks of piping hot grilled mochi. I cannot appreciate this. Give me a stick of gyutan any day… Maikos. Just ask them politely if you could take a photo of them, or with them, and they will usually be happy to oblige. That’s my experience.
That’s Okutan, the other famous tofu kaiseki place in Kyoto. We went to Tousuiro.
I wish I could plant a plum blossom tree in my HDB flat.
In Japan, you can spot an ice-cream shop from a mile away. They always have this big plastic ice cream cone on display outside the shop. I have seen white, green, pink and yellow ones.
Nope, we definitely didn’t make it to the Kiyomizu Temple.
Our last day in Kyoto was spent in Arashiyama. We took the subway from Gion to Arashiyama, walked across the Togetsukyo-bridge and headed straight for the bamboo forest, having decided to skip the Tenryuji temple.
Spotted an unusual bloom in a flower bed just off the main streets.
A beautiful two-toned camelia. It looks perfect.
This is my second visit to the Arashiyama bamboo forest, the first visit was in 2006. Nothing has changed, it looks the same as how I remember it to be. The bamboo forest is a fairly small and self-contained area, just follow the path and everyone ahead of you.
The other bamboo forest that I have visited is the one in Damyang, Korea, and it is several times bigger than the Arashiyama one. The Damyang bamboo forest is definitely worth a visit as a day-trip if you are in Gwangju and have some time to spare.
At the end of the bamboo forest is the Okochi Sanso Villa, a traditional Japanese house with beautiful and lush landscaped grounds that used to belong to a famous Japanese silent movie star.
The lush gardens and driveway leading to the main residence.
We hiked around the grounds for a bit, climbing up and down narrow stone path ways circling the gardens, before heading back to the bamboo forest to make our way back to the main streets to eat lunch at Hirokawa.
If you are looking to escape the crowds in the main Arashiyama streets, the Okochi Sanso Villa is a perfect hideout. It is serene, calming and a calming place to enjoy channel your inner Zen.
Update: Omotesando Koffee is no longer operating in Kyoto.
We came out of the Nishiki Market, strolled along the shopping streets along Shijo-dori and saw the words ‘Omotesando Koffee’ on the window of a department store. We sailed into the store. After several days of drip coffee, we were craving for a cup of expresso.
Omotesando Koffee is not a sit-down cafe, but a coffee kiosk on the ground floor of United Arrow department store in Kyoto with only standing space. Having been to the main kiosk at Omotesando Hills in Tokyo, both kiosks share the cube-like frame where the barista prepares a cup of coffee wearing a light blue lab-coat.
I wanted to try these delicious-looking cubes of caneles but I was just too full after the eating tofu doughnuts and soy milk ice cream.
Deftly filling the portafilter and tamping the coffee powder.
A really nice cup of doppio expresso that made the husband grin from ear to ear. I don’t really know how to describe the flavor of Omotosando Koffee’s expresso except to say that I liked it. It was on the acidic side, which is not usually how I like my expresso, but this was balanced by a strong and slightly bitter taste which made the expresso smell very good (but the reflective metallic cup and saucer gave me a slight headache). I tried the doppio cappucino at the kiosk at Omotesando Hills and it was FABULOUS. More about that later.
Omotesando Koffee Kyoto
UNITED ARROWS Kyoto Store
12-1 Tachiuri Higashi-Cho, Shijo-Dori Yanaginobanba Higashi-Iru, Shimogyo-Ku, Kyoto
(Note: UNITED ARROWS is located on the same side of Shijo-dori as the Nishiki Market.)
At the famous Kyoto Nishiki food market. The market is a long, narrow, and covered walkway flanked by little shops selling cooked food, fresh, frozen and pickled food, Japanese snacks and groceries on both sides.
We visited the market on a Sunday, after a long day out at the Fushimi-Inari shrine and the Sanjusangendo temple. By the time we got to the Nishiki market and saw the crowds, we were tempted to cross out the market on our itinerary, turn back and find a place to sit down and rest our feet. After a moment of hesitation, we decided to brave the crowds. Let’s get this over and done with.
Mid-way through the market, we REALLY wanted to turn back. Had we been in the mood to enjoy the wares peddled in the market, there were way too many people for it to be much fun. I felt like I was being mobbed…
… then I saw THIS! The first thing that perked me up. Skewered marinated octopus stuffed with a quail egg! I love marinated octopus and this is one of the items that I usually pick up at the conveyor belt sushi places.
While waiting for my turn to place an order, several Caucasian guys stopped at the stall and started making gagging noises at the skewers and you could hear them say things like “disgusting food”, “how revolting”, “octopus…gross” in loud voices. I felt like elbowing them and them to stop being such sissies, and have some respect. If you don’t fancy the food, please go away. No-one is forcing any down your throat.
When I received my skewered octopus, I waved it in front of them and said: “This is delicious, try it if you dare!” and walked off.
After enjoying the octopus, we walked on and nearing the end of the market, we arrived at Sakaimachi-dori and saw this shop selling tofu doughnuts and soymilk softserve ice cream.
Judging by the queues outside the store, this has got to be good. So I ordered a soymilk ice cream in a cone. It was so GOOD, I wanted to order another one so that the husband could have his own cone. I went back to join the line and walked away with a bag of small tofu doughnuts instead. Oooooh, best doughnuts I have eaten. We wolfed down the freshly made, piping hot doughnuts so quickly, I forgot to take a photo of them.
Boy, was I glad that we made our way to the end of the market. Eating the soymilk ice cream and the tofu doughnuts made jostling in the crowds worth it. After leaving the market, we turned a corner….and stumbled onto OMOTESANDO KOFFEE, the Kyoto branch. An excellent cup of expresso to end our day.
“Take photo, take photo!” That’s what I like to do with my nieces (who like most girls in that age group, are crazy over the animated film, Frozen). We were having dinner during the Mother’s Day weekend at the Majestic Bay Seafood Restaurant at Gardens By The Bay. I thought the restaurant would be a nice venue for a family dinner. It turns out that the view of the Gardens from the restaurant was passable, the service was decent but sadly, the food was not quite up to the mark.
It is always fun to see these two chattering magpies. For exactly two hours. Any longer would undoubtedly result in a headache.