2 days in Tokyo, Japan

The last city on our whirlwind tour of Japan, is Tokyo! Even with two days, it wasn’t enough to see everything we planned to. If you like, you can catch up on our day in Osaka and our day in Nara/Kyoto. Japan, is such a wonderful country. Tolerant, respectful, polite and clean. How many places have you been to that you’d drink from fountains like this:

I’ve taken a sip at all the fountains I’ve seen since being in Japan and I didn’t get sick, you should have seen the looks my kids were giving me, lol.

Moving along, after some delays, we arrived at our air bnb and subsequently had to rush off to meet my best friend, from elementary school, for dinner. After dinner we took a stroll around and then had a beer or two while my wife and kids shopped. This was such a welcome reprieve from the hectic of days past and what was yet to come. But first let tell you a story of a shop that saved my whole Tokyo experience.

For some reason I forgot my camera battery charger. I had the wire but no charger. I found out the night before the Nara/Kyoto outing. No big deal right? Canon is from Japan so I can get one easily. How wrong I was! During our day in Nara/Kyoto I walked into every shop that I thought may have it, no luck. Not even the huge department stores where there was a whole floor dedicated to camera stuff had any in stock and our guide took me to three such places! So with only 1 battery left, with any juice at all, I was feeling miserable knowing we were leaving for Tokyo in the morning and our itinerary was full. So being the first one up and all packed I decided to Google camera stores in Tokyo. For some reason I found this shop and Google showed it to be within walking distance (30 min away) and OPEN. I made it there in 15 min. I got back to the air bnb just in time to help bring the luggage down. Here’s the shop:

If you’re ever in Osaka near Namba train station and need camera gear early in the morning, hit these guys up! Now if only I had a way to charge my batteries on the way to Tokyo…

Ok so back to our first full day in Tokyo, first stop, Akihabara. Even though we were told that there was a lot of anime related shops and stuff, we were shocked and in awe of the sheer awesomeness of it all! So much so, that I didn’t take any pictures! There are multi story buildings with nothing but anime stuff and I found lots of my favorite stuff, from Dragonball Z to computer parts! Of course my kids had their favorites as well, which now included Gachapon. You know those coin machines that dispenses a plastic ball with a toy inside? Yeah those…there are tons of those machines everywhere! We even found shops with only those machines stacked 4 high in rows with space barely enough for one person to walk through.

Half way through the day we had to stop from the shopping to keep our appointment at the . Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not a cafe in the sense that there’s food. I’m saying this because I was hungry and waiting to go here for food, lol. This is a shop where along the walls are owls on their perches and around the room are tables for people to sit down and have an owl placed on your arm. They’ll place the owl on a perch on the table if you don’t want to hold one. They even have gloves for you, if you choose a bigger owl with bigger talons. This is a medium sized one:

There are 2 handlers in the shop to assist you with anything (like cleaning up bird messes, or catching your owl if you let yours go), we learned that from experience! You can pet the owls (they will show you the proper way) and you can hold a maximum of 2 birds during your time allotment. It really was a special place and we all really really enjoyed this experience. They take photos of you with the birds too and email them to you. If you like animals, this is one experience you don’t want to miss. The owls are so cute!

After the Owl Cafe, we went looking for food, there were plenty of themed restaurants and such but we just stuck to walking around eating street food and desserts, like these oven fresh buns that just got torched and about to be cut and filled with cream.

At night Akihabara looked more lively. Maybe it’s all the impressive neon signs or all the people dressed up as anime characters promoting their shop/restaurant but with hurting feet and too many bags filled with toys, we called it a night. Here’s one piece I picked up, SSJG Broly, from Dragonball Z. I’ve never seen this rendition before and had to get it (he’s my favorite character):

Day two starts with an early morning trip to Senso-ji temple. Right before you get to the temple complex are rows of shops but were closed that early in the morning. We did manage to check out those shops after visiting the temple and managed to buy some traditional Japanese souvenirs. As opposed to the ones you get from airports. The Senso-ji complex is pretty big, with different structures like the temple, pagodas, shrines etc. Here’s a gateway / entrance to the complex. Check out the size of those hanging paper lanterns!

The pagoda felt comfortable to me, I don’t know why and can’t explain it. I wish I could have gone in but it was blocked off. So again, I tried to capture just the “essence” of the structure using the infrared spectrum.” (second image)

Around the complex I found shrines of all sorts, some had stone statues and some of these statues were clothed.

Next we headed to Tokyo Tower. It’s like the Japanese version of the Eiffel Tower except it’s red. We went up and saw the view of Tokyo, pretty spectacular but I think it would be much, much nicer from dusk on wards. The midday sun just wasn’t doing it for me photographically if you know what i mean, lol.

Well, we’re running late again and rushing off to meet a college friend in Harajuku. She took us to Takeshita Street for more shopping and street food! Boy let me tell ya, the shopping here is good, as were the street snacks! It’s amazing how fast time flies when you’re finding good deals on clothes, says my wife and kids. Needless to say, no photos here either, shopping too good! So off we go to Meiji Shrine. We got there and they were just closing. Yup, didn’t see that one coming.

So we headed off to Shibuya crossing to check it out and meet a couple of friends who coincidentally were in Japan as well. We stopped for dinner at a sushi restaurant, in one of the malls we walked through, on the way to Shibuya crossing. It’s probably normal sushi by Japan standards but for us, it was SO GOOD! At the crossing, with my hands full and it and being so crowded, I only fired off a few shots. It’s quite a sight/experience seeing pedestrians cross an intersection from five different directions within two minutes. Experiencing it is way cooler than watching it happen on screen.

Next up, Pokemon center. My kids are fans but not big fans so they thought it was nice but not that nice. So we left relatively quickly as it was just a big shop selling lots of Pokemon merchandise in a mall. The last stop on our itinerary was Ginza Shopping District but the unanimous decision was to slowly make our way back to the air bnb. We were exhausted and not looking forward to packing.

As our trip came to a close, we were all relieved that we (just barely) managed to fit everything without having to buy another suitcase and as we were about to board our flight home, we agreed that we must visit Japan again.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome. As are upvotes and resteems, if you like what you see.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

http://rayshiuimages.com
http://newbiephoto.net
https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/ray-shiu.html

*** This post was originally posted on my Steemit Blog.



Kyoto & Nara was awesome!

Next up on our whirlwind vacation to Japan is Kyoto and Nara, in a day!

For this portion of our itinerary, we tried to get a local guide from Triple Lights but no one was available so they recommended a very nice gentleman instead. He agreed to come get us at our airbnb at 8am and take us around until 5pm. We felt pretty confident that we could do this and that at least we won’t waste any time trying to find our own way via bus and train as we did during our day in Osaka. So off we went, first up, Nara.

Nara is famous for the free roaming and somewhat wild Sika Deer, in Nara Park. What is so special about this? Well, you can buy special crackers from vendors and shops all around to feed these deer and let me tell ya, they aren’t shy! Many will come up and bow to you! Then you’re supposed to feed it a cracker. Or you can instigate and bow first, in which case they will bow as well. Really very cute. These deer go all over the place..in the streets, on the sidewalks and even inside the shops that don’t close their doors!

For the most part the deer are pretty tame, some are persistent and will tug on loose clothing. In my experience when they get a bit of leg, they won’t bite down. Most won’t stand still to be pet maybe just a quick touch of the head you can get away with. The male deer have antlers but the vast majority of them have their antlers cut off.

We all loved it and needed to buy lots more crackers. We also had to be warned multiple times by our guide that we needed to get moving as there were lots to see and many many more deer all around. Ya it was that fun, the novelty of bowing deer. Oh and just wait til you see the baby ones, guaranteed you’ll stop and try to feed it!

Within Nara Park are a few temples/shrines, shop house and nature and well….stuff like stone ornamental sculptures and statues. Here’s Kasuga Taishi Shrine,

Here’s Todaiji Temple. With it’s HUGE pillars and statues. Todaiji Temple houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue! If you’re into this sort of thing (architecture, wood work, history etc) you gotta see this massive piece of history!

Remnants of history, a golden spire from the top of a pagoda destroyed by fire:

Moving further up the hill (lotsa stairs), I saw this view…it felt so serene and surreal to me so I captured it in infrared to preserve that moment for myself:

I could easily spend an entire day in this park. There’s just so much to see! Unfortunately and reluctantly, we had to move on. Our guide asked if I was interested in seeing a real samurai sword…hello, who wouldn’t, am I right? lol. So he took us to Kikuichi Cutlery. They “engage in the manufacture and sale of hand-forged uchihamono cutlery.” This was such a treat! Being the cook in the house, naturally I had to buy a knife. Hands down, it’s the sharpest knife I’ve ever used! Engraved on the blade is the Imperial mark and they engraved my surname on it too! There’s a restaurant/bakery/tea house type setup inside as well so we took a tea break and had some deer shaped cakes! They were so good that we bought a box to take home, they didn’t even last back to the airbnb. Kikuichi has such a rich history, if you have time, go check them out!

It was at this point that we were feeling the pinch of time (gone was the confidence that we visit all the places on our list) and we resorted to riding taxis from here on out. Plus we requested for more of our guide’s time and he graciously agreed. Kyoto here we come.

First stop, Golden Pavilion. Wow, the gold you see on this pavilion is covered in gold foil. A shogun had it built for his personal place of worship! It’s really a sight to see! No one is allowed in now, I think I heard the guide say. I was too busy looking at all the stuff around.

And right around the bend is this huge bonsai tree:

Now it’s getting dark and it looks like it’s gonna rain so off to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (Vermillion Gates). Yup we got there and it’s raining (lucky we had umbrellas) and dark but wow what an atmosphere walking up the barely lit trail underneath the reddish orange torii gates the occasional stone ornaments off to the sides. You would think that it would feel scary but surprisingly it wasn’t, not even for my kids (maybe its because they’re teenagers?). In fact they found it had a “peaceful feeling”.

Well, the weather and the time put a damper on our spirits (plus all the walking, lol) so we called it a day and bid farewell to our guide. Although we missed going to our last stop, Gion. We were all feeling satisfied with our day and everything we got to see and experience.

If you can’t tell already, I highly recommend going to Japan and visiting these places here in Kyoto and Nara but also Osaka too! I’m hoping to make it back one day and spend as much time in each place that I need.

If you want to see more, please follow me as I still have Tokyo to document on this trip. Here’s my Osaka post.😃

Oh, all the images (unless otherwise noted in the post) are my images and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome. As are upvotes and resteems, if you like what you see.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

PS. If you wanna see my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

http://rayshiuimages.com
http://newbiephoto.net
https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/ray-shiu.html

*** This post was originally posted on my Steemit Blog.



My Trip to Osaka

Let me start off by saying, I LOVE JAPAN!!! I was fortunate enough to get some time to go visit, 7 days and 4 cities in December. Boy, let me tell ya that’s not enough time. There’s just way too much to see and do! Ok enough about that.

First up is Osaka! Of course, the gem of the city is our first stop, Osaka Castle.

I love visiting historical places, seeing the artistic styles and craftsmanship. I like trying to imagine what it must have been like back then, what the culture would have been like. Anyways, the castle grounds is pretty big but walk-able and open to visitors without having to register. Standing in the shadow of this castle, even knowing it was rebuilt, felt awesome!

Around the castle’s premises is a big moat, well a few moats, it’s not one gigantic ring of water around the castle. Parts of the moat is now dry, some parts wide and long enough for boat rides while the rest is home to many different species of birds, like this guy (I think it’s a duck):

Moving on via train and walking, we saw a variety of shrines and temples but I only got to explore 2 due to time constraints. Here’s an image of the dog shrine near Osaka Castle:

and here’s one of Tenmangu Shrine:

There so much culture/history that i wanted to see, but I lost the vote, my kids wanted to check out the Osaka Aquarium because the whale shark is one of their favorite animals. So here it is:

Just kidding, that’s just the huge sculpture “swimming” up the side of the Osaka Aquarium. It lights up at night, it’s really quite pretty. Here a close up of one of the two whale sharks:

Now within the same plaza area as the Osaka Aquarium is a boat ride tourist attraction. A replica of the Santa Maria (the largest of the three ships used by Christopher Columbus to sail to North America). Due to time constraints we didn’t go, plus a couple of us get sea sick. Here’s a snap:

As it was getting dark and noticeably colder we skipped the huge ferris wheel directly across the plaza from the aquarium.

Plus we had one more stop, Dotonburi. I was really looking forward to the neon signs and sculptured signage while my family wanted to shop. Anyways, it was a lot to see and surprisingly crowded, not crazy crowded but enough to know not to setup a tripod. As a beer lover, I had to take this image:

The yellow neon actually starts from the bottom and rises like filling a glass with beer! I think it’s about 4 stories high, so cool! The signage of some of these shops are amazing! Then you get this:

A ferris…oval? Yup this adorns the Don Quijote building. Don Quijote is a shop that sells almost everything, I think, and occupies the whole building.

It was at this point, we all looked at each other and knowingly realized that we only had enough energy to get back to the room. Surprisingly, although we knew we missed out on some experiences, we were completely satisfied with what we did experience.

If you wanna see more, please follow me. I still have Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo to document this trip.

Comments & Critiques are always welcome. As are upvotes and resteems, if you like what you see.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

PS. If you wanna see my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

http://rayshiuimages.com
http://newbiephoto.net
https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/ray-shiu.html

*** This post was originally posted on my Steemit Blog.



Review of Hong Changyu Inn, Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China

Hong Changyu Inn
Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China.

Hong Changyu Inn is situated within the city of Pingyao’s ancient walls. For clarification, the Inn is inside the walls but outside the no drive zone. This means that you can get front door pick up, drop off service for a fee. My quoted pricing was 48 Yuan for pickup at the highspeed railway, 30 Yuan for the regular train’s station (the one from Datong stops here) and drop off service to Taiyuan Airport was 380 yuan. Shaw, the Inn keeper can converse in English and responds to emails quickly. He’s very patient and helpful. Payment was made in cash at check in (remember to get your receipt, just in case) including security deposit and payment for taxi fare to Taiyuan airport. Check out was smooth and quick. Deposit was ready and returned without hesitation. Breakfast is not included and costs 10 Yuan per person. As a matter of fact, I don’t even recall seeing a restaurant. We didn’t have time to experience it though plus the street food looked way too good.

Courtyard of Hong Changyu Inn

Details and decor of the Hong Changyu Inn.

If you’re into ancient architecture, decor and ambiance, then you can’t go wrong with Hong Changyu Inn. The room we got looked exactly the same as the one pictured when I booked on Booking.com.  It had everything I wanted to experience straight down to the stone bed. We didn’t get to light a fire under it for warmth though. The opening to shove in wood/coal was closed off and it wasn’t cold enough anyways. The bed was not as hard as I thought it would be, probably because the padding was pretty thick. Pillows were comfortable, might be a bit too hard for some (don’t worry, it’s not the wood blocks of old). The room and Inn looked a bit too new for the decor (there were some run down looking Inns/Hotels but I didn’t want to chance it). The room was clean as were the sheets, blankets and towels.

There is the usual compliment of toiletries and a sitting toilet but there isn’t a safe for your valuables. Lucky, I always bring my laptop cable lock and looped it around the the ornate brick of the bed and locked the tumbler section inside my suitcase (between the zippers and locked the zipper handles). Not perfect, but better than nothing I suppose. The entrance to the room is unique in the sense that there is a heavy, rattan like mat, roll up curtain (but doesn’t roll up) that you have to move aside to open the door. If you’re wondering why it’s there, its so you can leave the door open for more fresh air and still have some privacy. The door is secured via latch and padlock.

Doorway to a room at the Hong Changyu Inn.

Doorway to a room at the Hong Changyu Inn.

As you can see, the room is small but still ok for a couple or single occupant. The bed is big enough to fit 3 though. If you do stay with more than just yourself, take note that the frosted glass of the bathroom/toilet is not as frosty as the photos indicate, especially when wet. Another thing to note is to remember to take the toilet paper out of the bathroom (and the dust bin) when showering (yes, that’s the roll holder almost directly under the shower head)! Also, for some reason the water tastes weird (but bearable), don’t know why or how. No I didn’t drink it, just got some in my mouth from showering and brushing my teeth.

Inside one of the rooms at the Hong Changyu Inn.

View inside the restroom of a room at the Hong Changyu Inn.

If you’re visiting Pingyao for the the Pingyao International Photography Festival, this Inn is really close to Feng Yi gate which you need to exit to attend the opening ceremony if it’s held at Feng Yi Park (as it was in 2017). It’s also really close to the main exhibition halls (Diesel building and others). All within 15 minutes walking (assuming you head directly to the destination).

I would definitely stay at the Hong Changyu Inn again next year (if I’m fortunate enough to make it into an exhibition)!

To see more pictures from Pingyao, China, visit my Flickr Page.



Review of Datong Hotel, Shanxi Province, China

Datong Hotel
Datong, Shanxi Province, China.

Front view of Datong Hotel.

Datong Hotel looking out from hotel window.

Datong hotel is located in a relatively convenient location to most things. The Datong Great Wall is just a 20 minute walk if you don’t stop to look at things. The train station is a 20 minute taxi ride away (cost me 15 Yuan). Right after the front yard of the hotel is a major street with a small area where taxi’s and buses often wait. There’s an overhead bridge crossing this street with restaurants, convenience stores all around.

During our 3 day 3 night stay, we encountered 3 staff members that could converse in English. All were met at the front desk. Other staff may seem rude and just ignore you if you don’t speak Mandarin, they get nicer if you try to communicate with a different Chinese dialect.

The hotel itself is rather old. Dimly lit in many places, thin walls, faded paint and carpets and the like but most importantly, it’s not dirty. The beds and pillows were way to soft for my liking, it felt like i was embedded in the mattress and had to stack 2 pillows to even feel there was one. We got a street facing hotel on the 5th floor. Nice view but you can hear the street noise. Doesn’t bother me but if it bothers you, you may want to request for a room on the other side. Don’t hold your breath for an email response though. They’ve NEVER answered any of my emails both pre check in and post check in.

I booked via Booking.com and as stated on the website, Datong hotel does take Mastercard/Visa and payment is at checkout. Whether or not they honor the rate confirmed via Booking.com is a different story. It’s not that they flat out deny it, they just over charge the security deposit and refuse to rescind the security deposit charge and charge the correct rate. To date, this has not been resolved and the total overcharge amounted to 188 Yuan which comes out to roughly $28 USD. I think that had I had time to argue they would not have pulled this fast one on me. As it stands, we were in a rush to catch a train and the taxi we had per-arranged to pick us up was already 20 minutes late. As the amount is smaller than the cost of re-booking train tickets, I just took my lumps and will regard this as a cost of travel / education. So that’s what this post is for, to save you some $.

UPDATE: As of 9/30/17 The security deposit is gone from my credit card statement and the proper charge is reflected.

There is free WiFi in the rooms and the whole floor shares one password. So while in the lobby, I couldn’t get free Fifi. Lucky I brought my travel router with wifi, just buy a local sim card with data and you’re set. Our rooms had air con,a sit down toilet, a bathtub and all the toiletries.  Rooms are arranged by even numbers on one side of the corridor and odds on the other. Size of room was normal, 2 beds, a desk, a night stand, a coffee table and chair, a closet with extra blankets/pillows and a safe. The one in my room was locked and housekeeping came in and punched in number and it opened, don’t know if they locked it or they have a universal code.

View in a 5th floor room of the Datong Hotel.

View of the hotel room's bathroom in Datong Hotel

There are 2 restaurants in the hotel, one is only for breakfast (at least we’ve only seen it in operation during breakfast hours 7-9:30 am) and the other is on the mezzanine and looks like a small coffee shop area. Don’t be surprised if the waitstaff / management are a bit rude. It seemed like they only had one menu so we had to wait our turn for it. This was after we tried to get a table and the Manager just grunted and walked away. So we went to the front desk and asked what was up and they called someone and told us to go back up and everything should be fine and it was. The food was good and well presented. The free breakfast had a large selection of food, mostly of the Asian variety. You will find cereal, bread, bacon, eggs (egg station), some pastries and coffee. Be aware of the closing time, we almost missed one because we didn’t know it closed so early.

All in all, I think this hotel gives you good bang for your buck if you don’t mind a good stroll to older parts (touristy) places. Should you brave this hotel, At check in, make sure they charge a security deposit amount you are comfortable with. Make sure you allot PLENTY OF TIME to deal with any shenanigans they may pull on you at check out (including paying cash because their machine is “broken”).

GOOD LUCK!

For more photos from Datong, check out my flicker page.