So, the journey continues... From Kyoto, we took the JR Tokaido shinkansen to Shin-Osaka and then transferred to subway to get to our Airbnb...

So, the journey continues... From Kyoto, we took the JR Tokaido shinkansen to Shin-Osaka and then transferred to subway to get to our Airbnb apartment. In the email correspondence, the host, C.G Minami, told us that his place was only about 7 mins' walk from Namba station and that he would wait for us at the apartment. BUT he never told us which exit and that there were a FEW stations with the name 'Namba'. It took us more than half an hour to get to his place from the NAMBA station that we came out from, using map, GPS and asking for directions from passerby. Apparently Nankai Namba station was the nearest one. That was what he told us when we finally met up -_-. Could have told us earlier to save us the trouble of walking in rounds while dragging our luggage bags. This host speaks very good Mandarin though. Btw, we discovered a shorter and easier route to Namba station, which cuts through the underground of Namba Parks shopping mall after that.

The apartment was on the 7th floor and had 2 bedrooms with double decker beds (the rest were all tatami style). A pretty modern and cosy place. The location was quite convenient too; lots of eateries, cafes, shops (selling shoes, electrical/electronic stuffs), a 5-storey Daiso(!!!), arcades, Kuromon-Ichiba market, Namba Parks and Takashimaya shopping mall - all within walking distance. Bonus: When you walk to the Nankai Namba station, you will pass by a small shop called 551 Horai selling steamed meat buns near the escalator. Make sure to try it. It's delicious! You can actually smell it when you take the escalator up. :) We bought the steamed buns, sat down and ate them with coffee at a nearby Starbucks. Hehe. 

Then, we headed to Kuromon-Ichiba market where we enjoyed grilled snow crabs, scallops, prawns, abalone and Asahi draft at a stall with '#Good looking staffs' written on the wall. Lol. Like Nishiki market, this place is just what a foodie needs. 

Kuromon market
Fresh wasabi
Grilled seafood. Slurppp!
Looking at all the fresh seafood and meat being sold here, we decided to have steamboat for dinner. So we picked up some scallops, prawns, oysters, fresh whitebaits (my first time seeing fresh ones!), black pork slices, veggies, mushrooms, cans of beer and a bottle of sake, headed back to the apartment and cooked ourselves a nice + fulfilling steamboat dinner!

We visited the Osaka castle the next day. There were stalls selling snacks and a lot of people picnicking/BBQ-ing at the park. Bought some karaage (fried chicken), honeydew ice cream and egg waffles to munch on before going into the castle. Entrance fee was ¥600/pax. The suggested route was to go all the way up to the 8th floor, which is the observation deck, and slowly make your way down. You can choose to climb all the way up via stairs or take the elevator, like us. The elevator goes up to Level 5 only and we still had to take the stairs for the last 3 levels. Not a history fan myself, I was hoping to see some nice old architectures and discover how the King's or other chambers looked like (like in Gyeongbokgung, Korea). To my disappointment, only the outlook of the main building remained. The whole interior is a modernized museum without a single hint of how it used to look like (All those concrete killed my inner castle enthusiast :/).

Osaka castle.

View of the park from the observation deck.
Tons of people picnicking under the cherry blossom trees.

We left for Doutonbori at about 4pm. Doutonburi is one place you shouldn't miss when you are in Osaka. Pretty much a dining heaven: okonomiyaki, takoyaki, ramen, yakitori, kushikatsu, you can find them all here!

One of the best places to enjoy Osaka street food.
Look out for the famous landmark -  Kani Doraku mechanized crab!
There was a particular yakitori shop that we were looking for here and that was Tayutayu. This shop is a must-try! The best I had the entire trip!! We ordered both sets of the 'Osusume' (5 skewers) and also the meat patty with egg yolk.

Look for the one with a pig drawing on its signboard :D
 The Osusume set
The Osusume set. The one far on top is PIG RECTUM!
Though I don't usually take raw eggs, this one is too good to be missed!

After filling our stomach, we shopped around the area before heading back to the apartment.

Next day... Time to go to Hakone for some onsen! The journey from Osaka to Hakone Gora station took about 4 hours plus in total; shinkansen from Shin-Osaka -> Odawara (2 hours plus), then train from Odawara -> Hakone Yumoto -> Gora via Hakone Tozan Railways. We got the Hakone 2-day pass (¥4000 each) at Odawara station. This pass includes a boat cruise across Lake Ashi, all train rides in Hakone and the cable car (basically a tram like the one at the Peak in Hong Kong) ride to our ryokan + Sounzan station. 

The Syukubo Suirinso Ryokan was just 1-min walk from the Naka-Gora station (Get off on the RIGHT side of the train). The lady in charge was very polite and nice. Though she spoke very little English, she still tried to explain everything to us patiently and made sure we understood. Our room was on the upper floor. Yukatas are provided (choose the size according to our height). There's even 1 for my LO :). I was excited when I saw the food vending machine in the lobby!! Been bugging my hubby coz I didn't see one in Tokyo. Free coffee/tea, ice creams, books and DVDs are provided at the lobby too (The room came with a TV and DVD player). 

We took the cable car to Sounzan station thereafter, which was 2 stops away. The Hakone ropeway is currently closed due to volcanic activity, so from there, we took the substitute bus service to Togendai station to hop onto the 30-min boat cruise. We saw Mount Fuji on the way (literally so huge like it was right in front of our eyes!) but only managed to capture it with our eyes and not on camera as we were tied up comforting our LO... She didn't like riding in buses :(. 

The cable car. Looks like the one in Hong Kong, right?

Moto-Hakone port on the other side, with our sightseeing boat in the background. Looks like a pirate ship, no? Haha.

Nothing much on the other side though. Most of the shops were closed - only one restaurant and a cafe were opened. Given no choice, we had to take our late lunch there as we were hungry. Apparently buckwheat soba is famous there, so my hubby ordered that. Being more of a rice person, I ordered the katsudon (pork cutlet rice bowl), but I did steal some noodles from my hubby. Didn't find it special though...

As I mentioned in my previous post, we had quite a bad experience there. We were not informed that the bus would only come every 30 mins or so (maybe they did mention but it was all in Japanese and no explanation in English was given even when the majority of the people were foreigners, so most of us did not understand). The queue was so long and most of us stood in the cold (temperature dropped to 10°C by 7pm) for nearly an hour or more. People got impatient and started questioning the efficiency of the bus drivers/company, yet the staffs still went on making announcements in Japanese - like totally ignoring us tourists. Pfftt! No idea why they couldn't increase the frequency of the buses since there were so many of us 'stranded' there. When we finally got onto the bus, we were told to get off at one of the stops to transfer to train in order to get back to our ryokan. But what we didn't know was that the cable car already stopped operating at that time, so we had to take a taxi back >.< Oh well. The bright side? Our LO got to try out almost all types of transportation in just ONE day: bullet train, normal train, cable car, boat, bus and car! Lol... Soaked in the onsen and ate 2 ice creams to de-stress after that!!

Check out time was 10am. Went for another round of onsen soaking prior to checking out. Soaking in hot spring on a cold rainy morning... Ahh, what a bliss :D We hung out at the lobby after returning the keys to have coffee and to satisfy my curiosity by getting brunch from the food vending machine haha! It was still raining when we made our way back to Tokyo. Urgh.

The apartment in Shinjuku was slightly further - about 8 - 10 mins' walk from Yoyogi station. It's nearer from Sangubashi station (about 3 mins' walk) but that would mean we have to transfer from JR line to another line to get there, so we opted to walk instead of changing lines. It was located on the third floor without an elevator - more weightlifting exercise lol.

The last 3 days in Tokyo were more on shopping, relaxing and some sightseeing. We shopped around Shinjuku and Shibuya area, enjoyed a cuppa at the famous Shibuya Starbucks which overlooks the ever-so-busy Shibuya crossing, had beer and wagyu at Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho (also known as Piss Alley or Memory Lane), visited Tsukiji market, view the Tokyo Tower from far @ Tokyo  World Trade Center's observation deck (¥620) and also from near @ Zōjō-ji Temple. 

Omoide Yokocho entrance. Hidden in the middle of bustling Shinjuku, this is a small laneway lined with small yakitori bars. 
The shop where we ate in.
 Literally melted in our mouths :D 
Deep fried fugu. This was very good too - meaty, crispy, and succulent! 

For sushi lovers, specifically if you want to eat the ootoro, Tsukiji market is the place to go. This is where the famous tuna auctions take place (You need authorization to enter). The fish market is open to visitors after 9am and closes around noon time. Head to Sushi Dai for sushi. It's a tiny shop with only about 12 seats, so expect a long wait time. It opens at 5am and I heard that some people start queuing as early as 3 plus am, so.... We didn't get to try because the queue was crazily long (I'm sure our LO would have made a scene there if we joined the queue -_-). We ate the ootoro in another shop in Shinjuku, but of course, the cut wasn't as good. We also visited the outer market where we bought dried seafood products and sampled some local snacks like tamagoyaki, grilled eel liver & roasted nuts/black beans.

Various types of tamagoyaki being sold here.
Grilled eel liver - Too gamey for me, YUCKS!
Ootoro sushi @ Standing Sushi Bar - the cut and marble were nowhere near those in Sushi Dai.
Other sushi @ Standing Sushi Bar
Tokyo tower from WTC Observation deck - nice place to sit and enjoy a 360-degree panorama of  the city while enjoying a cup of coffee.
Zōjō-ji Temple standing next to Tokyo Tower.
A closer view of the tower.
That's the end of our 10-day Japan trip. We definitely had a great time shopping, eating, sightseeing, soaking in the hot spring, and not to forget, HANAMI! Hope you guys had fun reading this too! :D

Extra tips: 

  • Get a Suica/Pasmo card (like our Touch N Go) for subway/train rides when you reach the airport. It can be used in convenience stores and vending machines too.
  • Be prepared for long queues/waiting time at restaurants during lunch/dinner peak hour.
  • A lot of the restaurants/eateries close in the afternoon after lunch time and reopen again for dinner, so plan your meal times properly.
  • We didn't come across many child-friendly restaurants or restaurants with baby chairs. Some even rejected us upfront when they saw us carrying a toddler. Most eating places are tiny, so it would be hard to navigate/park your strollers if you bring one.
  • For those who are as picky as me when it comes to LO's food, I brought some rice, oats, raisins, whitebaits and chia seeds over, and we prepared most of her meals when we were there. Buying fresh veggies, fruits and meat there weren't a problem at all. 
  • Some restaurants incur a fix charge the moment you sit down, or make it compulsory that you order a set each/a certain minimum amount, in order to be able to sit and dine in it.
  • You could choose to stay in Kyoto and take daily trips to Osaka, or vice versa since the JR Tokaido shinkansen ride takes only about 15 mins to reach Shin-Osaka station and from there, transfer to JR line train to Osaka station (4 mins), OR you could take the JR Special Rapid train (30 mins ride) straight to Osaka station - save the trouble of packing and moving. 

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