Tag Archive: Travels



We are home, and still dreaming of the sites we visited and the food we enjoyed. Times are better and “lost in translation” is soon a thing of the past. Google translate and the young helpful Japanese make life so much easier. When we touched down and trooped out of the Namba train station, we couldn’t figure out which direction to take to reach our hotel. When the map says it’s near, hailing a cab is out of the question and that means we should drag our luggage to our hotel just a couple of blocks away. A pair of young Japanese happily walked us to our hotelcrossed 2 streets with us and even offered to take my suitcase. Using Google translate, the young fellow asked if there’s some other place we’d like to pass by before checking in at our Namba hotel. Bless their hearts!

Love how these young Japanese ham it up!

On the way to our hotel — both in Osaka and Tokyo — we took note of all those red and gold lanterns, lightings, food stalls and shops where purchases are so neatly wrapped. Those snack foods packed in cute boxes and bags, as well as young adults in twinning outfits or in school’s winter uniforms. I just love how traditional structures, decor and traditions have survived and withstood the onslaught of modernity in all aspects of Japanese life. Like onsen, tea ceremonies, food alleys, Shinto and Buddhist shrines, temples and pagodas dotting the city landscapes. And how the locals show respect with a bow after rendering service even when no one is looking!

My love affair with Japan began long before I started traveling. Back when I was still in school, I had a weekend foster brother who is Japanese. Kazuhiro is from Osaka but we’ve lost touch many years ago. How I wish we remained in contact. My father who never had a son readily welcomed this Japanese lad on the many weekends he spent with us in our ancestral home in the province. I remember his fastidious attention to cleaning the bathroom that our family made sure he bathed LAST. My father would egg us all to hit the showers before Hiro — as we fondly called him — took his bath. Invariably, Hiro left behind him sparkling clean bathroom tiles after all the scrubbing. And that includes brushing the bathroom slippers squeaky clean!

My only regret was that we were too busy feeding Hiro with local delicacies instead of leaving him to try his kitchen skills. Back then, we weren’t too keen on Japanese cuisine. Sushi and ramen were totally not favoured over mami and siopao to ignoramus like moí and eating raw would have been unwelcome even to my Pa and Ma. Too bad. At the time, what I considered “unmistakably Japanese” then was limited to thoroughly clean, a manicured and pebbled garden, a bow to show appreciation, welcome, and bye, perfectly-cooked rice and good tea!


Been here countless times, each time with someone visiting Japan for the first time. That means checking out all spots in a tourist’s itinerary and getting “trapped” in camera-touting crowds. I wrongfully assumed that the crowds would have thinned because it’s winter but obviously that idea is way off. Shinjuku, Shibuya, Asakusa, Ginza, Harajuku, to name a few. There wasn’t even enough time in the 5 days we were in the capital to check out Odaiba or Roppongi!

Memory Lane or Piss Alley?
Mt. Fuji and the Metropolis

Our hotel was in Shinjuku area right across the Observatory at the top of Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Quite a surprise to view Mt. Fuji very clearly from many of its glass windows, sans any clouds. As they say, the great dame makes a solid appearance come winter time. A short walk from here is the Shinjuku JR Station which is right next to an alley fondly referred to as Memory Lane as it’s been there since the 1940s after the war. It is now called Omoide Yokocho, home to some 60 bars and food stalls. Not exactly the comfiest place to have a proper meal but if you’re into a few drinks and bar food like “anything grilled” and some seafood, it’s the place. Claim your stools and enjoy. We had a marvellous time drinking and dining with 3 young Aussies and a couple of locals who love raising their glasses, shouting Kampai! Even the bar hostess grilling and serving our drinks looked like having a good time with us.

Sensoji Temple

Now, if you want to do some temple and shrine-spotting, don’t miss Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. The way to the temple is far from spiritual though as crowds mill around the many souvenir and snack booths. But if it’s serious shopping you plan to do, there’s Harajuku, Ginza and Shibuya-jungamae. Well frankly, there’s more but for this trip we only managed these spots. The alley in Takeshita-Dori right across the JR Harajuku Station caters to the younger set while the other two have shops with more variety. Some signature shops can be found there as well, and we were lucky to find Louis Vuitton’s pop up store in collab with Japanese renowned contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama in Jungamae. The installations were fantastic and somehow, the experience made up for my missing out on a visit to the artist’s museum in Tokyo.

Tokyo is for the young. I still can’t get used to the rushing subway crowd and the so many confusing exits at every train station. My heart pumps nearly out of my chest each time, right through the ride standing toe to toe during rush hours and heaving a sigh of relief only upon exiting. Maybe that explains why and how we ended up taking the Shinkansen with our green pass to savor country air in the less touristy spots.

Yayoi Everywhere


Yayoi Kusama Museum in Tokyo in my list but no way I could just drop in as the Museum is fully booked the entire week we were in Tokyo. Bummer. But some days you get lucky. It just so happened that Louis Vuitton has set up a pop-up store in Harajuku, Tokyo to showcase its 2nd collaboration with the renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The store is near the JR Harajuku Station’s Takeshita Exit and runs till January 22, 2023.

Louis Vuitton in collab with Yayoi Kusama

Unmistakably Yayoi with the ubiquitous polka dots, the fashion house truly outdid itself. The space has a lifelike sculpture of the famous contemporary artist wearing the distinctive yellow and black polka dotted shirt to contrast her signature red hair. Her designs are carried in LV’s bags and other leather products, RTWs, accessories and even perfumes. In a separate space, one finds mirrored balls and other installations. All these I enjoyed without having to buy anything from the pop-up store nor even from the permanent LV Store which I likewise visited. I would have wanted to but the price tags gave me a migraine. 😉

Our luck held on till the next day when we visited the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building’s Observatory. A grand piano bearing Yayoi’s polka dot design sits in one corner of the top floor, inviting visitors to try their hand and play a tune. So, if you’re visiting Tokyo after January 22, you can view Yayoi Kusama-inspired installations in any of the permanent LV stores or pop in at the Tokyo Met Government’s Observatory in Shinjuku.


Mt. Fuji isn’t hiding behind any clouds this winter. From the Observatory of Metropolitan Government Building across our hotel, Mt. Fuji can be spotted clearly. One morning, we decided to hop on a JR line to reach Otsuki (pronounced Otski) for a closer view of the majestic mountain. But we found many of the other train passengers heading towards a rail express line towards Lake Kawaguchi. Seeing a poster in the station of Mt. Fuji viewed from the lake, we decided to pay extra for another hour-long train ride towards Kawaguchiko where we found a taxi to drive us around the lake then back to the station. We’re happy with the photos we snapped but knew they’d have turned out better if it was later in the day when the mountain is reflected in the lake waters. At noontime, no such dreamy reflection as the sun shone brilliantly.

Viewed from Tokyo Metropolitan Building in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Viewed from the Train

Our taxi driver took our photos as he very kindly offered so we two can be photographed in a single frame. We tried not to squint our eyes and stood still for more posterity shots. There were not too many tourists at the time and the few we met are staying the night in one of the lakefront hotels. Next time I come here, I should do that. The view is fantastic especially when the dame shows up in all her splendour sans the clouds.

Viewed from the Taxi

It’s a long journey to meet them snow monkeys in Jigokudani Park. The Shinkansen ride took 1.5 hours from Tokyo to Nagano where a Snow Monkey Pass can be bought to cover the nearly one-hour bus trip and entrance fee to the park. That’s not bad but you need to walk from the bus stop to the park. Should have ordinarily taken about 30 minutes of walking 2kilometers but the narrow paths are slippery with last night’s snow. Icy by the time we got there and our rubber shoes are no longer good to go. We rented snow boots and finally started walking — for a good hour! No way you can go faster as we eyed the edge of the paths that showed drops I dare not even imagine. Here and there, we dropped to our knees as we slipped and our weights carried us down the paths. At one point, our hands “burned” as we slid hanging by the ropes. It was tempting to give up but having wasted 2.5 hours on a train and bus, we decided to wing it.

Lonely walk towards the park,
Snow all around!

The hot springs serve as haven for these macaques during winter. The heat keeps them warm as they frolic between the mountain slopes and the pond. Never aggressive, but it’s wise to keep a distance. On a few occasions, a couple of macaques squirrelled past me. Every now and then, there’d be “quarrels” among them — I guess claiming their onsen spots — but nothing so dramatic, nor threatening. After a while, you get used to the snarling sounds. It’s just magical just watching them have a good time.

Almost there.
Finally there.

The snow monkeys are having a good life here. An onsen life in the wilds. While we stood watching, Mama Monkey and her babies are soaking warm in the pond. The park sits close to many nearby onsens catering to humans. Same hot springs, I bet, but nothing beats how these snow monkeys are enjoying their own brand of onsen-dipping. The peace and quiet is only broken by camera shutters busily snapping shots, and humans doing what they do worst — being noisy. If these monkeys aren’t quarrelling, they just sit quietly with eyes closed, seemingly meditating. You can say they behave better in onsens than many humans. 🤣

These snow monkeys are having a good life.
Mommy and Baby enjoying the onsen as Papa dozes.

I’m glad we came. It’s best visited in winter when the macaques are drawn to the hot springs. But I should have remembered to wear snow boots to keep me from slipping, and a beanie to keep my head and ears warm. Well, hard lessons learned. For those of you making plans to visit this winter, pay heed. So there.


Our first home base was in Osaka. Right in Namba’s Dotonbori area. The aroma of food wafting from the food stalls and restos kept us going especially on our first night. We have made our wagyu dinner reservations but ended up in the wrong resto branch. And that’s after some time looking all over the place, scanning all the alleys. We were tempted to just skip it and instead check out the many ramen or yakitori or crab places but how can we give up on matsusaka beef 🥩? The staff in the “wrong branch” took us to the right outlet just a few meters away. Seemed like they’re used to guests getting lost or missing the right branch. The night ended well and we were satisfied with our first dinner in Osaka. 👌

Wagyu Dinner at Matsusaka-gyu M
Fushimi Inari Looking Empty of Visitors

Woke up early the next morning for a train ride to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, but it seemed most everybody had the same “brilliant idea”. Walked all around until our knees went jello, then moved to Fushimi Inari where once more, a long line of visitors have already assembled. Alas, the gods smiled on us and we found a break in the line so we promptly took snapshots of the shrine’s vermilion gates looking empty. By the time we were done, we took the Keihan Line to Kyoto’s geisha district, Gion. This time, we failed to spot any geisha, geiko nor maiko. But we enjoyed Hanamikoji alley in peace as the sun set in Kyoto.

Another Tourist Trap: Arashiyama Bamboo Park
Sundown in Gion District

Osaka and Kyoto are just 15 minutes apart via Shinkansen. So convenient. And from the JR Namba Station near our Osaka crib, we took the rapid express train to Nara Deer Park the next day. Just under an hour. Easy. But not as easy is the trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima. Took the 1.5 hour Shinkansen, the half-hour local train from Hiroshima to Miyajima and finally the 8 minute ferry ride to the island. But hey, if you have the time, and the JR Pass, it’s worth visiting. The pass is good for the Shinkansen, local train and ferry. Just make sure you don’t doze off on the ferry ride or you’d end up making a round trip!

Miyajima Island
Nara Deer Park

On our way to Tokyo, we broke our journey in Kyoto for a quick visit to Kiyomizu-dera and to enjoy some Uji matcha delights. Suitcases left in the station’s coin lockers, we were off to take the local train from Kyoto Station to Kiyomizu-gojo via Tofukuji. The uphill climb from Exit 4 took a half hour. The thick crowd we met served no encouragement to truly explore this beautiful temple but we’re not complaining. Time enough for a visit and catching our late afternoon Shinkansen to our next crib, Tokyo. Watch this page for more of our adventures!

Kiyomizu – Dera

This 2022 is a better year judging by how the pandemic woes have eased and how international borders have opened up. Soon after we returned from our Nile cruise early in 2020, we survived a lockdown which saw us cancelling as many as 3 international trips in 2020 and staying in for much of the time throughout 2020-21. Sad news from family and friends we haven’t, couldn’t visit reached us and all we could do was pray and try to stay healthy. My annual visits to my family in Sydney was put on hold until OZ borders opened up in February 2022. I wasted no time and secured a visa to visit Sydney last May 2022. Stayed a good 6 weeks and felt gratitude seeping in that our family is well and in good health.

Check out these blog links:

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/06/07/sydney-fish-market-finds/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/06/10/my-vivid-sydney-2022/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/07/03/anna-bay-in-port-stephens/

La Familia. OZ Chapter.
It was winter that mid year in Sydney. Lovely to bond with family again, especially since there are just 2 of us sisters in the original branch of the family.

Soon after, it was time to visit a niece now based in Guam. Renewed my US visa to visit this territory in the Northern Pacific and spent a month, thinking there isn’t much to do in this tiny island. I was prepared to get bored and promised not to whinge. Well, I must have done whatever there is to do in Guam from hotel staycations, duty-free shopping, watching a musical, binging on movies in the nearby cinema, trying Chamorro meals, driving and touring around the island, swimming and other water adventures. There were a number of family friends to meet up so there’s aplenty to do and catch up on. Besides, there was a birthday to celebrate!

Check out these blog links:

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/08/21/a-chamorro-sunday-in-guam/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/08/25/wednesdays-in-chamorro-village-guam-2022/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/08/27/checking-in-at-the-tsubaki/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/08/31/driving-around-guam/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/09/04/the-beach-scene-dusit-thani/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/09/06/bikini-sandbar-or-island/

A day excursion to Bikini Island
And a birthday to celebrate!

In between these visits, I made 2 domestic trips. One to holiday in Boracay with dear friends who are my extended family, and another to Cagayan de Oro in Southern Philippines to celebrate a friend’s retirement and birthday. My relationship with these extended families makes me feel so very thankful for their friendship and the bond that ties us forever. Their children are all my godchildren — from baptism to wedding — and our friendship counts decades with the younger members forging an equally strong bond among themselves. This relationship will last beyond our lifetimes!

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/04/10/that-corner-of-paradise-boracay/

Beach is life.
Justice Meloy’s Retirement Party

And then there’s our Fukuoka trip this last month of the year. Not our first time to Kyushu Island in the southern part of Japan, but we were just too eager to travel again as a group. Who cared who was guiding us or where we were going? Destinations hardly mattered. There were just 3 major sights: a garden in autumn foliage, an active volcano and a gorge, and a canal cruise. And onsens and kaiseki in between. Enough. In the company of these travel buddies, we’re good. Fun as always. More fond memories. We are blessed.

Check out these blog links:

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/12/02/japan-is-always-a-good-idea/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/12/04/gorges-volcanoes-porsches/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/12/05/a-canal-cruise-in-yanagawa/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/12/09/an-onsen-zen-state-of-mind/

https://lifeisacelebration.blog/2022/12/10/kaiseki-anyone/

Travel Buddies
Feeling grateful.
Wishing for an even better 2023.

Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year, everyone! May this Season bring us peace and joy in our minds and hearts.


Typically, I prefer independent travels. But when you’re a big group, and with bebes, escorted tours suit best. We had a big bus for our group, and kaiseki meals were pre-arranged and looked forward to. As expected, we had what the area offers fresh and best. We may have issues with our Japanese guide on communication and all, but the food department is nothing to complain about. What a relief!

All 9 courses for our first kaiseki.
That Aso beef!

In Arden Hotel Aso, we had 2 kaiseki dinners. We grilled our Aso beef the first time, and had it shabu-shabu a second time. The 2nd kaiseki was more filling as we stepped out of the dining hall with our garments bursting at the seams. No wonder the yukatas are preferred wardrobes for this ritual! Wagyu fans can celebrate but in my book, that sea bream carpaccio is tops! Also, that was the best ebi tempura I’ve eaten. The batter is simply too good, way crispier than the usual.

Sea bream carpaccio
Everything on this tray is GOOOOOD!
Even the pickles.

When we visited Takachiho Gorge, we had a “simple lunch” in this tiny izakaya accessible through 3 flights of stairs. If your bladder bothers you, better do it before climbing up. But I thought the tray presented an attractive meal which we all enjoyed. After all, I was almost nearing my quota for Aso beef (or any beef) and craving for other proteins.

The “hut” lid covered the yummy dish. Cute!
How do they do these eggs?

When we headed to Yanagawa, we lunched in this seafood place just before boarding our river boat. What a delight to see them fish out our lunch fresh from the water tanks! I confess I was hoping for an eel lunch but I’m not complaining about the fish we had.

It’s a rather flat no-name fish. Can you tell?
I wouldn’t mind those clams and oysters too!

By the time we reached the city and on our own in the dining department, I knew what to eat. Those excursions exploring geological wonders hyped up my appetite for unagi (eels) and more shellfish. Found an unagi place and an oysters bar at the rooftop of Hakata Train Station. Well, on the top 2 floors actually. Cravings satisfied!

Unagi for my last lunch before flying out.
Oysters, sardines and zucchini with prosciutto for our last dinner before heading home. Best with beer.

Not to forget, we did partake of that Ichiran ramen too. Not to be missed. You don’t leave Fukuoka without eating this noodle dish in this rich broth. Plus a wagyu lunch somewhere along the route deep down in the island of Kyushu. Sayonara!

Ichiran Ramen
Our Wagyu Lunch

When we reached Arden Hotel Aso in Minami-Aso, we didn’t have any high expectations. Lying in a village in Kyushu, Japan, the onsen hotel must have been neglected much throughout the pandemic judging by its peeling wall paint along the corridors. But its vast garden was well-kept and the resident rabbits look well-taken care of. The rooms are very clean though, and the food superb. The kitchen crew must have stayed along with the garden staff. This you can tell by the quality of its kaiseki dinners. As for the onsen and hot spring baths, we had the area nearly all to ourselves. A choice of indoor and outdoor onsen, as the mood dictates. Swell!

Arden Hotel Aso
The Garden is perfect for strolls and meditative breaks. Be prepared to meet the resident rabbits!

In winter, it’s agonizing to decide whether to try the outdoor onsen and hot spring baths or to simply check out the indoor onsen. Just walking from the hotel in yukatas to the spas within the complex — a very short walk, actually — can be an ordeal because of the freezing weather. But the indoor onsen is far from being a poor choice. My only complaint is that I could hardly tolerate the hot temps as I dipped in. That is why the outdoor onsen makes so much sense!

No cams allowed inside so these are photos from the hotel website.

We all enjoyed the onsen prior to dinners and breakfasts while we were here. And in the afternoons soon after our day excursions, the gardens provided some perfect breaks for meditation or just me-times. Our spacious rooms looked out to these gardens and the autumn foliage added much to the garden’s charm. In spring and summer, these gardens seem perfect for weddings. I can imagine round tables littering the beautiful rock garden, the food and cocktails served under the maple trees, a string quartet just around the garden rocks and many rabbits jumping around the lawn.

These are the covered corridors towards the outdoor onsen. Used by both humans and rabbits.
Cocktails in spring/summer temps should be good here. This looks out to the garden.

And yes, I mentioned kaiseki dinners. The breakfasts were good too! If one’s skipping the day excursions, staying in for these meals could even be a treat! Our first was topped by Aso beef, a kind of wagyu that may not be of the same quality as your Kobe or Matsusaka beef, but Aso comes from Akaushi cattle raised in this area. You’ve just got to try it!

Aso Beef is this omakase’s highlight!
While the Aso beef shabu shabu is good, I was drawn more to the sea bream carpaccio here. And that tempura is really gooooooood!

Touted as the “Venice of Japan”, this canal cruise couldn’t have been more fun if not for our singing gondolier named Nakamura-San. He reminded me of Confucius, with his long face and beard. He sang for us nearly the whole time, and his repertoire included a lullaby for the baby in our group. From time to time, he’d shout “danger, danger” as we passed the low branches of trees or under the bridges while punting along the Yanagawa river. That was our cue to duck lest we hit our heads.

We took off on 2 boats. This is Boat #1
And this is Boat #2

Yanagawa is a castle town just an hour away from Fukuoka. The centuries-old narrow waterways used to be moats surrounding the castle that does not exist anymore. Designated as a National Site for Scenic Beauty, there are plans to even expand the grid of artificial moats for a longer, more leisurely punt ride Yanagawa is famous for. I kept thinking the boat ride must be more fun towards sundown or early evenings when the lights are reflected on the river waters. But I’m glad we did it just after lunch and before the temperature dropped further.

The town’s so small it’s such a pleasure to walk along the canal ways.
One of the Boat Stations

While the highlight is the boat ride, don’t skip walking around town and along the canals. Even at low temps, it’s such a delight just walking around. On food choices, this town has a good selection of seafood options. Clams, flatfish, crabs, shrimps, eels, oysters, etc. Don’t miss that too.

Seafood galore
A Simple Lunch

So there. If you’re in Fukuoka, make a day trip to Yanagawa if only for your seafood fix and try a punt ride along the former moats of a now non-existent castle. Sayonara!

Not sure about what this vendor is selling 🙄
Meet Nakamura-San, our Japanese gondolier.