Or maybe we should call this the post with the longest title! Ha!
My art journey is slow and steady. I do not get to do art as much as I like this year but whenever I find pockets of time, I try to do one piece. To keep the inspiration burning, I try to immerse myself in the creative world by visiting museums and exhibits in between leisure and work trips. I also try to observe my surroundings, be in the moment and find inspiration around me.
I found that pocket of time in August, right after my trip to Baler. This idea has been brewing in my head for some time. I wanted a piece of my own art in my own wall. I already bought my A1 size watercolor paper in June. My plan was already in motion. To visualize an A1 paper, it is 8 times the size of an A4 paper. Arrange two rows of four A4 paper in portrait orientation to get an A1 size paper.
So for a size that big, what should I paint? No question, it has to be something botanical. I have files of plants and flowers I wanted to paint. I always check those files for inspiration. I decided on succulents because it is an ode to my inability to grow them. I have tried growing them several times before. They always die. Painting them is the best alternative.
Painting a large piece requires me to allot space in my dining/office table.
Painting is really therapeutic. It feeds my soul so I always take my time. I do not hurry. It is a pleasurable experience for me so I savor the moment. (Ang drama ko! Haha)
What I enjoy most about painting succulents is that there are different varieties. It was an exciting process to paint the details of the different varieties.
Painting can be a cerebral process when you try to decide how you are going to add depths to the piece and where to add those specks to show texture and dimension.
Painting is an exercise of planning skills. Since I taped the edges of the paper unto my table, I covered the piece with sheets of bond paper every time I was not working on it. I always emptied my water cup and placed my palette away from the table to avoid mishaps. (Imagine this scenario: a lizard walking on my palette and over my painting. I do not want that to happen.)
I also used these pieces of paper to cover painted areas to prevent myself from touching those areas.
Painting tested my EQ, which I know I barely have. My initial plan was just to finish this with a white background. This is supposedly the finished painting.
But no matter how I want to avoid mishaps, this happened. No use crying over spilled paint, right?
So I added other details little by little.
I added more succulents until I was finally done with this finished piece.
I sent this to the framer and I finally have my own painting in my living room.
Well, not quite.
Since this is a watercolor painting on paper, this was framed behind a glass to protect it from the elements. Large painting + glass= heavy painting. So I kept the painting on my sofa reinforcing it with pillows. I was still trying to figure out how to hang this heavy painting. I thought of buying brackets and additional screws but I was not able to find time to go to a hardware store.
Let me say that painting can be a test for AQ- Adversity Quotient. I recently learned about AQ from my smart friends. An adversity quotient is a score that measures the ability of a person to deal with adversities in his or her life. I must admit that I have a really low EQ but I think I have a reasonable AQ score.
So here is the story. The painting had been sitting on my couch for weeks. My aunt kept asking me when am I going hang my painting but I was busy so I never had time. One fine Sunday, my friends came for a visit. We were waiting for another friend. (I feel like I am writing a blind item of some chismis column! Ha.) When the friend came he/she went to sit on the couch. Our dog, Christian, was barking hard because he saw a new face. I directed him to smell the new visitor so he would feel at ease but instead of smelling, he jumped at the visitor prompting the visitor to lean back. Then I heard the cracking sound of my breaking heart chos of the glass.
I looked at my friend’s back and I saw no blood. I was relieved. My friend was apologetic. I told my friend not to worry about it too much as I do not have attachment to things. Attachment to people, yes. Chos! (Notice my effort of not identifying my friend.)
This is where my high adversity quotient comes in. (Buhat sariling bangko moment?) It was easy to just have it re-framed but I would still have the same predicament as before. How do I hang the heavy frame? Many watercolor artists have the same dilemma as me. How does one frame the painting without the glass? Glass is heavy and it adds glare when you tried to view the painting. A quick Google search led me to a painting technique- apply cold wax. Cold wax is a substance often used to oil paintings as a medium and sealant. Apparently, you can use it for watercolor paintings.
So when I went to Japan, I looked for cold wax from an art store there and they did not have it. When I went back to Manila, I also went to Fullybooked and Art Bar but they did not have it.
I finally found an online store that carries it. Yay! I also bought a fixative as a backup. I had work for the month of November so the wax application was put on hold.
Finally I found some free time in the first week of December so I worked on applying the wax. At first, I used a cleaning cloth to apply the wax but it seemed like the product was absorbed by the cloth .
So I used the best tool in the world- my hands. It really was easier to use my fingers because I could feel which part of the surface still needed to be waxed.
Waxing made the colors pop and it protects the surface from the elements. Plus, I did not have to buy brackets. The painting was light and easy to hang.
Look at that!
I have finally decorated my living room for Christmas and hanged my painting!
Whenever I visit Manila, I always try to do something worthwhile other than being stuck in traffic or trapped in a blackhole like a mall. I guess the Universe (or Facebook and Instagram algorithm, haha ) really knows what I enjoy that this sponsored ad appeared on my feed. When I saw this, my artsy fartsy heart did a happy dance.
The art fair was around the time I was in Manila after that Japan trip. I was able to drag my friends to SM Aura to see the artworks. I am thankful that these friends always say yes to my requests to accompany me to activities I enjoy. I always prefer experiences over shopping. The only shopping I always find myself having a hard time resisting is shopping for art materials, notebooks and pens.
ManilArt is dubbed as the country’s biggest visual arts fair and it was!
Ok, before I bombard this piece with lots of praises for the art fair, let me tell you first about something I hated. No, hate is a strong word. Something I dislike. No, more like something that makes me freak out deep inside my being. Ha! In the Japan trip, my friend, Gail, would have a heightened spider radar whenever we were surrounded by trees while I would have an unnamed creature alarm in my system whenever It gets dark and there is a grass. So at SM Aura, my alarm system is on rest because we are inside a mall. It was in the afternoon. There was no grass. Not! As soon as I stepped inside the hall, my eyes went straight to a large art installation of more than two dozens of the unnamed creature I feared most. I think it was some sort of a statement about the quest of finding a prince. (May time pa talaga ako magexplain no?) I quickly walked to the next set of display.
Good thing the next display area was awe-inspiring that I forgot about that frightening installation. This artist immediately became my favorite among all the artists showcased in ManilArt. Say hello to the works of Roel Obemio.
This is entitled”After the Girl with a Pearl Earring”. It is his take on a popular Vermeer painting but injected with modern theme.
He made the same approach with Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”. He named this “After Venus”.
Here are his other works.
Roel is from Cagayan de Oro. Yay! A fellow Bisaya! (Feeling close agad, Kat! LOL) Anyway, he used to work for the Philippine animation studio of Hanna-Barbera (Yogi bear, Flintstones, Scooby Doo). I can see the influences in his storybook kind of paintings.
The amazing thing is that all his paintings had a dot in the labels. His paintings sold out!
Since I could no longer buy his paintings (kasi wala ka namang pambayad, Kat), I just opted to have my picture taken with the paintings. (Palusot!)
This series is cute. The characters are wearing Filipiniana but with a twist. One is holding a designer handbag. Another is holding a paintbrush. The last one is wearing a Minnie Mouse hat while holding McDonald’s french fries.
I will give you a run-through of all the other works (from other artists) that I love.
This is Shirly’s favorite painting because she is a coffee lover. This is Francis Nacion’s work. I love his colorful painting plus his paintings are in these gorgeous custom frames made by skilled carvers from Pampanga.
There are sculptures in the art fair. Can you see us in that piece in the wall?
Ramon Orlina’s glass sculptures are also in display but I stayed away because I was afraid I might accidentally bump the display. It would truly give me a heart attack if that happened.
I always gravitate towards realism. This one is made by an Iranian artist, Ali Esmaeilipour. I am a fan of Araceli Dans’ lace in paintings and that lace in Ali’s work reminded me of Dans.
I like how Ram Mallari was able to create a work of art from scrap metal.
Here’s my friend, Gail, looking at the details of Arnica Acantilado’s work.
This one is a take on John William Waterhouse’s painting of the Lady of Shalott from a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson. The difference from the original is that there is no child in the boat and no floating lantern in the Waterhouse painting. It is interesting how this painting is also an inspiration in Ghibli. I saw a print of this painting inside the museum. Ghibli artists studied the works of Waterhouse to understand how he used colors.
This is a lovely bronze sculpture. I forgot who made this.
This is Argee Dacuyan’s ” Mag-iisang Tatanda” and “Nag-iisang Ilaw”. Ouch!
I stalked spied Romulo Galicano talking to some art patrons. I could have walked up to him and asked for a photo but he might start talking about art and discover that I am a poser. LOL. I do not know how to talk art so I just observed from afar.
This is his work.
It is fit for a museum. It is called ‘Ominous’. It is his take on the aftermath of Yolanda. That beautiful lady is mother earth struggling with the devastation. The angel of death is in the background. At first glance, it is a beautiful painting but after you have seen the details, it is also a sad, sad one. I think that is the purpose of art – to stir your soul.
I like happy paintings so after looking at all the pieces, Roel Obemio is still my favorite artist in ManilArt2019.
But my favorite painting is Efren Carpio’s Prutas. I think I have sent a photo of this piece to a lot of friends because I think the concept is really clever.
Did you get what it is all about? I remember older people telling me before that if I swallow a santol seed, the tree would grow inside my body. Efren Carpio was able to tell that story in this painting. Clever!
My takeaway at the ManilArt: The Philippine Art Scene is exciting. My inspiration cup overflows.
Hope to see this art fair again next year! Behind me are JP Pining’s works.
This is the last of a series of blog posts about my trip to Japan. First part can be found here. Second part, here.
After more than 3 hours of traveling by bus from Niigata, we arrived at the Ikebukuro station in Tokyo. We dropped by Don Quixote, a retail blackhole (ha!), for a bit since Gail needed to look for something. Off we went to Ueno where our hotel was located.
This is our hotel. They must have ran out of appropriate paint color. LOL
Hotel is still a little cramped but it was clean and there was a fridge so we’re fine.
We wanted to go somewhere that day but we did not have enough time. We decided to just find a place to eat. We found this place that has a vending machine for orders. One would have to push a button to choose and order, insert the bills and get the receipt.
We gave the receipt to the server inside and after a few minutes, our order was served.
After we finished eating our dinner, we roamed around the area and found out that the Ameyoko market was just around the corner. We did not find anything interesting so off we searched for the nearest Don Quixote which was a few blocks away. After some retail therapy, we went back to the hotel ready to call it a day.
We really do not have a very tight schedule for our first whole day in Tokyo, we just chose places we wanted to visit like the Imperial Palace, Uniqlo Store at Ginza, Hachiko at Shibuya, Sekaido (art store) at Shinjuku then back to Ueno for the zoo and park. We agreed that we would just visit what we could cover for the day. We took a leisurely pace. Tita na kami kasi.
First stop was the Imperial Palace. We rode the train to the Tokyo Station.
As soon as we reached the station, we looked for a place to eat. We think that there were better choices in a train station than outside. We found this place that served breakfast sandwiches so we quickly settled to the available seats.
Look there is a bucket under every seat for a place to put your bags.
Off we went the Marunouchi exit of the Tokyo station. Just before we exited, we looked up and the ceiling was beautiful.
This was the reason why Grace reminded us to take this exit and when we were already outside, we should not forget to look back. This is what the station looks like outside. Just beautiful.
When we crossed the street, there was this commemorative installation for the Rugby World Cup that was being held in Japan that time.
After we had enough photos, we walked our way towards the Imperial Palace grounds. I thought we would be able to see the palace from the grounds. I guess not.
So we took a few photos in the palace grounds area and we are off to Ginza!
Google told us that it was 17 minutes away by foot. We also got to pass by Hibiya park.
I love how there were pockets of greens in between concrete jungles in Tokyo.
So what is in Ginza? The largest Uniqlo store in the world!
There are 12 floors and I was only able to buy 1 thing- thermal undergarment because it was on sale. It was already fall/winter season and I live in a tropical country so nothing caught my fancy. Plus, I was on a limited budget. We also kept on computing because prices were more or less the same as the ones in Manila.
This is the view from the top!
After going through all the 12 floors in Uniqlo, we were off to Shibuya.
I just needed to visit Hachiko at least once in my lifetime.
And since we were already in Shibuya, we might as well cross one of the busiest intersections in the world.
We went to Shinjuku afterwards to check out an art store. This was my special request. And we had difficulty in finding the store and just when I was so ready to give up, it was just in front of me all those times. Naks! I was meant to get those paint tubes, notebooks and pens. Rationalizing the purchase.
I guess we lost track of time because by the time we reached Ueno, the zoo was already closed. We will just have to visit it next time. We trekked back to our hotel after we had dinner. We had to pack. We would be checking out of our hotel the next day. And the highlight of our Tokyo trip was also scheduled the next day.
Our last day in Japan would be spent at the Ghibli Museum! And somebody was prepared to go there. Look at her earring.
It was difficult to get those entrance tickets. One needs to book a month in advance. We tried to book online at the specific time and date when tickets were available but the website crashed on me. I messaged Grace about it so she called her local Lawson office and personally bought the tickets for us. Whew! When I checked the website a day after, the tickets were sold out!
We had a specific time when to enter the museum- 10 a.m. The museum was 45 minutes away so we checked out of the hotel at around 7 a.m. We had to leave our luggage at the lockers at the Keisei Ueno station where would ride the train to Narita later that day.
To reach Ghibli, we had the option to go to Mitaka station and ride the Ghibli bus or take the Kichijoji sation and walk. We took the Kichijoji route because we saw that there was a Catholic church along the way. I traveled with a saint so we needed to visit a church. Kidding aside, it was a nice way to be thankful for our trip.
The church was tucked away behind a building which we first thought was the church.
You know you are in the right place when you can understand what is written in the sign.
Our walk from the church to Ghibli was an easy one because we passed through the Inokashira Park. Gail was on heightened alert because trees meant spiders between tree trunks. Hehehe
There were directions on which way the museum was. It was hard to get lost.
We saw the Ghibli bus that we did not take because we opted to walk.
We finally reached Ghibli. This is not the entrance yet.
We turned to the other corner and we found a line! We arrived 20 minutes before it opened and there was already a line. I was looking at the people and told Gail, “So these are our competitors in getting the tickets!” LOL
Photography was not allowed inside the museum.
All I can say is that Ghibli artists are so creative and detailed. They would label each color they used in the illustrations so every frame you see in their movies are perfectly made. There are notes on how each frame was made. If you are into illustration and art, the place is very inspiring. I was happy to visit Ghibli. My inspiration cup overflows. Thank you, Grace, for securing the tickets for us and for introducing Ghibli to me!
Our last destination before we headed for the airport was this pancake place. Grace told us to try this place while we were planning our trip. It was a short walk from Ghibli. So as a celebration of this trip, we splurged a little in this place. We ordered a meal and a dessert. Yes, a pancake meal and a pancake dessert. Yummy fluffy pancakes!
As I was trying to finish my meal, another set was waiting for me to devour. I shared this with Gail, by the way.
What a way to end a trip to Japan! I hope to go back!
My trip to Japan would not be complete without visiting my friend, Grace. Grace used to live in Dubai but now lives in Tokamachi City in Niigata Prefecture. When she was still living in Dubai she kept inviting me to visit her but it was hard for me to score cheap plane tickets. Then she moved to Japan. I told myself that I should be able to visit her this time. Plus, I follow her Instagram feed. She lives in a quiet and picturesque part of Japan. Very provincial and peaceful. Who would not want to go there?
We made sure that our Japan itinerary included a weekend in Niigata. We chose the weekend so we could also spend time with her family especially her awesome kids, Pristine and Benjamin. Too bad, Pristine was on a school trip. We missed her bubbly personality.
We flew from Osaka to Niigata via ANA. We scored an affordable plane fare that flies from Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport). This airport is different from the Kansai Airport. Good thing Gail read the ticket details. I would have assumed otherwise. This is the reason why we chose the Namba area for hotel location in Osaka because the stop for the airport bus to Itami Airport was just a short walk away. We woke up early to catch the 6:00 a.m. bus so we arrived at the bus stop 15 minutes earlier. We alreayd saw the bus waiting for passenger and we were pretty surprised that it was almost full. These Japanese people and punctuality left us wanting! (Sana all!)
I do not have a photo to show for our trip to the airport or even when we arrived in Niigata airport because I avoided looking like a tourist. I felt that I already look like a tourist because I think we were the only non-Japanese at the airport. I guess not so many tourists take our route. Everyone was quiet and calm. If I kept on taking pictures, I would attract attention. So much so that while we were on flight, I saw Mt. Fuji from the airplane window. I practiced self-control to not take a picture because the Japanese passengers in my row were so behaved and quiet that talking to Gail (who sat near the window) about taking a picture for me would already be too noisy. I just saved the view to my own memory, analog-style. (How did I know it was Mt Fuji? The perfect cone was a giveaway. Plus I asked Grace when I remembered it days after I arrived home. Ha! )
And Google confirmed it.
When we reached Niigata, we needed to travel to Tokamachi where Grace lives. Grace was unable to fetch us because the day we arrive was also the that Pristine leaves for Tokyo for her school trip to the US. Grace needed to drive P to the train station. So she gave us instructions on how to get there. We checked Google and asked her for confirmation of the route.
We used this site for instructions.
If one looks closely, the time when the train leaves was so specific. 12:06. Not 12 noon; not 12:05 but 12:06. That is how precise they are with the schedule. And in particular, at 14:12, we needed to transfer to another train in 3 minutes. I told Gail that we might not be able to get to that train in 3 minutes and I did not think they would wait for us. So both of us put our game face on and focused on the task- find the train and be quick in getting there. As our train approaches the Echigo-Kawaguchi station , we could see the other train on the other track. And to get there, we needed to go down a flight of stairs, cross a hallway and go up another flight of stairs to the platform where the train was. All these steps while carrying our luggage and doing everything in 3 minutes! No wonder many Japanese looked so thin! Traveling is a form of exercise. As soon as I found a seat in the train, I could feel my sweat trickled and I could hear myself breathe a sigh of relief.
Let me say that Google Maps was also very helpful in navigating Japan. Information is in sync with the actual schedule. Even the price of tickets is accurate. It makes me wonder how tourists managed to navigate Japan before the Internet.
We met Grace and Benjamin at the station. Although I missed Pristine, Benjamin came to the rescue. Benjamin kept us entertained all through out our stay there. He was such a pro in keeping us happy and amused.
Grace’s house was just a quick drive from the train station.
She is surrounded by neighbors who have vegetable gardens.
As soon as she stepped out of her car, she was greeted by her neighbor who handed her a bag of eggplants. What a generous community!
When we entered her door, she still had a box of eggplants given by the same neighbor!
She showed us where we would be sleeping. Look at that! We stayed in a traditional Japanese home complete with tatami mats and screen doors/windows.
(Btw, this room is on Airbnb. If you want to experience Niigata, you might want to check this out. )
I love that this is their front door – a thin sliding door and there is no need for heavy locks. Yet they feel safe and sound. (My front door in Butuan had 3 locks. Plus I have padlocked iron grills for a gate. I needed those to feel safe and sound. Sigh. )
As soon as we got acquainted with our room, Grace called us to change into her yukata (summer kimono). While planning our trip, she already offered to lend us her kimono. Renting one can be expensive. She also had to help us dress since wearing one is pretty complicated.
There are different shrines near her place so as soon as we finished dressing up, she drove us there. Since Tokamachi was pretty laid back and quiet, there weren’t many tourists. That is how I want to travel. Not much tourists= no photobombers. Ha!
I took this photo of Gail.
Grace took this photo of me taking a photo of Gail. Cool, eh?
It was starting to drizzle. We had enough photos already so we headed to the grocery. Yes, we were wearing yukata in the grocery! Only the two of us were wearing the attire. Take that Heart E! LOL
This is Gail talking to Benjamin while waiting for us in the grocery. Benjamin and her talked like they have been friends for a long time.
This is our first meal in Grace’s home. Yummy!
For Day 2, we were out to explore Niigata.
Our first stop was in Ojiya. Ojiya is another city in Niigata which is less than an hour away from Tokamachi. There was a bullfighting event that day which Grace was invited so we got free entrance. We were lucky to be able to tag along. While waiting for the matches to start, we walked around the area. The venue was on a mountain area. Look at the view! Lots of Christmas trees!
We also had cold soba to fill our tummies.
We walked around.
We were informed that there is a shrine nearby. What are shrines really? This is how I understand it from Grace’s explanation. These are places of worship of the Shinto religion that originates from Japan. In Shintoism, they do not have churches and regular masses like us Catholics. Instead, they have shrines scattered all over Japan. Some are small ones like that ones we saw in Niigata and some are huge ones like in Osaka. People offer prayers in these shrines. The torii gates we often see are the entrance to a sacred realm.
Inside the shrine are these objects of worship.
After a quick hike we returned to the arena, we had reserved seats. This is Grace’s surname in kanji.
Bullfighting or Tsunotsuki is a Japanese tradition which spanned for more than a thousand years. It is different from the Spanish bullfighting where there is a match between human and a bull. In Tsunotski, two bulls fight each other to show strength and skills.
And no bull wins a match. As soon as any of the bulls show aggression, a group of men (seko) would separate the bulls by tying a rope in the bull’s foot and grabbing the nose (the weakest part of the bull’s body). Then the match is over.
People in Ojiya want to keep this tradition alive. Our host lent us this device so that we can hear him make commentaries in English. Afterwards, we rated the quality of his commentary. We were asked to answer a questionnaire on how to improve the event to attract visitors to the area.
We were also given this delicacy for snacks.
Yummy! This tasted like Surigao’s sayongsong but with red bean filling.
We watched all the 17 matches! There was one bull who did not want to fight. It kept running away from the other bull. The sekos just let it be. Game over. The bulls were led to their holding areas. (Walang basagan ng trip!)
It was a unique experience for us. It was the first time for everyone. Even Grace’s husband, who was born and raised in Japan and he also grew up in Niigata, witnessed this form of bullfighting for the first time.
Now off to lunch! We ate at this katsu place. Happy tummies!
Off to the next spot! Nishikigoi no sato! Entrance was free that day.
From their website: Nishikigoi is the generic name for the carps with beautiful colours and marking patterns. They are sorted out from the edible carps, called “koi” in Japanese. The improvement of edible black carps into Nishikigoi for appreciation started at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Through people’s unceasing efforts black carps have now turned into exquisite Nishikigoi.
Nishikigoi no Sato is the only place in the world where a wide variety of live Nishikigoi are on display along with the materials showing the history of their improvements. Nishikigoi are usually raised in mud ponds from spring to autumn, so their beautiful figures cannot be seen from a close distance during these seasons in breeding districts. In order to solve this problem, the city of Ojiya opened Nishikigoi no Sato in October 1989, so that visitors can see genuine Nishikigoi, in their birthplace, swimming in clear water throughout the year.
How lucky are we to be in the best viewing area with the most number of koi varieties and we got in for free!
They were huge and very hyperactive! Ha!
Can you spot the platinum koi?
Grace, I can’t thank you enough for bringing us here! I took a lot of photos for future painting reference.
It was getting dark when we left. We dropped by their public library where Benjamin borrowed some books to read. Tokamachi is not a very populous city by Japan standards and yet it has an awesome public library! Photos were not allowed so I do not have something to show. Grace told us that during summer when kids are not in school and temperature was high, they would spend the day at the library. Sigh!
When we got home, Benjamin started to write his homework. He was writing on his diary of what happened during the weekend. He did his homework while we munched on edamame.
We also had this delicacy called chimake, a glutinous rice dish wrapped in bamboo leaves.
We had dinner while Grace booked our bus trip to Tokyo for the next day. We are so blessed to have a wonderful host, efficient tour guide, stylist, skilled photographer and booking agent in Grace. These are just a few of her incredible list of practical life skills.
We left Niigata for Tokyo by the third day. But since our bus was scheduled to leave at 12:05 p.m. We still have the whole morning in Niigata.
It was a Monday and Benjamin had to go to school so we accompanied him to the meeting point of school kids. Japan’s school children walk to school with their schoolmates.
Children in Benjamin’s school were assigned groups where they walk together to school every day. Older kids serve as leaders. This is Benjamin’s group and look how they lined up in an orderly manner.
Since Benjamin was in school, Grace and her husband, Maki, drove us to the Kiyotsu Gorge. Kiyotsu Gorge is one of Japan’s most gorgeous gorges.
The tunnel that runs along the gorge was transformed into an art installation.
Even the toilet was turned into an art installation. Yes, this metallic structure that looks like a space craft is a toilet.
This is how it looked inside.
And this is the view when you sit on the throne.
The tunnel had colored lights in the hallway.
And the pièce de résistance is at the end of the tunnel. This is the light cave with a water feature and mirrors reflecting the Kiyotsu Gorge outside. It looked awesome!
After we toured the tunnel, we dropped by this structure.
On the second level was a foot spa.
We dipped our weary feet.
We looked up to this opening that lets us see the nature outside like a periscope.
We climbed down the steps to get a closer look at the river that flowed in between the gorge.
What a way to end our last day in Niigata!
Grace dropped us at the bus stop.
We were the only people inside the waiting area.
Thank you so much, Grace! I will be back someday!
Look what is inside the bus! A comfy foot rest for the 4-hour ride. There was free wifi and charging socket. Not bad.
Nothing motivates me to travel more than a prospect of securing a promo fare. My friend, Gail, and I planned to travel to Japan this year until we saw an affordable South Korea package tour that we skipped the Japan trip. We were happy with that Korea trip that we agreed that we would only travel to Japan if we find an offer we could not resist. Lo and behold, Cebu Pacific had this promo.
It was heavily promoted on Facebook. (Maybe I was just an easy target of their marketing campaign.) So I informed Gail about it and asked if she was interested. And she was! So together we agreed to book tickets if we find something below Php 5,000 per person, roundtrip. We agreed on a date. I said I wanted to go sometime around October because I wanted to watch Sweeney Todd with Lea Salonga as Mrs. Lovett and it runs in October. (Will blog about that soon!) Since the mechanics of the promo had a schedule, experience told me that these seats easily get sold out at the first hour of the promo. We agreed we would wake up early and both look for slots simultaneously. We also agreed on the destination in Japan. We both wanted to go to Osaka for Harry Potter at the Universal Studios Japan. And we also wanted to go to Tokyo because my friend, Grace, lives more or less two hours away from Tokyo via shinkansen. She is one of the reasons I wanted to go to Japan. I follow her on instagram and she lives in a charming Japanese city, Tokamachi, in Niigata Prefecture. Check her Instagram @findingbackroads. So the plan was either to arrive in Tokyo and exit Osaka or the other way around. I found seats for Manila- Osaka and Tokyo-Manila for only 7,310 for two people! We took it as a sign that we were meant to go to Japan.
Another sign that we were meant to go to Japan was that we found an accredited agency that would process a Japan visa that only charged us Php 700 each because they had a promo. They were so fast! We got our visa just two days after we submitted our documents. Japan single entry visa is only valid for 90 days after the issue date so we needed to apply within a certain date for visa validity. This time, I was a little more confident in applying for a visa because I got a Korean visa earlier this year.
Our first stop was Osaka. We arrived past seven in the evening so we still had time to buy our train passes and local SIM card with data credits. I loosely say “We” but, really, Gail did all these things. Ha!
We had dinner at Lawson and rode the train and navigated our way to our hotel in Namba. Gail chose the Namba area because it was near the stop of the airport bus to Osaka Airport (different from Kansai). We would fly to Niigata two days after to spend the weekend with my friend, Grace. I love traveling with Gail because she thinks of these things. If it were up to me, I would have booked any cheap hotel near a train station.
This is our hotel room in Namba. When I needed to get things from my luggage, I had to open it and close it back again every time or else I would be blocking the way.
It was cramped but clean and it was within our budget so we can’t complain. We would be spending most of our time exploring anyway.
Our first whole day in Osaka was dedicated to Universal Studios Japan. This Harry Potter fan was happy.
There is Uncle Vernon’s car just by the entrance to the park!
I got to see Hogwarts…
… and Hogsmeade.
We went inside Ollivander’s. I cannot afford a wand so we stalked people who bought wands when they tried magic spells using their wands around the Wizarding World area. (Will post a video soon!)
We explored more of the Diagon Alley. We went through the shops and I also could not afford a scarf. Ha! Here’s a tip: you can try on a scarf and photograph yourself wearing one. I did not have that brilliant idea before I went so I do not have that photo. ( I only learned that from Grace. Thank her for that tip by following her on IG! )
Gail did not want to try the rides because of motion sickness so we opted for a castle tour.
This is Fawkes, the Phoenix. I think.
We went through the hall with the talking frames.
There is Albus and Harry, Ron and Hermione.
We tried butterbeer!
My only caveat in USJ? Everything was in Japanese. I was trying to figure out what language the talking frames are speaking and it took me awhile to realize they were all in Japanese. We went to most of the shows in the park and they were all in Japanese. We just tried to understand everything by taking hints based on their actions. All in all, it was a fun experience.
And we rode the carousel! Ha! It was the only ride that Gail could manage without getting motion sickness. It was my first time on a carousel so I was game.
It was already dark when we left.
We ate dinner at the train station and called it a night.
For day 2, we went to Kyoto. We got ourselves this day pass.
We picked two destinations: Fushimi Inari Shrine and a temple in Gion because the temple was a few trains stops from Fushimi-Inari.
I had a sabaw moment (that moment when the brain seemed to be floating). As soon as we arrived at the train station near Fushimi Inari, we went out to cross the street. We heard bells signalling that a train would be passing. So I prepared my camera in anticipation of the train. I was thinking it would be an old train. Duh! I realized it was nothing fancy. I took a photo of the similar train I rode. Of course, I was in a train station. I guess I was used to subways that it did not occur to me that I was not on a subway and that I would also see the actual train I rode in when I leave the station. Ha!
I guess I needed food to feed my brain. Good thing there were shops along the way. We got this fried mochi type of snack.
Gail, the foodie, would stop and look at the what kind food was sold in the shops.
But first things first, we must walk our way towards the shrine. Oh, too many people for an introvert like me! But we pushed on.
We found an area with less crowd…but with lots of spider webs which frightened Gail. Hi, Gail!
We took enough to photos so off we went and try some of the food along the way.
The titas took a break in the rest area.
We are now ready to sample the food in the area.
We bought crabstick..
… matcha ice cream
… and fish shaped cake with red bean filling.
We bought the green biscuit to try at the hotel later. The shop owner gave us the fox-shaped biscuit for free. It did not pass quality control so we got it for free.
Next stop was Gion. I think it was a tourist area because we passed by souvenir shops.
Around the corner was the Yasaka Shrine.
Our goal was to reach Kiyomizu-dera so I just asked Gail to take my photo from afar with the shrine at the background.
Errm. Nice timing, Gail. LOL
It was easy to find the way to the Kiyomizu-dera. We just have to follow the street with people wearing in Japanese attire.
We passed by the Hokan-ji temple.
Unknowingly, we found ourselves in Nineizaka, a quaint and charming area with traditional homes. So cute! (If only there weren’t too many people. LOL. The introvert in me strikes again.)
From the Kiyomizu-dera, you get a great view of Kyoto.
We hang out for a while because Google maps told us it would take 16 minutes for us to walk back to the train station. We relied on Google maps for direction. The thing was, I was not very good with directions and Google maps adjust the instructions according to our location. We passed by residential areas we did not pass by before. We took a totally different route that Google led us to a different train entrance. We found ourselves in this long underpass. Only two of us were walking inside. We eventually found the right platform of the train bound for Temmabashi- our stop for Osaka Castle.
A few minutes of walking from the train station was needed to reach the castle grounds. As soon as the castle slowly came to sight, Gail said, ” I am okay with just looking at it from here.” I replied, “Me, too.”
Then I said that we’ll just go near and take photos. So I had this photo.
Then, Gail said, ” We walk a little more and check out what’s out there.” So I asked her to take my photo because the leaves in those trees started to change color.
We saw that there was a boat tour around the castle. See that bridge? We kept on waking until we reached that bridge.
Look at her, so effortlessly relaxed even with all the walking. And how about me? Never mind. LOL
And that was not the end of it, we walked inside those walls. This was the closest I could get at taking a photo of the castle.
It was about the get dark so it was time for dinner. But first we dropped by Rikuro’s to get that famous fluffy and jiggly cheesecake..
Off to Dotonbori!
Dotonbori was just a block away from our hotel so we dropped a few of our things at the hotel, rest awhile and went to Dotonbori.
I really did not do any research but the way I understood it was that Dotonbori was street market for food. So what we did was to try food where there was a long line.
There was a line for crabs but I was not interested because we ate crabsticks earlier.
We saw people looking up at this Doraemon-themed billboard. We realized what it was all about. So we waited for our turn. If you squint hard enough, you will see us . LOL
There was a long line at this takoyaki shop so we lined up.
The takoyaki was delish! The takoyaki I tried before did not taste like this.
We walk further and we saw the line at Melonpan. So we bought one.
Melonpan is a soft sweet bun and to add to the sweetness, you can have it with ice cream. Of course, we chose a matcha flavored one.
While looking up the bright lights around, Gail kept telling me to look for the running man. I have no idea what she was talking about. So we took the route along the Dotonbori Canal.
We saw this huge building with modified version of a ferris wheel. No way. The acrophobic in me would tremble.
There was a boat cruise along the canal. All the tourists looked up. They looked like they saw something behind us. I finally saw the running man Gail was talking about. So we walked to the other end to get a better vantage point at the running man.
At this point, our trip in Osaka came to a close. We need to go back to the hotel and pack because we would be flying to Niigata the next day.
Plus, we really need to rest from all the walking. When I checked my phone’s health app. Look at that! 27, 245 steps just for that day.
If you add the 19, 065 steps the previous day, I took a total of 46, 310 in the two days I spent in Osaka.