Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


Today we would be up early and would leave our lodging to catch the early train going to Odawara, and head for Hakone, took the train at Horikiri-Shobuen, then transferred lines at Nippori, heading for Shinjuku Station, where we bought our tickets for Hakone Day Tour, which is called Hakone Free Pass, we had the option of choosing between the Odakyu Line from Shinjuku Station (central Tokyo) or the Romance car which was a bit expensive but faster, and we choose the former getting to Hakone. The trip was relatively quiet (as for any train ride in Japan) except for the rush hour at the train station in Nippori and Shinjuku, and the occasional children riding the train going the some fieldtrips with their teachers.













Hakone (Hakone-machi) is a town in Ashigarashimo District in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. As of June 2012, the town had an estimated population of 13,492 and a population density of 145 persons per km². The total area was 92.82 km². Hakone has been designated as a Geopark by UNESCO.
Hakone is to a great degree regarded as a traveler destination where you can see Mt. Fuji when taking a day trip from Tokyo. The area isn’t solely a place loaded with hot springs, museums and other recreation offices however, it is a district where you’ll appreciate the four seasons while seeing Mt. Fuji. Particularly during fall, the excellence of nature is astonishing with the changing hues on the mountains and the sensible Japanese grass spreading out like a blanket.

Hakone is the location of a noted Shinto shrine, the Hakone Gongen, which is mentioned in Heian period literature. During the Genpei War, Minamoto no Yoritomo prayed at this shrine for victory over his enemies, after his defeat at the Battle of Ishibashiyama, which was fought in neighboring Manazuru. As with the rest of Sagami Province, the area came under the control of the late Hōjō clan of Odawara during the Sengoku period. After the start of the Edo period, Hakone-juku was a post station on the Tōkaidō highway connecting Edo with Kyoto. It was also the site of a major barrier and official checkpoint on the route known as the Hakone Checkpoint (Hakone sekisho), which formed the border of the Kantō region. Under the Tokugawa shogunate, all travellers entering and leaving Edo along the Tōkaidō were stopped here by officials. Their travel permits and baggage were examined to enforce Tokugawa laws that restricted the travel of women and weapons.

After the start of the Meiji Restoration, Hakone became a part of the short-lived Ashigara Prefecture before becoming part of Ashigarashimo District in Kanagawa prefecture in August 1876. Hakone attained town status in 1889. The imperial household established the summer Hakone Imperial Villa close to the lake.
After merger with five neighboring towns and villages in September 1956, it reached its present boundaries.

Reaching Odawara, we transferred to Hakone Tozan Railway, which is a funny little train that takes you on a funny little ride around and up and down the mountain. The Hakone Tozan Line (Hakone Tozan Tetsudō-sen, lit. Hakone Mountain-Climbing Railroad Line) is a mountain railway in Japan operated by the Hakone Tozan Railway. This company belongs to the Odakyu Group, and also owns the Hakone Tozan Cable Car.














The section of the line from Odawara Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station operations in 1919, with current terminus at Gōra reached in 1930. Since 2006, only Odakyū Odawara Line trains run on the previously dual-gauge section from Odawara Station to Hakone-Yumoto Station. From Gora, visitors can continue up the mountain on the Hakone Tozan Cable Car.

The railway is capable of climbing one meter vertically for every 12.5 meters of horizontal distance, a maximum gradient of 8%. The line traverses Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, so the line was carefully designed to limit the impact on scenery. Due to the difficult conditions, the line has three switchbacks used to ascend particularly steep sections.

This is the only mountain railway in Japan. The train departs from Hakone-Yumoto station (at 96 m above sea level) and takes about 40 minutes to arrive at the final stop, Gora station (at 541 m above sea level). Halfway up the line there are switchbacks, where the driver and the conductor change shifts and the train switch to reversed travel direction. It is a special experience that can be enjoyed only with the Hakone Tozan Train.

Arriving at Gora, where we alighted and looked for a place were we could eat, and a place we chose was a quiet place, which serves authentic ramen, which is what I ordered together with vegetable tempura.










After our meal, since the ropeway was still closed due to weather conditions, we just went around and looked at some small items to buy, and when the ropeway was opened again, we cued ourselves to the cable car going up the ropeway. We left Gora on the allotted time and headed up to Sounzan Station where we would ride the Hakone Ropeway.















The Hakone Ropeway service operates at approximately one-minute intervals, and the 30-minute journey from Sounzan Station to Togendai Station, which nestles on the shore of Lake Ashi, allows visitors to take in such spectacular views as the crystal-clear blue waters of Lake Ashi, the rising volcanic fumes of Owakudani and the grandeur of Mount Fuji on a fine, sunny day. We are sure that you will enjoy your stroll in the sky, as you find yourself surrounded by some of the most famous sights that Japan has to offer.

Arriving a Owakudani Station, where we alighted and went around taking photos of the place. Owakudani (Ōwakudani) is the area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. Additionally, Owakudani has good views of Mount Fuji on clear days.
A short walking trail (about ten minutes one way) leads from the ropeway station into the volcanic zone to a number of steam vents and bubbling pools. Here you can purchase eggs, cooked in the naturally hot water, whose shells are blackened by the sulfur and which are said to prolong one’s life by seven years.






















For the more adventurous, a hiking trail leads from the ropeway station to the peak of Mount Kamiyama and continues on to Mount Komagatake from where you can catch the Komagatake Ropeway down to Lake Ashinoko. The hike takes about 2 hours one way and can be rocky or slippery as well as quite windy. Proper hiking shoes and rain gear are recommended.

Alternatively, about 30 minutes past the peak of Mount Kamiyama a trail splits off down towards Lake Ashinoko. It leads down the mountain and along the lakeshore, ending at Kojiri not far from Togendai, from where the Hakone Ropeway connects back to Owakudani. The round trip takes about 4.5 hours.

By 1230hrs, we were at Ubako Station to ride the next part of the ropeway, this time going down to the Lake Ashinoko. Lake Ashinoko (Ashinoko) was formed in the caldera of Mount Hakone after the volcano’s last eruption 3000 years ago. Today, the lake with Mount Fuji in the background is the symbol of Hakone. The lake’s shores are mostly undeveloped except for small towns in the east and north and a couple of lakeside resort hotels.













The best views of the lake in combination with Mount Fuji can be enjoyed from Moto-Hakone (a few steps south from the sightseeing boat pier), from the Hakone Detached Palace Garden and from the sightseeing boats cruising the lake.
Note however, that clouds and poor visibility often block the view of Mount Fuji, and you have to consider yourself lucky if you get a clear view of the mountain. Visibility tends to be better during the colder seasons of the year than in summer, and in the early morning and late afternoon hours.

Two companies, Hakone Sightseeing Boats and Izuhakone Sightseeing Boats, operate boats between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi at the lake’s southern shores and Togendai and Kojiri at the lake’s northern end. A boat cruise from one end of the lake to the other takes roughly 30 minutes and costs 1000 yen. The Hakone Free Pass is valid on the pirate ship shaped Hakone Sightseeing Boats but not on boats operated by Izuhakone.

After a good wait in the line, we were allowed to board the boat and headed up to the upper decks and took photos. The Hakone Pirate Ship began operations in 1920 and is a sightseeing ship that cruises Lake Ashi. In order to attract tourists, in 1964 the ship donned the pirate ship decoration and became a famous attraction at Lake Ashi.







All of the ships are very large, can be boarded easily and does not sway very much, which makes them comfortable for visitors. The surrounding area can be viewed 360 degrees from the observation deck , and great views can also be seen through the large windows inside.

The cockpit of the ship can be viewed through a glass window. Visitors can stand behind the cockpit and get a feel for what the captain’s view would be. The Hakone Pirate Ship is a great experience for families with children and is a must see for visits to Lake Ashi.






We alighted at Hakonemachi-ko, where we decided to walk through the Ancient Cedar Avenue. Cedar ave. of Hakone Old Tokaido Road is a great historic pass located in Hakone on the side of Lake Ashi. About 500m between Motohakone town to Onshi-Hakone Park, there is a beautiful Cedar ave. 

Cedar trees were planted by Matsudaira Masatsun in 1618. Those 400 Cedar trees are over 400 years old now and still remains the great view of Tokaido as it was used to be. 

It is registered as the national historic site.


















With the rains starting to fall we decided to head back to our starting point which is Odawara Station, we waited for the bus to arrive and then boarded it and left Hakone heading to Odawara Station, and decided to take the Romancecar heading back to Shinjuku. Odakyu’s Limited Express train is known by the name of “Romancecar”, but there is no record of when or how that name was established. One theory is that the term is derived from an old trend in places such as movie theaters for two-person seats, which were called “romance seats”. Direct trains between Shinjuku and Hakone-Yumoto started operating in 1950, and by the following year the name “Romancecar” had been established.






















It was around 1730hrs, when we arrived in Shinjuku and a bit hungry, so we decided to look for something to eat and meet up with the other group, but since they decided to eat at Ikinari Steak, we looked for a place where we could eat and found CocoIchibanya where they serve vegetarian food (Vegan), and we ordered Vegetable Curry with Eggplant and Vegetable Curry with Mushrooms, and had a grand time eating eat.














After eating our meals, while the others are still eating, we headed towards Piss Alley and checked the place out. Just outside the west gate of Shinjuku station lies Omoide Yokocho (literally “Memory Lane”), or as it is known among the Tokyo locals, “Piss Alley”. A collection of small bars, yakitori grills, and food stalls, the history of this seedy alleyway dates back to post-war Japan.

Starting out as an illegal drinking quarter in the late 1940’s, the narrow side street quickly became a prime spot for cheap drinks, yakitori, and cabaret style hostess bars. Due to the lack of restroom facilities, patrons were known to wander off and relieve themselves on the nearby train tracks, and it did not take long for Piss Alley to earn its name. The area provided a social space for local residents who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford such luxuries as meat and alcohol in an impoverished, post-war economy.

The atmosphere remained largely unchanged until 1999 when a fire tragically destroyed most of the restaurants and shops in the alley. Fortunately, the local government decided to rebuild the area exactly as it had been, preserving the “old Japan” vibe that had come to be cherished by locals and travelers alike. To this day, a visit to Piss Alley feels like stepping back into the Showa era.

Visitors are hit with the smell of barbecue smoke and charcoal the moment they step into the alley. Yakitori is king here, served by almost all of the restaurants in Piss Alley and nikomi, a thick, hearty stew made of beef tendon, intestines, and vegetables is a close second. Vegetarians are advised to eat something before arriving, as meatless options will be quite limited.

In case the name “Piss Alley” doesn’t make this obvious enough, this is not a place for fancy cocktails or imported wines. The booze here is bountiful and cheap. Japanese beer, highballs, sours, shochu, and sake are available at every restaurant for a reasonable price.













And a short walk from Piss Alley, we headed to Godzilla Road. Each neighborhood of Tokyo has its own unique feel, but it’s hard to top Shinjuku. Located in the heart of downtown, Shinjuku has just about everything you could ask for in a modern metropolis, boasting such attractions as a beautiful garden, extensive shopping options, an uncountable array of restaurants and bars, and the RocketNews24 offices.

And now, there’s one more reason to come to Shinjuku. A big one in fact, as the King of the Monsters, Godzilla himself, is literally watching over the district in the form of a life-size replica of the creature’s head peering down from one of its skyscrapers.

Shinjuku’s most densely packed section of entertainment options is the subsection known as Kabukicho. While the long-ago promised kabuki theater, from which the area took its name, has never materialized, Kabukicho will be getting a new movie theater soon when the currently under-construction Toho Cinemas opens.

While Toho runs a chain of theaters in Japan, the company’s primary business is film production, with its most internationally famous property being the Godzilla franchise. So to help the new building stand out in the crowded urban landscape of Shinjuku, Toho decided to recruit the movie icon’s help.







We entered Don Quijote, and looked around a bit, and since it was getting late, we decided to head home to our lodging to rest for the night






TIP: Japanese People are so disciplined that when using the escalator they always stay on left side when standing

TIP: learn some Japanese words like:

Thank you : Arigatou

Thank you (This is more polite than Arigatou.) : Arigatou gozaimasu

Excuse me or I’m sorry: Sumimasen

TIP: download the apps @cityrailmap and Google Translate, and you will never get lost

Note: all time stated are Philippine Standard Time, unless otherwise stated

Note: I am a vegan and do not condone killing or eating any meat products, photos taken are for documentary purposes only

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.


Nihon-Koku 2017 – Yokohama Trip
(Day 3)


Waking up relatively late after the haloween celebration the night before, we headed out again heading for Yokohama, taking the train from Horikiri-Shobuen transferring lines at Nippori Station, heading for Yokohama then transferring lines again heading for Motomachi-Chukagai station where we would be visiting Yokohama Chinatown.









Yokohama Chinatown (Yokohama Chūkagai) is Japan’s largest Chinatown, located in central Yokohama. A large number of Chinese stores and restaurants can be found in the narrow and colorful streets of Chinatown. Various events and festivals such as Chinese New Year around the beginning of February are also held at Chinatown.

Yokohama Chinatown quickly developed, after the port of Yokohama had been one of the first Japanese ports to be opened to foreign trade in 1859. It became the residence of the many Chinese traders who settled down in the city. Today, there are more businesses than actual residents living in the area.

Four colorful gates stand at the entrances to Chinatown, and five more gates can be found within. The Kanteibyo is a gaudily colored temple in the center of Chinatown. Constructed in 1873 by Chinese residents, it is dedicated to the Chinese god of good business and prosperity.

The main attraction of the Yokohama Chinatown, however, is the cuisine offered at its many restaurants and food stands. Popular favorites include steamed buns (manju), ramen noodles and a wide array of other Chinese dishes, many of which have been Japanized to a certain degree.
Expect a lot of sumptuous dishes here! Everywhere you go, you’ll see Chinese restaurants, some seemingly trying to outdo each other with their ornate fixtures. Most restaurants have an all-you-can-eat course, and for anywhere between 1,500-4,000 yen, you can order all the dishes you want. While some impose a time limit (usually 90 minutes), some restaurants don’t. On the menu are plenty of hearty dishes: various types of dim sum, meat dishes, vegetables, fish, soups—you name it, they probably have it! Many also offer Peking duck as part of the course, but frankly, the strips of Peking duck tend to be so tiny that it hardly feels like you’re eating Peking duck. Still, you get what you pay for, and you’ll probably be too full from everything else to care too much, anyway. But if you really want a generous portion of some juicy Peking duck, some restaurants have it, but be prepared to pay up.

If you can save some of your appetite to try the snacks and street food, go for it. (Alternatively, skip the all-you-can-eat course and go from one shop or stall to another, trying different things.) The smell of the food wafts through the streets, making the food too tempting to pass up. With large nikuman (meat buns), shumai (pork dumplings), shouronbou (the Japanese term for xiaolongbao, steamed buns with soup inside), tea, fried sesame balls, egg tarts, and more, Chinatown has so much food to offer that you’ll probably want to try everything!

After a good walk from the station we arrived at Yokohama Chinatown, here we saw lots of streetfood where you can feast on, and in one of the stalls we got a pancake like bread mage out of flour with onions. Then walking around till we reach a place where we would eat our lunch, which was tofu slices and pad thai, we requested the cook to remove all meat products when cooking. After a heartfull lunch, we headed back to the street and wandered a bit more, after which we headed back to Motomachi-Chukagai station, heading for another stop, which is the Ramen Museum. Transferring line at Yokohama, heading for Shin-Yokohama station, from here, is a bit of a walk to the Ramen Museum.


























You might be familiar with the Cup Ramen Museum in Yokohama, but Tokyo’s second city also has a second ramen mecca. You may not be able to design and make your own cup ramen here, but you can eat your way through bowls and bowls of carefully selected ramen dishes from all across Japan (and I know which I’d prefer). The museum was opened in Shinyokohama in 1994 and was, at the time, the world’s first food-themed amusement park. Based on the Showa-era streets of 1958—the year instant ramen was invented—the restaurants are in back alleys and a central courtyard, and inside are fully modern. The museum has a well-stocked shop, some informative displays and a few extra attractions on the Showa streets: certainly enough to occupy an afternoon.

Styled perfectly to recreate the atmospheric and somewhat dingy streets of times gone by, the ramen town of the museum is brilliant. You can’t help but be impressed when you step inside, and it’s hard not to get a giddy level of excitement at the thought of exploring the alleys.

The restaurants are split between two levels, with plenty of space for queues on the bottom level, and space for snaking lines along the upper-level streets.

The nine restaurants have been chosen to showcase the best of Japan’s ramen, and include different examples of noodle, broth and topping. Whether you like tonkotsu or miso, shio or shoyu—there’s something for everyone. The best part, however, is that you can try the smaller “taster” bowls if you want to try more than one.

At just over 500 yen each, they are still pretty filling, but at least alleviate the stress of having to try one out of nine. Four of the restaurants offer vegetarian as well as pork-free dishes, giving an unusual amount of options where there are usually few. Standard-sized bowls of ramen are around 800 yen, with all the regular options of ramen restaurants for toppings and sizes. If you look around each restaurant’s vending machine you’ll find a full multi-lingual menu and it’s easy enough to match color-coded dishes to their corresponding bowls or to use price to match them.

With nine to choose from, even the biggest ramen fans may not be able to manage all the taster bowls, so here’s a guide to tempt you in and help you choose:

Ryu Shanghai Honten
A rich miso base with thick noodles, this is a warming seafood, chicken and pork combination with some original elements. The unusually thick noodles are folded over 32 times and if you like things spicy, you can enjoy the dollop of raw miso which, sits top the spicy miso ramen option. The restaurant has a vegetarian menu and non-pork options.

Rishiri Ramen Miraku
Thick noodles in a rich scorched, shoyu sauce are a tough combination to beat and luckily this branch of the popular store is easier to reach than the original. Located on the Rishiri Island, it takes over 8 hours by ferry and plane, and is only open for two hours a day. The use of kelp sourced from the island lends it a savory depth rarely found and helped it to reach the Bib Gourmand standard. No vegetarian or pork-free options available.

Yuji Ramen
Only opened on March 16th, 2017, Yuji has a unique twist on tonkotsu: replacing the pork bones with grilled tuna to create a light, cloudy soup. Having spent years working with fish wholesalers in America, Yuji’s shop owner created the “tuna-kotsu” with no other animal-sourced ingredients. No vegetarian or pork-free options available.

Muku Zweite
A popular European ramen shop, this places uses flour more commonly used for pasta and pizza to create thick noodles for their rich tonkotsu and shoyu broth. The restaurant has a vegetarian menu and non-pork options.

A much lighter tonkotsu than you might be used to, the broth at Komurasaki is both light and mild, but still full of flavor. With traditional toppings, roasted garlic and thin noodles the Kumamoto specialty is a great option if you want to try a few bowls that day, as it isn’t too rich. They have a vegetarian menu and non-pork options as well as dumplings.

Shina Soba
With a light shoyu base, Shina Soba is known for its umami flavor, and the owner has even been nicknamed the “Ramen Demon”. Using chickens he feeds himself and with over 30 specially chosen ingredients, you’ll enjoy the bowl immensely, even if you can’t put your finger on exactly why. They have a vegetarian menu and non-pork options available.

Nidai-me Genkotsuya
Nicknamed golden soup ramen, this shio/shoyu ramen uses fatty cuts of tuna and plenty of kelp in their pork and chicken bone soup. They also serve jumbo dumplings if you need something different, as well as having vegetarian and pork-free options.

Listed as the most famous miso ramen shop in Japan, Sumire certainly has high expectations to reach, but reach them it does. The rich broth is full flavored and thick, and very moreish. The noodles are firm and hold up well in the miso broth—definitely a good one to hit up on your visit! It may be worth noting that the taster version does not come with meat. No vegetarian or pork-free options available.

Good to know:

To make the most of your ramen day here are some bonus tips:
• With free re-entry for a day, you can enjoy lunch and take a break for a stroll around the area before heading back for dinner, if you are keen to try as many bowls as you can
• Wifi is available in the museum, the ID is ramen and the password is 19940306
• Don’t forget to look for the English menus available at each vending machine
• Lunch time and dinner are popular with local salarymen who buy year-round access, so if there’s a long queue maybe check out somewhere else and try a little later as queues seemed to fluctuate a lot
• The museum has its own TV channel called Ra-Haku TV focusing on ramen history and development
• There are no reservations so you will have to queue
• Each adult is expected to buy at least one bowl of ramen

Entering the floors at the basement is like entering a different world or a blast from the past, with its old setup and old item including a telephone booth, a TV on the window and even an old camera shop. The ramen smelled good and we bought tickets for a small bowl and entered Komurasaki, thinking that we could share so we could try other ramen, but the rule here was no sharing and I got the bowl all by myself… making sure the what I ordered was the vegetarian with no meat products in it, and they said that they use soy based broth, so I’m good.
You could stay here and just walk around the place and try out other ramen shops, which we did and after a while we headed out back to Shin-Yokohama heading for Ueno, where we met up with the rest of the group.




























































Heading back to our lodging, and buying some breakfast food for the next day, for we would be heading out to another fun filled adventure to Hakone.



TIP: Japanese People are so disciplined that when using the escalator they always stay on left side when standing

TIP: learn some Japanese words like:

Thank you : Arigatou

Thank you (This is more polite than Arigatou.) : Arigatou gozaimasu

Excuse me or I’m sorry: Sumimasen

TIP: download the apps @cityrailmap and Google Translate, and you will never get lost

Note: all time stated are Philippine Standard Time, unless otherwise stated

Note: I am a vegan and do not condone killing or eating any meat products, photos taken are for documentary purposes only

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.

with Carol Maralit, Dolly Arevalo

Nihon-Koku 2017
(Day 2)


Waking up early for our adventure for the day eating my version of breakfast of champions, which consists of Mixed Vegetables, Nimono, served with Japanese Rice, Miso Soup and fresh fruits. At around 0900hrs, we started walking to the train station of Horikiri-Shobuen heading for Keisei Ueno, where we would transfer to another line in Ueno heading for Tsukiji where we would be visiting Tsukiji Seafood Market.



















Tsukiji Market is a large wholesale market for fish, fruits and vegetables in central Tokyo. It is the most famous of over ten wholesale markets that handle the distribution of food and flowers in Tokyo. Tsukiji Market is best known as one of the world’s largest fish markets, handling over 2,000 tons of marine products per day.
The sight of the many kinds of fresh seafood and the busy atmosphere of scooters, trucks, sellers and buyers hurrying around, make Tsukiji Market one of a major tourist attractions. In fact, the numbers of visitors have increased so much over recent years, that they have become a problem to the course of business, as the aging market’s infrastructure was not anticipated to serve as a tourist spot.
Tsukiji Market consists of an inner market where most of the wholesale business and the famous tuna auctions are taking place, and an outer market whose retail shops and restaurants cater to the public. A few restaurants are also found in the inner market.

Since you have to be there early to catch the auction which happens around 0500hrs (Japanese Standard Time), and the trains start only at 0500hrs, you have to stay near Tsukiji Market to get a slot for the auction, so we decided just to look around the market are and sample the food there, but since we could not eat any seafoods, we looked for something we could eat which is a pancake like food called Okonomiyaki, made with flour, grated nagaimo (a type of yam), and water, we chose to get the 5 kinds of vegetable and the cloud ear mushrooms, which tasted great. After which we saw a jelly like cake, which is called warabimochi with bamboo sticks, we got the Kinako (Soybean Flour) and the Baked Sweet Potato, and had to got back for seconds.







































Heading back to Tsukiji station, we then transferred line in Roppongi Station heading for Shinjuku. Here we planned to visit the Samurai Museum, but decided later not to go in (while the others did, which I think was a mistake for me), and decided instead to head for Don Quijote, which is a store full of cheap goodies, where we were looking for costumes to use on Halloween.






















Time for us to head back to our lodging to prepare for halloween, so we headed back to Shinjuku station, heading for Ueno, then we transferred lines to Keisei Ueno, heading back to Horikiri-Shobuen. Upon reaching home, carol has a bit of a fever and decided to rest for the night because tomorrow will be another long day of adventure.











TIP: Japanese People are so disciplined that when using the escalator they always stay on left side when standing

TIP: learn some Japanese words like:

Thank you : Arigatou

Thank you (This is more polite than Arigatou.) : Arigatou gozaimasu

Excuse me or I’m sorry: Sumimasen

TIP: download the apps @cityrailmap and Google Translate, and you will never get lost

Note: all time stated are Philippine Standard Time, unless otherwise stated

Note: I am a vegan and do not condone killing or eating any meat products, photos taken are for documentary purposes only


When you think of Japan, you would think of a country where the past meets the future. Japanese culture stretches back millennia, yet has also been quick to adopt and created the latest modern fashions and trends.

Japan’s location on islands at the outermost edge of Asia has had a profound influence on its history. Just close enough to mainland Asia, yet far enough to keep itself separate, much of Japanese history has seen alternating periods of closure and openness. Until recently, Japan has been able to turn on or off its connection to the rest of the world, accepting foreign cultural influences in fits and starts. It is comparable with the relationship between Britain and the rest of Europe, but with a much wider channel.

The kanji, or Sino-Japanese characters, that make up Japan’s name mean “sun origin”, and it is often called the “Land of the Rising Sun”. Japan is a stratovolcanic archipelago consisting of about 6,852 islands. The four largest are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, which make up about ninety-seven percent of Japan’s land area and often are referred to as home islands. The country is divided into 47 prefectures in eight regions, with Hokkaido being the northernmost prefecture and Okinawa being the southernmost one. The population of 127 million is the world’s tenth largest. Japanese people make up 98.5% of Japan’s total population. Approximately 9.1 million people live in Tokyo, the capital of Japan.

Archaeological research indicates that Japan was inhabited as early as the Upper Paleolithic period. The first written mention of Japan is in Chinese history texts from the 1st century AD. Influence from other regions, mainly China, followed by periods of isolation, particularly from Western Europe, has characterized Japan’s history.
From the 12th century until 1868, Japan was ruled by successive feudal military shoguns who ruled in the name of the Emperor. Japan entered into a long period of isolation in the early 17th century, which was ended in 1853 when a United States fleet pressured Japan to open to the West. After nearly two decades of internal conflict and insurrection, the Imperial Court regained its political power in 1868 through the help of several clans from Chōshū and Satsuma—and the Empire of Japan was established. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, victories in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War and World War I allowed Japan to expand its empire during a period of increasing militarism. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937 expanded into part of World War II in 1941, which came to an end in 1945 following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese surrender. Since adopting its revised constitution on May 3, 1947, during the occupation by the SCAP, Japan has maintained a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy with an Emperor and an elected legislature called the National Diet.

Japan is a member of the UN, the OECD, the G7, the G8 and the G20—and is considered a great power. The country has the world’s third-largest economy by nominal GDP and the world’s fourth-largest economy by purchasing power parity. It is also the world’s fourth-largest exporter and fourth-largest importer.

The country benefits from a highly skilled workforce and is among the most highly educated countries in the world, with one of the highest percentages of its citizens holding a tertiary education degree. Although Japan has officially renounced its right to declare war, it maintains a modern military with the world’s eighth-largest military budget, used for self-defense and peacekeeping roles. Japan is a developed country with a very high standard of living and Human Development Index. Its population enjoys the highest life expectancy and the third lowest infant mortality rate in the world. Japan is well-known internationally for its major contributions to science and modern-day technology.

Tokyo, officially Tokyo Metropolis, is the capital city of Japan and one of its 47 prefectures. The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. It is the seat of the Emperor of Japan and the Japanese government. Tokyo is in the Kantō region on the southeastern side of the main island Honshu and includes the Izu Islands and Ogasawara Islands. Formerly known as Edo, it has been the de facto seat of government since 1603 when Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made the city his headquarters. It officially became the capital after Emperor Meiji moved his seat to the city from the old capital of Kyoto in 1868; at that time Edo was renamed Tokyo. Tokyo Metropolis was formed in 1943 from the merger of the former Tokyo Prefecture and the city of Tokyo.

Tokyo is often referred to as a city, but is officially known and governed as a “metropolitan prefecture”, which differs from and combines elements of a city and a prefecture, a characteristic unique to Tokyo. The Tokyo metropolitan government administers the 23 Special Wards of Tokyo (each governed as an individual city), which cover the area that was the City of Tokyo before it merged and became the metropolitan prefecture in 1943. The metropolitan government also administers 39 municipalities in the western part of the prefecture and the two outlying island chains. The population of the special wards is over 9 million people, with the total population of the prefecture exceeding 13 million. The prefecture is part of the world’s most populous metropolitan area with upwards of 37.8 million people and the world’s largest urban agglomeration economy.

Here is where we would be roaming around mostly on this trip, where we would be visiting temples, museums and other interesting places. While processing our visas took longer than expected because of the paper works needed and a wrong date given for filing of our visa, but was elated when we were all approved with others having multiple entry visas.

On the day of our departure (the first group left a day earlier), our group rode together headed for the airport, checking in at around 1530hrs, and since our flight was delayed, we had the luxury of lazing around the airport and posting in social media about our impending trip. At 1945hrs, an announcement over the PA system announced that it was time to board our flight, so we lined up and headed through the ramp to board our plane, with all preparation and preflight checks done, we were airborne at around 2100hrs headed for the land of the rising sun.










Our travel was as smooth as can be, and had all the luxury of inflight hospitality that the cabin crew of Philippine Airlines, can give. We were given a vegan meal (which we requested ahead of time), while the others had a selection of either beef or chicken, after our meals, we filled up our immigration forms and then took a nap. Waking up to the announcement of the pilot that we are about to land and prepare for landing, so we fixed our things, stored the mini table is front of us and sat upright for our scheduled landing in Tokyo International AirportHaneda – Tokyo International Airport, landing at around 0100hrs, and a long taxi over to the terminal area, where we were offloaded. We then headed for the immigration area here there was a long cue and took our turn passing thru immigration and then to the baggage carousel where we collected our luggage and waited for the train station to open at 0500hrs (Japan Local Time – which is ahead of Philippine time an hour), as always on our trips, I got local maps and other information sheets at the Tourist Information center, while the other got their local wifi connection which was for rent, and when the gates opened, we bought our tickets for Aoto, and headed down to a long escalator to where we would board the train, but we were unsure on what train to board and decided the take the third train out of Haneda Airport.















Feeling the cold weather biting, we headed for Aoto station, where we alighted and transferred to another line heading for Horikiri-Shobuen, where we were met up by our host for the trip, with our bags in the taxi, we took the local bus heading for our lodging on this trip, arriving with a savory hot meal for breakfast, which consist of Nimono, fried eggplant served with Japanese Rice, a good serving of Miso soup and fresh fruits, after which we rested a bit to let the food settle down our belly and decided that we would head out by 1000hrs, walking to the train station, we decided to try and enter the convenience stores we passed just see what they sell, upon reaching the station, we bought our tickets heading for Nezu. Exiting Nezu station, we walked a bit headed for Nesu Jinja Shrine.














The Nezu-jinja Shrine is said to have been established over 1,900 years ago by the legendary priest Yamato Takeru no Mikoto in Sendagi with Susanoo no Mikoto as the chief deity. In the Edo Period (1603-1868), the 5th shogun Tsunayoshi relocated it from Sendagi to Nezu to commemorate the adoption of Ienobu as his successor and the 6th shogun Ienobu chose it as the guardian deity. The Gongen-style architectures (typical of modern shrines) of Honden (main sanctuary), Haiden (worship hall), Heiden (offering hall), Karamon (Chinese-style gate), Romon (two-story gate) and Sukibei (lattice-windowed wall) are designated as nationally Important Cultural Properties.

Nezu Jinja—built at the foot of a hill on the border of Bunkyo and Taito Wards —escaped though and despite the fact that most guides associate it with the tsutsuji (azalea) flowers and the mandatory matsuri/festival accompanying their blooming in April, personally I think it’s worth a visit anytime. Among other things, because its architecture is quite unusual and much more opulent than what you usually get in shrines (this style is called Gongen-zukuri and it’s most extreme version can be found in the Nikko Toshogu mausoleum) and because it contains the closest you can get to Tokyo to a red-torii gate path similar to the one in Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto.

Visiting on a regular day you’ll have the chance to walk around the shrine’s grounds without being bothered by the crowds swarming most of the other famous temples and shrines like Kanda Myojin or Sensoji and take in the mix of nature and architecture. The second, two-story gate aka “Romon”, the third/main gate aka “Karamon” and the latticed wall aka “Sukibei” are all National Important Cultural Properties (the Japanese love these designations!) and certainly worth noticing; I think that some of the less illustrious micro-shrines and monuments worn from the centuries and scattered around the place are also worth examining but here we might be crossing into specialized interests’ territory.





















Heading back to the train station on Nezu, we then headed for Ueno station and visited Ameyoko Market, where we would meet up with the first group and have lunch together, but since we could not eat the same food as they would have, we decided to eat at a different place and looked around for something we could eat, and discovered this place which was hard to notice unless you see their sign, heading up the elevator to the third floor, we were greeted by an Indian gentleman who showed us to our table and ordered a good serving of Vegetable Curry, we later learned that the restaurant offers a buffet lunch and a lot of customers eat their lunch here and the food that we had was great. After we had our fill, we headed back down to meet up with the others and went around the market. Then headed for to the train station for our next destination which is Sensoji Temple















Alighting at Asakasa Station, we headed for Sensoji Temple in which we would pass through Nakamise Shopping Street.

Nakamise Dori is the best place in Tokyo to buy souvenirs. It’s a 250 meter (800 foot) shopping street that leads to Sensoji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest and most visited temple.

There are around 90 shops on the street that sell snacks and souvenirs to the throngs of domestic and international tourists who visit the area. There has been a tourist market here since the 17th century. Many of the shops have been run by the same family for many generations.

The souvenirs on the street target both domestic and international tourists. They range from outrageously cheesy items to authentic and useful souvenirs. Amongst the later category it’s possible to find traditional items such as Japanese chopsticks, yukata, geta, wooden combs, fabrics and folding fans.

In a city full of temples, Sensoji is the eldest, boasting almost one and a half millennium of history, Tokyo’s biggest souvenir market and perhaps the gaudiest rendezvous point: its Kaminarimon Gate with the huge red chochin lantern.
Sensoji Temple was the reason the insignificant village Asakusa became a town: Ieyasu, the Tokugawa shogun who created the great city of Edo and made it Japan’s de facto capital in the early 1600s saw in Sensoji a very convenient symbolism (also, being the toughest warlord of his time, he needed all the help he could get from the gods and Buddhas). According to ancient geomancy, potential invaders come either from the northeast or the southwest, the front and rear “demon gates”. Sensoji Temple was the guardian of the northeast gate and Zojoji Temple in Shiba, near Tokyo Tower took care of the southwest; Ieyasu made them both his family temples.
When this happened, Sensoji Temple was already 1,000 years. Its chronicles put its founding at 628 AD through one of these stories that legends and religions are made of: while fishing in the Sumida river in the morning of March 18th, the brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Takenari caught in their nets a small golden statue of the Buddhist deity Kannon; they tried to get rid of it but it kept coming up so they decided to keep it. When they returned to the village, they showed it to one of the chieftains, Haji no Nakatomo who, being a devout Buddhist understood what it was, and built a temple to house it. The temple was, of course, Sensoji –“Senso” is another reading of the characters for “Asakusa” and “ji” is “temple”.



































It was getting a bit dark when we left Sensoji Temple, and we started walking heading for The Tokyo Skytree.
The Tokyo Skytree is a television broadcasting tower and landmark of Tokyo. It is the centerpiece of the Tokyo Skytree Town in the Sumida City Ward, not far away from Asakusa. With a height of 634 meters (634 can be read as “Musashi”, a historic name of the Tokyo Region), it is the tallest structure in Japan and the second tallest in the world at the time of its completion. A large shopping complex with aquarium is located at its base.

The highlight of the Tokyo Skytree is its two observation decks, which offer spectacular views out over Tokyo. The two enclosed decks are located at heights of 350 and 450 meters respectively, making them the highest observation decks in Japan and some of the highest in the world.

It was a bit late and was not able to go to the top so we decided to head back to Ueno and have dinner and since the group decided to eat somewhere we could not eat, we looked again for a place where we had our dinner which consist of soba and noodles. After dinner we headed for the train station at Ueno to ride the Keisei line headed for Horikiri-Shobuen to our lodging to rest from the long first day we had in Tokyo











TIP: order a vegetarian or vegan meal on the plane, you will be served ahead of the others

TIP: download the apps @cityrailmap and Google Translate, and you will never get lost

Note: all time stated are Philippine Standard Time, unless otherwise stated


Being invited to a trip where we would be visiting some well talked about vegan restaurants south of Manila, and while doing so we would also be going to Bantakay falls, thinking of the good food we would be having and the fun that the ride would be, I said yes.

Waking up around 0230hrs to fix my things for the trip (i was having second thoughts because of the rains we were having) and got a ride heading for our meet-up point in Caltex station along Buendia, by 0515, we left Makati to pick up other friends along the way. We then arrived at The Real Happy Cow to pick up our packed breakfast consisting of Vegan Humba with a side of roasted vegetables topped with 5-spice aioli and a generous portion of turmeric brown rice. Dessert is Passionfruit loaf packed in a sugar cane fiber containers to lessen out trash, by 0615hrs we left Alabang heading south.

We met up the other van at Sto Tomas area, passing through Ibaan heading for Lucena, with a short stop over along the way to relieve our bladders.

Arriving at Lucena, we headed for Reasons, where we would be eating our lunch, having the whole place for us, we chatted around while waiting for the food and when lunch was served, we had a feast. Lunch was Pancit Habhab, Eggplant and Tofu, Sinugno (which is prepared like pinangat) and Quezodilla. We were have a great time at reasons that by the time we left it was past 1200hrs

Traveling to Atimonan, Quezon for the Bantakay falls and started the trek to the fall around 1445hrs

With the rains the previous days and in the morning, the trails were a bit slippery and were all sliding and slipping along the trail, passing a spot in which they prepare copra, here we had a taste of the coconut water and some coconut sprouts to eat, upon reaching the falls was a relief with the cold fresh water on your feet and body to refresh you aching body, after a while (with some good shots taken) we started to head back to the trail head because it was getting dark and by 1900hrs we arrived at the trail head one by one untill all members were accounted for, having cleaned up and refreshed, we headed our way to Los Baños by 2000hr, passing though Tayabas, Lucban, Luisiana, Pagsanjan.

Arriving at Satya Graha Cafe and Restaurant, around 2200hrs, and was so hungry that we were all sitted sipping a good serving of soup and when dinner arrived, we had a feast again, our dinner consisted of Pata roll Paksiw, Bbq, Vegchon and a refreshing cold drink of lemon grass tea, after dinner, we headed back to Manila to be dropped off at our meeting place,

They say if you like eating and would like to taste great food, you will travel far to taste that food, this is what vegans do.

Thanks to all who joined this trip, meeting new friends, for the fun and joy and specially the great food, till next joy ride

Manila Vegans
Vegans of Manila








































The Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, better known as San Sebastian Church, is a Roman Catholic minor basilica in Manila, Philippines, Completed in 1891, San Sebastian Church is noted for its architectural features, it is the only all-steel temple in the Philippines, and is the only prefabricated steel church in the world.

The prefabricated steel sections that would compose the church were manufactured in Binche, Belgium. According to historian Ambeth Ocampo, the knockdown steel parts were ordered from the Societe anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques in Brussels. In all, 52 tonnes (51 long tons; 57 short tons) of prefabricated steel sections were transported in eight separate shipments from Belgium to the Philippines, the first shipment arriving in 1888. Belgian engineers supervised the assembly of the church, the first column of which was erected on September 11, 1890. The walls were filled with mixed sand, gravel, and cement. The stained glass windows were imported from the Heinrich Oidtmann Company, a German stained glass firm, while local artisans assisted in applying the finishing touches.

The church was raised to the status of a minor basilica by Pope Leo XIII on June 24, 1890. Upon its completion the following year, on August 16, 1891, the Basílica Menor de San Sebastián was consecrated by Bernardino Nozaleda y Villa OP, the 25th Archbishop of Manila.

According to Jesús Pastor Paloma, an Agustinian Recollect priest, the structure was also supposed to have a prefabricated retablo (reredos) altar, which was lost at sea when the ship carrying it from Belgium capsized in a storm; a wooden altar was made locally in its stead. Paloma also noted that the bottom part of the church was designed to resemble a ship’s hull, so that it would sway during an earthquake.

San Sebastian Church is one of the country’s last remaining churches that has preserved its original interiors; original parts of the church that can still be found today include its metal doors, wall ceilings, decorative paints, and glass windows.

Now this Majestic Steel Church is now badly needing repairs, a hundred years after being constructed, it is being destroyed by rust and corrosion, and if not taken cared of and repaired, it might topple down

With the help of San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc. they are rehabilitating the church back to its original state which would take time to do, to find out the root cause of the rust and corrosion then to fin ways to fix it and then to implement the repairs.

The Church which they say is constructed like an inverted ship with its hull on the roof looks amazing on different times of the day, even the lights inside the church when open gives it a yellowish hue but with natural lighting shows the green color of the original paint to give an impression that it is made of marble

With these significant elements, San Sebastian Church is indeed the Philippines’ treasure to behold. In general, the basilica remains its beauty and is still preserved. Apart from being a special architectural and historical interest, its splendor and warmth have placed it among the most beloved wedding churches in Manila.

San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc.

San Sebastian Church (Manila)









































All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.


Philippine World Heritage List: One More to Go!

Ever since I got hooked into Digital Photography, the more I became fascinated with old architecture, more so with old structures and churches. During our travels there is always a part in our itinerary to visit old churches and then it led to visiting Historical and Heritage Sites, this is where the Philippines World Heritage List comes in.

There are eight (8) sites listed in the Philippine World Heritage List and Twenty Nine (29) sites on the tentative list, which the Philippines Government intends to consider them for nomination in the future.

The Eight (8) sites includes the following:

• The Historical Town of Vigan, Ilocos
• Puerto Princessa Sub-terrainian River National Park
• The Rice Terraces of the Philippines, Banaue
• The four (4) Baroque Churches in the Philippines, which are: Miag-ao Church, San Agustin Church, Paoay Church, & Sta Maria Curch
• The Tubbataha Reefs National Park

on the eight on the list, the place which we have not yet visited is the last place in the list, which is The Tubbataha Reefs National Park and we are hoping to visit it in the near future, and if there are any would be sponsors out there who would like to fund out trip we would gladly appreciate and would gladly answer your questions.

The list start off with The Historical Site of Vigan… we visited the town of Vigan, when we joined a group for a tour to the Ilocos Region, where we had a chance also to visit two (2) of the Baroque Churches on the list.

The Historical Town of Vigan is one of the few Hispanic towns in the Philippines where its structures remain intact, and is well known for its cobblestone streets and a unique architecture that fuses Philippine and Oriental design and construction with Colonial European Architecture.

The town of Vigan can be considered an island because it is detached from the mainland by great rivers namely, the Abra River, the Meztiso River and the Govantes River. What is unique with Vigan is its extensive and only surviving historical city in the country that dates back to the 16th century Spanish colonial period.

Vigan was an important coastal trading post long before colonial Spanish gallions arrived, chinese junks sailing from the South China Sea came to Isla De Bigan through the Meztiso river, on board were sea-faring merchants that came to barter exotic goods from Asian Kingdoms in exchange for gold, beewax and other mountain products brought down by the natives from the cordilleras.

How Vigan got its name is told from an anecdote carried by the tongue of generation, which tells of a Spaniard walking on the banks of the Meztiso River, there, he met a native pf the place and stopped to inquire: “Como se llama usted de esta lugar?”

Not understanding a word in spanish, the native scratched his head and upon seeing the Spaniard was pointing to a plant, exclaimed in ilocano “bigaa apo”. Bigaa being Alcasia Marconiza, a giant taro plant belonging to the gabi family, which use to trive at the banks of the Meztiso River. From the name of the plant – Bingaa, hence Vigan derived its name.




Next on the list is, Puerto Princessa Subterrainian River National Park, which we visited recently. With a lot of other places to visit around Puerto Princessa, including a trip around Honda Bay, Firefly Watching near the Iwahig Penal Colony and lots of excellent restaurants to have your fill with some exotic food like crocodile meat and “Tamilok” or woodworm, which the locals eat.

Puerto Princessa Subterrainian River is one of the most distinguished protected areas of the Philippines, located some 360 miles (580 Km) southwest of Manila. It was established as National Park in 1971 primarily to protect and preserve the intact old forest growth, interesting wildlife, pristine white sand beaches, unspoiled natural beauty and one of the most impressive cave systems in the world.

The Park features a spectactular limestone or Karst mountain landscape and an 8.2 kilometer long underground river that flows into the sea. The lower half of it is brackish and subject to ocean tides, and the associated tidal influences makes it the most unique natural phenomenon of its type to exist. The presence of 11 minerals, scientifically and aesthetically unique speleothems, and a 20 million year old serenia fossil embedded on the walls of the caves justifies the declaration of the underground river as one of The New 7 Wonders of Nature.

The Park contains a full mountain to sea ecosystem and protects forests that are important to biodiversity conservation, which are the most significant in Asia, and is noted for high levels of regional and local endemism. The site is habitat to numerous endangered, rare and endemic wildlife species. In the coastal area, mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs are found.








The Third on the list is The Rice Terraces of the Philippines, which is located in the cordillera region. Our trip here was with a group of volunteers who distributed pencils and notebooks to the school children in the far-flung areas of Ifugao. There are a lot of terraces sites here including the terraces of Batad, Mayaoyao and Bangaan Rice Terraces, which is included in the UNESCO world heritage list.

The Philippines Rice Terraces was carved into the mountain over a 2000-year period, by the ancestors of the indigenous “Ifugao” people. The Rice Terraces commonly referred to as the Eight Wonder of the World is located approximately 1500 meter above sea level and covers about 6,487 square kilometers of mountains. They are fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rain forest above the rice terraces. The system comprises of dams, sluices, channels and bamboo pipes, which are open or closed in co-operation with each owner and are built using hand tools only. The locals here still plant rice and vegetable but wet weather causes damage and the steps need constant repair.

The Rice Terrraces are stone-walls which can reach as high as 50 feet and are constructed along the contours of the mountain side. The Terraces are then backfilled and another wall is built at a slightly higher elevation, this process is commenced from the valley floor upward. The Terraces require an elevated water source to flood the fields during the growing season. They also dam the water dirung construction to aid in moving boulders and earth. The irrigation water is channeled long distances by stoned lined channels or bamboo aqueducts that traverses the sides of the mountains.

Tourists prefer other locations nearby than that of the Terraces of Banaue, which include, Batad Rice Terraces, Mayaoyao Rice Terraces, Hapag Rice Terraces and the Kiangan Rice Terraces.








The next four on the list, are the four (4) Baroque churches in the Philippines, the first of which were built by the Spaniards in the late 16th century. Their unique architectural style is a reinterpretation of European Baroque by Filipino craftsman, which I had written in my blog.

Here they are in detail:

San Agustine Church

Concealed behind the walled city of Intramuros, built by the Spaniards in 1570, is the church of San Agustin. This church is a significant monument to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, being the first religious structure built in the island of Luzon, after the Spanish relocated from Cebu in the south.

Built within the administrative center of the Spanish government, San Agustin church enjoyed privileges not commonly dispensed to most colonial churches. It was built by the Spaniard Juan Macias in 1586 and was completed in 1606. Luciano Oliver later renovated it in 1854. The book Great Churches of the Philippines points out that the church was designed “according to the plans approved by the Royal Audencia of Mexico and by a Royal Cedula.”

Jesus Encinas, who wrote San Agustin Manila, states that the design of the church was derived from other churches that were built by the Augustinians in Mexico. Pedro Galende, OSA, in his book San Agustin Noble Stone Shrine, adds that the Augustinians “who came from Spain and those born in Mexico had a great opportunity to observe and study the South American monastic architecture which they later used in the Philippines. They took into consideration the quality of the local stone and the weather conditions which required them to sacrifice aesthetic requirement for durability.”

This practical and banal approach to aesthetics is evident on the church’s facade. It may have been the most sought and copied facade in the colonial period, but its static appearance and dark adobe stone lack grace and charm. Even the Augustinians themselves were not too kind with the church’s displeasing appearance. In another book, Angels in Stone, Galende recalls the Augustinian historian, Agustin Ma. de Castro’s critical comment of the church’s facade: “It was of triangular form, very ugly and of a blackish color; flanked by two towers, one of which has no bells and does not serve for anything. Due to the frequent earthquakes in Manila, they (towers) have only one body, ugly and irregular, without elevation or gracefulness.”

Sedate and direct to the point, the facade follows the style of High Renaissance. The symmetrical composition are prefixed by pairs of Tuscan columns that flank the main door of the two-tiered facade. The vertical movement of the paired columns is adapted at the second level by equally paired Corinthian columns. At the second level, mass and void alternate in a simple rhythm of solid walls and windows. The two levels, are emphasized by horizontal cornices, are then capped by a pediment that is accentuated with a simple rose window. The facade’s hard composition are held together by two towers; unfortunately, the missing left belfry further exaggerates the lackluster facade. It was taken down after a destructive earthquake hit the church in 1863 and 1880, splitting the tower in two.

The facade has a touch of Baroque by the ornately carved wooden doors that depict floras and religious images. Baroque is also evident in the carved niches that quietly reside between the paired lower columns. The church is bequeathed with Chinese elements in the form of fu dogs that emphatically guard the courtyard entrances.







Santa Maria Church (Nuestra Señora dela Asuncion Church)

Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion: Municipality of Santa Maria, Province of Ilocos Sur Built in 1765 under the direction of the Agustinian order, the ensemble resembles a citadel sited on the crest of a solitary hill rising above one side of the Santa Maria town plaza. The architectural ensemble presents its side and detached pagoda-like bell tower rather than its façade to the town. Thick contrafuetes (buttresses) are attached to the walls, reinforcing the structure against earthquake damage. The bell tower is constructed a distance away, protecting the main church structure from possible earthquake damage. Approached on foot by ascending a long, wide flight of Piedra china, steps that rising from the edge of the town plaza, the small, cramped plaza at the top of the steps is bounded by the church façade that faces the convento, enclosed by an arcaded bridge that connects both structures.








Paoay Church (San Agustin Church)

The best-known earthquake Baroque church in the Philippines is Paoay Church, which has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The cornerstone of the church, was laid by the Augustinian Missionaries in 1704, while the cornerstone of the belfry was laid in 1793. The people already used it even before completion in 1894,but it was formally inaugurated on February 28,1896. It is said that large coral stones were used for the lower level of the church structure, and bricks were used for the upper levels. The walls, which were made of coral blocks, tree sap, lumber and stucco-plastered bricks are 1.67 meters (more than 3 feet) thick, and are supported by 24 massive buttresses of intricate design. The church was partially destroyed twice by earthquakes in 1706 and 1927.In the restoration, permanent columns were built to support the ceiling. Today, this uniquely beautiful church still stands, wowing tourists with its majestic structure of Oriental, Gothic and Baroque influences.
The belfry stands a few meters from the church. As in other belfries of Ilocos churches, Katipuneros used the belfry as watch point in the 1896 revolution, and guerrillas of World War II also used it to check out coming enemies.






Miag-ao Church (Sto. Thomas de Villanueva Church)

The town’s first church building was constructed in Ubos by Nicolas Pangkug, the first capitan of the town. The church was completed three years before the first Spanish priest came in 1734, but this was burned by the Muslim pirates in 1741. Miag-ao was officially created as a parroquia on May 15, 1734.
The second church was constructed under the leadership of Parish Priest Fray Fernando Camporedondo (1746-1747). This church was also burned and looted by the pirates. The raids discouraged the people from building another church. But they needed one not only as a house of worship but also as a stronghold against pirate attacks. So they decided to build a third church in Tacas where the townsfolk have a commanding view of the mouth of the Miag-ao river, the usual route followed by the pirates in entering the town. This church still stands after defying elements and catastrophes for two centuries.
Construction of the present Miag-ao Church was started on a Saturday, the town’s market day, in December 1786, half a century after the founding of the Miag-ao parish. The parish priest at the time was Fray Francisco Maximo Gonzales and the town head was Capitan Domingo Libo-on. When it was finished in 1797, Fray Gonzales was still parish priest and Tomas Paguntalan was the town capitan.
The blocks of stones used in the construction of the church were quarried at Sitio Tubog in nearby San Joaquin town and in the mountains of the town of Igbaras. Work was supervised by a certain Matias, a fore-man from Igbaras, who later on was replaced by a certain Aquino from Alimodian, Iloilo, when the former was called to direct the church construction in his own town.
In baroque-romanesque style, the church sinks six (6) meters deep into the ground with walls, one-and-a-half (1 1/2) meters thick and buttresses thrice thicker in size. A truly ‘Philippine Church’, it exudes a native touch. Its artistic facade is decorated with a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child amidst coconut, papaya and guava shrubs. A large stone image of St. Thomas of Villanova, parish patron saint, dominates the center. Carved life-size statues of the Pope and St. Henry with their coat-of-arms above them flank the main entrance. Supporting the facade are the twin belfries, one towering two-story and the other three-story high.
When finished in 1797, the left tower was lower than the right. In 1830, thirty-three (33) years after it was finished, an additional structure was added to the left belfry to make them equal in height. Fray Francisco Reyes was then the parish priest and Capitan Bernabe Paguntalan was the towns-head.
Now 206 years old, Miag-ao Church is one of the few remaining old churches in the country. The earthquake of January 24, 1948, the strongest ever to hit Panay, toppled the bell tower of Jaro and the old church of Oton as well as many other Spanish-built churches in the island, but not the Miag-ao Church. Only a small portion of its concrete beam gave way sending some stoneblocks loosened by heavy tremors.
While Miag-ao Church stood the test of time and calamities, it did not somehow escape the trauma of two wars. It was burned during the revolution against Spain in 1898 and during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1944.
When liberation came in 1945, the people of Miag-ao undertook the herculean task of reconstructing the church. Led by then Reverend Father now Msgr. Wenceslao Enojo, parish priest, contributions came readily and it was not long after that the church was put back in shape.
When Msgr.Fernando Javillo took over as parish priest in August 1959, he not only continued the rehabilitation work but also expanded the repairs and renovations. Msgr. Javillo renovated and restored the church facade and the twin towers that were left untouched for more than one century and a half.








And the last on the list which we are hoping to visit in the near future would be the Tubbataha Reefs, hope to see this pristine place before it is lost. More detail on this part when we have visited it and will be posting photos for sure.

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