Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Romblon: The Marble Capital of the Philippines
(Our Vegan Travel)
26-31.12.2017

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We have heard a lot of good things about Romblon, the scenery, the beaches, and the places that other people talk about. We planned this trip way ahead in advance where we would take the bus heading for Batangas Port and take the 2GO Travel, and head first to the Island of Romblon, then transfer to Tablas Island, where we would be staying in Looc, then transfer to Odiongan for the night and take the 2GO Travel back to Batangas Port and take the Bus heading for either Lipa City and back to Manila. But what, we did not factor in, was the weather.

Having a strong tropical depression across the archipelago less than a week ago, it was likely to rain when we left Manila taking the Jam Liner, heading for the port of Batangas and arriving at the port with a long line of people trying to buy a ticket for a ride home for the holiday vacation. As time passed by, we were soon at the check-in counter and then waited at the lounge for the boarding, which was at least 2 hours more. The announcement came at around 1850hrs that they were opening the gate for boarding, heading over at the pier, we were told to line up and drop all our bags to the ground, where the K-9 sniffed them for any drugs or explosives. We were then allowed to enter the ship after checking our tickets and then ushered to our bunks by the friendly crew. We were bunked at the tourist class and rented linens for the beds and tried to settle in, then walked around to check the ship.

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We left the port of Batangas at around 2000hrs and was scheduled to arrive in the port of Romblon at around 0600hrs, as we settled in our bunks and ate the food that we brought along for dinner which we ordered from Falafel Elijah, We tried to rest for the night, but since the bunks were too close together, it was hard for me to rest for the night because the guy beside me snored so loudly like a freight train. Early the next morning, there was a food cart going around selling Champorado or sweet rice porridge for Php30, and by 0700hrs, we were docking at the port of Romblon.

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Arriving at the port of Romblon, on a cloudy morning, with a drum ensemble greeting the passengers at the port. We started walking through town and was about to take the tricycle going to where we would stay and was told that it was just a few meters away and decided to just walk and see the food stalls along the way. Arriving at Parc Bay Mansion, we were greeted by Ritchie, who was waiting at the road and showed us in the lodging to check-in and then led us to where our room was. After a brief rest, we walked around town looking for a place to eat for breakfast. We found a food stall, who agreed to cook pancit without any meat products and we ate it with the vegan longganisa that we brought with us. Having our fill, we then walked around the plaza to look at the marble items they are selling, then while going around. Carol felt a bit ill and had to go back to our lodging, while I decided to visit San Andres Fort.

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Climbing up the 200 steps to reach 373 year old Fort San Andres, with an elevation of 1500 feet, paying the visitors fee of Php20, I entered the fort and started to take photos. Fort San Andres was built to guard the Romblon town, against pirates and also to reinforce the dominance of Spaniards on the common folk during those days. It overlooks the town as well as the sea, which made it perfect to notice any intruders coming towards Romblon; either by sea or through land.

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One could see this fort looming over the hilltop. After the restoration, the steps have been a depiction of sea life, as well as the on-goings in the locality. Though, there are no vaults inside anymore, the feeling that one would get once inside the fort is very similar to being in a vault. The numerous massive columns in square structures are made to withstand any attack or siege; perhaps even local revolt.
The tower that this fort has gives complete and spectacular view of an entire harbour. This was meant to watch over the crucial junctions of logistics, as well as any susceptible movement around the harbour.

Since 2012, when a massive restoration project got over, the place was more accessible and beautiful than the ruins before pre-restoration. The fort attracts a lot of archaeological experts, architects and historians, as well as students who are interested in 15th century Spaniard history and architecture. Photographers gather here very often because they can get a panoramic view of the entire town and the Romblon port. This part is exponentially in favor of the trigger happy photographers.

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After Fort San Andres, I headed for the center of town and headed for St. Joseph Cathedral, One of the oldest Roman Catholic Church, which was located in barrio Poblacion. It was constructed for the Recollect Fathers between 1640 and 1726 by talented local artisans using coral blocks and bricks. Since the church was still locked, I went around the vicinity to take some photos and went back when the doors of the church were opened.

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Next spot to visit is the Fort Santiago, which is on the other side of the harbour from Fort San Andres. Fort Santiago is a good hike along Calvary Hill, asking directions to my destination, I was adviced to take the shorter route but decided to take the longer but scenic route, passing along a cemetery, and stations of the cross which took me to the top.

Upon reaching Fort Santiago where only the ruins could be seen was a tall tamarind tree. They have started clearing the area so as to show where the foundation of the fort was, and had another view of the harbour from here.

Going back down, I decided to take the shorter route and saw the danger involved because of the slippery rocks and the sheer drop on the side of the cliff.

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Reaching the main road, I decided to walk along the highway and thought of going to Bon Bon Beach and look at the sand bar. After passing the 1.3 MW power barge of the National Power Corporation along the way, I decided to head back into town because the skies became gloomy. When I arrived at the lodging, I took a bath and decided to rest.

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We had a late lunch, going back to the food stall where we had breakfast and ordered pancit and lomi all without any meat products, then decided to walk around town again heading back to St Joseph Cathedral and then to the marble shops then back to our lodging and rest. Then the rains came.

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It was raining all night, and when morning came, it was still drizzling on and off. We prepared for start of the day, ate breakfast, checked out of our lodging, then headed for the registration center for the trip to San Agustine Port, Tablas Island at 0730hrs, and by 0800hrs, we left the port of Romblon. Since it was a gloomy day, the seas were a bit rough and rocked our boat, good thing the captain knows how to read the waves and slows the boats every time a big wave comes.

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Arriving at the Port of San Agustine at 0900hrs and was looking for a ride and then decided to hire a tricycle for the trip to Looc. We loaded all our bags at the back of the tricycle and started our journey to the town of Looc, passing along the coastel road, then the rains came again, good thing the tricycle had a plastic covering so we would not get wet.

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Arriving at the town of Looc at 1020hrs where we were dropped of at Looc Hardware, where we were invited to have lunch with them. We were served steamed fish, and dinuguan and some pork innards but politely declined them saying we do not eat any meat products and brought out the food that we had, which was vegan cup noodles and mushrooms. After lunch, we had a chat with the owners, they showed us their other businesses and then we were brought to the place where we would be staying, and it was still raining.

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We arrived at Buenavista Paradise Resort, and checked in our lodging, The resort consists of 4 cottages, a main area for eating, a bar and great view of the sea, we then just lazed around because of the rains sipping some coconut juice, and come dinner time, we were served a large plate of mixed vegetables sauteed in oil, along with some vegan tapa, then went back to our cottage and lazed around.

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The next morning, the rains stopped and I went down to the beach and had a little walk then headed back to the resort and had breakfast which consists of bread, fruit jam, papaya and vegan noodles. Then it started raining again while we headed back to our cottage and when the rain comes you just have to stay indoors so as not to get wet, which is what we did. Lunch consists of a big plate of mixed vegetable sauteed in oil together with vegan tocino which we brought. Late in the afternoon, the rains has stopped and took photos at the beach but noticed that my filter was a bit dirty and upon checking, the coating got stripped off. Dinner was a platter of pasta cooked with tomatoes and basil with oil and for dessert, green mangoes dipped in salt with chili, then rested for the night.

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Waking up early in the morning the next day and the sun finally came out, went down to the beach and took photos, heading back to our cottage and ate breakfast which was fried bananas, then fixed our things took photos with the owner and the caretakers, then our ride to Odiongan arrived, loaded out bags on top of the tricycle and said our goodbyes to the owners and boarded the tricycle heading for Odiongan.

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Arriving in Odiongan, we then proceeded to where we booked our stay which was Centro delas Islas Filipinas Hotel, which is just beside the gate of Odiongan Port, eating our lunch which consits of rice and the vegan noodles which we got on our trip to Tokyo. After lunch, I headed out and walked along the roads looking for some interesting places to take photos. Dinner was just rice and tomatoes with soy sauce, then rested for the day.

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Morning came and breakfast was mixed vegetables with soy sauce, and the skies became gloomy again, and since our ride back to Batangas port is at 1400hrs, we had nothing to do but to just wait around the hotel, at 1200hrs we entered the port of Odiongan and checked in.

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Our ship arrived around 1400hrs and were told again to fall in line for the dogs to sniff the bags and when cleared, we boarded the ship and were ushered to our cabin, which consisted of 4 bunks.There was a couple already there coming from Caticlan, and then settled in our bunks and in short time, we were on our way to Batangas Port. As we had free meals on this trip, we requested if we can have a vegan food and they obliged to do our request, we were served steamed mixed vegetable with rice and had a grand time eating while we were being rocked by the waves. Having our fill, we headed back to our bunk and rested for the duration of the trip. Hearing the announcment that we are nearing the port of Batangas, we fixed our things and then the go signal to depart the ship came, we disembarked and headed for the bus to take us to Lipa city but there was none, so we took the tricycle and headed for the grand terminal in Batangas, where we waited for a bus and spent the new year at the bus terminal together with the crew of a convenience store.

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Finally a bus arrived and took it heading for Lipa City and then was picked up by Carol’s sister where we would be staying, by 0300hrs I was fast asleep on the bed for the next day will be traveling early back to Manila.

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Since we did not factor in the weather on this trip, and Carol having fever most of the time, we did not get to see the great beaches of Romblon and Tablas Island but we had a grand time relaxing and even spent the new year on the road, just the two of us. Hopefully next time it would be another adventure we would never forget.

Contact Persons:

Parc Bay Mansion
Ritchi Samson
0921.575.7760

Buenavista Paradise Resort
Ate Lorie
0999.848.2096


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.

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This would be the last day we would go around, and this day, we decided to do some last minute shopping. After or morning preparations and some light packing, we headed for Ohanajaya Station and had breakfast at a fast food store, after which we took the train headed for Aoto Station and then transferred trains heading for Higashi-Matsudo, but the next train that we would take would not arrive for the next 45 minutes, so we had time to just go around the station.

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When the train arrived, we headed for Kaihin-Makuri, where one of the biggest outlet stores in japan is located, which is the Mitsui Outlet Park .

Mitsui Outlet Park Makuhari is an outlet park and duty-free shopping complex that underwent a massive renovation and reopened in summer 2015. It is easy to access both from the Narita and Haneda airports and most major stations in Tokyo

Mitsui Outlet Park Makuhari is a shopping center that was opened in 2000 and underwent a full, large-scale renewal in July 2015. Easy to access both from the city, as well as from the Narita and Haneda airports, this is a shopping center you won’t want to miss.

It’s also close to Makuhari Messe, an international convention center, and is filled with duty-free shops, making it ideal for visitors from abroad. This is also the outlet park where a famous drugstore both in Japan and abroad opened its first outlet location. This is a very convenient place to stop if you want to get in some last minute shopping before leaving Japan too.

It’s a 30-minute train ride from Tokyo station, the entranceway for traveling in Japan. Located in a prime location that’s one minute away from the south exit of Kaihin-Makuhari station, it’s also convenient to stop by here after your trip when you are on your way to the airport. Not just that but there are buses to Narita airport from Kaihin-Makuhari that only take 40 minutes. It feels great to be able to go shopping even if it’s right before you go back home.

The best part of it all is that even though it’s an outlet park, you can shop at duty-free prices! There are 80 duty-free shops here (as of December 2015). You’re bound to find something you want.

Don’t worry if you run out of Japanese yen either; all major credit cards including Union Pay are accepted here, and there are even foreign currency exchange machines that accept Chinese yuan, Taiwanese and Hong Kong dollars, Korean won, Thai baht, Singaporean dollars, US dollars, and the Euro.

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After having our lunch, we then took the train back to Ueno Station and went around Ameyoko, when we were all done, we headed back to Ueno Station and took the train for Ohanajaya Station and bought some food at Kitchen Origin, where they served home cooked meals ready to serve.

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Leisurely walking back to our lodging and then packed all out belonging for the trip back home. By 1800hrs, we took a taxi which brought us to Horikiri-Shobuen, then at Aoto Station, we waited for the train which will take us to Haneda Airport, but on our trip to Haneda Ariport, we missed a stop and took another train back to the right station, heading up to long escalators to the airport lobby, where we waited to the counters to open for our flight.

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With the long cue at the check-in counter, we slowly eased out way for our check-in, getting our boarding passes and passed immigration, we headed for the gate where we would be boarding our plane. Boarding was done around 0000hrs, and left the ground around 0130hrs, and when we reached our cruising altitude they started serving our food and as requested, we got our vegan food first and then slept the rest of the way waking up before my alarm started ringing which as 0530hrs and took some photos of the sunrise.

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At around 0600hrs we were at the baggage retrieval area to retrieve our bags and headed back home back to the usual Manila traffic, the noise and the chaos of the City.

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Having the opportunity to experience the way, the tradition, the food, the atmosphere of the Japanese people, I can say that they are well disciplined, the respect they have for other people, and they are proud to be called Japanese, not unlike Filipinos, where they like to be like another nationality, do not respect other people and wants to be ahead always of others.

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
(Day 5)

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Today would be different from the past days because we would just be taking our time going around places we hoped to see ourselves. As we prepared for the day, we left our lodging and headed for Ohanajaya Station, but before taking the train, we got some snacks along the way and entered some shops, then took the train at Ohanajaya Station, heading for Nippori Stations where we transferred trains and headed for Tokyo Station.

Tokyo Station is not Japan’s oldest station nor even its biggest, but it does have the beautifully restored Meiji era station building on the Marunouchi side and it’s undoubtedly important as a terminus for the high speed Shinkansen lines that head north, west and south. After years of planning and delays caused by various wars, construction commenced in 1908 . Designed by Tatsuno Kingo it was a restrained celebration of Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War and was rumoured to have been styled after the Amsterdam Central Station, although Kingo denied this. The station opened in 1914 with two platforms for electric trains and two for the non-electric ones. It has been the site of many events, including the assassination of Prime Minister Hara Takashi in 1921 and was heavily damaged during the bombing of WWII. It was soon fixed, but with only two levels rather than the original three, and simple angular roofs instead of the original domes. During renovations which ended in 2012, the historic Marunouchi side of the station was restored to its pre-war design.

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Arriving at Tokyo Station, we looked around for a restaurant where we would be eating our Lunch, and this would be T’s Tantan Vegan Restaurant.

T’s Tantan is located inside of Tokyo Station on Keiyo Street (yes, the station is so huge it actually has its own streets inside). Keiyo Street is near the South Yaesu Exit, so follow signs toward that exit until you see signage that says “Keiyo Street”. If you are at the far end of the station, you may have to follow signs toward the Central Yaesu Exit until signs for the South Yaesu Exit appear. As is the case for all Tokyo Station restaurants and shops, you need to enter the station with a JR Rail Pass, Suica Card, or an individual train/subway ticket. Once you find T’s Tantan, don’t worry if there’s a long line outside…turnover is quick.

T’s Tan Tan offers several types of ramen, including “white” (sesame, bean sprouts, and thick green onion in a spicy broth: this one is my favorite, it really clears out your sinuses!), “green” (ramen piled high with fresh greens and includes some kabocha squash), “shoyu” (soy-sauce based broth), “red” (tomato base) and more. A bowl of ramen will set you back about 850 yen. They also have salads and curry rice, and can provide a “big helping” for a few hundred yen more. Everything is vegan, as the pictures and text on the walls proudly proclaim.

One striking thing about the shop is that they seem to come from all walks of life, not just yoga-pants-wearing folks with dreadlocks or crunchy thrift store types (guilty). When I asked the manager about the clientele, he estimated that about half of them come to the restaurant specifically because they are vegetarian or otherwise healthfully-inclined. “There aren’t that many vegan restaurants in Japan, so people come from far away to eat here,” he says. But the rest are just people who just happen by during their commute, enticed by the good smells and sights coming out of the store.

An English menu is available for those who want it, and the menu is illustrated so it’s easy to pick and point. The staff also speaks a little English (and some speak Taiwanese). Beer and soft drinks are available.

We ordered a bowl of Shoyu Ramen with Deep Fried Vegie Dumplings and a Rice Curry Bowl, and when our food arrived, we took our time savouring and enjoying our food.

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After lunch we took out time around the station to look at the shops there, then boarded the train heading for Nakamo, and visit Nakamo Broadway, where i wanted to visit and look at some stuffs.
Although Akihabara is more commonly known as the otaku centre of Tokyo, a lot of shops have had to leave as the area becomes ever more developed and rents keep rising. Fortunately many of these shops have found a new home in Nakano Broadway, an old mall with four floors of tightly packed shops. The majority are tiny mom-and-pop types packed with glass cases and narrow aisles.

Nakano Broadway is a shopping complex in Tokyo famous for its many stores selling anime items and idol goods, including more than a dozen small Mandarake stores, which specialize in manga and anime related collectibles. The shopping complex is a short walk from Nakano Station, which is a five-minute train ride from Shinjuku via the JR Chuo Line.
There are four levels of shopping at the Nakano Broadway. The second and third levels are where the many anime and idol related shops are located. Here, shoppers can find manga, magazines, collectors’ items, animation character figurines, idol merchandise, game consoles, video games, animation/idol related CDs, as well as little souvenirs to take home, such as idol playing cards or key chains.
The ground level of the Nakano Broadway has shops selling clothes, shoes, tidbits and second hand goods. The basement level is a marketplace, where the locals shop for their groceries. Products on sale range from fruits and vegetables to meat and seafood.
Leading to the Nakano Broadway from Nakano Station is the Nakano Sunmall, a 225 meter long, covered shopping street with a wide variety of shops, including food joints, cafes, watch dealers, jewelers, fashion boutiques, pharmacies, game centers, book stores and others.
On the side streets branching off from the shopping street are food alleys with various restaurants, including many izakaya (Japanese style pub/eatery), that serve all different kinds of food. Here one can experience the atmosphere of the bustling food crowd while taking a break from the shopping.
With all the diecast cars around to choose from, all I got was a vintage Lesney Ferrari F1 and it was even missing the driver but for all the Lesney diecast there, this is the one I chose maybe because of the red color.

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Having the time of my life going around Nakamo Broadway, we headed back to Nakamo Station and took the train heading for Shibuya Station and would visit the famous crossing at Shibuya .

Many cities have iconic landmarks: New York City’s Statue of Liberty, Paris’s Eiffel Tower, Beijing’s Great Wall. Tokyo has some unique features, of course, such as Tokyo Tower and the SkyTree, but to me the most identifiable landmark to the city will always be Shibuya Crossing.

It is an unquestioned must-visit for any trip to Tokyo.

The sprawling scramble intersection just outside Shibuya Station is an embodiment of Tokyo itself: action in all directions. Three huge television screens mounted on the buildings facing the intersection flash all day, while the rest of the area is covered with lights, advertisements, and more lights. And that’s just when you’re looking up. Look down, and you’ll see the most remarkable feature of the area: the people. People are constantly pouring across the street from all directions going to even other directions. They all meet in the middle in a frantic mess, bumping, side stepping and swerving around each other as they try to cross.

Then, for a few minutes, it stops. These are some of my favorite times to be an observer at Shibuya Crossing: while the traffic gets its turn, each little corner of the intersection steadily fills up, up, up, and just as the people begin to spill out into the street, the crosswalk lights turn green and the mayhem starts all over again.

The intersection is a popular location for movies and media taking place in Tokyo. It has appeared in the films “Lost in Translation” and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift,” while making appearances in numerous music videos, newscasts, and animated programs. As a famous representation of modern Japan, photographers and videographers are almost constantly circling the intersection, climbing on guard-rails and perching on subway entrances in an effort to find the best vantage point.

While fighting your way through the havoc in the center of the intersection is something any visitor to Tokyo should experience, Shibuya Crossing is also one of the most soothing and peaceful things to watch from a distance. The businesses facing the intersection all take advantage of their scenic position and have tables and windows facing the crossing. One of the most popular is the giant Starbucks located across from Shibuya Station. In addition to being a constant contender for the busiest branch in the world, its second floor seating area has a counter across its floor-to-ceiling windows, perfect for overlooking the intersection.

The surrounding area of Shibuya is a lively, popular destination for people of all walks of life. It is a popular nightlife spot filled with bars, clubs and izakaya, and weekend revelry is a common sight. It is also a trendy shopping district. Shibuya Station itself is a large hub of Tokyo trains and subways. Its Hachiko Exit (Exit #8), which leads to Shibuya Crossing, is enormous and always bustling, and is one of the most popular meeting points in the city. Many other subway exits of the station also surround the intersection.

While Shibuya Crossing may never receive the international status of other cities’ landmark buildings, towers and bridges, it is an undeniable representation of the City of Tokyo itself: lots of people, lots of action, and lots of fun.

Hachiko Square (sometimes called Hachiko Plaza) is perhaps the busiest and best-known meeting place in Tokyo. Named in honour of the famous statue of “Faithful Dog Hachiko”, it is fenced in by a department store, two train stations and the well-known Shibuya pedestrian scramble crossing that is said to be the busiest in the world.

This plaza is usually teeming with people, especially during the evenings and on weekends. Even though there are no benches to sit on and only a few metal railings to rest against, it is considered a prime people-watching spot and a very popular meeting place. Most people, locals and tourists alike, gravitate toward the statue, a bronzed Akita Inu, referred to as Hachi or Hachiko (sometimes Chuuken Hachiko, or “Faithful Hachiko”). The original statue was erected in 1934 to honour the dog, who met his master, Professor Ueno Hidesaburo, every day at the station after work. When Professor Ueno died in 1925 and did not return, Hachiko continued to wait for him daily for the next nine years, appearing exactly when the train was due.

Hachiko’s story gained attention, and his loyalty was renowned. He died of cancer and a filarial infection the year after the statue was unveiled, but his story has continued to be told and the 2.4 million people who use Shibuya Station pass by the bronze dog each day.

The Square has few features aside from Hachiko. The main Shibuya police box is to the south, adjacent to the JR Shibuya Station Hachiko Exit. Directly to the northeast is the famous scramble crossing that has been featured in many movies, such as Lost In Translation. A glass smoking area is near the statue. In the center of the square you’ll find an old-fashioned Setagaya Line train car that serves as a small museum.

Hachiko Square is vibrant at almost all hours, in all seasons. April 8th is the day to celebrate the faithful dog, if you wish to see the elaborate Chuuken Hachiko Matsuri (festival) held for him every spring. The rest of the year, sit on the railings by the statue and people-watch, or in the daytime, browse photos in the museum of Tokyo days gone by. The policemen in the box are happy to provide directions (the Japan Times once reported that they received up to 2,000 requests per directions per day, about one every 43 seconds) and keep the peace. Flower beds line the perimeter of the square behind Hachiko and the other fixtures also rest here, including area maps. At Christmas, there is often a business-sponsored tree among the flowers. However, rumor has it that the west side of the JR station will see renovations in the coming years, and as it has with station expansions in the past, the statue may move to another location and the face of Hachiko Square will change yet again.

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Having taken a lot of photos around Shibuya, we headed back to Shibuya Station and took the train for Ueno Station, where we walk around a bit at Ameyoko Market, then we headed to a building near Ueno Park and entered a restaurant named Torimitsukuni, which serves not only Yakitori and Sake but a lot more, which was filling even though I just ate all plant based foods.

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With dinner done, we headed back to Ueno Station and took the train back to Horikiri-Shobuen and headed back to our lodging to rest for the night but not after we celebrated the birthday of our host.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

Komurasaki
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.

Sumire
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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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”.

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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

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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