I'm a Home-owner Now!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

To be honest, I have no idea who's reading this blog, but I haven't given up writing about my trips. Yeah, I know. Hard to tell when I haven't posted anything in a month!
My apologies.
I've been away for a good reason. I've bought a HDB apartment recently and I'm going to be receiving the keys to my new abode in about 2 weeks time! Hence the disappearance, since I was busy getting ready for renovations and all that.
I admit though, any spare time I had, my focus was still on keeping my other nail blog running first.
But anyway, I'm going to try to keep this side running. I'm now so super excited (and freaked at the same time with all that expenses) about being a new home owner, I'm going to try to channel some of this excitement into blog posts.
Don't worry (as if you would), I'd still try and fit in and continue with the Japan posts.
hmmm.... I just realised that this post is going to be so wordy without much pictures! The only one you're going to get is with my floor plan below:
Anyway, my home ownership process started actually with my brother saying that he intends to buy his own flat now that he is eligible to do so. Until then, I had merely been saving up with the general thought that I'll get a flat myself one day. 
However, my brother's words spurred me and last year, I contacted a friend who works as a property agent. A bit of financial discussion with her and I realised I'm actually good to go!
I have to say, I'm pretty fortunate. Within the first week of appointments, I found a unit that I liked. The only setback to not getting it sooner was because the seller requested for an extension since they were transitioning to another unit and needed time for renovations and to move. Not a problem for me.
My friend took me through the whole HDB processes (thank goodness for her!) and in 2 weeks time, I'll be collecting my keys, ready to takeover my new place!
Let's hope I'd remember to get more photos so as to properly document the rest of the process!

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 6: Mameda-machi

Monday, 1 May 2017

In Japan, there are several places with the nickname of "Little Kyoto" simply because they convey the rustic charms of Kyoto. Mameda-machi is simply another one in Hita, a shopping street where the locals have tried their best to preserve old-world Japanese customs and architecture.
According to some Japanese websites, some of the wares sold here are also unique to the area. A decent pit-stop really if you are passing by the area.

Day 6: Mameda-machi (日田豆田町商店街) --> Beppu Hell Valley --> Yufuin Town --> Hotel
By day 6, we started moving towards Oita. Our first stop that morning was the famous shopping street of Mameda-machi. Except we probably got there a little too early. Many of the shops weren't even open yet!
So if Mameda-machi is a place you intend to visit, please make arrangements to get there after 11 am. The place felt so deserted at 9:30 am, we were done by 10 plus and decided to leave since there wasn't anything else open. A real pity since I had actually read so much about it online that it was a shopping street that I was looking forward to!

I had originally scheduled it later in the itinerary but because of some changes made, it was re-scheduled to this morning. That kind of irritated me since it obviously showed that our guide didn't do much to advise us.

However, if in the event that you happen to also be there at 9:30 am, you can pop into the Kuncho Sake Brewery and take a look at how local sake is brewed. The spring waters of Mameda-machi is also pretty famous and the brewery prides its good brew on the use of the spring waters.

Sadly, my parents aren't sake drinkers so the beauty of the brewery was kind of lost on them. After a moment's consideration, I also decided not to buy any. We were running short on luggage space because my dad was being stubborn and had refused to bring his big luggage. He definitely heard from me and mom when we realised we were running out of space and had to budget our shopping.

Plus, my mom was also complaining that our liquor store at home was over-flowing.
Heh. She's always lamenting how she doesn't really understand how her children become drinkers when their parents both hardly do so.

Anyway, I digress.
At Mameda-machi, you should also look out for this little wooden shack where you can refill your water bottles with their famous spring water. All for a token sum that's up to you.
Mom was worried that it would give us tummy upset (typical worried mom's reaction) but I went ahead and had a taste of the water.

Oh by the way, apart from the Kuncho Sake Brewery, you should also make a visit to Hita Shoyu. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the place, but to be honest, it's really hard to miss that place. Hita Shoyu is the other famous store in Mameda-machi.  It was serious disappointment that it was only opening as we were leaving so I didn't have a chance to go in. Otherwise I would have loved to bring back a bottle of Japanese soy sauce!

We also stopped by this place (photo above) that was selling traditional Japanese sweets. Whenever I have a chance during my Japan trips, I'd love to visit at least one of these traditional sweet shops. Each region/place usually has their own unique sweets and sometimes even seasonal specialities.
A word of caution though. Don't over-buy as these traditional sweets tend to be (ahem) very sweet. 
The first time I had these traditional sweets years back was a memorable culinary disaster. Primarily because I had over-bought. Basically I thought to get one in every flavour to try. It was major sugar overdose and we just couldn't finish them. Since then, my parents and I just get 2 to 3 different flavours to try.


Mameda-machi is also pretty famous for their Hina dolls. If I'm not mistaken, there's a Hina Doll festival running if you were to visit in March.
These Hina dolls are actually a tradition and not for play. The dolls are often arranged in tiers with the prince and the princess dolls right at the top. These dolls are said to possess special spiritual powers. Should a doll become broken, they are not to be simply discarded away. Instead, a ritual is needed to dispose of the doll.
So, when you're there, please be mindful and respectful. It's best to just visually admire these Hina doll displays and not meddle with them thinking that these are toys.

We also dropped by this craft store that was open at that time. A lot of very well-crafted fabric dolls for sale. Some were downright adorable and would have looked good if I had display shelves at home!
Tourist Information
Address: Mamedamachi, Hita 〒877-0005, Oita Prefecture
Local Address: 〒877-0005豆田町

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 5 (Part 3): Marriage Hotel Bientos

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Hotel Bientos

For the first time, I actually have a hotel in Japan that I'm writing a negative review of. And that in itself stuns me because I have been so used to the cleanliness and efficiency of Japanese hospitality.
Maybe too used.
Because, otherwise if I were to compare this with the places I've stayed in, in all my travel experiences, it's definitely not the worse.
Actually the poorer (since it isn't exactly bad) experience started only after we got to our room. It was the dustiest room I had ever stayed in Japan. And I mean in ALL of my Japan trips combined. Within minutes of stepping in, my nose started reacting.
Did I ever share on this blog that my nose is my cleanliness barometer?
I have a sinus allergy and whenever I'm in a place that's too dusty, I can fall ill. There was even once when after I had to move office, I fell sick for an entire week (fever and all) from all the dust and dirt. So, my nose reacting is definitely not a good sign.

Next thing that stumped us. Apparently, we have to lay out our own futons and duvets. Like I said, perhaps we were too used to the amazing Japanese hospitality. It's not a big deal actually, just something that stumped us because when we asked, we were told that the hotel does not do it.

The toilets were also incredibly small. How small?
Let's just say that was the best angle I had to try to capture all that's in the toilet.
And for someone who's known to be clumsy, that also does not spell good news to me. I definitely bumped myself in the elbow and on the hips that night.

However, the final straw came when we found dirty laundry that was left in the room.
Can you just see how dirty that place is!
We asked for someone to come clean the room, but guess what? NO ONE CAME!
In the end, we gave up. It was a good thing that we were only staying that one night.

Breakfast the next morning was also a pretty dismal affair. The spread was carbs-heavy with the usual breads, pastries and porridge. There were some eggs and sausages but that was about it.
The unfortunately thing was, the hotel was pretty isolated. It's like in the middle of nowhere. There's no convenience store nearby so we couldn't top up either.
Coming straight after the wonderful Crowne Plaza ANA Nagasaki Gloverhill that we stayed in Nagasaki, this definitely paled much in comparison.
Definitely not a place I'll recommend so I'm not even going to bother putting up their address or anything.

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 5 (Part 2): Yanagawa Canal Boat Ride + Tosu Premium Outlet

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Day 5: Yutoku Inari Shrine --> Yanagawa Canal Boat Ride (柳川川下り) --> Tosu Premium Outlet (鳥栖プレミアム・アウトレット) --> Hotel
Once we were done at the Yutoku Inari Shrine, our driver proceeded to bring us for a tofu onsen-hotpot meal: . According to him, the tofu was homemade and said to be extremely good for the skin.

When we got there, it was very obvious that we were the only group of tourists around. The rest of the restaurant was filled with local Japanese (especially ladies!). I guess this is one of those "you won't know unless you're a local" places. I couldn't even find a proper English translation of the name of the place. It's Japanese website says Saga-Hirakawaya, so I'm just going with that.
The proprietor of the shop was very lovely and took the time to try to explain to us (with some translation help and sign language) how we were supposed to enjoy the tofu. During the course of our meal, she also kept topping up our tofu! So much so we had to stop her as we were just too full!
Unfortunately, my family was divided on this meal. I like my tofu and I loved the taste of the homemade tofu in the hotpot! In fact, it was even good on its own with the accompanying sauce and sesame seeds. However, my dad's (who's not a tofu person) barely stomached any. He just scooped up all the vegetables in the hotpot. However, we all agreed that their home-grown green tea was one of the best! Immediately after our meal, Mom bought a bag of the green tea leaves.

Once we were done with lunch, we proceeded to the next item on our itinerary: the Yanagawa Canal boat ride.
Yanagawa is primarily known for its water canals. It was originally a farming village and the canals were built initially for the purpose of irrigation. Later, the canals evolved to also become a source of water transportation. Today, these canals continue to be a source of income for the people in the form of tourist revenue.
There are several companies offering the boat rides (also known as punting). All of them also provide free shuttle bus services from the nearest train stations. Just google and you should be able to find and compares their prices and services. Some of these companies have also collaborated with the cafes and restaurants along the venue to offer complimentary drinks or discounted meals. So just be mindful about what you're paying for.

Since ours was already pre-arranged, I didn't really bother to check out which company it was. Instead, I just happily followed to put on the hat and board the sampan like vessel.
I've got to say this. THANK GOD for the hat! The boat ride, while enjoyable, was more than an hour in the blistering afternoon sun! If not for that triangular straw cap, I think I would have been thoroughly sun burnt!
This was our punter. Well, I assume that's what they'll be called (punting --> punter). I didn't catch his name since he was conversing with everyone else in a thick Japanese accent. From what I understood, most of the punters are older. The younger generation isn't apparently too interested in punting anymore. And unfortunately, most of the older punters aren't conversant in any other language.
A pity since I could tell that ours was a humorous dude. Everyone else on the boat kept laughing at his story-telling and jokes. I would have loved to find out what they were all laughing about. On a few occasions, he even broke out into Japanese songs. While I didn't understand anything of what was being sung, our punter had a lovely voice reminiscent of folk singing. Our guide was kind of useless by now, he didn't really bother to translate much of what was said even when I asked.


The ride itself was quite scenic. There were several lovely photo points, be it of buildings, flora and fauna. There were even a couple of mini altars/shrines built along the route. One of them even had Kirin beer cans as offerings! The trouble though was because you were on a moving vessel (and it moves surprisingly quickly!) you need to calculate your angles pretty darn quick.
Another obstacle, you won't be the only person on board that vessel who'll want pictures. I've lost count of the number of times I had to shift because of someone's raised phone or camera. So if photos are what you're after, you should grab seats at the front of the boat to avoid those photo-bombs. Or else, move to the rear.

The next exciting bit about the ride was the amount of ducking we had to do. And by that I mean whenever we approached any of the low bridges or tight tunnels.
These boat punters have amazing skills and stamina. No matter how tight the tunnel would look, the boats were all able to pass through unscratched. When we approached the first tunnel, my mom actually looked bewildered when our punter started moving towards it. She even grabbed my arm and wondered if we were able to get through safely!

Very quickly, we came to learn to duck each time our punter started his weird song-song English of "Put your head down". English because it was obviously meant for us who didn't understand a single word of Japanese. Weird because he was definitely not a speaker of the language and did so in a heavily accented sing-song voice. Nevertheless, it had a fun effect and by the fourth or fifth one, even mom was laughingly ducking her head along with everyone else.
And I'm super amazed that these punters had the muscles and stamina to keep bending up and down, all the while pushing a boat full of people for more than an hour! Apparently, some even perform acrobatic jumps across those bridges! They must be damn fit!

Mid-way through the ride, our punter "drove" us past this shack selling snacks! I was seriously amazed that even soft serve was offered! Actually contemplated but since I was still quite full from all the earlier tofu, I decided to forgo the ice-cream. It would otherwise have been heavenly in that heat!

If I'm not mistaken, there are 2 options for how long you want your boat ride to be. Our tour agent had apparently arranged for the longer option without us realising it. If you're with young children or elderly parents, you may wish to consider the shorter option as they may get bored. Afterall, there's only so much interest buildings and trees can offer for some.
By the 45th minute mark, mom kept asking when the ride was going to end. On the other hand, dad got excited seeing a group of photographers on the bridge (picture above). Apparently he had thought that they were the tourist-commercial sort and were taking pictures for sale later. He actually kept waving his hands around because otherwise there was nothing much else to do...
The minute we were done with the boat ride, my parents hurried into a restaurant for their complimentary drinks. Not because they wanted the freebie, but more because they were too hot from the sun beating down on them. Mom also desperately needed the loo.
Actually, if not for the earlier meal, I would also have contemplated sharing a unagi don with my parents. Apart from the canal rides, Yanagawa is also famous for their unagi rice bowls! While seated in the restaurant, the smells wafting from all those unagi sets were just wonderful!
Heh. To be honest, I might have eventually caved if it wasn't because we had to catch the next shuttle out.

By late afternoon, we finally reached Tosu Premium Outlet, the trip's first major shopping stop. Whenever I bring my parents to Japan, I always make sure to arrange to drop by an outlet mall for them. They love the discounts from some of the major brands that are on offer. In fact, I always have to inform them beforehand what brands are available so that they can anticipate what to buy.
While my mom always grumbles about my shopping in Singapore, she has never once complained whenever I shop at these outlet malls with them. Heh. Another reason why they're always in my Japan itineraries with my parents.

We bought quite a lot in the short time we were there! I had a lovely Godiva Special Anniversary drink while I was there and bought tons of Godiva chocolates back for friends. Also bought 2 Coach bags (the 2 at the bottom corner right in picture below) for myself while mom got another 2 for herself. I also got quite a bit of clothes from Gap while dad (who hates shopping) bought 2 pairs of Hush Puppies shoes.
I swear. We were there for less than 2 hours.
What contributed to the speed at which we shopped was mainly because I had already printed out a map and studied where each brand was located in the mall. So in essence, we already knew which shops we wanted to go and just aimed straight for those.
I could have still continued for sure, if not because mom started to complain that we were going to miss our dinner time...

Tourist Information
Saga Hirakawaya (佐嘉平川屋)
Yanagawa Canal Boat Ride
Address: Takahata, Yanagawa 8320065
Local address: 〒832-0065高畑
There are many companies offering the canal rides. Please google and check for what suits you.
Tosu Premium Outlet (鳥栖プレミアム・アウトレット)
Address: 8-1 Yayoigaoka, Tosu 841-0005
Local address: 〒841-0005弥生が丘8-1
DID: +81 942-87-7370
Operating hours: 10 am to 8 pm

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 5 (Part 1): Yutoku Inari Shrine

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Day 5: Yutoku Inari Shrine (祐徳稲荷神社) --> Yangawa Canal Boat Ride --> Tosu Premium Outlet --> Hotel
Day 5 saw us winding down a little on the itinerary. I was pretty ill by day 5 and I could also tell that mom was exhausted from all the walking around yesterday.
The thing with bringing elderly parents around, is that you need to watch out for their physical activities and limitations. My dad's almost 70 years old and yet he's still raring to go most times. In fact, I'm the one who usually holds him back in fear of him exceeding his limits unconsciously. On the other hand, my mom's almost a decade younger than dad, but she's the one with all the leg, knees and walking difficulties. Mom actually needs help standing up after she's seated for a long time and all that.
So I had a little discussion with our driver-guide, and we decided to amend our itinerary to something a little more relaxing for my parents.

Hence, our first stop of the day, Yutoku Inari Shrine (back towards Saga). Our driver-guide assured me that mom would be able to deal with this one as part of their recent restoration, they had added a lift to their main structure!
Even then, mom was quite apprehensive when we first set eyes on the shrine from across the road. I don't blame her really. The place does look impressive! All that red that's set against the green mountains! It feels like the Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto all over. Even if there were no lifts and we couldn't climb, the view from below would have been well-worth a trip out!

The Yutoku Inari Shrine, affectionately known to the locals as Yutoku-san, is apparently considered to be one of the top three Inari shrines. Pretty easy to see why actually. The Inari is apparently one of Shinto's most popular deities and is associated with rice, prosperity and foxes.
The newly revamped side hall (photo below) is now air-conditioned and has lift access. I could hear my mom's sigh of relief when she finally caught sight of the lift. She was actually prepared to forgo and just wait inside the car for us. Well, the main and side halls stand on tall wooden beams 18 meters above the valley floor. If there were no lift, I would still climb, but it sure as hell would be done with a sigh of resignation.

For the fitness buffs, if you eschew technological conveniences such as the lift, stairs are plenty around for you to reach your goal too.
Do note though that the lift ride does cost a little. It also comes with a little good luck charm (photo below). So if you don't think you want to pay a little for a bit of convenience, stairs are always available.
I've got to say though. While we were there, there were many (and I do mean many!) elderly locals who were climbing the stairs up and down. Unaided and looking as if they weren't breaking any sweat over it! There were even a pair of grandparents (and I do mean grandparents with white hair and all!) jogging after their grandkids! Seriously! What's their secret?! Is that why people always say that the Japanese have longer life span?!
I was so completely ashamed of myself huffing and puffing up the trails that these seniors were bounding up and down on...
Anyway, the view once you get to the level of the main hall is pretty good. What was more amazing was that the place was done in such a way that it's quite wheelchair-friendly on that level! However, any further exploration would be limited. The rest of the walking trails are as called; a lot of walking and stair climbing needed.

Still, the main level provided for some architectural eye-candy. My mom got exasperated waiting for me to get my pictures of the gorgeous wall paintings and all.

The Yutoku Inari Shrine was really perfect for my parents. Dad was soon raring to go explore some of the trails. So I left my mom on the main hall level (she was so glad there was air-conditioning!) with our driver-guide and followed my dad for his morning-exercise of the day.
The walking trail leads from the main level further into the wooded hill. Sections along the trails were also covered by tori gates (according to our driver-guide, donated by persons and corporations for good luck and prosperity). There were also smaller shrines along the way that were dedicated to foxes.

To be honest, while I was huffing and puffing away, it really didn't feel like a pain walking that trail at all. Firstly, there were too many Instagram-worthy pictures to be had. It's just too bad my dad isn't the best model.
Secondly, I was also too busy trying to keep an eye out for dad. Do note that sections of the trail are paved with stones and some parts were wet the day we visited. Not the best combination; wet stone paths can get slippery-dangerous. I know since I fell a couple of times before on those. I didn't want dad to fall and I sure as hell didn't want to myself. Plus I was carrying my newish (then) expensive camera.

Dad and I spent some time climbing the trail until we reach a point where the paths were just stones (photo above). I refused to let dad climb further and we both headed back. Would have been interesting though to continue on just to see if the shrines also got more primitive further in.

For those of you who are interested in visiting the Yutoku Inari Shrine, do also note that there is a small traditional Japanese garden at the base of the hill. It was quite a tranquil place with flowing streams, low-arched bridges, sitting areas and lovely flowers in bloom. The garden is supposedly famed for its peonies blooms as well. Unfortunately, we missed the season. Instead, we saw some pretty azaleas instead.
However, there is an admission fee to the garden. I personally thought that it was quite small for the price we paid. So if you're not into the flower scene, you may want to consider skipping this altogether.

Do note also that there is a small snack stall open at the side of the entrance to the Yutoku Inari Shrine. My dad got himself a well-deserved matcha soft-serve which he happily declared to be one of the best after a morning climb.
Tourist Information
Yutoku Inari Shrine
Address: 1855 Furueda, Kashima 849-1321, Saga Prefecture
Local Address: 〒849-1321古枝乙1855
DID: +81 954-62-2151
No closing time
Admission to shrine is free
Shrine Garden
Admission fee: 200 yen
Opening hours: 9 am to 4:30 pm