Thursday, January 31, 2013

A 2013 To-Do List

I was inspired by Sofia's Journal and so decided that to go forward with this blog in this new year (which has already passed January!!!), I'd like to add my to-do list as well.

Ahem, here goes:

- Leave Korea without being too sad.  Aiming for grateful, happy and excited for the future, instead.

- Keep an inspiration notebook with ideas, quotes, articles, pictures--anything that brings positive energy into my life.

- Wake up early.

- Find employment in the US doing something I am excited about.

- Give back to the community.

- Hike mountains around NY and NJ with DH.

- Be a good auntie to Emily and to Nephew 1 & 2 making their debut soon!!!

- Continue German and/or Korean language classes in the US.

- Make a Korea scrapbook.
Taking steps towards a better year in 2013.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Some ¥¥¥ saving tips

Japan has a reputation for being an expensive destination, but to be honest, I didn't find it to be any worse than New York City or even some European destinations.  It is certainly more expensive than Korea but it's not unmanageable.  I'm not going to make this too detailed or too long, but below are some tips for people looking to keep their wallets a little fuller when heading over to Japan from Korea.  Some tips might apply for visitors from other lands as well.  Keep in mind this is based on our experience and not all the points may apply to you.

-  We booked two tickets on Peach Airlines and it was a steal compared to flights on other airlines heading to Osaka.  The only catch is as it's a budget airlines, plan to pay extra for just about everything else:  any checked-in luggage, for food aboard the plane and even to pay with CC on their website.  However, I found that still the ticket price was significantly cheaper. Travelers are allowed one carry-on each with an allowance of 10 kgs/115 cm size, which in our case, was more than enough.  It is a Japanese airline, which from Seoul only flies to Osaka, but once in Japan, you can use it to get to other destinations domestically and abroad if you choose.

- Do your research before hand.  This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but I know that there are different kinds of travellers, some that like to plan everything out to a T, and others who like to show up and figure things out as they go.  A good middle ground is probably the best place to be.  Especially in regards to transportation, you need to know what deals are offered in order to ask for it. For example, if you ask for a ticket from Osaka airport to Kyoto, they will give you just that, at the full fare of almost ¥3,000 (or around $33).  If you ask for JR West Rail Pass for foreigners, you will take the exact same train as that above, and pay only ¥ 2,000 (around $22), or you can get the ICOCA + Haruka Limited Express deal and pay ¥ 3,000 and get a ticket for the same train as those deals above and in addition get a T-Money type train pass (ICOCA card) with ¥1,500 credit on the card plus an additional ¥500 deposit on the card which you get back.  This is an awesome deal!  So you're basically only paying ¥1,000 for the same ticket that you would have paid ¥3,000 for, and in addition get ¥1,500 additional transportation money.  

I'm not going to lie, transportation in Japan is confusing because there are several companies and lines that offer various deals and tickets.  You need to know ahead of time what is the best deal for you.  There are lots of passes, including a JR national pass or regional passes like the Kansai-Thru Pass but all have rules and various exceptions to their usage. In addition to long distance travel, there are city passes for bus, or bus and subway that you can use to save you on transportation fare. Again, do your research before hand.  As we travelled mainly in Kyoto and in Osaka, we didn't need much more than the Icoca credit + Haruka Ltd. Express  and  2 one day bus passes (at ¥500) to get around to all our destinations.  That's a total for ¥3,500 for transporation for four days.  That's less than $10 per person per day.

- I can't give you tips on hotels in Kyoto or traditional guest houses, but as for hostels, we stayed at an exceptional one called Khaosan Kyoto Guesthouse, voted number 3 hostel in all of Asia!  It was a great deal and we had a private twin room for about $45 per night.  There are other hostels that I've heard good things about, but this is the only place we stayed and we were perfectly happy with its location, cleanliness and facilities.

-And as for food?  Well, we didn't really cut back on expenses in this area because let's face it, trying new foods is by far one of the biggest pleasures of travelling. But in case you need to save a little bit on this area, perhaps you don't want to eat all your meals at restaurants, you can certainly fill your stomachs eating streetfood, eat lots of samples at the markets or in the dept. store (the Kyoto JR Train Station has some exceptionally good (and large!) samples or go to your nearest convenience stores and pick out some cheap rice balls or bento/lunch boxes.  

There are plenty of great resources on the web for planning your trip, here are some links I found useful:

For general information about Japan & find a forum to post questions:

For a summary of rail passes:

For information about the Haruka Express + Icoca Card Deal:

Nomadic Matt's Blog has some good tips as well:

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Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Sample of Japan

...And we're back! From a totally fantastic trip over the East Sea to the Land of the Rising Sun.  Japan was awesome.  Since we were only there for about 3.5 days, it's hard to say we've experienced the country fully, rather it was a sampling of the culture, the food, the people--and it left me definitely wanting more.  I really want to go back to Japan someday, but next time for a longer stay.  We flew into KIX (Kansai International Airport) and divided our time between Kyoto, considered to be the cultural capital of Japan, and Osaka, the hyper-active younger brother of Tokyo.  I'll write some tips and logistical information in the next post, but for now, photos!  

Warning:  It was really hard picking which pictures to show, so just keep scrolling down^^.

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Our first night in little Kyoto.  The taxis were so cute, with hearts on top.

The next morning DH & I went for a walk and stumbled across this shrine.  

Those papers hanging behind the lantern are wishes and fortunes for the new year.

Breakfast was rice balls and sushi from the convenience store.

Japanese monk taking a stroll without socks in a frigid January.

The famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.  Amazingly, no people in the way.

With Tae, our lovely friend from Nagoya who came to visit us for the day.  THANK YOU TAE!!!

The toori gates are all different sizes and can be purchased by giving donations of varying (large) amounts.  The black writing on the sides are the names of the donators.

A delicious meal: curry udon and donkatsu and egg. Yuuuuuum.
More udon & two happy campers in Japan.

She was everywhere. 

Whole shops dedicated to Hello Kitty, or as Tae calls her, Kitty-chan.
Tae teaching the "V" for victory sign to David.

So many odd and cute things to be found everywhere.

As seen in Gion, the area most famous for it's Geisha and Maikos.

Devils and beans.  Each year on February 3rd, Japanese put on devil masks and the kids can throw these beans at them to ward away evil spirits. 

Kyoto Tower at night from the JR Kyoto Station.

Our much anticipated matcha green tea and a really delicious sweet which we saw everywhere in Kyoto.

Kinkaguji Temple, the Golden Pavilion.  What a beauty!
Up close and personal.  There is a large reflecting pool on the top floor.

A stroll through the Nishiki market to taste lots of different Japanese foods.
Octopus on a stick with quail eggs inside, 300 Yen each.

These were so delicious!!!

DH going for grilled squid on a stick.

I heard a lot about these 100 Yen shops, like US Dollar Stores, and was happy to finally find one to explore.

On our way to Kiyomizudera Temple.  One of the most popular tourist destinations in Kyoto.

Cute chopstick holders.

 Japan is a colorful place.

Working hard for a yen.  These guys could be seen around the city pulling tourists up hills in these carts.

More interesting oddities.

Totoro, a childhood friend of the Japanese children.

Selling more of those sweet mochi pockets with different fillings inside.

A view of Kyoto from the top.

There are fountains in front of the temples to wash your hands before entering.

Beautiful Japanese ladies in Kimono.  They were kind enough to allow me to take a picture.

The Love Stone.  According to legend, if you can walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you will find true love.  I made it!!!  With a little help from DH.^^
Osaka Castle.  Quite a sight to behold, unfortunately it was COLD so we didn't stick around too long.

The Osaka Aquarium, second largest in the world with a focus on sea animals in the Pacific Ring of Fire.
At the port of Osaka being blown away by strong winds.

A large ferris wheel, adding color to a very blue sky.
Takoyaki, or fried octopus balls, keychains.

Real takoyaki in Osaka.

A crazy colorful street in Dotunburi area.

So many good restaurants and so many people.

Many shops had large animals/creatures like this one calling attention to their shops.

A pedestrian only sign with a cute little Japanese girl.

Our final meal in Osaka.  Yakisoba and a delicious Waikoiyaki (?)--not sure the exact name but it was SO DELICIOUS. 

A view from our train on the way back to the airport.

The end of our journey, back to KIX with our ICOCA (like T-Money) cards.  Japan--Endless Discovery.
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