Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Review on Hotel Monterey Grasmere Osaka

This hotel is directly above the JR Namba Station so it was very convenient for us to locate it when we headed down from Kyoto. Just about what it was stated: 2 minutes' walk from JR Namba Station.

I chose to move to Namba on the night before our departure to the airport for a few reasons:

1) I wanted to save on the cost of JR Pass.
If we had stayed in Kyoto till our last day, we would have to buy the 7-day JR Pass, which would increase the cost by quite a significant amount.

2) I wanted to save on the travelling time to the airport.
Staying in Kyoto would mean an additional 1 or 2 hours of travelling to the airport since we would need to return to Osaka to take the Nankai Express. I wanted to keep the stress of travelling to the airport low.

3) I wanted to spend more time shopping in Namba, anticipating that I might not have the time to shop when we were in Namba.

The hotel had a grand entrance but we were directed by a signage to Level 22 where the concierge was.

The first staff I talked to was not the most polite. When I said,"Check in." He replied,"Give me ALL your passports, PLEASE!"

In hindsight, perhaps I was a rude customer in his eyes to utter just 'Check in' and not a complete sentence of 'I would like to check in, please.' However, I still feel that as a frontline staff, he ought to have better manners than his guests! And this is Japan. I was quite unpleasantly surprised and perturbed that I had met a few unfriendly or not-so-polite service providers on this trip. My last Tokyo trip had raised my expectations for Japan service providers and I had held them to a higher standard compared to their counterparts in other countries.
It was the poshest hotel we stayed at during the trip. I booked this hotel thinking that it would be convenient for our return to the airport since JR Namba is connected to Nankai Station. How wrong was I! We were just short of running with our luggage in the crowded underground in a bid to catch our train to the airport. 
The beds were large! 

The room was the most spacious in terms of walking space. The one-night stay cost about $270 (20, 769 yen)
I had come to appreciate a dressing table when there was none in Hotel IL'Cuore.

We really needed one to put our chargers and devices, not to mention our skincare and make-up.
We liked the bathroom but this hotel missed the 'child' occupant out when it came to toothbrushes and towels

We even liked the room number.
The only hotel among the ones we stayed at with a glass door security at the room level
Huge lobby

We had finished checking out the hotel on Day 11. Baby went to the toilet at the lobby and realised that she had lost her handphone. She immediately returned to the cubicle she had used to find that it was gone. We tried to look around for the 'short hair lady' who had gone in after her to no avail, so I approached the counter to ask if they had seen the handphone. To our utter surprise, the staff whipped out Baby's handphone to return to us!

I have read about how honest the Japanese are but that was many years ago so it surprised me that even their hotel guests practised the same value!

It was nice to end the trip with a more-than-pleasant experience.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Review on Meldia Hotel Kyoto Nijo

As we would be spending a few days in Kyoto, I booked a hotel about 7 minutes' walk from Nijo Station.

I chose Nijo as my priority was to get to Arashiyama early and I didn't want too much trouble changing trains. Unfortunately, we were held up by the senior hotel staff as he took a long time to complete the administrative works for luggage courier, and to make matters worse, the luggage were not sent although it was through no fault of the hotel. My gripe was my precious time was wasted and I still only got to Arashiyama at 11am - the time I dreaded to reach since it draws the largest crowd at that timing!

The hotel was manned by 3 male and 1 female staff, by shifts. They were of different age groups: young, middle-age and old.

The young lady and the middle-age and old men were Japanese and their English was comprehensible although limited. The young guy was a Eurasian, I think, so he spoke perfect English.

Helpful staff, as well.

On the day when we checked in, they realised that there were some discrepancies in the booking information. Oh, this was the only hotel we booked through It indicated that we had booked for 3 adults only while we had the information that we did book for 3 adults and 1 child.

We waited for about 10 minutes for them to change the sofa into a sofa-bed before entering the room.

On the night we were to check out, I had misplaced my credit card in one of my luggage. Thinking that it could have been thrown into an unwanted plastic bag, I asked the young guy if the cleaner could have seen it. He sincerely informed me that the cleaner did not report to them and advised me to search through the garbage, which the cleaner would usually leave behind the hotel on Level One.

I told him that I would search through my luggage first and thankfully, I found it in another plastic bag!
The hotel was easy to find compared to its Osaka counterparts. 

No confusing train station exits or routes.
We followed the instructions and pressed a 'reception' number which opened the glass door and we took the lift to the 6th floor.
Not a luxury hotel but chairs were placed beside the lift to create a seating area
Our room was just an aisle away from the red lift door.

We noticed that there was another room at the end of the corridor. William surmised that there were only two rooms in this hotel. He observed that the building was a residential building and only the 6th floor had the name of the hotel indicated on the lift button.
The small, humble counter and the reception area
We were happy with the spacious room
We were advised to remove our shoes at the walkway and avoid walking on the carpeted area with our shoes on.

The bathroom and the toilet were in separate cubicles. Although the bathtub was the smallest among the hotels during our trip, it was very practical. You sit in the tub rather than lie down.

Everything that you could possibly need was in the room, at least for me. Oh, there was a wardrobe at the walkway which I forgot to take a picture of.

It was a comfortable stay despite the hiccups. I just felt that it was a little far from the train station compared to the rest of the hotels. However, the cabs did not want to drive us to the hotel from the train station as they were not familiar with this hotel and its location. The area also seemed to be rather quiet and it was almost always grey and raining although the other areas were not raining at all!

Monday, 16 December 2019

Review on Osaka Dai-ichi Hotel

We checked into this hotel on Day 4 when we would spend most of our days travelling out of Osaka.

In hindsight, it was not that necessary. The multiple changes in hotels were quite troublesome. I think if I could do it again, I would just continue to use the first hotel as the base although it was not the best in terms of space.
There was an exit from Umeda Station near the hotel but alas, we could never figure out which one it was. On one of the nights, we even walked for one hour around the place just to look for the hotel! It was meant to be a 5 to 7 minutes' walk!
There were 2 huge beds and one sofa bed. The beds in Japan were all hard. Baby said she woke up with bodyaches as the beds were too hard. Well, I didn't pay for a four-star hotel, so I couldn't complain. I wouldn't have noticed that the beds were hard if not for Baby complaining though.

For 4 nights, the stay cost about $723-$730 (56, 455 yen).

As far as I can recall, only Japan hotels provide hair conditioner and this is common throughout our stay.

Of all the hotels, the staff at this hotel were the only ones who made me feel important as a customer. They would direct you to the first available staff at the reception when they see you near the reception, even when you have no intention of going to the reception!

They processed our luggage transfer very quickly, within 5 to 10 minutes, knowing that time is precious to tourists.
One of the staff measuring our luggage to courier to Kyoto. The delivery of luggage cost about $100.

As this hotel was our base to travel out of Osaka, I didn't research much on the good eats near the hotel. It was after we moved on to other hotels that I found that there were quite a few recommended eateries near there. Oh well!

Comparing this hotel that's in Umeda and Hotel IL'Cuore which is in Namba, I do feel that there were more things to see and explore at Namba. Namba is livelier and noisier compared to Umeda, although they are just 15 minutes away from each other. Thus, I would recommend staying in Namba for a leisure trip to Osaka.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Review on Hotel IL'Cuore at Namba

We would spend the first three or four days in Namba so I chose this hotel for obvious reasons: near Namba Station and relatively cheap ($630.34 for 3 nights ).
Front desk was helpful. I asked for directions to Kuromon Market and the staff readily offered me a paper map and showed me the directions. No language barrier as the staff were able to speak English.

One was able to tell me that the hotel name is an Italian name and taught me to pronounce it properly: 'ill-cor-reh'
Each bed was a twin bed so it was quite big for individual beds. 

We had wished for just three beds in exchange for spacious walking area. It was quite congested with our luggage opened.

Well-fitted bathroom
We stayed at this hotel for 4 days before checking out on Day 4 to move our luggage to the Umeda hotel ourselves.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Doing Research on Kimono Rental

I decided to jot this post down as the process of researching on kimono rental was very much a part of this trip. I thought it would make for a good resource for someone who is like me, going to Kyoto and wanting to find a beautiful kimono to rent.

I was in - not just two minds, but many many minds, about which kimono rental shop I should go to.

I had browsed through a few shops online before I came to Japan but I could not find something that I liked. Most designs are loud or too colourful. I wanted pastel-colour kimonos with smaller floral prints, and because of the shoot, I wanted a package that comes with make-up services.

Unfortunately, make-up services in kimono shops do not seem common. Most shops do not offer the service.

Until 11.30pm the night before the shoot, I was still choosing the kimono shops.

Some of the shops I had browsed through were:

Yume Kyoto (Sister branch of Yumeyakata)

Other links:

Among the rental shops, only Yumeyakata offered make-up services but I didn't take it up as its kimono selection failed to entice me.

My sister told me that she rented from Wargo. The online selection did not delight me but I gave it a second chance by visiting its main shop at Kyoto Tower. I was even more disappointed when I saw that the limited selection was awfully unappealing. 

At the eleventh hour, I decided that Okamoto's designs were most acceptable to me so I clicked on the 'reserve' button for 9.30am the next day.

As customers would be able to change their reservation package on the spot, I opted for the cheapest kimono (2980 yen) on the reserve page so that I could upgrade if I wanted to.

We reached Okamoto Main Shop near Kiyomizu at abouot 9.45am. Late. The shop assistants didn't flinch and ticked my name off the reserve list. Then we were led to the 2980 yen kimono section and asked to choose from there. I told the staff that I would like to look at the 3980 yen and 4980 yen selection as well and decide from there.

The 2980 yen and 3980 yen kimonos were mostly plain and dull coloured so I chose from the 4980 yen section. Note that kimonos have height restrictions so I did not have to even check out the ones for heights ranging from 170cm to 180cm.

There was a good selection for petite people like me though. There were quite a few that I fancied and I could not decide between a yellow and a pink kimono. One of the staff picked out a purple one and handed it to me instead. And it was beautiful too!

The children's selection was extremely limited though. Baby said the staff picked out only 4 available kimonos for her to choose and she had to pick the best out of the worst. I felt sorry for her and apologised for the tiny selection and the not-so-nice design.

So perhaps if you have kids, Okamoto would not be the most ideal.

We were led to a room where at least 3 or 4 ladies were dressing the customers up. I was asked to take off my clothes till I was left with my undergarment. Well, since there were only my mother and Baby, and one or two leaving customers, I obliged. My mother and Baby said 'No' to the ladies though. Can you imagine: they are more assertive than I am?

After the dressing up, we were brought to the dressing table to do up our hair. We were given 6 options and I asked the young girl, who didn't look like she was happy to work there, to choose it for me since I thought she was the expert. She got it done within 5 or 10 minutes.
This was taken at the end of the day, in the hotel room.

Then we were asked to choose our hair accessory. Obviously, the not-so-friendly-looking girl made the selection for me as well since I did not know what to choose.

After putting our valuables ie. cards and money into the Japanese pouch, and putting our clothes and bags together, we were asked to remember our number for the bag and we could leave.

Before leaving, two pictures were taken professionally and they would ask if you want to purchase them.

We left the place at about 10.30am so it took us about 45 minutes in all from the selection (20 minutes) and dressing up. 

We walked down the street leisurely before boarding a cab waiting at the roadside to get to Shijo Mcdonald's to meet our photographer.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Day 11: Shopping at Ebisubashi & Having Sushi as Our Last Meal

It was our last day in Osaka. I wanted to take it slow and make it a shopping day since we didn't do any deliberate shopping. I woke up earlier than the rest and googled for breakfast. Read on Facebook that Tsukiji Gindako Takoyako was coming to Singapore and reviewers were raving over it so I googled for it and one happened to be within a 5-minute walk from our hotel.
We checked out of the hotel at 11am and followed the Google Map directions and found it underground by chance!
I didn't understand what the lady was saying but William said she was asking us not to eat at the shop and there was only one flavour.

We were not impressed with the bite. The balls were a little crispy on the outside but they were ordinary takoyakis, unlike the Dotonburi Kukuru ones that were distinctly superior than the ones we have in Singapore.
Google told me that besides Shinsaibashi, Ebisubashi is another shopping street that offers reasonably priced apparels. The difference was that Ebisubashi is a long stretch of underground shopping street while Shinsaibashi is an above-the-ground shopping area.

The picture above is a display of winter pants. I wondered what the difference was and went up to examine them. Oh, the interior was a layer of wool to keep your butt and legs warm but the pants looked as slim as our normal pants or jeans. Very tempted to buy but I had no use for them since it was the last day in Japan.

However, I bought two winter jackets as I seldom see one that I fancy and they were reasonably priced, about $80 and $100 respectively.  I only own one down jacket which is from the children's section in Uniqlo and I find that too bulky. For this trip, I borrowed my sister's light down and my sis-in-law's trench coats since it was autumn and I felt that perhaps I should have my own cold wear for future use.
We decided to walk up to see what was up there and saw a few Go-Karts on the main road with other vehicles!
And I found the rows of gingko trees along Mido-suji street! However, I found them underwhelming. I had mentioned these gingko trees from my internet research to William when we first stayed in Namba but he didn't look like he thought they looked anything like I had described ie. rows of gingko trees lining the street.

The ones that we chanced upon in Himeji was more dramatic than these anytime.
We walked on and found ourselves back at Dotonburi
The loud and rowdy eating street that never sleeps

I suddenly remembered that we hadn't had the chance to eat at a particular sushi shop despite trying twice. The queue was either too long or it was close to closing time.

There was a good variety and the sushi was fresh. It was a hearty lunch.

We hurried back to the hotel to collect our luggage, thinking that we had ample time to get to the airport.

A huge lesson learnt: Always do your research and planning.

It turned out that Nankai Express to the airport departs at Nankai-Namba Station and we had to walk  briskly for 15 minutes from Umeda Station to Nankai Station!

While lugging our luggage and walking at a fast pace, I was terribly worried that we might miss our train and flight. As if that was not stressful enough, we were not sure of how to get to Nankai Station. We had to guess and ask our way there.

We managed to reach the airport 1.5 hour before the departure time but we didn't have time to buy any souvenir from the airport. Sigh.

It was a trip full of memories and stress, often trying to figure out which station and train to board at and alight. Perhaps if Singapore has a more complex MRT system or network, we would not struggle so hard at reading other countries' railway system!

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Day 10: A Day of Scenic Beauty at Arashiyama

We checked out of our Kyoto hotel and asked for our luggage to be sent to the next hotel at Namba before we took a train off to Arashiyama.

I had enquired about the possibility of sending our luggage to the airport straight away so that we didn't have to lug our luggage twice. Unfortunately, for luggage to be sent to the airport, you need to notify of the courier company two days in advance so that was a no-go.

However, the administrative work to send our luggage to the next hotel took about 40 minutes! I was quite upset as I had wanted to get to Arashiyama a little earlier, like 9am, to beat the crazy crowd.
We used a lot of lockers at the train stations for our trip this time. 

We were locking up things we were carrying for the night thinking that our luggage would be sent.

It was when we reached the bamboo forest that the hotel called who called us to tell us that 'the other hotel refused to receive our luggage'. I was indignant. I was sure the Kyoto hotel staff bungled it up. Wasted my 40 minutes waiting for the luggage to be sent and caused me to be late for my bamboo forest, and now you tell me the luggage couldn't be sent!

Upon clarifications when I returned to the hotel, it turned out that it was the courier company who had the policy of not sending luggage to the hotel on the day of check-out as it would not be sure if it could deliver the luggage before the check-out time, usually at 11am. Oh, that I could understand! 

But it was still a wasted 40 minutes and we had to lug our luggage all the way to Nijo Station at the end of the day when we were dog tired and just wanted to go straight to Namba. 

We saw a long queue outside the Sagano Romantic Railway Station just next to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station but I thought we would save the Sagano Romantic Train ride till the end of our Arashiyama visit.

Big mistake.

We should have joined the queue and bought the tickets first before starting our day at the bamboo forest!

It turned out that there was a train schedule and there were limited seats on the train. By the time we purchased our tickets, it was 1pm and all tickets departing from Arashiyama Station were sold out! We counted our blessings that there were standing tickets that departed from another station, Kameoka Torokko Station. We just had to take a JR train to JR Umahori Station and walk to Kameoka Torokko Station before taking the Sagano Romantic Train back to Arashiyama.

We had to be mindful of the time the JR train departed though as JR train is not the same as our MRT train that pulls into the station every few minutes. JR trains arrive at an interval of 20 minutes thereabout, so if we had missed the last train at JR Umahori Station, we would not be able to make it for our Sagano Romantic Train ride.

My plan was to finish Arashiyama including the Sagano Romantic Train ride by 2pm and move on to Nishiki Market but it was not meant to be.
It was a cold drizzling morning and we hadn't had breakfast so I stopped to get us some beef sandwiches at a small store by the road
Like most food in Japan, it was great and most importantly, it warmed our cold and empty stomachs.
Saw the Black Cat courier company doing its round on our way to the bamboo forest
Walked past this restaurant and thought we might have a meal here, but as always, there were too many distractions and I forgot all about this place.

How cute!
We were lost for a while and used GoogleMap to help us find the bamboo forest
Ahh! We reached it!
I 'grabbed' a Taiwanese lady who seemed pro at taking pictures for her companion to take the picture for us!

Her subject, an uncle, was trying to do a star jump at the bamboo forest and he wanted to capture that in the picture. The lady said,"你一直跳,我一直拍!(Keep jumping! I'll keep snapping!)"

We all laughed and I asked if she could help us take a picture.

We walked on to the garden after exiting the bamboo forest from the other side, not really knowing where it would lead to. I only had vague impressions about it leading us to an opening which could lead us back to a tram or train station.
Effortlessly beautiful scenery continued
The last time I came, it was all green and lush. The tour guide told me it would be yellow and red in autumn. This was the reason for me to be here again. Of course, my pictures do not do justice to the scenery.

Read that this was a 2h boat ride. No, thanks!
We kept walking and saw this popular cafe with a huge crowd waiting for their coffee

The Togetsukyo Bridge
Even a rubbish bin was placed under a pretty maple leaf tree
We finally reached the streets at Arashiyama and entered a crowded Miffy shop to see what the hype was all about

Really cute, but they are just bread, aren't they?
I remembered taking an electric tram to Kinkakuji for my previous Japan trip but we were just going back to Arashiyama Station 
We paid upon alighting

Some hiccups occurred on this brief tram trip. We alighted at the wrong stop and had to get to the other side of the tram stop to board the next returning tram.
There were three types of railway and purple was the colour of the electric tram
Imagine how horrified I was when I saw what was 'available' to us for the Sagano Romantic Train. Well, it beat being told that all tickets were sold out. I was bent on taking this ride. 
By the time we finished purchasing the 4.30pm tickets, it was only 2pm. We should have lingered in Arashiyama in hindsight. We tried travelling to Nishiki Market against our better judgment and we ended up wasting our time and money travelling on the trains for nothing as we realised we could end up late for our Sagano train ride.

So we took a train to JR Umahori Station and walked 10 minutes to Kameoka Torokko Station. Along the way, we saw a padi field against a foliage mountain. It was my first time seeing a padi field at such close distance so I was quite intrigued by it.
The entrance of the Sagano Romantic Train ride
When it was almost time, we joined the crowd on the relatively tiny platform. Following the numerical indications on the ground, we stood at the end of the platform where Carriage 5 would come to stop.
It was truly a scenic ride indeed!

Although our tickets were standing tickets, Baby and my mother managed to get a seat as some seats were unoccupied. My guess was that some people had missed the ride and so their seats were empty.

It was a relief to me as I was worried that they would have to stand for the whole 25-minute journey.

I could not help but wonder how much more beautiful this place would be when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. It was a ride that I would highly recommend. 
The numbered wooden seats on the train

Only Carriage No. 5 was the only windowless carriage and I was glad that we were allocated this carriage. I would certainly try to request for the carriage if I were to go again.
At certain especially scenic spots, the train would pause so that passengers could take pictures of the scenery. One of such spots was this place where pretty restaurants were dotted with lit windows. Very romantic and beautiful! It makes you wish that you could live here!
It was a memorable ride. Of all our autumn foliage viewing, it was best viewed on this amazing train.
We had a meal near Nijo Station before heading back to the hotel to lug all our luggage to Namba.
It was a ramen restaurant and we tried their specialty which was a clear pork broth. We were not expecting much but were pleasantly surprised that it was delicious so we were satisfied that our day ended with a nice meal.
There were carriages on the JR trains that only female occupants were allowed. If you did not notice the written indication on the platform ground, you would probably find yourself in a carriage with only females who stare at you if you were a male.

We checked into Hotel Monterey Grasmere Osaka which was located just above the JR Namba Station. Very convenient and most posh of all our hotels, but not the most polite staff I thought.