New Blog!

Hey there! I've decided to continue blogging at a different blog. The MEXT archives and some of my travel posts will remain here, but I'll be moving some stuff over. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Naha Part 2: Kokusaidori

Kokusaidori (国際通り) is a roughly 1.6 km street in Naha city that is full of shops (around 600, according to this site), restaurants, hotels, and more! If you're looking for souvenirs or a place to eat/stay, this is where you should go.

My sister and I spent quite a bit of time here and managed to go to a few places, such as:

Tida Beach Parlour
I first heard about Tida Beach Parlour from Okinawa Clip, and the drinks looked so good that this was the first place I visited once I landed. Tida Beach Parlour is located right next to Makishi station - there's a park opposite the Lawson next to the station and the shop is along the park. 

The shopfront is pink so it should be pretty easy to find.

The inside of the shop is adorable! The drinks are actually just a small part of it - the shop sells shoes, jewellery, and much more.

While waiting for my mango smoothie, I found out that these tiles are from Arab street in Singapore!

And my drink! It was sweet, cold, and I love that the mango taste was really strong.

Plus the straw is shaped like a heart.

If you're looking for something delicious to drink that also looks cute, this is definitely something to consider.

Makishi Public Market
Makishi was a place that my sister found and wanted to go to. It's located just off the middle of Kokusaidori, and it would probably be easier to find the place if you have access to Google Maps or another map app (or a regular map).

One of the smaller roads we walked to the market
The first floor of the market is where the fish, meat, vegetables, and other items are sold. The restaurants are on the second floor, and several of them allow you to buy the ingredients at the first floor and have them cooked at the restaurant on the second floor for a small fee. My sister and I visited twice and we went to two different shops.

This is the first shop we went to and most of the staff seemed to be from Taiwan and could speak Japanese, Chinese and English. The menu's available in all three languages too.

Where we sat:

We ordered three dishes that night. The first was sashimi, which was pretty good.

The second was lobster, which wasn't as fresh as the sashimi.

The third was a huge bowl of crab soup (too big for the both of us), which was pretty nice. But as with the lobster, the crab wasn't the freshest.

On another day, we went to the market for lunch and ate at this store.

I had the pork rice bowl, which came with soup. The pork was delicious and I really enjoyed this!

My sister had the sashimi set meal and she loved it too! The sashimi was really fresh and the portion was quite generous - in fact, she couldn't finish everything. I can't quite remember the prices, but I remember that this was quite reasonable.

Pork Tamago Onigiri and other shops
There are tons of other shops outside Makishi market. Apart from omiyage shops, there is also a place called Pork Tamago Onigiri (the original shop). This was recommended to me by a friend and it was really delicious! 

I went in the morning and the queue was insane!

There is actually a store at Naha airport (domestic terminal, first floor), so if you don't like queues, you may prefer to get an onigiri at the airport instead. I ate at both this main shop and the airport shop and the onigiri was equally delicious in both places.

One bright side of the queue as that I managed to make friends with the people around me!

The onigiri in the photo is the pork, egg, and tofu onigiri with miso paste. It sounds like a weird combination but it is really good. I also tried the mentaiko version (pork, egg, and mentaiko) and that was just as delicious too! So if you like onigiri, you may want to get several here, or come a few times. 

If onigiri isn't your thing, there are tons of other shops nearby, like this shop selling fishcakes! I like the fishcakes with cheese inside (this shop is located next to the Sagawa taqbin shop)

There's also this tempura shop that also sells Sata Andagi (Okinawan doughnuts) for 60 yen each.

You can buy Sata Andagi pretty much anywhere on Okinawa. It's basically a fried ball of sweet dough, and I think it'd go well with tea (or coffee, if you drink coffee).

KOI Bubble Tea

KOI is (was?) really popular in Singapore and I was so surprised to see it here in Okinawa! Apparently, KOI is only available in Okinawa, so if you're like me and miss a taste of home, then you might want to grab a cup when you're here.

Of course, there are Okinawa-only flavours, such as the Mango Oolong tea that I got.

I really enjoyed the drink and the bubbles! I remember that when I first came to Japan, Stella and I jumped at anything that sold a bubble-tea like drink (which is how I found out about Moomin's drinks). The mango oolong is really sweet, so you might want to consider getting the version with less sugar in it.

Marvel Exhibition at Ryubo
Most of the things that my sister and I did at Kokusaidori revolve around food, but we also went to the Marvel: Age of Heroes exhibition at Ryubo department store (sadly, this is a temporary exhibition).

Tickets cost 1000 yen per person and unfortunately, most of the exhibition was off-limits for photography.

While the exhibition was rather small, I was very impressed with how much it covered. The exhibition went through the history of Marvel and introduces a few famous superheroes. Apart from pictures, there were also video interviews and life-sized exhibits of the costumes used in the movies!

The only photo spot
I was also very impressed with the amount of English support. Almost all the text, apart from the titles, were translated and my sister could understand everything.

The gift shop had quite a lot of limited-edition items too, although our luggages were full by this point so we didn't pick up anything.

Although I got a sweet chocolate berry waffle from the food basement downstairs


And we're back to food (for the last section)! As of November 2017, there aren't any A&W stores in Singapore and there haven't been for many years. Although I heard that they're coming back to Singapore next year, I still wanted a root beer float.

There are shops all around Okinawa, but the shop in Kokusaidori is pretty convenient to get to.

They even have a corner that sells merchandise although I'm not that big of a fan.

Sadly, the root beer float didn't come in a glass mug. But the taste was the same as what I remembered. The mozzarella cheese burger was really good too!

According to the tour guide, root beer can be really polarising. Apparently some people find the taste medicinal, although it's something that I don't understand.

Wait, does this make root beer the durian of Okinawa? 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Naha Part 1: Shuri Castle and Surrounding Area

Alright, we're finally into the blog posts about the places that I went! Today, I thought I'd talk about Shuri castle and two spots nearby that you can visit!

Shuri Castle (Official English Site)

Once the center of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Shuri castle is a must-visit if you're going to be spending time in Naha. The castle can be split into two - the inner section was built in the early 15th century and the outer section was finished in the 16th century. You can also split it into the free and paid areas and I'd recommend everyone go to both. 

You get to Shuri Castle from both Gibo and Shuri monorail stations (the castle seems to be located between both stations so there isn't a clear winner). Alternatively, you can drive to the castle and pay 320 yen for parking. If it's busy, like it was when we went, you may 2-hour 2 hour time limit. 

My sister and I drove to Shuri castle and followed the general course that they recommended. First, we passed through Shureimon gate, which was built during the reign of King Sho Sei.

There are many, many gates here as the following pictures will show you. I took them as my sister and I were moving towards the paid area/museum:

Kankaimon Gate
One unique feature of the castle is that it faces West, with certain structures aligned along an east-west axis. You can clearly see both Chinese and Japanese influence in the castle. A note though, the original castle was destroyed and the castle you see now is a replica (built above the ruins)

Zuisenmon gate:

Entrance to the paid area costs 820 yen for an adult, 620 yen for a student, and 310 yen for a child. Children under 6 can enter for free. And if you have a 1 Day or 2 Day pass for the monorail, you can get a discount too! 

My sister photobombing

Proper photo with my sister
 The next photo is of a replica of a tensuigame, There were apparently at least 4 spots for these large jugs to be buried in the ground, and they were thought to be used to collect rainwater for firefighting.

And this is the main area. Part of it is undergoing renovations so there is some scaffolding, but it's still a beautiful place.

There is a museum which you should definitely visit. There are no-photography areas, so be careful before taking photos. And when you're in the museum, definitely stop by the tea area and get a set! It's 310 yen and it comes with sanpin tea and 4 sweets.

Sweets used to be served to visiting guests and VIPs. It was said that there were as many as 160 sweets, although many of them are lost to history. But they do have these four sweets, which are:

1. Hanabouru, which is a patterned biscuit.

2. A pastry filled with sesame paste. It used to be served to visiting Chinese envoys but now it's an everyday sweet.

3. Chiirunko, a steamed cake with nuts

4. Chinsuko, a super famous Okinawan sweet. Apparently, it used to be shaped like a chrysanthemum but it's not shaped like a long oval because of convenience.

And by the way, sanpin tea is basically a form of Jasmine tea, introduced from China and is the most popular tea in Okinawa.

I really like how the pattern on the saucer matches with the pattern on the tray

I like that they have explanation booklets in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean! That's where I got the information on the sweets and it's definitely worth reading:

This is the room we had tea in:

I couldn't get a good picture, but if you're having tea, do take some time to appreciate the rock garden! The rocks there are limestone rocks and Shuri Castle is the only castle in Okinawan known to have 'skilfully' used limestone rocks in the garden!

The King's seat:

The view when we exited the museum:

I really like how the walls of Okinawan castles curve. Oh yes, you have to take out your shoes when you enter the museum. They will give you plastic bags to put the shoes in, but you will have to carry them all the way to the exit, so if you have a big bag that might be useful.

The path to the exit:

I'm not too sure what this gate is called but I really like how it looks:

We took a little walk to the Bezaitendo but it started raining so my sister and I snapped a picture and left:

And of course, of the birds waddling about.

首里金城町石畳道 (Shuri kinjyo stone road)

If you're at Shuri castle and are fond of walking, you might be interested in the kinjyo stone road nearby.

It's an incredibly picturesque path and from the maps/explanations that I found here and there, there seem to be quite a few things to see.

But because I went alone and without a guidebook/a map in hand, I found it to a bit underwhelming. I mean, it's definitely a pretty path and I saw a lot of stone lions (to the point where I mistook an actual cat for a lion), but it's not a complete portal into the past because there are quite a few modern houses and if you don't know what you're looking for/at, then it just becomes a really tough road.

And I'm not joking about the road being tough. Not only is it very hilly (going down was tough, going up was super exhausting), the fact that it is a stone road means that the road is uneven. I would not recommend this if you're traveling with elderly folks, small kids, or people who sprain things/break bones easily because there is a very good chance of falling. And please don't wear heels here (I'm sure people do but I found it tough enough in shoes!)

All that said, I'm still glad I went. It is a picturesque road and I wish I was fashionable because I can totally see people taking OOTDs here (saw people taking photos too). I just wish that I prepared more instead of just winging it. Here are a few more pictures:

I think the tree is important, but I'm not sure why. Oh yes, and apparently a drama was shot here as well.

Bukubuku Tea

I found out about Bukubuku tea (ふくふく茶) when searching for things to do in Okinawa and I had to try it as soon as I heard about it! It's a traditional Okinawan tea but has sadly become rather hard to find due to the devastating effects of World War II (more information at this link). There doesn't seem to be many shops where you can find it, but from this link, I found a shop called 嘉例山房 (Karisanfan) near Shuri castle.

If you're walking, the closest station is Gibo, but be warned - the road is mainly uphill.

The interior of the shop:

My table and my new stuffed-toy friends:

This fukufuku tea (or pao pao tea) set is available for 800 yen, which I think is really worthwhile. There are several flavours, but I chose the plain version.

The menu
The first thing that came was the tea in a large bowl:

The tea smelled like mugicha and the I was told to do was to whisk the tea in the large wooden bowl to make bubbles. There's no particular method, but you should be whisking the top layer of liquid and for about 2-3 minutes. Then you let the bubbles sit to firm up (I believe the words were along the lines of しっかりする) and then you can transfer them to the drinking cup.

My tea after a couple of minutes
Luckily the rest of the tea came with bubbles or I would definitely not have much to drink because I am that lousy!

Because a lot of bubbles are needed, you basically push the bubbles made to one side to make room for more bubbles. When you have enough (and they aren't too soft because that makes it harder to transfer), you use your whisk to scoop the bubbles up and drop it into the cup.

By the way, even though the description is like "literal bubble tea", they do have liquid tea in the cup so it's not just bubbles.

The way to drink this is to hold the cup in both hands and eat the bubbles. The bubbles are tasteless by themselves so you can sprinkle a peanuts + sugar mix. And I was told that if that isn't sweet enough, you can add sugar as well. If you tilt the cup, you can drink the liquid tea. I was also warned not to put the peanut topping into the big wooden bowl.

The tea set also came with sweets - some fruits and handmade chinsuko, an Okinawan biscuit. The chinsuko was really good too! I think it was the best that I had on this trip

I asked about the bubbles and according to the lady, the tea in the bowl is made with 硬水, which literally means "hard water" and is full of minerals. On the other hand, the tea in the drinking bowl is made with 軟水 (soft water) which can not be used to make bubbles. I thought it was pretty interesting that there were two types of water used for this one tea!

If you're a fan of tea, you definitely have to try this out. I've never had anything like it and I'm so glad that I managed to find this shop.