Monday, 30 October 2017

Takachiho Gorge

A couple of days ago I did a very foolish thing. Sick of the stress of packing up (and other bad news), I impulsively decided to rent a car and drive to Takachiho Gorge. In my defense, I did google it and according to Google, it was a 3.5-hour drive, which sounded doable. Plus there were quite a few articles from people who drove there and back.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take into account that those people drove from Fukuoka. From Fukuoka, it's a little over two hours. But it takes another two hours to drive from Sasebo to Fukuoka. Which made it a 4 plus hour drive. And since I went alone, it meant that I had to drive there and back by myself, which is definitely not a good idea (please don't learn from me).

But, I have absolutely no regrets. Takachiho Gorge is gorgeous!

Let's start from the beginning. I got lost on the way to the gorge because the car navigation system led me down a closed road in Kumamoto. In the end, I had to ignore the navigation and just follow the signs for Minami-Aso and Takamori and managed to get the system to fix itself (while using Google maps as a backup). While Takachiho Gorge is in Miyazaki, it's actually pretty near Kumamoto, as my long detour will attest.

the road in
When I reached there, I was directed to a car park where I had to pay 500 yen for parking (other car parks seemed to be full)

The car park was pretty scenic, so I felt really happy just looking at it. Or perhaps I was just glad that the long, long drive was over.

To get to the entrance of the trail, I had to cross a small bridge which had really gorgeous views.

According to the map, the boat rental was here (about 2000 yen for 30 min) but the boat rental was unavailable due to the weather. And if I'm being honest, I wouldn't have rented the boat since I was by myself.

Other side of the bridge:

And this is the entrance to the trail! It's a 1km walk and takes about 30 minutes if you're walking slowly and taking photos. There are a lot of steps, but according to the map, there's a barrier-free course as well!

Walking in, I saw a little pond.

According to the sign there, this is called Onokoro Island. Long ago, there was a shrine located here and the sacred birds served the shrine. During the Takachiho Shrine Spring Festival, an omikoshi is carried around the pond three times for purification.

Just a little further away, I saw this:

Apparently, visitors can buy a heart and write their wishes on it.

The board next to it was filled with hearts!

And then I started on the trail! The map points out locations of interest, but to be honest I didn't really look at it. I was basically looking at the scenery, so I might have missed a few things.

Here comes the photo spam:

I saw little waterfalls here and there!

I feel like the next photo is the one that everyone takes when they come to Takachiho

I thought the following cliff was interesting.

Random shot of the path:

I'm not sure what happened, but there were lots of signs warning people not to go to the sandy or the rocky areas beause they were dangerous.

And this little rest house marks the end of the trail! I didn't take a close look but it seems like they sell both drinks and food. I also saw a carpark here.

To get back to the start of the trail, you basically have to retrace your footsteps. It sounds a bit boring, but actually I got to see everything from a different angle, which I really enjoyed.

Near the start of the trail there are a few restaurants and shops. Since I was feeling hungry, I decided to check them out:

I saw this shop, which sells nagashi somen. And according to them, they're the shop that invented the dish!

Plus they had delicious looking dango (350 yen for one) which is supposed to be a local speciality.

For nagashi somen, they basically let noodles flow down a bamboo trough and you have to try and pick it out of the water. Trying to get it out is half the fun.

I got the nagashi somen set (1000 yen). If you've got a bigger appetite than me, you can pay 500 yen more and get grilled fish added to the set meal.

I remember trying nagashi somen at Shiroito Waterfall during my first year at Kyudai. That year, I missed most of the noodles. This time was better, and I caught about 80% of the noodles, which means that my chopstick skills have finally improved!

By the way, they'll give you the noodles you didn't catch, so there's no need to worry about wasting food. The noodle tsuyu has ginger in it, which I liked quite a lot, and there was a nice yuzu-miso sauce on the konnyaku too!

Of course, the dango was delicious! I wish I could have eaten more but I was stuffed! 

After my meal, I decided to visit the aquarium next to the car park! According to the sign outside, the aquarium features fishes that used to be plentiful in Japan (quote says "I used to catch and eat these fish when I was young") and local fishes. Entry was only 300 yen so I decided to just take a look!

The aquarium is small but I saw a lot of interesting looking fish (and other aquatic animals)!

They even have a doctor fish corner, although I didn't try that.

All in all, I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected (for such a small place) and I think that it's worth going if you're at Takachiho and you like marine life.

With a time limit for the rental car, I made my way back to Sasebo. I was originally planning to drop by the Amano Iwato shrine because of its connection to the Shinto myths, but I wanted to play it safe. And it's a good thing I did because I made it back with only five minutes to spare!

I did see Bambi's father on the way back, though, which has to count for something! I also realised that I get sleepy on long drives, which is fine if you're in the passenger seat but definitely not good if you're the one driving. So I had to stop once (which is probably why I barely made it back in time), stretch my legs and then turn the aircon to the coldest setting before setting off again. I may have frozen my fingers by the time I reached back but at least I wasn't sleepy again!

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?