This was one of my most anticipated day of our trip. I don’t know why but I developed a sore throat and some cough today 😵. Could it be Covid-19?
One thing to note is that JR train lines in Osaka have five different types of services:
- SHINKANSEN – Bullet Train
- Needs no explanation. It is the fastest form of land transport.
- TOKKYŪ – Limited Express
- The second-fastest compared to the Shinkansen. It runs on the same tracks as the normal trains. It only stops on major stations
- KYŪKŌ – Express
- Stops at a few more stations compared to the Tokkyu.
- KAISOKU – Rapid
- Stops at a few more stations compared to the Kyuko.
- FUTSŪ – Local
- Stops at every station
Imagine taking the East-west line. Taking the Tokkyu will take you from Pasir-Ris to Jurong Easy non-stop while taking the Kyuko will stop at City Hall.
You can use NAVITIME to plan your trips via public transport. Be sure to catch the Kyuko or Kaisoku if you are traveling to a station about 10-20 stops apart.
The train took us through many scenic townships. In Singapore, the only thing closest to scenic is the journey from Yio Chu Kang to Khatib.
This is our first destination. The train ride from our hotel to Nara station took roughly 30 minutes.
After arriving in Nara Station, you can either take a 30-minute walk, or a bus.
The bus journey cost us 220 Yen which equates to about $2.91 SGD. It’s quite expensive, but we opted for the bus as we were actually pretty tired.
There is no defined “main entrance” to Nara park. it is pretty big, so you could enter it from any side. We alighted when we saw many tourist alighting.
There are shops where you can purchase souvenirs, or purchase deer crackers or treats.
You. can purchase the bundle of deer crackers from the many street vendors for about 200 yen.
A herd of deer ambushed us suddenly when I held out the crackers. I think it is because of Covid where tourism sharply declined.
The deers are well trained and will bow to you when you do the same. Check out this successful (albeit laughable) attempt to get the deer to bow back.
Walking deeper into the park will unravel the entrance to a temple.
Kasuga Taisha Grand Shrine
We did not enter the Shrine, as it appeared to be closed. But here’s a picture of the temple.
You can walk around the Nara Park area for more shrines.
While leaving the temple, we couldn’t resist noticing how beautiful and clean the streets of Japan are.
Mochi is a glutinous steamed-rice snack with a chewy texture. The kind of Mochi sold and made at this stall is tsukimochi.
The Mochi sold here is green in colour and filled with sweet red beans. The outside is coated with fine peanut powder.
The shop makes mochi in front of their customers. We watched the mochi-making process as two men pounds their large wooden mallets vigorously to make the mochi.
Once the pounding is done, the slab is thrown into a machine where it is cut into small, edible pieces.
Cost: 130 Yen ($1.72 SGD) This is pretty affordable
The mochi was soft and chewy, yet sweet. I highlight recommend that you try this. I regretted buying one only.
Next stop, Uji.
Uji is a city South of Kyoto, known for producing one of the finest Matcha in Japan.
Uji is home to many temples, one of which is the famous Byōdō-in shrine, which earned the UNESCO World Heritage Site title.
Honestly, Uji is one of the most beautiful and picturesque places on our Japan trip.
We took the Rapid Nara line from Nara to Uji Station. The trip lasted for over 30 minutes. Be sure to catch the Rapid service to save some time.
This place is popular among locals as well as tourists, though we didn’t spot any tourists except for us when we were there.
There was a queue system where we waited in line for close to an hour to get into the cafe. It was quite a wait. I realised that some people waited up to four hours to get into the cafe.
We opted for the Green tea Soba set. The noodles were cold with the right amount of firmness, consistency, and chewiness.
I liked the noodles, which went well with the soba sauce and the other seasonings such as the lime, real wasabi, and matcha powder.
They even provided instructions on how to eat the soba noodles correctly.
Verdict: 5/5. This was the best soba I’ve tasted. Everything about the soba was perfect.
Not to forget, they served complimentary Matcha tea as well, which has a very unique taste.
Next, we shared a bowl/cup of Matcha Jelly and another dessert, which I couldn’t remember what it is called.
The Matcha Jelly dessert comes with an assortment of toppings such as the Matcha Jelly, Matcha Ice cream, and red bean paste.
The second dessert is similar to the former, with added whipped cream, matcha powder, and something that seems like cake, or a crunchy base below. It’s quite hard to describe the taste actually.
Both desserts were fantastic.
Verdict for both: 4.5/5
I will highly recommend that you try this cafe out if you are passing by Uji, which you should anyway as it is quite near Kyoto. The waiting time to get into the cafe can be quite absurd sometimes. The prices are a little towards the high-side, but it is compensated by the high quality and delicious food served. The service was also great.
Byōdō-in shrine (Byodo-in)
We are almost certain that this temple was going to be closed, but decided to give it a shot anyway.
The temple is just a 10-minute walk away from the cafe. The path will take you through a small street of houses, which gives off a very cozy and countryside vibe.
Lo and behold, the temple was closed. Oh well, since we were there already we decided to take a stroll around the surrounding area.
Our stroll took us past a random standalone Starbucks, which just looked gorgeous.
A Torii in the middle of a street. Probably the entrance to Byodo-in.
The sun’s almost out and we decided to head back to the station. The next destination was the Kyoto main station.
There were only a handful of people at the station.
We came to Kyoto from Uji just to try the famous Honke Daiichi Asahi Ramen restaurant, as well as some shopping at Kyoto.
We were mesmerised by the sheer size of the Kyoto station. It was about the size of Terminal 3 in Changi Airport Singapore. The station is home to a mall, Isetan and some offices (which explains the size). Apparently it came in second to Nagoya for being the largest train station in Japan.
Honke Daiichi Asahi Ramen
The restaurant is a 10-15 minute walk away from Kyoto station. It was established more than 50 years ago. The reviews we found online were mostly positive, with many suggesting that the queue to get into the restaurant was long but worth it.
They only sell ramen and the menu has quite a limited selection to choose from. There are quite a few side dishes to choose from, like Gyoza.
We decided to give this restaurant a try anyways. It was beginning to drizzle while we stood in line to get into the restaurant. The restaurant had less than 10 seats and there were about 20 people in front of us, eagerly waiting to get in.
The Japanese love queues just as much as us Singaporeans.
The wait to get in was close to an hour under the rain and cold.
I ordered the “Special Noodle” which cost 900 Yen ($11.94), which is quite affordable and value for money. The average price for ramen in Singapore is about $15. They served free flow Iced water as well, but not hot water.
The broth was delicious and bursting with flavours, while the Chashu was flavourful and tender at the same time. The flavour of the broth was just alright, not too salty. Noodles are firm with a good texture. The ramen was topped off with generous amounts of spring onion, which I really loved.
Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. The food and service were good and definitely value for money. They should serve warm water though.
We went to Don-Quijote and GU in a mall opposite Kyoto station right after our late dinner. The day sadly has to end as it was getting late. We reserved a seat for the Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka.
One thing good about the JR Pass is that you can reserve a Shinkansen at any time, just by showing your JR Pass. You can choose not to reserve and simply flash the JR Pass at the ticket counter. But make sure that you sit in the unreserved cabin.
You probably should not travel during an impending pandemic.