Breaksian Travel Blog Career break traveling in Asia

Amazing autumn colors visiting Nara.

Yesterday I was looking for a picture to replace my FB banner so I started to flip through the photos I have been taking during the last few months. When I arrived to the Nara album, I slowed down because I started to remember how beautiful were the colors on that autumn day when I visited this Japanese city. I finally settled for a B&W version of picture I took of the Kōfuku-ji temple just before sunset, to put in my banner. I also decided to write briefly about my experience visiting the city.

When I was planning my Japanese trip, Osaka seemed like good stop over between Tokyo and Okinawa because both the flight schedule and the price were quite good. The last time I met my former Japanese colleague in Tokyo, he gave me some really good tips about places to visit in Osaka and among those he described how Nara was definitively a must: It was very close to Osaka and it was full of ancient temple (It was the Japanese capital between 710 and 784).

He also recommended to stay in the Namba district and that turned out to be perfect to visit Nara because there are plenty of commuter trains leaving from the Namba station ending in the ancient Japanese capital. I boarded the Kintetsu Nara Line (奈良線) and in just 45 minutes I was in the Kinetsu Nara station. From there it was very easy to walk to the Nara Park where all the Historic Monuments are located.

When I arrived to the park I noticed there were as many or even more deers than the ones I saw in Miyajima last time I visited Japan. They are tamed so most of them are not aggressive, but they tend to know where is the food, so as soon as the tourist began to arrive they were gladly coming to greet them and staring at them with a face of "ok feed me now". Actually across the park there are vendors selling "Deer Cookies", so you can feed them properly if you want to.

The first temple I found while I was walking around was the Kōfuku-ji temple, composed of many beautiful structures including the east golden hall (Tōkon-dō) and the five story pagoda that you can observe above. The pagoda was particularly impressive. It's not only huge (the second highest in Japan) but also really well preserved taking into account that the restoration was completed back in 1426.

After I finished visiting and taking pictures in Kōfuku-ji, I decided to continue my trip by heading towards the Kasuga Grand Shrine. It was a nice walk, passing through a lot of green spaces full of cookie-eating deers and trees with lovely autumn leaves. The path leading to the shrine is composed by stone lanterns such as the ones above and of course there are deers sneaking around.

The actual shrine is a shinto temple famous for its bronze latterns inside and the stone lanterns path I was describing before. I got the opportunity to take so nice pictures and I continued walking, exploring the green paths around the shrine. I came back through the same road and passed next to the Nara National Museum but it was absolutely packed with domestic tourists, so I decided to drop the idea of visiting it and continued to the next stop, Tōdai-ji:

This wooden temple is massive (until 1998 it was the world's largest wooden building). It's also impressive to read that this temple is an "scaled down" version of the original one that was 30% bigger and contained a couple of 100 meter pagodas. But it's Japan after all, so that original structure was destroyed by an earthquake.

At this point of my visit I think I folded the map and I continued just walking around getting lost in the gorgeous Nara park. I arrived to a temple with a nice panoramic view of the area where I drank some green tea for free:

When I was walking down from there I saw a group of old ladies gathered in a narrow street painting the scenic landscapes on the mountain.

I finished the visit by coming back to Kōfuku-ji and repeating some pictures I had taken in the morning under backlight conditions. Finally I took the train back to Namba feeling extremely satisfied for such a nice daytrip in the ancient capital of Japan.

If you want to see more pictures, please visit my Nara Pictures Album



Capsule hotels: The good, the bad and the ugly

Japan was one the places I really wanted to visit again during my Asian break, but I was aware that this place was probably going to be one of the most expensive ones, particularly regarding the accommodation. When I started to research about the different options to live while I was visiting Tokyo, Osaka and Okinawa, I found out that the capsule hotels could be an interesting budget alternative.

If you have never heard about them, they are basically tiny fiberglass “rooms” (capsules) where you can watch TV, read a book, browse the web and sleep. There is room for sitting down but there is no room for standing up. I read they are a Japanese invention geared up towards workers who were working too late or too drunk to go back home, but nowadays tourist might use them.

I spent 18 days in Japan and I slept in 3 different capsule hotels in across different cities I visited. Overall the experience was fine, but I wanted to make a general review about what is good, the bad and the ugly of this accommodation alternative.

The Good

  • Cost: The capsule hotel are definitively a budget alternative where you can get basic accommodation for prices in the range of 2000 to 3000 JPY. This means you get a semi-private space for 20 - 25 USD per night. That's not bad at all for Japanese standards.
  • Location: Since the capsule hotels were developed initially for employees spending the night close to their work places, normally they have a really good location. In Tokyo I stayed very close to the Shinjuku station, in Osaka close to Dotonbori street and the Namba station and in Okinawa next to a monorail station.
  • Convenience: They have a common rooms offering vending machines with beverages and food. Some of them also offer laundry and dryer machines.
  • Wifi: All the hotels where I stayed offered decent Wi-Fi in the common rooms or in the capsules.
  • Privacy: It's not the same as having your own room, but the capsules give more privacy than a bed in a dorm room.

2. The Bad

  • Daily checkin / checkout: In most of the capsule hotels you have to checkout in the morning and checkin again in the evening regardless how many nights are you staying at their premises. Sometimes you can keep the same capsule but sometimes you are moving from capsule to capsule.
  • Inconvenient capsule location: You will never know what capsule you are going to get. Some of them are located in some quiet corners and some are close to areas of high transit (exit, toilet entrance, etc). If you are unlucky to be next to one the noisy spots, it might be hard to sleep.
  • The rattan curtains: Related to the previous point, the capsule "door" can be closed, using either a metallic door or a rattan curtain. The latter option was more common and less soundproof. If you get a loud snoring neighbor you might hear it all night long.

3. The Ugly

  • Smoking: Unlike in Europe where mandatory smoking bans apply in restaurants, bars, and closed areas, smoking in Japan it's not as closely regulated. In the capsule hotel of Tokyo there was a "smoking room" but in the one in Osaka it was allowed to smoke freely in the public areas. I had a not so nice flashbacks of growing up in the 70s when smoking indoors was the norm.

Overall I think the experience was fine and I'm sure it's hard to beat the capsules in the budget accommodation bracket while staying in Japan.


Biking in Zamami Island

The day before yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with the daughter of the owner of the hotel where I’m staying in Okinawa. She did her college studies in the US, so communicating in English was not a problem. We talked about coffee, living in different countries and she gave me some interesting tips about Taiwan.

Then she asked me what were my plans for the next day and I told her that I was planning to go the aquarium in the north part of the island, but I was open to suggestions, so I asked her what would she recommend. She told me a good plan would be to hop into a boat and make a daytrip to the Zamami Island. So I trusted her local knowledge and yesterday I woke up early headed to the Naha port and bought a return ticket to Zamami.

There was a speedboat called Queen Zamami leaving Naha at 9am and getting there at 9:50 (the return trip was at 16:20). The day was cloudy and I was afraid it was going to rain, but it ended up being a pleasant day to visit the Island. I was tempted to get into the water because the beach was amazing, but after touching the water I changed my mind.

Zamami is relatively small so walking around is a possibility, but when I was crossing the main village I noticed a bike rental sign and I couldn’t resist. I ended up booking a bike for 3 hours and it is a excellent way to visit the different beaches and observatories.



Additionally you get to do some good cardiovascular exercise thanks to he mountainous nature of the island. I have to confess I had to stop quite a few times to take a breath, but every time I arrived to a summit I was rewarded with an amazing view as you could see in the pictures above. In conclusion the visit to Zamami was worth it … plus they have free wifi :).


VideoFest on a rainy day.

As you can see from the previous picture today is quite a rainy day in Osaka. I decided to take the opportunity of such a bad day to grab a coffee, sit down, open my laptop and to connect my phone, to start downloading and publishing in the breaksian youtube channel some of the videos I have been taking during my Japanese trip.

I wanted to share those videos in this post, adding a couple of comments next to them.


Electring Run in the Osaka Castle Park

Yesterday I visited the Osaka Castle and on my way back to the train station I stumbled upon this "Electric Run". I was walking near the street and suddenly I saw the colorful lights from the distance and I heard the thumping bass, so I decided to get closer and I shot this video of the lights on the trees and a couple of runners passing by with their blinking outfits. In my opinion the music fit perfectly in the "electric" atmosphere. Really cool!


Monks walking in Nara near the five Story Pagoda

A couple of days ago I went to visit Nara. Amazing city with plenty of temples, deers and walking trails. One of favorite spots in Nara was the five story pagoda. I went there in the morning and took some pictures, but unfortunately the backlight was quite strong. I went back in the afternoon just before the sunset and the light was perfect to take pictures.

I also shot this video of the Kōfuku-ji temple and the five story pagoda while some monks were passing by. Click in the next hyperlink if you are curious and want to see more Nara pictures.

and I shot a video there while some monks were walking by.


Sunny day in Enoshima Island

I was lucky with the weather while visiting the Enoshima, a small offshore island very close to Kamakura. This was a perfect day trip from Tokyo to sea a beautiful spot on the sea side. The Island is quite small so it's possible to walk anywhere and it has a nice observatory on top of the hill where I shot this video facing the ocean.


Tokyo Sky Tree tower

I was grabbing a coffee in a vending machine near the Tokyo Sky Tree and I made this short video to show the height of this tower. This is the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa. As a random fact, the music they were playing in the loudspeaker is called "ça ira" from a french singer called Joyce Jonathan.

I also shot another video while I was visiting the tower where you can see the Sumida river and the bridges crossing it:


Tokyo view from the north observatory

The last video I want to share with you today was the one I shot my first day in Tokyo, visiting the Metropolitan Government Building North Observatory.



Amazing Tokyo

Yesterday I arrived to Osaka after spending a long week in Tokyo. This morning I was organizing the pictures I took during my long week in the Japanese capital and I came to the same conclusion of 5 years ago: Tokyo is an huge amazing city that excites every single sense you have.

Every district is different but equally interesting, the food in every corner is outstanding, the frenetic pace of the city is unbelievable but still the people are polite and helpful, the way the teenagers dress is astonishing and the sea of neon light, giant screens and music always appears in busy areas, but still there are islands of green spaces with beautifully designed gardens.

I wanted to share with you on this post some pictures from my travel to Tokyo, divided in categories:

Panoramic views

1. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

2. Tokyo Skytree Observatory

3. Tokyo view from Mount Takao

Food

1. Hotpot in Shinjuku.

2. Udon Noodles in the Sky Tree.

3. Street fruit skewers.

4. Dried Squid in Ueno.

5. Octupus Takoyaki in Asakusa.

Neon Lights

1. Shibuya crossing.

2. Shinjuku.

Shrines and Temples

1. Torii Gate in Takao mount

2. Giant Buddah Kamakura

3. Senso-ji Temple


Looking for Mr. Fuji

6 years ago I was living in Dublin and one of my favorite plans was to go the Irish Film Institute to watch an interesting movie. Once they were showing a German film called "Kirschblüten - Hanami", about a bavarian guy who decided to travel to Japan during the Cherry blossom time, to fulfill his departed wife dream of being a Butoh dancer. I went to see it with my friend J. and the film was not only beautiful but quite moving.

At the end of the film when we were sweeping our tears away, I told her "I would love to go there and see the cherry blossoms" and she replied "me too!". Fast-forwarding, in the spring in 2009 we came with her and M., another friend from work to visit Japan for the first time. I loved the country and I always thought I was going to come back one day. 5 years later here I'm in Shinjuku writing this post after I have been in Tokyo for a week.

One of the most beautiful scenes in this German movie is when Rudy and Yu embarked on a trip to see the mount Fuji. Rudy tells her that his wife want to go on a trip to see the mount Fuji and Yu says something like "What if we don't see him? … Mr Mountain is very shy … Very often he doesn't want us to see him."

Last time I came to Japan I didn't have the chance to see the famous mountain and I wanted to see it if possible on this opportunity. I have been visiting different spots in and around Tokyo. Visiting those places, I corroborated what the movie was describing: Mr. Fuji is indeed very shy and even in days with a clear sky the mount visibility is not guaranteed.

I couldn't see the mount from the Tokyo Sky Tree, I couldn't see it from the observatory on the top of Enoshida Island and yesterday I almost couldn't see it from the top of the Mount Takao, but suddenly and for a couple of minutes some clouds moved away and I had a tiny window to get a picture of the elusive Mount Fuji. It was a little bit of shadow of the mountain in the background, but I don't complain, at least I saw the famous mount Fuji.



Shinjuku Golden Gai - travelling back in time.

Yesterday I met my former colleague T. again in Tokyo. He lives in the Shinjuku area and he kindly offered to show me a delicious ramen place that is one of his favorites. We arrived after 5pm and it was already packed but fortunately we didn't have to wait long and the food was indeed amazing. We got some really good spicy ramen with some white rice as a side dish.

When we finished the dinner we walked around the area, he showed me some other good restaurants and at a certain point he told me "I want to show you an area where you can see how Tokyo looked after the second world war" and I replied "Sure, that sounds really cool". We headed to Golden Gai, a small area composed of six narrow alleys, connected by even narrower paths. The area is full of bars and restaurants so tiny that inside those places there is room for the bartender and another 4 or 5 people max.

In the recent past large parts Tokyo looked like the present-day Golden Gai, with extremely narrow lanes and two-storey buildings. Visiting this area is not only a really good plan to see a face of the nightlife in Tokyo, but also it feels like traveling back in time, by visiting this "island" in the middle of one the busiest areas of Tokyo. Thanks T!




Tokyo Subway Navigation

Tokyo has one of the most comprehensive transport systems in the world involving multiple metro lines, trains and commuter lines. Nevertheless one of the problems with this mass transit system is that it can be confusing because you need to know what time of transport are you going to use and where are you planning to go, since the fare is different based on those factors.

I remembered that the last time I visited Tokyo, I got a rechargeable SUICA card and it worked great because at least I didn't need to think about the ride fare every time. This time around I got again one of those cards as soon as I arrived to Shinjiku.

I also browsed the store to see if there was any android application to browse the transportation map easily and I found that the Tokyo Metro Company offers an official navigation app. This application enable the users to search for stations on the map and even plan a trip by defining the origin and destination stops. The application can use your current location to suggest the closest stops.

I have been using it for the last 3 days and it works great! Let me give you a practical example.


I was planning to visit the ancient Buddhist temple of Sensō-ji, located in Asakusa, later today. So I opened the application and when I click on the departure station it suggest me the closest ones:

Once I define Asakusa as my destination it will show me both stations in the transit system map:

And once click on the "Search" button. It tells me the trip is going to take 27 minutes and it's going to cost me 320 yen. The apps tells me I need to take the Oedo line heading to lidabashi, get out at Ueno-okachimachi, walk for 2 minutes and then board the Ginza line towards Asakuka.

In conclusion it's a brilliant application and it's available for free in the Google Play Market.



Back in Tokyo


I'm working in some posts related to my trip to Jeju Island in Korea, but today I arrived in Japan and I thought it would be very nice it to write a minipost about it. I have to confess I'm excited to be back in 日本. It has been a bit more that 5 years since the last time I came here and very quickly I remembered why I loved this country at first sight. I'm looking forward to spent some days back here.

I got into the Narita express heading to Shinjuku where I will stay this time and I started my trip by going to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The north observatory is open until 11pm, so I was able to visit the place and take a couple of nice panoramic pictures from the top.

Hello again Tokyo. Long time no see!


28-Oct-2014 16:07, LGE Nexus 5, 2.4, 3.97mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 400
28-Oct-2014 16:07, LGE Nexus 5, 2.4, 3.97mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 556
28-Oct-2014 16:13, LGE Nexus 5, 2.4, 3.97mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 389
 
28-Oct-2014 16:14, LGE Nexus 5, 2.4, 3.97mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 301
28-Oct-2014 16:28, LGE Nexus 5, 2.4, 3.97mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 180
28-Oct-2014 16:28, LGE Nexus 5, 2.4, 3.97mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 100
 
28-Oct-2014 16:28, LGE Nexus 5, 2.4, 3.97mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 123
28-Oct-2014 16:34, LGE Nexus 5, 2.4, 3.97mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 138
28-Oct-2014 16:37, LGE Nexus 5, 2.4, 3.97mm, 0.008 sec, ISO 105
 
28-Oct-2014 16:38, LGE Nexus 5, 2.4, 3.97mm, 0.02 sec, ISO 359
28-Oct-2014 17:33, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 800
28-Oct-2014 17:34, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 800
 
28-Oct-2014 17:36, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.1 sec, ISO 800
28-Oct-2014 17:36, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.077 sec, ISO 800
28-Oct-2014 17:39, SONY DSC-RX100, 4.0, 10.4mm, 1.6 sec, ISO 125
 
28-Oct-2014 17:49, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.033 sec, ISO 800
28-Oct-2014 17:52, SONY DSC-RX100, 3.5, 15.82mm, 0.2 sec, ISO 125
28-Oct-2014 17:55, SONY DSC-RX100, 1.8, 10.4mm, 0.077 sec, ISO 800