ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “noodles

NoHo & SoHo, Central – Sheung Wan (中上環), Hong Kong

Linking a number of tourist attractions like Tai Kwun, PMQ and Man Mo Temple, Hollywood Road is always popular for tourists in Hong Kong. While tourists come for the historical attractions, many locals, on the other hand, come to Hollywood Road for food and drinks. South of Hollywood Road, the narrow Staunton Street (士丹頓街) was once home to wet market vendors, trading offices, family-run stores and small Buddhist convents (庵堂). In fact, Staunton Street was once nicknamed the Street of Buddhist Nuns (師姑街). After the Central – Mid Levels Escalators opened to the public in 1993 and brought an influx of pedestrians from the business district downhill, Staunton Street and the adjacent Elgin Street(伊利近街) have quietly undergone a dramatic transformation. Expatriates started to move into the area. Old shops and Buddhist convents were gradually replaced by bars, pubs, restaurants, comedy clubs, cafes, and wine shops. In 1996, Thomas Goetz, a restaurant owner from Elgin Street, came up with the acronym “SoHo” (蘇豪) for this new entertainment and dining area of Central, referring to the location “South of Hollywood Road”. From then on, the Staunton Street that I used to go as a child to get fresh grocery and pay ritualistic respect to my grandfather at a small Buddhist convent has silently disappeared. Today, SoHo would remain sleepy most of the day, and then bursts into life after sunset. The yell of market vendors and pungent incense smoke have been replaced by causal giggles and laughter, and the smell of beer.

Further away from the Central – Mid Levels Escalators and less than 150m northwest of the buzzing SoHo, Gough Street (歌賦街), Kau U Fong (九如坊) and Aberdeen Street (鴨巴甸街) offer a much more laid-back and tranquil ambience. Once home to family run shops and small printing presses, these sleepy back streets have become a hipper cousin of the nearby SoHo. Known as NoHo for “North of Hollywood Road”, this area is particular attractive to locals who come for the foodie scene: Chinese cuisine, dai pai dong dishes, beef brisket noodles, Japanese ramen, sushi, Western fine dining, unadon, Vietnamese pho, hand-drip cafes, bubble tea, chocolate, etc. Despite its abundance of dining options, the shops here remain small and peaceful. Compared to its noisier neighbour, NoHo is much more low key, as if deliberately staying away from the public limelight. Here visitors would enjoy a sense of discovery and intimacy that is hard to find anywhere else in Central.

Looking down from PMQ, the stepped Shin Hing Street (善慶街) marks one of the entrances into Gough Street from Hollywood Road. [Junction of Hollywood Road and Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
An old furniture store still occupies the corner of Hollywood Road and Shin Hing Street. [Top of Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Many love the tranquil and “European” feel of NoHo, which is a rarity in urban Hong Kong. [Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Art installation related to the history of Sun Yatsen, the Father of Modern China, has become a playground for children. [Junction of Shin Hing Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Before the pandemic, the steps of Shin Hing Street was often turned into a stepped seating and drinking area in the evening and during weekends. [Shin Hing Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
At Mee Lun Street (美輪街), a small ladder street just a few shops away from Shin Hing Street, a simple dai pai dong street eatery has been a pedestrian magnet for years. Opened in 1959, Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) dai pai dong is a big attraction in NoHo. Before the pandemic, there would always a long queue (mainly tourists and young couples) whenever the eatery is opened. [Junction of Mee Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One of the most famous dishes at Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) is tomato beef and egg noodles. [Junction of Mun Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo,Sheung Wan, 2020]
Sasa the cat of Sing Heung Yuen (勝香園) is a popular member of the Mun Lun Street neighbourhood. Without tourists during the pandemic, Sasa got a little more freedom to linger around. When the eatery is busy and all seats are taken, the owner would take Sasa back to their apartment nearby. [Junction of Mun Lun Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Kau Kee Beef Briskets(九記牛腩) is another tourist favourite in NoHo. Kau Kee’s business during the pandemic is greatly affected. [Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2021]
Apart from food, design shops such as Homeless offers another crucial aspect of urban living in Hong Kong. [Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
One street downhill from Gough Street, Kau U Fong (九如坊) offers another clusters of tranquil options for foodies. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
As chill as SoHo but with smaller crowds, that is the real beauty of NoHo. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
In recent years, one of the most well known establishments in Kau U Fong is The Chairman (大班樓), a Michelin 1-star Chinese restaurant that uses mostly organic ingredients from small local suppliers and fishermen. [Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The most famous fish at The Chairman is undoubtedly steamed crab in aged Xiaoxing wine with Chan Village rice noodles. [The Chairman, Kau U Fong, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Perpendicular to Gough Street and Kau U Fong is the sloped Aberdeen Street. Despite its slope, the street is also filled with new restaurants and cafes, including Tenkai, a Japanese fine dining restaurant specialized in tempura omakase. [Aberdeen Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
Further downhill, the more causal Ode has also attracted a constant queue outside. The restaurant is specialized in ramen in sea bream fish broth. [Aberdeen Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan, 2020]
The relatively new and sleek looking Aesop store at Gough / Aberdeen Street is a neat addition to the NoHo neighbourhood. [Junction of Aberdeen Street and Gough Street, NoHo, Sheung Wan,2020]

***

Near Hollywood Road, the vivid wall paintings at Graham Street remind visitors that we are now about to enter an interesting and fun neighbourhood. [Junction of Graham Street and Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Since 1993, the world’s longest covered escalator system has brought tens of thousands of pedestrians up and down the slope of Central, from 34,000 daily usage in 1996 to about 85,000 in 2010. This influx of energy has directly contributed to the development of the SoHo District. [Junction of Shelley and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
The Central – Mid Level Escalators was the unexpected driving force behind the creation of the entertainment district of SoHo in Central. [Junction of Shelley and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Restaurants and bars cascade up along the escalator system of Shelley Street. [Shelley Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
Staunton has become the central axis of SoHo entertainment district. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Staunton Street ends at Old Bailey Street where Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Headquarters is situated. [Junction of Staunton and Shelley Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
A simple restaurant serving British food marks the eastern entrance of SoHo at Old Bailey Street. [Junction of Old Bailey and Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
From crafted beer to high end whiskey, sake, and wines, Staunton Street offers plenty of options to anyone looking for fun after work. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
A constant queue from morning till dusk, Bakehouse is the clear winner of SoHo during the Covid 19 pandemic. Operated by Grégoire Michaud, a renowned baker who has an impressive resume of work experiences in high end hotels and restaurants, the famous bakery has become an urban sensation in the past few years in Hong Kong. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
The former shops and Buddhist convents below old apartment blocks have been converted into restaurants and bars. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2021]
The ambience of Staunton Street would dramatically transformed as evening approaches. [Staunton Street, SoHo, Central, 2021]
One street further uphill from Staunton Street, Elgin Street is also at the heart of the bar hopping circuit of SoHo. [Elgin Street, SoHo, Central, 2014]
Like other old neighborhoods in Hong Kong, there is a deity shrine in SoHo that protects all in the community. [Junction of Staunton and Peel Street, Soho, Central, 2021]
Across from the shrine, a bar specialized in shesha water pipes has an interesting wall painting at its door. [Peel Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
During the Covid 19 pandemic, many bars and pubs were asked to temporarily close their doors. The restaurants remain opened have to follow strict regulations for number of customers per table, distance between seats, shorter opening times, stringent mechanical requirements for air changes, regular disinfection of spaces, etc. [Peel Street, SoHo, Central, 2020]
SoHo is not all about fine dining and bar hopping. Other businesses such as custom tailor and second hand bookstore have also left their marks. [Flow Books, Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]
The true beauty of SoHo is about how people with different backgrounds may come and mingle in a few small streets uphill from the business district of Central. [Flow Books, Hollywood Road, SoHo, Central, 2014]

DAY 4 (3/3): MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.28

At 2pm, we returned to Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館) to check in.  Although there were hiking trails venturing further out of Shirahone Onsen, we weren’t in a hurry to go out.  Instead, we opted for spending a relaxing time at the ryokan.  Since there weren’t any restaurants available, we made ourselves delicious local cup noodles bought at the souvenir shop on the main street.  Our room was spacious and decorated in traditional Japanese style.  The air was filled with fragrance of the tatami.  Yet the thing that delighted us the most was the large window looking out to the dense vegetation.  We ended up spending the entire afternoon reading novels, devouring local snacks and enjoying the ryokan’s hotspring bath from time to time.

IMG_6323Near the bus stop of Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉) , a sign board indicated the availability of onsen bath at each ryokan for outside users.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt 2pm, we checked in at Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館).  The ryokan is located adjacent to a lush green ravine.

DSC_7017Shirahone Onsen remained quiet during weekdays.   The lobby of Tsuruya Ryokan was airy but felt a little empty.

DSC_7002Our room was a comfortable Japanese style room came with traditional furnishings.

DSC_7005Through the large window, we could just stare at the lush greenery and circling insects all day long and wouldn’t get bored.

DSC_7016It was the perfect time to open a bottle of beer from the Japanese Alps.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Nissin cup noodles we bought from the souvenir shop came with flavor of local miso, and it was undoubtedly one of the best cup noodles we ever had.

IMG_8413Adjacent from the onsen bath, the drinking room offered two water sources: local spring and the famous milky hotspring of Shirahone Onsen.  The mineral rich onsen of Shirahone Onsen is drinkable and said to offer a number of health benefits.

IMG_8405The bath facility at Tsuruya Ryokan was neat and clean.  Outside of weekends, it is quite possible to enjoy the bath all by yourself.

IMG_8378Similar to many traditional ryokan, the indoor bath at Tsuruya Ryokan is a large wooden pool filled with the milky hotspring.

IMG_8398The outdoor pool was definitely my favorite.  It felt divine to breathe in the cool fresh air from the Mount Norikura (乗鞍岳) and enjoy the lush green scenery while submerging into the milky hotspring of Shirahone Onsen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALike many ryokan, dinner and breakfast were included in the booking.  For dinner, we had Hida beef sushi as one of the appetizers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYaki-zakana or grilled local fish was another tasty dish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASashimi of various types, including carp fish, was a delightful alternative to the grilled fish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the next morning, we had some delicious steamed local vegetables and hotspring congee for breakfast.

IMG_8422Soap made with the milky hotspring water of Shirahone Onsen was a decent souvenir.

DSC_7038After a day of pure relaxation at Shirahone Onsen, it was time for us to get moving again.  There were only a few buses leaving the onsen village each day.  We took the 10:15am bus to leave Shirahone Onsen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe get off at Sawando Iwamidaira (さわんど岩見平) and crossed the road to wait for a bus heading to Takayama (高山), our next destination.

* * *

CHUBU (中部地方) 2018, Japan, 2018.05.25 – 06.03
Introduction

Day 1: Tokyo (東京)
1.1 TSUKIJI OUTER MARKET (築地場外市場)
1.2 TSUKIJI INNER MARKET (築地中央卸売市場)
1.3 MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE

Day 2: Matsumoto (松本)& Kamikochi (上高地)
2.1 MATSUMOTO CASTLE (松本城), Matsumoto (松本)
2.2 “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.3 MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本)
2.4 FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地)
2.5 ARRIVAL IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Chūbu-Sangaku National Park (中部山岳国立公園)

Day 3: Kamikochi (上高地)
3.1 MORNING WALK IN KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県)
3.2 DAKESAWA HIKE (岳沢), Kamikochi (上高地)

Day 4: Kamikochi (上高地) & Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.1 TAISHO POND (大正池), Kamikochi (上高地)
4.2 RETREAT IN THE JAPANESE ALPS, Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)
4.3 MOMENTS OF ESCAPE, Tsuruya Ryokan (つるや旅館), Shirahone Onsen (白骨温泉)

Day 5: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.1 CITY IN THE MOUNTAINS, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.2 HIDA BEEF (飛騨牛), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.3 SAKE (日本酒) BREWERIES, Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.4 YOSHIJIMA HOUSE (吉島家住宅), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)
5.5 HIGASHIYAMA WALKING COURSE (東山遊歩道), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山)

Day 6: Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Shirakawa-go (白川郷) & Ainokura (相倉)
6.1 MIYAGAWA MORNING MARKET (宮川朝市), Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.2 OGIMACHI IN THE RAIN, Shirakawa-go (白川郷), Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県)
6.3 SOBA, TEMPLE & LOOKOUT, Shirakawa-go (白川郷)
6.4 RAINY AFTERNOON IN AINOKURA (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.5 GASSHO MINSHUKU, FLOWER BEDS & RICE PADDY FIELDS, Ainokura (相倉), Gokayama (五箇山)
6.6 CROAKING FROGS AND MOONLIGHT REFLECTIONS, Gokayama (五箇山)

Day 7: Kanazawa (金沢)
7.1 DEPARTURE IN THE RAIN, Ainokura (相倉) to Kanazawa (金沢)
7.2 A SEAFOOD PARADISE – OMICHO MARKET (近江町市場)
7.3 D T Suzuki Museum (鈴木大拙館)
7.4 Kenroku-en Garden (兼六園)
7.5 Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.6 Nomura Samurai House (武家屋敷跡 野村家), Nagamachi Samurai District (長町)
7.7 Sushi Ippei (一平鮨), Katamachi (片町)

Day 8: Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture (金沢, 石川県)
8.1 Iki Iki Tei (いきいき亭) and Higashide Coffee (東出珈琲店), Omicho Market (近江町市場)
8.2 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館)
8.3 Kazuemachi District (主計町茶屋街)
8.4 Higashi Chaya District (東山ひがし茶屋街)
8.5 Kaga Yuzen Toro Nagashi (加賀友禅燈ろう流し), Asano River (浅野川)
8.6 AFTERMATH OF KAGA YUZEN TORO NAGASHI (加賀友禅燈ろう流し)

Day 9 & 10: Tokyo (東京)
9.1 Marunouchi (丸の内) & Nihonbashi (日本橋)
10.1 OEDO ANTIQUE MARKET (大江戸骨董市), Tokyo Forum (東京国際フォーラム)
10.2 FARMER’S MARKET, United Nations University (東京国連大学), Aoyama (青山)


DAY 1 (2/9): WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, was the capital city of Myanmar (Burma) until 2006.  With 7 million inhabitants, Yangon remains as the largest city in Myanmar.  Because of our tight schedule, we only had a day to explore the downtown where decaying colonial buildings from the British era mingled with bustling daily activities of the locals, and the Shwedagon Pagoda, the religious heart and biggest tourist draw of the city.  Before that, we decided to first get a taste of the Burmese culture through sampling the local cuisine.  We weren’t particularly hungry, but would want to try out a well known noodle shop: 999 Shan Noodle House.  It was a half-hour walk to the noodle shop.  What’s better to get a quick Yangon impression than wandering its lively streets?

DSC_2547Venturing out of the Loft Hotel, we headed east towards the north-south thoroughfare Alan Pya Pagoda Street.  Local shops lined along one side of the street, while the opposite side was dominated by the large Park Royal Hotel.

DSC_2552One of the first building we encountered on Alan Pya Pagoda Street was Thamada (President) Cinema and Hotel.  Opened its door in 1958, Thamada was Rangoon’s most prominent cinema with a fully air-conditioned hall and a great example of the cuty’s Modernist architecture.

DSC_2555A number of snack vending carts were stationed in front of Thamada Cinema.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther than skewers or salad, fruit is also common snacks in Yangon.

DSC_2559Renovated a few years ago, Thamada Cinema remains as a popular cinema in the present, drawing sell out shows from time to time.

DSC_2564Further down the road we reached the intersection of Sakura Tower.  Built in 1999, Sakura is a 20 storey building built by Japanese investors and architects.  It offers office spaces up to international standards, with a restaurant at the top floor.  While the top floors struggled to find tenants in the first several years, Sakura is now totally full as Myanmar opens up in recent years.

DSC_2569Next to Sakura Tower, the 1910 Bible Society of Myanmar (British and Foreign Bible Society) was the heart of Christian evangelical society in the early 20th century.  In the 1960s, the foreign missionaries were expelled from the country, and was restructured in 1964 under national organization.

DSC_2572The strip of Bogyoke Road at Sakura Tower was known as Rangoon’s “Cinema Row” in the past, a designated entertainment district.  The Nay Pyi Taw Theatre with its iconic patterned facade was built in 1961.  Movie was and still remains big in Yangon (formerly Rangoon).  The modernist patterned facade was popular back in late 1950s and early 1960s in Southeast Asia.

DSC_2577Further down we reached a busy intersection of Sule Road and Anawratha Road where a network of pedestrian overpass allowed us to gain a raised overview of this part of Downtown Yangon.

DSC_2578The overpass was occupied with vendors.  Pedestrians loved to stop by the railing for a look at the changing surrounding skyline.  Looking north, the top of Sakura Tower perched over the tree crown in the middle, and the Sule Shangri-La (Trader Hotel) dominates the the left side with its 500 rooms.  Built by Japanese and Singaporean architects, the hotel never really fulfilled its tourist potentials due to the West’s boycott on the junta government.  Rooms were sold at discounted prices. interestingly, it did attract a number of NGOs and UN agencies to set ups their offices here, and so as foreign journalists and some tourists.

DSC_2583At the southwest corner of the pedestrian overpass, a new 20 storey office building was under construction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther south we could see one of the city’s most important monument, the Sule Pagoda.  It is known to be one of the oldest monument site in Yangon, some said around 2600 years old.  Sule Pagoda has been and still is considered to be the heart of Downtown Yangon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a moment above the streets, it was time for us to return to the busy street scenes.

DSC_2599.JPGAs we approached 999 Shan Noodle House, we began to explore the network of small side streets behind Yangon City Hall.

DSC_2605.JPGAll side streets were flanked by buildings dated back to British Rangoon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt took us several minutes to reach the right side street of the noodle house.  It was fortunate that we had portable wifi device and mobile phone which we could get on Google Map.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFood vendors could be seen on many of these side streets.  Groups of children monks were also a common sight.

DSC_2612After a little over half an hour of walk, we finally reached our destination – 999 Shan Noodle House.  999 is a famous restaurant in Yangon specialized in dishes from the Shan and Kachin States at Northern Myanmar.  These states border with Yunnan Province of China, which is also popular with rice noodle dishes.

DSC_2618The pig knuckle noodle soup was tasty, and the pork texture was just right.

DSC_2619Stir fry rice noodle with local spices was also a popular dish at 999 Shan Noodle House.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter lunch, we continued to walk down the side street towards Yangon City Hall.

DSC_2626At the end of the street we again passed by a food vendor.  They seemed to be everywhere in Downtown Yangon, especially at the end of side streets.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT
Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U
Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U
Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


WESTERN RESORT IN THE ORIENT, Karuizawa (軽井沢), Japan

At the foot of Mt. Asama, Honshu’s most active volcano, stands a mountain resort town that first captivated the attention of Westerners in late 19th century.  Since then, it grew into a summer resort for many Tokyo residents, including the royal family.  In the 1970s, John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent several summers at Karuizawa for retreat.  Today, the shinkansen bullet train takes a little over an hour to connect Karuizawa and Tokyo, a rather convenient day trip for visitors who want to take a break from the bustling scenes of the Japanese capital.  Visitors come for the natural scenery, the Westernized old town, the interesting galleries, the large shopping outlet right by the railway station, or just a breathe of cool air and peaceful atmosphere to escape the summer heat in urban Tokyo.

0Outside the railway station, the tranquil air of the countryside offers a big contrast from the dense and intense urban scene of Tokyo.  On the south side stands the large shopping outlet, and the north side rows of pitched roof houses and streets leading into the old town centre.  It’s about a half hour walk from the railway station to the town centre.

1In the town centre of Karuizawa, one of the busiest restaurant is Kawakamian (川上庵), a delightful restaurant specialized in soba buckwheat noodles.

2The dining area of Kawakamian (川上庵) was fully occupied when we were there.

4At Kawakamian (川上庵), we ended up getting a table at the outdoor terrace.

5Duck meat soba noodles of Kawakamian (川上庵).

6Tempura vegetable and shrimp with soba at Kawakamian (川上庵).

7There are a few patisserie shops in Karuizawa.  Gateau des Clochette (ガトゥ・デ・クロシェット) is a popular one with tourists.

8A row of old timber houses at the high street of Karuizawa (旧軽井沢銀座通り) reveals the former European atmosphere of the town.

9Cafes, restaurants, patisserie shops and souvenir stores can be found at the pedestrian high street of Karuizawa.

10Dairy products from the area is popular among visitors.

11This doll house-like timber house is a popular cafe on the high street.

12In the new town centre, we passed by a flea market selling all kinds of old household items in a parking lot.

13Halfway between the old town and the railway station, the  Karuizawa New Art Museum (軽井沢ニューアートミュージアム) offers tourists and the local community a pleasant stop for art exhibitions.

14Directly south of the railway station is the large retail outlet frequented by tourists.  The environment of the outlet is completely different than the high street of the old town.

15A water pond in the middle of the outlet offers a pleasant park setting for shoppers.

16Right by the pond is the circular restaurant pavilion.  The openness and scale of the outlet made me feel like traveling in North America.

17Shinkansen bullet train makes the trip from Tokyo to Karuizawa in a little over an hour.


DAY 4 (6/6): RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.06

It was already past 7pm when our Kintetsu express train arrived at Kyoto Station from Nara.  We decided to check out the Kyoto Ramen Koji (Kyoto Ramen Street) on the 10th floor of the station for a quick dinner.  We took the escalators up to the famous Daikaidan (Grand Staircase).  The Daikaidan stretched from 4th floor all the way up to the sky garden on the 15th floor.  Architect Hiroshi Hara specifically provided a stage on the 4th floor, while the staircase would become an enormous amphitheater.  There was no performance when we were there.  Instead, the stage was occupied by a large Christmas Tree.  The lights changed colours according to the background music.

07The big Christmas Tree occupied the open space on the 4th floor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom the Christmas Tree we walked up the Daikaidan (Grand Staircase) to the 10th floor for our ramen dinner.

05There was a strip of LED lights at the nosing of each step.  The lights changed colours constantly.

04With the LED lights on each step, the entire staircase became a giant screen of festive animations.

***

We entered the building on the 10th floor, and could immediately smell the pork ramen and feel the warmth of the atmosphere.  Here at Kyoto Ramen Koji (Kyoto Ramen Street), there were about ten different ramen restaurants, representing the ramen style from different parts of Japan.  We ended up picking Masutani (ますたに), a Kyoto based ramen restaurant established since 1948.

01We queued in front of the restaurant for about 20 minutes and then ordered our ramen from the machine by the entrance.

02Once inside, we handed the tickets to the staff and sat down by a wooden counter.

03After several minutes, our hot and delicious ramen arrived, a perfect answer for the chilly night!

***

After the tasty ramen, we didn’t want to go back to the hotel yet.  In front of Kyoto Station, we hopped on a night bus bounded westwards.  Our destination was the ROHM Illumination Festival 2016.  With 800,000 light bulbs lighting up 82 trees along Kasuga Dori, ROHM Illumination is the biggest annual Christmas lighting event in Kyoto since 1995.  ROHM, a Japanese semiconductor manufacturer based in Kyoto sponsored the event annually to light up the immediate area of its office in town.  The light show was smaller than similar events in other large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, it did however transform a tranquil neighborhood into a romantic, glittering and festive promenade of lights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entrance of Kasuga Dori was guarded by the two Yamamomo Trees (Chinese bayberry) covered with dazzling lights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Yamamomo Trees were round in shape, perfect for turning into spheres of lights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKasuga Dori was lined both sides with 20 metasequoias, all dressed up with tiny light bulbs to create the luminous promenade.

11With the lighting, the yellow crowns of the metasequoias appeared as if on fire.

12Two types of light bulbs were used, small LED and twinkling incandescent lights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lights transformed the small Nagura Park into a romantic public venue.

14Families and kids were having fun in Nagura Park.

15Under different music, the LED balls on the ground and the 13.5m (h) by 9m (w) LED screen made use the lawn next to the Nagura Park to put together the “Ensemble of Light”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKids had a good time at the playground and the light show.

17Antique cars somehow blended in well with the ambience of the light festival.

18At 9:30pm, we turned back to the entrance of Kasuga Dori and had a final look at the two for the trip’s last day.

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan


DAY 2 (3/6): KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan, 2016.12.04

Leaving Kiyomizu-dera behind, we walked down Matsubara Dori (松原通) to the intersection of Gojo-zaka (五条坂), where we were drawn by a small shop selling different senbei (煎餅), or Japanese rice crackers snacks.  The shop Terakoya Honpo (寺子屋本舗) is a well known chain store of senbei in Japan.  We couldn’t resist but picked up a piece of delicious senbei with seaweed spices.  Turning into Sannen-zaka (三年坂), we found our way back to Yasaka Dori (八坂通), the historical alleyway dominated by the iconic Yasaka-no-to Pagoda of Hokanji Temple (法観寺 八坂の塔).  A number of locals and tourists dressed in traditional kimonos were posing for photos in front of the pagoda.   A strong coffee aroma led us to a few shops down from the pagoda.  The sleek design of curved glazing and minimal decor of %Arabica Coffee provided a pleasant contrast to the historical atmosphere of Higashiyama.  We went in, ordered two cups of hand drip coffee, and sat down at the communal table.  A female staff took our order and prepared the coffee at the counter.  After about ten minutes, our magnificent morning coffee were ready, and that was probably one of the best coffees we ever had.

Just round the street corner from %Arabica along Higashioji Dori (東大路通), we arrived at a alleyway leading to the Shinto shrine Yasui Konpiragu (安井金比羅宮).  Nothing monumental or extravagant, the low profile shrine in a residential neighborhood was surprisingly popular with local worshipers due to the specialized wishes of “sever bad relationships and established  good relationships (悪縁を切り良縁を結ぶ).  In the shrine complex, the centre piece “Power Stone Monument” is a 3m x 1.5m tall rock with an oval hole in the middle.  The monument is fully covered with white paper charms.  When we were there, there was a long queue of visitors (mostly young women) waiting for their turns to crawl through the oval hole in a ritual of making wishes related to relationships.  The main shrine building stood adjacent to the “Power Stone Monument”.  In front of the main shrine, racks fully loaded with ema (絵馬) wooden plaques and paper charms written with wishes captured our attention.  Judging from the amount of ema, Yasui Konpiragu should be considered a very popular Shinto shrine.  We exited the shrine complex through a side torii gateway into a residential lane, and soon found ourselves just steps away from the perimeter wall of Kenninji Temple (建仁寺).  Before entering this oldest Zen temple in Kyoto, we stopped by a soba restaurant next to the temple entrance for a quick lunch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside of Kiyomizu-dera, visitors including us began to walk down Matsubara Dori (松原通) towards the city.

02Senbei, Japanese rice crackers, with seaweed spices ordered from Terakoya Honpo (寺子屋本舗), a chain snack shop.

03On Yasaka Dori (八坂通), there were quite people dressed in traditional kimono and posed for photos.

04A grapefruit tree below the Yasaka-no-to Pagoda of Hokanji Temple (法観寺 八坂の塔).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear Yasaka-no-to Pagoda, we passed by  Yasaka Koshindo (八坂庚申堂), a small Koshin (庚申) temple.

06Walking down Yasaka Dori looking for %Arabica Coffee.  Whenever we turned around the Yasaka-no-to Pagoda just dominated the vista.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThree customers sat on a bench in front of %Arabica Coffee Shop.

08Front counter of %Arabica Coffee Shop in Higashiyama.

09Coffee beans stored behind glass cabinets against the long wall in the coffee shop.

10Coffee roasting machine at the back of the shop.

11Two cups of Hand drip coffee!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA long queue for the opportunity to crawl through the hole of “Power Stone Monument” at Yasui Konpiragu (安井金比羅宮).

13A young woman crawling through the “Power Stone Monument”.

14A young woman worshiping at the main shrine.

15A rack fully filled with ema (絵馬) wooden plaques

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Side Entrance and torii gate of Yasui Konpiragu (安井金比羅宮).

16soba restaurant.

17Interior of the soba restaurant.

18Soba with tempura

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoba with fresh tofu skin in thick broth

***

Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan