Let’s Share: Fermentation – Sourdough Bread

I have not been writing much lately, been busy with life and projects for future posts. One of these projects is fermentation; sourdough and kombucha to be exact. Today, I would like to share one of my current obsessions: sourdough breads.

After hearing about benefits – easier to digest and lower blood glucose impact – of sourdough breads, I have been baking them occasionally for the last four months. Well, more like practice.

You do not need much. For instance, I use a toaster oven because my oven is not working. Neither do I have a dutch oven small enough to fit inside said toaster oven, but the close proximity of the coils does help – that is what tell myself, anyways. Nor, I do not have a proper proofing basket or banneton – I use a plastic oval bowl and tissue paper.

Best one. Lovely, bubbly crust but weak scoring.

The point is, you do not need to have every equipment to start. The key is to just start. The sourdough breads still turn out delicious, regardless. You can slowly obtain more bakeware as you go if you enjoy baking breads or just make due with what you have.

Starting Your Sourdough Starter
The first step is starting your own sourdough starter. Add equal parts flour and water in a container with porous top like a small kitchen towel – I use a reused jam glass jar with two sheets of coffee filter paper and a rubber band.

I started with half a cup of whole wheat flour and water, but all-purpose flour works as well. The yeast and bacteria you need are already on the flour and in the air. I also use bottled water, as tap water may contain elements that are harmful to your wild yeast and lactobacillus colony.

After that, about three tablespoon of whole wheat flour and two tablespoon of water every day for three weeks; you will see tiny air pockets forming. You might want to move the starter to the refrigerator after 1-2 weeks during the summer, I started mine during winter.

Keep the starter in the refrigerator and fed once a week after the initial stage. However, if you plan to bake a lot, you can keep the starter at room temperature and feed daily.

Watch out for signs of molds. Discard and start over if molds develop on the starter. My starter once had black specks on the side of the jar. The main mass was fine so I carefully extracted the starter into a new jar and placed it in the refrigerator. This solved the problem. I could probably avoided the whole problem if I scraped down the sides better but keeping them in the refrigerator was a better choice.

The starter should smell like fade vinegar, or sour smell, after two weeks. You might even see liquid on top of the starter, this is normal, as I am told. I only saw this when stored my first starter in a jar with a loose lid; I switched to coffee filters since then.

Using Your Sourdough Starter
To use, general wisdom suggests that you discard about 3/4 of the starter a day before then add enough flour and water to fill 1/2 of the container again and leave overnight at room temperature.

I usually just take out the starter from the refrigerator and give a normal feeding then leave the starter at room temperature a day before. However, I let the dough ferment a bit longer during bulk fermentation to make up for my laziness. And no, I do not bother with the floating test.

[Summer Update: Reduce the time of bulk fermentation during the hotter summer days. The dough loses its elasticity, becoming very sticky.]

If you need to get rid of some starter, you can use the starter to make scallion pancakes and sourdough biscuits. Throwing portion of the starter away seems like a waste.

As for sourdough bread recipes, I like these two recipes the most so far: my best sourdough and tartine’s country bread. Both will provide more in-depth look into making sourdough. Oh, I half all the ingredients since the recipes are for two loaves. Currently, tartine style is my focus to master, the famous bread by Chad Robertson of San Francisco.

Working with the wet dough to create a tight ball and scoring the surface are currently my weaknesses. I think I might need a marble working surface. The dough sticks too much on my wooden surface. Here’s a video on sourdough techniques that like to reference.

3 day fermentation. Nice crust though.

Some More Tips
Due to humidity and other factors, I find that using less water – about 1 oz or 30g less – works better for me. Following the recipe completely, creates an unworkable sticky dough and cannot hold its form during baking. You will have to make a couple breads to figure out if you need to add or subtract some water.

Do not let the dough ferment for too long and consider shorten the fermentation timing during hotter days. Besides a stronger sour flavor, huge air pockets might form on the inside. The dough also loses its elasticity; it basically becomes a sticky mess.

Use parchment paper to easier clean up and removal of the bread but aluminium foil works too. Baking directly on the bake surface can cause the bread to “stick” to it.

Also, from experience, over baking is better than under baking the sourdough breads. The best part of sourdough to me is the nice crispy crust. You can pop them back in the oven if needed but this tends to dry out the bread more quickly.

I like to store my bread in a brown paper bag. You can warm up the bread any way you want but I really like some butter and grilling the slice on a hot pan. Add on an egg and/or avocado and you have yourself delicious breakfast or lunch.

My next sourdough project is to try pizza sourdough.

Bread flour
Wheat flour
Razor blades or bread lame

Book Review – How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Talking and building a connection with other people has been – and still is – a problem for me growing up; being shy and lacking self-confidence did not help. As such, conversation and body language self-help books were my favorite reads during my college and post-college years. I wrote a post on learning to be a better conservationist here. If anything, those books help increase your conversational arsenal.

My latest book, and a oldie, is How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie, originally released in 1936. I only read the first half of the book, the the last half is about managing people, which is not something I am interested in at the moment.

The book is enjoyable as there are tons of interesting stories and quotes that flush out each chapter. Dale Carnegie uses real world examples – both first and second hand – that make the stories feel more relatable. In addition, each chapter ends with a simple one sentence principle that summarizes the chapter.

Even if many of the principles in the book seems like “common” sense, you might be surprise what you are doing, or not doing, once Dale Carnegie brings attention to them. With that, let’s look at some of the principles that matters the most to me.

1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain

I think there’s a reason this is the very first principle. Criticizing or condemning people will only cause them to double down and go on the defensive, not win you any new friends. Trying to understand the other person is more effective, according to the book.

2. Give sincere appreciation

There is a difference between appreciation and flattery. Flattery is just telling the other person what they want to hear, which I am guilty of. Because flattery is easy, I have to actively catch myself due to old habits.

3. Become genuinely interested in other people

This principle not only helps you make friends, but is great for business. Find a common topic or subject that you have interest, try not to fake your interest.

4. Smile

This simple sentence from the book pretty much says it all, “It costs nothing, but creates much.” Plus, this is a great first impression.

5. A person’s name is the sweetest sound to that person

The book emphasizes remembering names of people you meet to show that you care – and paying attention – when you meet them again. And, use their names often as a person’s name is one of the few things that identify each person.

6. Be a good listener by encouraging others to talk about themselves

I am sure you probably heard this before if you are an aspiring conversationalist, yet a principle I wished I knew when a long time ago. Instead of stressing out on finding something interesting to say, ask the person questions about themselves or accomplishments.

I really cannot do this book justice. I highly recommend that you pick up How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie for yourself. You can read the first two chapters like me if you just want tips on communication. Of course, you fully benefit from the book if you’re into business and management; but business or not, the later principles can benefit anyone as they focus on cooperation with people you do not necessary want to be best buds with.

There are many editions but any edition is fine. Most of the editions are revised with modern stories and examples throughout the decades. My edition, the Special Anniversary Edition, has an insert about Stevie Wonder, for example.

Japan Travel Tips

Recently, two friends asked for a list of recommendations for their four days trip to Tokyo, Japan. Being their first time, I started to inject a few tips on getting around and saving time and money. I figured why not share some of them here as well.

Airport: Getting Out and Back
This is only applies to Narita Airport. We usually take the JR Narita Express to the city, one way is about ¥3000 and takes about one hour, since we usually arrive so late. Check Japan Guide for a list of options; use the drop-down menu to find your desired stations.

As for getting back, some hotels provide free bus shuttle to the airport in the morning; Hyatt Regency provided one during our 2012 trip. On the second trip, I took the Sobu Line (Rapid) from Tokyo Station to Narita, about ¥1300 via IC card. I would do the Sobu Line route again, personally. My friends used the JR Narita Express.

If you are staying at a AirBnB, make sure have a map of the location, just in case. Our driver did not know where our place was but my friend was able to guide him there. Major hotels and spots will not be a problem for them.

Trains & Subways
Trains and subways will likely be your main methods of getting around. As such, you should download the metro PDF on your phone: Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. These were the ones I used, not too much clutter but enough detail.

The Tokyo map does not show the JR Yamanote Loop and Chou Line in detail. You can see the outline of the Yamanote Loop, black and white line, and Chou Line, faint gray thin line, on the PDF map from above.

The Yamanote Loop is your bread and butter. You can use this line exclusively during a short stay; most of the popular spots are located around this line and most subways are only a few stops away.

Use the Chou Line to cut through the Yamanote Line, especially if you’re in Shinjuku and want to head to Akihabara or Tokyo Station or vice versa. This line will save you a lot of time.

For example, getting to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa from Shinjuku Station: Take the Chou Line (Rapid) to Kanda Station. Once in Kanda Station, connect on the Ginza Line (Orange-Yellow) to Asakusa Station.

Or alternatively, from Shinjuku, take the Shinjuku Line (light green) to Bakuro-yokoyama, then transfer over to the Asakusa Line to Asakusa Station.

Do not be afraid to wait for the next train if you are not sure which side to hop on to. The next train will arrive in a few minutes. Knowing a few of the next stations towards your destination will help.

Eating and drinking is not allowed on trains and subways.

Train Tickets
Grab a IC card, Suica in Tokyo and Icoca in Osaka, if you’re staying in Japan longer than a few days; this will save you time. Obtained at the ticket kiosk area at any station. A new card will cost about ¥2000 but includes ¥500 “free” credits.

Plus, they are interchangeable, I used Succia in Kyoto and Osaka. If anything, the IC card can be kept as a souvenir until the next visit to Japan. My friend’s 4 years old card still works, and with remaining credits.

Do not put too much credit, just recharge it as you go since they are not refundable. Start with a few thousand yens and go from there. However, your IC card can be used to purchase from most vending machines, shops in the station, and some shops around the station so there is a benefit for loading up your IC card.

Credits are removed upon leaving a station gate and will cost about ¥75 to ¥200.

JR Rail Pass
I feel this is a must for those on long stays or looking to explore Japan. The JR Rail Pass lets you ride the bullet trains an unlimited number of times during the active days.

You can purchase it at the JR website for $260 but I bought mine from a vendor in a Japanese market for about $250. This pass can only be purchased outside of Japan. To put it in perspective, a one way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto is about $130, so a round trip will break even. There is a 1st class option for about $70 to $80 extra

You decide when to activate the pass. You have to find a JR ticket office at the airport or train station. We exchanged our vouchers at the airport but activated the passes at the train station days later. You will need your passport for activating and traveling with the JR Rail Pass.

To use your JR Rail Pass, find the train station that has a Shinkansen line. In Tokyo, the Shinkansen is located at Tokyo Station. In Osaka, the Shinkansen is located at Shin-Osaka, north of the city.

Once inside the station, follow the Shinkansen icons to the ticket office. The attendants do speak English if you need help. After presenting your passport and JR Rail Pass, tell the attendant where you want to go and what time, I usually just tell them earliest one. That’s pretty much it. Hold on to the ticket they give you as you need to show this ticket to the train inspector once the train leaves the station. Great time to bring a few beers and relax; it’s a two hour ride from Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka.

In addition, you can ride JR lines, not subways, for free during the active days. To use your JR Rail Pass for local lines, you must show your JR Rail Pass to the attendants at the ticket gates; they are usually to the far right or left. They will let you pass through a separate gate. Do not scan your IC card to pass the gate. When you are exiting the station, show your pass again to the attendants manning the ticket gates. Definitely, use the JR Rail Pass to get yourself to the nearest Shinkansen station.

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Money Exchange
Japan is still a cash society so you going to need cash. From my experience, Narita airport had pretty good rates. While in the city, Mizuho Bank had the best rates but not every Mizuho branch offers foreign exchange. Here are two branches that do in Tokyo: Shinjuku and Shibuya.

I found a ticket scalper across the street from Shinjuku Station that offered good rates, only slightly worse than Mizuho but open on weekends. Lastly, exchange machines in the mall at Shinjuku Station does offer decent rates, good in a pinch.

Avoid Travelex and other exchange booths. They’re generally bad, especially when there are many better options available to you.

Money Tray
Place money on designated trays. Hand-to-hand transactions are uncommon and seems to throw cashier off their routine.

For example, when eating at Ichiran, I asked for extra noodles. The server came by, started her courtesy routine, and brought out a collection tray. However, I placed the coins on the table ahead of time, thinking I was courteous. After a few seconds of awkwardness, she eventually took the coins, placed them in the tray herself, and finished her routine. Do not be like me.

If you staying in the Shinjuku area, you might want to stop by YaMaYa for your alcohol. Better prices and huge selection than convenience stores when you want to relax in your room, I wished I found this place earlier.

Although public drinking is not illegal, the common norm is that you do not. Nobody will stop or say anything, especially to a foreigner; just do not drink on the trains and subways. My friends and I did drink a few beers in front of a convenience store in Kyoto and he has been known to walk around with a can of beer in his hand. Nevertheless, public drinking is normally preserved for parks.

Cannot say for the rest of Japan, but Tokyo is not a morning city. Most establishments do not open until 10-11 am. In fact, finding breakfast can be a hassle, I learnt this the hard way during my first visit. Best to sleep in, in my opinion.

If you must venture out, jet lag or catching the morning train, bakeries are open if you’re in a mood for coffee and pastries; they are located at the train stations. There are Western-style breakfast joints scattered around Tokyo, like Eggs N Things in Harajuku.

There are some of 24-hours joints; some of my favorites are Ichiran and Iwamoto Q. Convenience stores, like 7-Eleven, are great for picking up a quick breakfast, like oden, and snacks to bring on a bullet train.

Street Level Navigating
A major concern for many travelers is getting around at the street level. I’m fortunate enough to have unlimited international data on my mobile service, enabling Google Maps and Yelp to guide me. I was even luckier to have a friend that knows the city. Google Maps does offer offline download and there is free WiFi at all train stations.

You can screen capture parts of the map ahead of time, like my friend, if you do not have data on your phone. The problem with using static maps is that you, for me at least, tend to lose sense of direction once you exit the station after all the twists and turns. Get a detailed map, if you’re using a static map, to help you hone in on the location. I have walked in circles a few times using a map meant for train and subway lines.

Japan 2016: Favorite Places
My Top 4 Coffee Shops Japan 2016
My Top 4 Best Ramen Japan 2016
Tokyo 2012 Reflections: My Top Places to Visit

Let’s Share: Alcohol Infusion

Alcohol infusions have been my obsession for the better part of this year. I would like to share what worked and what I have learned since I started.

First, the two sites that I used to start the journey are Northwest Edible Life and Boozed + Infused. NW Edible was more of a general guide into the world of infusions while the latter is for recipes, plus her taste for bourbon aligns with my taste.

Infusions made:
Apple Pie Bourbon
Coffee Bourbon
Dried Cherry Bourbon
Coconut Rum
Pineapple Rum
Ginger-Lime Gin
Star Anise Gin

I like longer infusion times, about 3 to 4 weeks. Some sites state that a few days to a week is enough but I like to maximize the flavor. My reasoning is simple, any less, I would rather just take the spirit straight if the flavor is weak.

For spirits, I use Colonel Lee bourbon from Total Wine (Jim Beam, if not available), Gordon’s gin, and Bacardi white rum.

For filtering, I use a funnel and coffee filters; I like to use two layers of coffee filters, but I am sure one is just fine. For juicy fruits, like pineapple and coconut, I use cheesecloth to squeeze out the extra juices before filtering through coffee filters.

Store your infusions in a cool and dark place. Give them a quick shake daily. My first four projects were not in a dark place, which may had affected the flavors.

The Good:

Dried Cherry Bourbon

3 c bourbon
5 oz Mariani Cherries
Two weeks

This turned out delicious, strong cherry flavor, even though it was a bit too sweet for me. Very easy to drink; went through the bottle in a flash. I mostly took this straight.

I would lower the amount of cherries to bourbon next time. 3 oz cherries to 3 cups bourbon, perhaps, but I worry about the cherry flavor diminishing. Try with 5 oz cherries before making adjustments. Best part is that this infusion only takes two weeks.

As a side note, three cups is about 710 mL, which fits in an empty 750 mL laying around.

Ginger-lime Gin

4 c gin
zest of 2 lime
4 TB fresh ginger
2 TB blue agave syrup (add at 3rd week)
4 weeks

This infusion was really good. The spicy ginger and citrus notes of the lime zest work well with the herbal essences of the gin, while the agave syrup lightens up the sharpness of the gin; creating an aromatic and tasty infusion.

Not sure I would change recipe. If anything, I might reduce the syrup just a tad to let the gin shine a bit more, but that’s just me.

Great by itself. Making gin and tonic with this destroyed the flavors. I’m sure this would work great in a cocktail but I like this as is.


Pineapple & Coconut Rum at 3 weeks.

Coconut Rum

750 ml white rum (or vodka)
1 brown coconut
3 TB thick simple syrup (add at 3rd week)
4 weeks

I happen to love coconuts. The richness of the coconut mellows out the rum to create a light and smooth drink; not too sweet, either. I wish the coconut flavor was stronger, however.

I used real coconuts. Removing the coconut meat is not too bad after some practice – watch your fingers. Shred them in a blender into small chunks. The oils will be filter out with coffee filters so do not worry about them.

I made this three times. I tried one batch with a cheap generic brand – Prestige – as a test, which turned out decent but had a rougher aftertaste. I might try roasting the coconut or look into adding fresh coconut juice as the sweetener to get a more prominent coconut flavor. I want to stick with fresh coconuts.

Thick simple syrup is made using equal parts of water and sugar. Evaporation will lower the water ratio.

The Bad:

Star Anise Gin
40 gram star anise, 2 cups of gin, and 1 tablespoon of simple syrup.

The star anise was too intense to enjoy, even with tonic. The intense flavor has a drying effect on my mouth.

I infused this for 3 days. If I ever attempt this again, I’ll probably do it for a day or so. The aroma of star anise gives to gin was lovely, however.

Other mentions:


Apple Pie Bourbon at 4 weeks

Apple Pie Bourbon
750 ml bourbon, 3 granny smiths, cinnamon stick, and ½ vanilla bean. 4 weeks.

I have to try this infusion again. The first attempt was not impressive, which also happens to be my very first infusion project.

From what I can recall, there was a lingering bitter aftertaste that I could not pinpoint. This was not bad but the “apple pie” taste I was looking for did not really come through. I did use the apples to make apple turnovers. Makes an interesting old fashioned, though.

For the next batch, I would cut the apples into smaller chunks. Perhaps, use different apples like honeycrisp or jonagold apples.

Pineapple Rum
Simple one. One pineapple and enough rum to cover. 3 weeks.

This turned out to be quite nice; light and smooth with a wonderful pineapple aroma. The flavor was a bit stronger than coconut rum, which is a plus.

However, the batch had a slight bitter aftertaste. Obtaining a really ripe pineapple or adding some sweetener – 1 tablespoon of thick simple syrup – might solve the bitterness. I did not add any sweetener, figuring the pineapple will provide the sweetness.

I used this with the coconut rum to make my own pina colada, which was only okay because both flavors were not strong enough. I might add in mint leaves the next time I make this.

Final Thoughts
Hope this helps those looking to infuse their own spirits. After a few, you will know what you’re looking for in an infusion but do not be afraid to try something different. I found that I like infusions where I can sip it because I do not like the fuss of making an cocktail. You, on the other hand, might infuse for the sole purpose of cocktails. Whatever the reasons, have fun. Cheers.

How I Lost And Maintained My Weight

One of the my most asked question is: how did I lose my weight? Sadly, there is really no secret; the secret is simply diet and exercise. I went from 170 to 180 lbs, throughout high school and college, to 150 to 155 lbs for the last six years. I’m 5’9” by the way.

The main focus is to eliminate refined sugars and exercising everyday. Eating healthy is important but not necessary eating the leanest cut of meats.

I must warn that my method is long term, requiring lots of patience. In fact, you might not see any results for months but the foundation is building up. Took three years before I slimmed down to my desired level of fitness. This is a mindset, a willpower, type of weight loss program.

Baby Steps
Firstly, I scaled back the soda intake. One or two per day. Slowly reducing the soda intake over a year. Same for sport drinks and candy bars. This can be a difficult task especially when your brain is so wired to carve the sugary beverages.

Start jogging around my neighborhood, there no need for expensive gym memberships. Started with an one mile and walked back every day. Threw in some push-up and negative pull-ups in the backyard. Chin-up and pull-pulls are great workout and indicator of overall fitness, in my opinion. You can use the local park’s monkey bars if you don’t have a pull-up bar at home.

Setbacks and Burnout
Be careful with your enthusiasm at the beginning. Over exercising or restricting your diet will only cause you to burn out or binge. The idea is to adopt the new lifestyle slowly so it becomes a part of you.

I have family members that tried Atkins Diet; only to regain the weight and more once they got tired of the diet. Also, you have to allow yourself to cheat once in awhile if you’re craving it, or else you will binge.

On the workout side, another tried the Insanity Workout with great results. Unfortunately, he never really built a foundation for a lifestyle change; he would end up burning out and regaining the weight after two months. To be fair to Insanity, waking up at 4 am to workout before work – he was self conscious – was not sustainable.

I have succumb to burnout. When I first started, I used to hit the gym everyday for 3 hours. In addition, I would drive across town to meet up with cousins. Frankly, this got old and tiresome. I soon started to make excuses not to go. It’s cold. It’s far. Too lazy to fill the gas tank.

Unless you have a background with exercise or diet restriction, I highly suggest going it easy and make continual changes as you go. From what I observed over the years, taking small steps then slowly ramping up is the best way to get use to change and adopt.

The Alternative Daily

Cutting Off Refined Sugar
After a year or so, I started to cut out soda completely. By this time, I really do not miss it. I cut off sugary sport drinks when exercising as studies show that they do not improve your performance any better than water, unless you’re a professional athlete.

I went another step further and restricted refined sugar in general. Currently, refined sugar is low in my diet. Water, tea, and coffee is all I really drink; no sugar or sweetener added. Honey is a good substitute, if I need to sweeten things. I still eat ice cream, pies, cookies, and other desserts sparely. Occasionally, indulge in a carving to avoid excessive binge eating – I enjoy a few donuts with black coffee once in awhile.

The initial meal plan was four small meals; breakfast, two “lunches”, and dinner. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables were the staple. I prefer the full flavor of fatty meats, including skins, as I find lean cuts too plain and boring. Meats consist of about 25% of the plate. The other 75% are vegetables and some form of carbohydrates – like rice and potatoes.

In addition, I got use to eating at home. I make foods that are easy to prepare. Youtube can help if you don’t know where to start. For example, marinaded chicken thighs in a ziplock bag is a easy source of protein for days.

Breakfast was usually oatmeal – I used steel cut oats – with fruits and nuts to provide sweetness and texture. Lunches were usually natural peanut butter and honey/banana/avocado/nuts. I was back in college at this time so sandwiches were portable and cheap. Dinner is the biggest meal. For dessert, I ate fruits on most days. I do not eat chips and other processed snacks often; snacks were fruits and nuts.

These are my usually meals. You should always eat what you like every other day. Even, fried chicken can be a nice treat once a week. The main thing is that you’re eating relatively healthy with moderation most of the week. Boredom is a huge concern so change things up. Changing the fruit with my oatmeal daily makes a lot of difference. Finding something healthy and cheap that you can eat everyday will be a personal challenge, luckily you have time.

Metabolic Cooking

My initial workout routine was an one mile jog and one mile walk back home everyday. Yes, home. I stopped going to the gym. I did this because I wanted to create a mindset where exercise can be anywhere, not just the gym. Plus, there no more excuses not to exercise.

For three days a week, I did weight training at home using dumbbells, calisthenics, power bar, workout ball, and high bars in the backyard for chin-ups and pull-ups. You can read about my early workout routine in one of my earlier post. Don’t be afraid to try out moves and see what works for you.

The most important aspect is not skipping any days. Exercise a bit earlier or later to work around events of the day.

Ramp Up Exercise
After few months, you will see some results and performance. That one mile that you struggled with at the beginning will seem like a walk. At this time, you might want to increase the jog to two miles, no more walking back.

By this time, I settled into routine of five to six moves that target major muscle groups: biceps, abdominal, chest, leg, back, and triceps. Pull-ups and chin-ups are still the core of my workout. When I do go to the gym, I would do a mile on the treadmill before hitting the weights.

Eventually, I only jogged four days and weight trained the other three days in the week, since my weight training was getting more intense.

Final Words
I know the idea of working out everyday seems like a hassle but after years of doing it, you sort of get use to the idea. In fact, I feel strange if I don’t workout, even anxious. I even workout when I’m traveling or on vacation.

Again, this method requires a lot of patience and willpower. I can say that I kept my weight off for about six years now. Everyone is different, even you decide this is not for you, I hope that this gives you ideas to formulate a program that fits you as I was able to.

Japan 2016: Favorite Places

As the 2016 Japan trip slowly fading away into memories, I would like to make one final look back on my favorite places during the trip. Without further ado, in no real order, here are my favorite places that I would recommend if you’re visiting Japan.


Deers chilling at Nara Park. 2016

——Nara Park
One of the most unique destinations during the trip. I do not know any other places like this. The beautiful park is filled with hundreds of wild sika deer that freely roam around. Most are very tame and even “bow” to visitors for crackers, which you can buy throughout the park for about ¥100. The deer due have a tendency to swarm around you when you have food but it’s a bit funny to see people freak out.

While in the area, take your time to explore the park. Making your way to Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha will let you experience most of what Nara has to offer.

——Fushimi Inari Shrine
This place was magical. Dense rows of torii gates give this place a unique visual experience that are featured in hundreds of photos and your friends social media feeds. The seamlessly, endless torii gates follow wooded mountain trails; about 2-3 hours round trip to the top and back. Many people usually stop at the halfway point since the rest of the path up is pretty much the same. At the top, you will be greeted with a makeshift “you reached the top” sign but the journey up there that counts, right?

There are various street vendors selling snacks and souvenirs at the entrance after your short hike. One last thing, Fushimi Inari Shrine technically does not close so you can visit this place at night.


Entrance near sundown. Kiyomizudera, Kyoto. 2016

Although my time in Kyoto was short, Kiyomizudera is a must if you’re in the area for any length of period. Accessible by bus, Kiyomizudera features a lovely and atmospheric neighborhood, along Matsubara Dori, that is filled with shops and restaurants on the way up to the temple. The main attraction here is the famous wooden patio that offers a nice view of the courtyard. Directly across and a short walk from the patio is a trail that offers the photogenic shot of the Kiyomizudera raised patio.

On the way back, I suggest using the narrow Sannenzaka path that will take you close to the Yasaka Pagoda. % Arabica is also located nearby for a quick caffeine fix on your way to another location.

In addition, the sight of seeing women dress up in kimonos really adds to the charm to the place; the main reason I like Kyoto so much.

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——Arashiyama Bamboo Groove
One of my anticipated stop in Kyoto was the bamboo grove at Arashiyama in Western Kyoto. Walking through the columns of bamboo was enchanting; like walking through a scene of a romanticized kung fu movie. Another good thing about this place is that it’s quite a short visit so you can move on to other sights in Arashiyama.

Stop by Monkey Park Iwatayama where there’s free roaming since you’re in the area. And if you’re a caffeine addict like me, % Arabica has a shop here looking at the the Katsura River. Truly beautiful.

——L’Escamoteur Bar
Glad I decided to come here after dinner at Chojiro for a few drinks. Welcoming and entertaining during my visit, I planned for one drink before reuniting with friends but stayed for two. If you’re looking for cheap beers, this is not the place; although they do serve beers. Cocktails are what they do here and Chris, the owner, is proud of it. Order the Smokey Old Fashioned if you’re looking for a bit of a show. I personally look forward to returning here.


The”White Heron.” Himeji Castle. 2016

——Himeji Castle
Never planned to visit this castle until I made a trip to see Osaka castle and saw the stop at Himeji on the bullet train; I figure, why not? I must say that the approach to Himeji castle from the train station was the best part for me. Truly awe inspiring to see the castle tower over the city like a sentinel giant in the distant.

This is an extensive complex that can be a time sink if you’re into exploring all the nooks and crannies; there’s an adjacent garden, Kokoen, that you can visit for an additional ¥40 when you purchase the ticket, ¥1000, to enter the main castle complex and keep.

——Lilo Coffee Roasters
I picked this place as my #1 coffee shop in Japan during my 2016 visit. The full list of my favorite coffee in Japan is here. In short, they have a wide variety of beans – even a chart to help you pick one – and full menu of beverages and food with excellent service.

My #1 ramen joint, even beating the famous Rokurinsha. I posted a more in-depth list of my favorite ramens here. For the short version, Fuunji specializes in tsukemen that very rich in flavors that explode in your mouth. In addition, the chef serves every ramen with a smile and flare.


March, 20th. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. 2016

——Shinjuku Gyoen Garden
There are tons of parks and gardens in Tokyo but Shinjuku Gyoen Garden is one of the largest with many different themes so there something for everyone, even featuring a greenhouse – although it was closed when I visited. A popular spot during cherry blossom seasons – late March to early April – with hundreds of people gather in the park for photos and picnics.

The garden closes at 4:30 pm.

——Umegaoka Sushi No Midori Sohonten
Most will point towards Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi at Tsukiji for the sushi loving tourist – without losing your wallet – but the lines there are very long and requires waking up at the crack of dawn. Umegaoka makes a great alternative with tourist friendly menu but expect to wait an hour at any of their many locations. The crab roe salad was delicious, by the way, and usually comes with a set; highly recommend trying that.


Chef’s sushi set. Sushitomi in Tokyo. 2016.

I went light on sushi this trip but I had to try this place due to Tripadvisor’s ratings. This is a secluded joint that caters mostly to locals with occasional foreigners . As such, there is no menu but the owner does speak English. I went with the sushi set that came with miso soup and pickled vegetables for ¥1500. I want to try their lunch chirashi bowl next time. I would recommend this place if you’re looking for a more local feel.

Resting my legs with a Nipponia at Hitachino Brewing Lab in Akihabara, Tokyo. 2016

Relaxing with a Nipponia at Hitachino Brewing Lab in Akihabara, Tokyo. 2016

——Hitachino Brewing Lab
The best brewery in Japan – according to me. There’s actually some substance to that claim as Hitachino has won many international awards for their beers, especially the famous White Ale. The beers are quite pricy, ¥700 a glass, but I think this is a good stop if you’re in Akihabara. I really like their White Ale and Nipponia.

My Top 4 Coffee Shops Japan 2016
Japan Travel Tips
My Top 4 Best Ramen Japan 2016
Tokyo 2012 Reflections: My Top Places to Visit

My Top 4 Coffee Shops Japan 2016

Japan for the last few years is experiencing a new wave of speciality coffee shops popping up. My first time in Tokyo, in 2012, I got most of my caffeine fix from vending machines, mainly because I did not want to leave the group I was traveling with. I wanted to change that this trip.

With so much coffee shops to try and only so much caffeine my body can take, spending more time at each place would be optimal but what can you do? Of course, there were many missed. Next time. Here’s my top 4 best coffee shops in Japan 2016.


Latte at The Roastery by Nozy Coffee

4. The Roastery – Shibuya, Tokyo
This busy little coffee shop, between Shibuya and Harajuku, is located on the curiously named “Cat Street.” Nice place to slow down and rest your tired feet from the day of walking around Shibuya or Harajuku.

They serve coffee by Nozy, a popular coffee shop that specialize in single origin. As such, they have a very simple menu at the main station offering only espresso, Americano, and latte. There are pour overs and French press at the back. They do offer donuts, coffee port beer, and even latte soft ice cream.

I got the latte this visit, which was quite smooth even though I not a latte person; I got it to see their latte art work. A nice touch is that the cashier lets you smell the two single origins available that day before picking your beans.

3. Toranomon Koffee – Toranomon, Tokyo
Of all the coffee shops, Toranomon Koffee was my most anticipated. This is the relocation of the highly praised Omotesando Koffee that was closed due to costly repairs a few years ago. I made sure this place was my first stop.

Located on the 2nd floor of the Mori Building, the sister tower of Roppongi Hills, you will find this sleek, contemporary coffee shop. The place has two wings to handle large volumes of caffeine seekers. They are located in a large business building after all.

I got the hot house blend coffee, Toranomon Koffee, straight black. Smooth and well balanced without much bitterness was my impressions. In addition, you can enjoy your drink at their tables or outside in the building’s patio.

With some many speciality coffee shops popping up in Tokyo, I find it hard to justify the commute for the morning fix if you’re staying near, for example, Shinjuku. Even with that, I would love to revisit this place again in the future and try out their espressos.

The tiny shop of the Arashiyama branch of Arbica

The tiny shop of the Arashiyama branch of Arabica

2. % Arabica – Kyoto
% Arabica was a pleasant surprise. While my eyes were focused on Tokyo for my high-end caffeine fix, % Arabica blindsided me with their expertise and presentation.

They positioned their two locations, Higashiyama and Arashiyama, near popular tourist spots so there is a good chance of running into one of them while sightseeing. Could be the enchanting atmosphere of Kyoto, but both shops are very modern and sleek looking. Simply put, they were both beautiful in a minimalistic way.

The Arashiyama branch was the one I sampled, which sits next to Katsura River on the way to Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama – lovely view. This shop, by the way, is very cozy and contemporary with large glass windows to stare out at the river. There’s very little seats inside but there benches outside. Beautiful little coffee shop.

Having a simple menu, I tried a hot Americano and, on the way back, an espresso shot; both black. Both good, but the espresso was very nice; very rich and smooth. It was a shame my stay in Kyoto was very short which prohibits me from trying the latte. Highly recommend this place.

The Gib at Lilo Coffee

Lilo Coffee’s Gibraltar

1. Lilo Coffee Roasters – Osaka
I don’t know if it was the long day riding the Shinkansen or the walking around Osaka, but for some reason or another, Lilo Coffee Roasters hit the spot on all levels for me; good coffee, excellent service, and great selection of beans.

They carry a much wider array of coffee menu than most of the other speciality coffee shops for those that like options. In addition, Lilo lets you select the beans to determine the amount of acidity, roast, and strength. On top of that, they offer soy milk alternative which is great for someone that is lactose intolerant, like me.

I got myself a lovely Gibraltar, which was the best cup of coffee I had during this trip – great ratio between coffee and milk. Perhaps I was tired, but this was what I was exactly what I needed. I even got a simple drip coffee to-go, afterwards. Lilo gives you a ¥150 discount when you order a 2nd cup; not many other places do this. Honestly, I thought of returning to Osaka before my JR Rail Pass expires just to return here.

The service, as mentioned, was great; the barista even brings the coffee to you. Please make a quick, or extended, visit to Lilo Coffee if you find yourself in Osaka. I look forward to returning playing this place another visit when I return to Osaka in the few years.

Filled to the brim, Military Latte, at Streamer Coffee Company

Filled to the brim, Military Latte, at Streamer Coffee Company

**Honorable Mention** Streamer Coffee Company
This was my favorite coffee shop in 2012. Then again, to be fair, I only tried two coffee shops that trip. I was close to putting this fourth on the list but I felt that The Roastery was better.

What attracted me to this place was finding out the owner was a latte art champion. After four years, Streamer is still serving quality coffee with lovely latte art – just look at that photo above. Plus, they have so many locations now, they must be doing well.

I stopped by the main in shop Shibuya and the new one in Harajuku to try their Military Latte – espresso and green tea – and blueberry latte, respectively.

Although the Military Latte was impressive to look at, I felt it was a bit bland for me – want to add that I was getting sick at this point in the trip as my taste might have been affected. The addition of green tea might have diluted the sharp caffeine kick. The blueberry latte, something different, was decent but nothing too special. Still a solid coffee “company,” overall.

Other coffee shops I visited:
Vermillion Espresso Bar

Japan 2016: Favorite Places
Japan Travel Tips
My Top 4 Best Ramen Japan 2016
Tokyo 2012 Reflections: My Top Places to Visit

My Top 4 Best Ramen Japan 2016

With my 14-nights adventure in Japan at an end, here’s my top 4 best ramen in Japan that you must try. Why four? Cause anymore would make the list too easy. Of course, this is not, by no means, a complete list and mainly focuses in West Tokyo – Shinjuku area – and Kyoto that I personally tried.


Ichiran with spice level 10!

4. Ichiran
This wildly popular ramen restaurant chain is located all over Tokyo and Osaka. I feel their many locations is a way to prevent everyone from coming to one spot.

The rich and flavorful tonkotsu broth is the reason why people are flocking to Ichiran. Ichiran lets you customize your order; everything from the amount of oil to the firmness of the noodles. Adding the spice is a must, in my opinion, as the spice adds a nice extra layer to the broth, creating a more exciting profile.

My favorite extras are an egg and seaweed. If you order an egg, be prepare to peel it yourself. Extra noodles can be order after finishing your initial serving for ¥150 or ¥130 for a half order of noodles, as much as you want.

Plus, unlike many other restaurants, you will be seated in individual booths with dividers and binders. You will not even see the face of your server. Very unique and Japanese experience. Just you and the ramen.

Some of the locations are open 24-hours which makes Ichiran very convenient at odd hours. Our 24-hours Ichiran was near Shinjuku station.


Welcoming  fatty, delicious Nikutamamen bowl from Mutekiya

3. Mutekiya – Ikebukuro, Tokyo
Close to skipping due to being “ramen-out” at the last leg of the trip, but I’m so glad I made one last trip on the last night to Mutekiya.

If you like tender pork and a fatty, rich broth, then you will definitely have to give Mutekiya a try; truly savory and filling. Mutekiya gives you thick slices of chashu along with an egg, bamboo shoots, and leafy vegetables on most variants. I went with Nikutamamen for about ¥1,050 which comes with three slices of chashu. There’s also fresh garlic with a crusher and spicy pickled vegetables at each seat, along with self serve jasmine tea.

Since there’s usually a queue at Mutekiya, a staff will come out to take your order while in line and will have the bowl ready a few minutes after sitting down. Extremely efficient system.

Sugari speciality: tsukemen with yuzu noodles

Sugari speciality: tsukemen with yuzu noodles

2. Sugari – Kyoto
This was one of the better and unique ramen experiences I had in Japan. And to think, I decided to come to Sugari, a hidden restaurant with no English menu, last minute after skipping another ramen joint.

Sugari came up Yelp with only 16 reviews but only a block away from my hotel; I figure, why not. Luckily, one of the reviewers had instructions on how to order.

This small ramen joint specializes in tsukemen with yuzu noodles. The dipping broth was very flavorful but simple. The savory and salty broth with the light citrusy noodles really help balance the meal out; very unique.

The kicker, for me, is that Sugari uses flame grilled pork, you can see the burnt marks on the small chunks of pork and pork fat. These morsels were a bit chewy and delicious; probably the best “chashu” I had during the trip.

In addition, the atmosphere of this place was enchanting; feels like a secret slice of an older era Japan, but this is Kyoto after all. After entering a low unmarked door, you’re presented with a short, dark alley way with a ticket vending machine at the end. You’ll then encounter a courtyard with a blooming cherry tree, at the time, and an open kitchen. You will not know any of this is there judging from the inconspicuous front.

The "special tsukemen" at Fuunji

The “special tsukemen” at Fuunji

1. Fuunji – Shinjuku, Tokyo
My number one spot was a tough one, but I have to give Fuunji the title. I made this trip a mission to try tsukemen style and this place – and Sugari – really open my eyes to the world of tsukemen.

They have tradition ramen and tsukemen but the speciality here is tsukemen. The special tsukemen, which I got, costs ¥1,000 and don’t mind all the consecutive “Best Ramen” awards on top of the vending machine. And, expect a long queue that forms outside and inside Fuunji.

The dipping broth is truly a flavor bomb in your mouth. Incredibly rich, creamy, porky, fishy, and salty – all good things. In addition, the dipping broth is loaded with pieces of chashu, bamboo shoots, onions, seaweed, and an egg.

The noodles were decent; thick and chewy. But, the thing that pulls everything together is the chef; he’s a rockstar of ramen. A dash of showmanship and expertise, watching him practice his craft was very entertaining. You swear he was in a Japanese rock band before discovering his calling. Runs the kitchen with an eye on detail, handles preparation, manages the line and seatings, greets, and thanks every customer all with a smile. Do not worry, you will know who he is.

I totally recommend Fuunji if you find yourself in Tokyo, even if you don’t necessarily like ramen. You can at least said you battled the queues to try the “best” ramen in Japan. I had a friend return twice in the same day.

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tsukemen, their speciality.

Rokurinsha’s tsukemen, their speciality

*Honorable Mention* Rokurinsha – Tokyo Station
This is a very popular tsukemen joint located in “Ramen Street” in the basement of Tokyo station, on the Yaesu South Exit side. Look for the one with the long line.

Rokurinsha’s dipping broth is good. Rich, salty, and fishy were the dominant flavors. They do give you a lot of noodles so a great value for your yen. I just rather have Fuunji if I wanted tsukemen in Tokyo.

A lighter shio yuzu ramen served at Afuri

Lighter shio yuzu ramen served at Afuri

*Honorable Mention* Afuri – Ebisu, Tokyo
I was feeling under the weather when I came to Afuri. I definitely have to try this place again.

Afuri specializes in shio ramen, salt-based, with a twist of yuzu for a bit of a citrus, which is not overpowering. This is a bit different from all the tonkotsu ramen I had during this trip. Although good, I prefer the more rich tonkotsu style ramen. Please give this a try if you like the lighter broth of shio and shoyu ramen.

Staff was super-friendly, by the way, and they have full English labeled vending machine. Afuri also has many locations throughout Tokyo; I went to the Afuri near Ebisu station.

Extra soybean ramen with level 4 of both spices from Kikanbo

Extra soybean ramen with level 4 of both spices from Kikanbo

*Honorable Mention* Kikanbo – Northern Tokyo
Having two locations in Kanda and Ikebukuro, Kikanbo specialize in miso based ramen, really spicy miso ramen, to be exact. I was really excited for this place before coming to Japan; I enjoy testing my threshold.

I had the second hottest level for both spice, red chili and numbing spice. The ramen was exciting at first but the numbing spice made the ramen really boring to eat half way through, as I couldn’t taste anything. I think this is a very fun ramen to eat with your friends, however. Next time, I’ll reduce the numbing spice level.

My Top 4 Coffee Shops Japan 2016
Japan Travel Tips
Japan 2016: Favorite Places
Tokyo 2012 Reflections: My Top Places to Visit

[Updated] Japan 2016 – Places I Want to Visit

With the 2016 Japan trip coming closer by the day, there are a things I would like to do and see more this time around since there are 14 days to just slowly enjoy the experience. We seen many of the major attractions within Tokyo so I can focus on the things I, and perhaps many other tourists, overlook.

This time around, I would like to do more things on my own instead of sticking with the flock the whole time. This way, I can do the things I want to do without dragging anyone else. I definitely would like to check out the coffee scene since most of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans do end up in Japan. In addition, I would like to try Japanese craft beers and bars. Eat more ramen – including tsukemen (dipping ramen)- and sushi as well, since last time one of my friends did not like sushi at all.

Here is a, by no means complete, list of things I would like to do while in Japan this time around.

Toranomon Koffee – I originally wanted to try Omotesando Koffee, one of the highest reviewed coffee shop on Yelp and TripAdvisor, but they closed down on December 2015 due to costly repairs. This is their new location. It’s a shame since their old location had such a nice atmosphere – converted old Japanese home – but this will have to do.

[Edit: I picked this place as my #3 top coffee shop. Pleasant experience. I wish it was closer to where I was staying, a bit out of the way.]

Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant – Anthony Bourdain claimed this was the greatest show on earth. My friend said it was pretty interesting and fun that was definitely worth the experience. Other friend said this is something you can only see once. Robots, women in bikinis, lasers, lights, and alcohol. Sure, why not?

[Edit: An one time event for me. This is the “gaijin” spot. It was interesting and had its moments but you can skip this; not worth the price at 8,000¥ . Many hotels will have discounts vouchers, just ask them or 6,800¥ at this site.]

Disney Sea – might as well, right? Described as a mini Disneyland Tokyo but with alcohol, I have not been to Disneyland for over a decade so this might be an interesting experience. Did I mentioned there is alcohol?

[Edit: Decided on the after 6 pm ticket 4,200 ¥. Did not went on any rides, lines were too long. I saw the night show at the lake, drank some sake, and walked around. Quite beautiful, even in the dark.]

Umegaoka Sushi No Midori Sohonten – picking this sushi joint purely on reviews. There’s two locations, Shibuya and Ginza, and both have long lines prime hours according to the reviews and photos. High quality with reasonable prices, maybe these are the reason for the lines.

[Edit: Check my favorite places post for my thoughts.]

Kikanbo – saw this place while watching I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. Japan is not known for spicy foods but this is a spicy take on ramen; mind numbing spicy ramen, I might add. In fact, you can choose the level of TWO spices – red chili pepper and szechuan pepper – when you order the ramen. I’ll probably try “hot” during my first trip and “demon” on the sequential visit. Wish me luck. By the way, I did not put many ramen joints on the list because my friend will be taking us to all the popular ramen joints he tried over the years.

[Edit: Check out my favorite ramen in Japan for my thoughts.]

Hitachino Brewing Lab & Baird Taproom – two of the craft beer brewery I want to visit in Tokyo. A quick look at Beeradvocate shows that the Hitachino (Kiuchi Brewery) and Baird beers dominate the top of the list. Hitachino Brewing Lab is located in Akihabara and Baird has a few locations, but I’m aiming for the Harajuku location.

[Edit: Check my favorite places post for my thoughts on Hitachino.  I only stopped by Baird once while in Harajuku but I enjoyed their Suruga Bay Imperial IPA.]

The spot Bill Murray sat

The spot Bill Murray sat in Lost In Translation

New York Bar – the bar of Lost In Translation in the Shinjuku Park Tower, where Park Hyatt is located as well, on the 52nd floor. Probably over hyped with high prices due to the movie but I still want to visit this place. My friend who been there did not think it was worth the 2,500 ¥ admission fee but it’s one of those iconic place to visit, I guess. Plus, the place is literally across the street where we’re staying.

[Edit: Did not have time, sadly.]

The Peak Bar – located in the same building as New York Bar, on the 41th floor, this bar – apparently also featured in Lost In Translation – has a happy hour special, called “Twilight Time,” for 5,000 ¥ that gives you unlimited drinks and snack food between 5-9pm. This place should like a better deal than the New York Bar, even with the price increase – the special was 3,500 ¥ a year ago. Potentially a lovely place to relax and enjoy the night skyline of Tokyo with a bunch of beers and cocktails.

[Edit: I got sick on the day this was planned.]

World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon Pan Ice Cream – with a name like that how could you not pay this place a visit? Melon pan, ice cream, and a pinch of sarcastic modesty in your hands; enough said.

[Edit: Tried the one in Osaka at Dotonbori. I got mine fresh out of the oven with a nice scoop of ice cream. Delicious. I would eat this again.]

Kamakura – an outlying area located about an hour south from Tokyo, Kamakura is a small city with many beautiful temples. Called the “Kyoto of Eastern Japan,” I look forward to just checking out the scenery, temples, and shrines in the area.

[Edit: Decided to go to Osaka instead. Friends said there was not much to see.]

Suntory Distillery – what can I say, Lost In Translation sold me on the Suntory brand. How can you resist Bill Murray? As such, I would love to visit the distillery for their whisky, which located between Kyoto and Osaka. Having a 7-day pass to use the bullet train, I might use a day to visit this place. The tour is out of the question since it’s been fully booked but the tasting room will do just fine, if I can get in, of course.

[Edit: Did not have time.]

Gate at Kiyomizudera

Gate at Kiyomizudera

Kyoto – we have two official days in Kyoto and my friend will be guiding us to all the major sites that he thought was worth a visit so I’m not too worried about attractions here. However, I can come back by myself later since we all have a 7-day JR pass to Kyoto. Places I would like to visit are Fushimi Inari Shrine, bamboo groves at Sagano, and Kiyomizudera so far. Apparently, Fushimi Inari Shrine is opened 24 hours, so I might do a night jog up the stairs for kicks.

[Edit: I love this city. So charming and atmospheric. I even made a solo trip back here to revisit a site and took my time. Only got to visit a few sites due to our short stay  so I’ll definitely be back.]

% Arabica – seems like the coffee joint in Kyoto to get caffeinated according to TripAdvisor and Yelp. They have two locations, Higashiyama and Arashiyama, in Kyoto so I’m looking forward to grabbing many cups during the stay there.

[Edit: I picked this place as my #2 top coffee shop.]

Chojiro – a sushi place located in Kyoto, this place has good rating on TripAdvisor with good prices. This place is a conveyor belt style sushi joint but the quality seems pretty good. There are high quality sushi joints in Kyoto but this will do for me.

[Edit: I thought this place was above average. There was a long line when I was there, probably other tourists drawn by the reviews. If you’re in the mood for sushi, not a must visit in my opinion.]

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle – to me, the most iconic castle in Eastern Japan is Osaka Castle. I know Himeji Castle is THE castle to visit in Japan, but I have no plans to visit that region this trip; this will have to do. This castle has historic significance value to me as it was the intended base of operation for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified Japan and ended the Sengoku period.

[Edit: I made solo trip to Osaka to visit this castle. Much smaller in real life. Unfortunately, the visit would be eclipsed by an unplanned visit to Himeji Castle a day later. Still worth a trip if you’re not going to Himeji.]

Minami (Namba) – probably the most famous district in Osaka is filled with shopping and restaurants, plus Dotonbori is located here. If you’re in Osaka, there’s not much reason not to visit this place. To be honest, I just want to experience the atmosphere here; there’s not really anything here I have to try or see.

[Edit: I was only able to be here for an hour or so – I had to catch a train back to Tokyo. Tons of people and food of all kinds. I tried a few fried skewers and melon pan ice cream. Next time.]

Umeda Sky Building – this unique modern building houses an observatory with 360-degree view of Northern Osaka. Only charging 800 ¥ per person, I would be crazy not to at least visit this place at least once and they have a food court. Win-win.

[Edit: Beautiful building. I enjoyed the journey to the top more than the view itself but Osaka Castle can be seen from here. Although nice, you can skip this. Use the tunnel passage; I took the long way around.]

Of course, this is just a rough list. We will probably try a wagyu restaurant and other random places while there. Mainly, I look forward to just stumble upon places that leave me smiling while walking out the door. And another thing, I should watch Lost In Translation again, it has been years.

The photos were from my friend’s previous visits to Japan.

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