Category Archives: Japan

Bamboo Forest (Arashiyama)


What can you say about bamboo?  Bamboo is just a wonder.  Despite being relatively light weight, it has a greater tensile strength than steel and withstands compression better than concrete!  Not bad at all for something that is considered to be a primitive grass! In China, it is used as scaffolding for building construction.  It is also used as water containers and piping, creating chopsticks, building material, creating activated carbon etc.

But, you know, bamboo is beautiful too.  There is something magical, spiritual almost watching the bamboo sway in the breeze and listening to the sound of the leaves.  All the more so when you find yourself in the middle of an old age bamboo grove.

Welcome to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.  Located to the west of Kyoto, it is one of the top destinations for tourists and locals alike.  Beautiful.  I would easily included it in my Squirrel’s Secret Spot series except for the @#%*!@  crowd of people there!  Definitely recommend visiting off-season, during weekdays and as early as possible.  I went in early December.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Kyoto (Dec 2016) Arashiyama – Photo by LGS
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Kyoto (Dec 2016) Arashiyama – Photo by LGS
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Often said to look like the bamboo forest in the movie, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. (Photo by LGS)

It’s not all bamboo though.  There is also a UNESCO World Heritage Temple (Tenryuji), the scenic Hozu River gorge (go on a boat ride or a scenic train ride or combine the two), a monkey park and other attractions.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)
It’s not all bamboo!  View of the Hozu River (Photo by LGS)

And then, it gets even more excellent!  For about  a week in December, the forest is illuminated and it turns into a wonderland (Arashiyama Hanatoro event).

Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Magical Forest (Photo by LGS)
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Only distraction is the light of everyone’s handphones! (Photo by LGS)
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Another world. (Photo by LGS)
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Slow walk to Hozu River (Photo by LGS)
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Hozu River near Togetsukyo or ‘Moon Crossing’ bridge. (Photo by LGS)

All that wandering around and gazing at the wonderful sights will leave you famished.  Make a pit stop and refuel at one of the many restaurants, tea houses, food kiosks found all along the access to the forest from the railway station.  I am sure that its all good but I want to make a mention about this stall that makes yuba donuts from scratch.  Familiar yet different and tummy warming.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Yuba (skimmed soyabean skin) – Photo by LGS
Kyoto (Dec 2016)
Yuba made into donuts. Delicious. (Photo by LGS)

I loved this place so much.  I will be back!

 

 

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Golden Pavilion (Kyoto)


My very first trip to Japan was many, many years ago.  I was there on work assignment to attend a meeting of conservationists.  It was a great opportunity to discover this singularly unique land and culture.  But at that time, the cost of living in Japan was probably the highest in the world.  Furthermore, I had only been working for a couple of years and I soon found out that I could barely afford more than a meal of instant noodles.  I certainly could not afford to make the train trip from Tokyo to Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto.  It was disappointing to be so close but…….no.

Then in December last year, I finally got to scratch my travel itch by going to Kyoto (only some 20 years late).  Over the next couple of weeks, I would like to share some highlights of my trip.

Let me start it off with the stunningly, radiant vision which is Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

This beautiful site dates from the 14th century but the pavilion had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1950.  There is a saying that “all that glimmers is not gold”.  However, in this case, it is! The structure is covered in a thin layer of gold leaf.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

We went on a cold December day but the sun came out from behind the clouds and the pavilion seemed to be radiating rays of light.  Definitely go when it is sunny for full effect.

I am usually not a fan of ostentatious, gaudy and self indulgent architecture but in this case, it works!  The pavilion seemed to naturally belong amongst the tranquillity of the reflecting pond and zen-like gardens.  The heron seemed to think so too.  Can you see him in the foreground of the picture above?

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

There was of course a whole gaggle of tourists on that day as well as a number of school groups making a nuisance of themselves.  But the magic of the place was still able to give inner peace.  If you do plan to visit though, try going on a weekday and as early as possible to avoid the crowd.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

This was the first time I had ever seen anybody sweeping the moss!  There were a lot of beautiful landscapes in the temple garden with water and moss which as you can see here was lovingly maintained.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

One can follow the trail up the hill behind the Golden Pavilion and look back down on the pavilion, the pond and the gardens.  There you will find a number of viewing points, a shrine and the unavoidable gift shop.  You might also find this charming lady tending to the moss with the pavilion in the background.

Kyoto (Dec 2016)

Another gem is this tea garden located in amongst the trees.  A great place to meditate on the wonders of a warm cup of tea on a cold day.  I actually did not stop here for tea but went back to the entrance where we could get Japanese soft serve ice cream.  So on that crisp and brisk winter morning, my wife had black sesame and I had green tea ice cream.  Very ying and yang.

More of Kyoto to come.  Watch this space!

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Sapporo is Good Eating


My wife and I recently made a short trip to Japan with another couple.  We went to Sapporo in the northern island of Hokkaido and to Toyama and Kanazawa on the main island of Honshu.  As the other couple are ardent foodies, this was primarily an eating holiday with food markets, street food and restaurants being the order of the day.  A couple of hiking trips, some shopping and sightseeing was done during the times we had to allow the food to digest.

On arrival in Sapporo, our first order of business was to seek out the seafood market (there are two, Nijo and Chuo-ku markets and we went to both).  Our mission, apart from gawking at the variety of fish and marine creatures on sale, was to seek out and devour a heaping big serving of Taraba King Crab.  These guys are monstrously, nightmarishly large but also delicious.

Another highlight was the Ganso Ramen Yokocho or Ramen Street.  In the midst of the flashy neon lights of the modern, vibrant Susukino district, there is a small narrow lane between buildings which house a series of small stalls which seem to be a relic from another time and which serve some of the best ramen on the planet.  These hole in the walls are small.  The smallest could only accommodate about 6 diners while the largest could probably sit about 16 diners.  We visited this street for dinner and supper a number of times.  Once we went around the witching hour on a wet rainy night to find queues of men in business suits waiting patiently in the rain for their turn to sit in the few seats available.  Our favorites included a delicious clam ramen served with basil oil and the Hokkaido local speciality of sweetcorn and butter ramen.

It may seem strange but we also tried out a French and an Italian restaurant and the Italian place, Picchu, was really memorable for using local Japanese ingredients in a creative interpretation of Italian cooking; a Taraba Crab meat sausage is an example.

Hokkaido is also famous for its milk and ice cream so a few helpings of that was also sampled especially the green tea ice cream.

Anyway, here are some photos to whet your appetite.

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Striptease


Hi everyone!  I celebrated my birthday last week and I left clues in one of my posts to let you guys know where in the world I was.  Well, I waited and waited but none of you showed up to my birthday party.

What’s wrong?  Couldn’t solve the clues? Got lost? Got mugged in Tokyo and loss your memory?  Got stomped on by Godzilla?

Well anyway, you didn’t show up and it was your loss cause I chose to celebrate my birthday in my birthday suit!  Yes…..au naturel.  Bet you are kicking yourself for not getting on that early flight to Japan.

After decades of thinking about it, I finally got a chance to go to a ryokan and go into an outdoor onsen.  And I took the plunge!  I embraced the whole experience which involves letting it all hang out in a public bath.

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I Mean, …Ten Thousand Monkeys Can’t be Wrong

For the uninitiated, let me walk you through the process.

Step 1: Get Naked. – all you take with you is a tiny towel that is barely big enough to cover your privates.  Now it seems that the native Japanese tend to strut around with the tiny towel folded neatly on top of their heads.  Those less accustomed to public nudity may rather uncomfortably use it to shield the nether regions from prying eyes but it really doesn’t help much.  I tend to subscribe to the strategy of using the towel to cover the face so that no one knows who you are.

Step 2: Soap and wash. – There are washing stations lined up along the side of a wall where you are expected to sit on tiny stools and wash  and clean yourself thoroughly. NOTE:- You Have to be CLEAN before entering the hot spring pool.  Soaping yourself in the hot pool is a major faux pas; nay – a major diplomatic incident; nay reason for going to war.

Step 3:  Enter the hot spring fed pool and soak while enjoying the cold outdoors.  The waters heal all kinds of physical and mental ailments and tiredness.

So here we go …….

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Dressed for the Occasion in a Yukata (which apparently should not be confused with Yakuza)
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To prove your worthiness to enter the waters of the onsen, some torture may have to be endured
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Isn’t this just magical?

Well, that’s pretty much the end of this post.  If you were expecting some nudity, shame on you!   Please remember this is a family oriented blog.

Now, do you really want to see the squirrel disrobed?  I mean, do you really?  Are you sure?  Your final warning.  It’s not too late to turn back.  Last chance to save your eyes.

If you really want to see then follow this link…… I WANT TO SEE!

P.S. when asked about wearing his birthday suit for the occasion, LGS merely told the paparazzi that “it needed ironing”.

Tsunami – Japan 2011


The Great Wave Off Kanagawa By Katsushika Hokusai

This blog has observed a week of silence in respect for the thousands who lost their lives in the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that hit Sendai and the surrounding area in Japan on the 11th of March 2011.  My thoughts and good wishes to the people of Japan in this terrible time.  My prayers too that the nuclear reactor incident at Fukushima does not become a full blown nuclear disaster.

Japan, perhaps among all nations, are best prepared to face earthquakes and tsunamis but this incident reminds us the limit of our abilities to determine our own fate and our helplessness in the face of such powerful natural forces.

Rubbish in My Head


Today, my mind was full of rubbish.  The cheeky reader will no doubt raise an eyebrow and think to himself/herself that this is nothing new for LGS but you would be wrong cause I was deeper into rubbish than usual.  Specifically, I was trying to find a decent pedal bin to use for throwing  rubbish and wastes in the kitchen.  Of utmost importance, the bin must be ant proof as I am having so many ants in my kitchen that they are fighting turf wars over territory and dropped food scraps.

Anyway, there I was, innocently walking into a shop which sells said pedal bins when it happened!  I will never be the same again.  My jaw dropped like a ton of bricks when I saw the price of the small 10 liter pedal bin.   It was Malaysian Ringgit 490 or USD 159.  That seems rather a lot to spend for a rubbish bin.

I remember when I was traveling, different things were cheap and different things were expensive in different parts of the world.  Some had to due with the lack of supply or the logistics of supply. In Japan, fruits can be costly indeed.  A single banana can cost USD 1.  Even more awe-inspiring, Japanese will pay as much as USD 240 for a melon.  In India, I was surprised to find good quality saris (traditional dress for Indian women) can be very expensive but food and long distance phone calls were very cheap.

I don’t pretend to understand economics but it seems that when demand is low, the price can be high.  When the demand is moderate, then the price usually lowers but when demand is very high than the price goes up again.

A lot of travel blogs like to use the price of a McDonald’s set meal as a way of comparing relative cost of living in different parts of the world.  The rationale being that unfortunately the golden arches is ubiquitous all over the world.  I prefer to use eggs.  Eggs is a more basic unit of comparison especially to help us get our perspective right.

For example, my USD 149 rubbish bin is the same as 1,176 eggs.  Assuming I take two eggs (whether sunny-side up, scrambled or as an omelette), that is about 588 satisfying breakfasts that I could have instead of owning a pedal bin.

So using the Egg Index, here are some of the relative costs of things here in Malaysia.  How about in your neck of the woods?

  • cheap breakfast = 7.2 eggs
  • Big Mac burger  = 11 eggs
  • liter of milk        =  12  eggs
  • bottle of beer    =  30 eggs
  • moderate restaurant meal   =  60 eggs
  • Music CD   = 120 eggs
  • average visit to doctor for minor ailments  = 192 eggs
  • Broadband internet access  = 240 eggs
  • pedal bin (rubbish)    = 1,176 eggs
  • Nintendo Wii console = 4,200 eggs
  • mid range computer  =9,600 eggs