Sorry but not sorry, I’m not a fan of cats. Since Japan is known for its Cat Café’s and Tim is so fond of cats, I made my utter best to convince him not to go to a cat café so instead we compromised to visit an owl café. C’mon owls are so cute and adorable and you don’t get to see them every day and not everyone has them as pets.
We booked a 7PM slot with Owl Café & Bar Owl Village located in Harajuku, Shibuya. As soon as we arrived the staff sat us down to have a hot green tea with a delicious dessert on the side while they were giving us a short briefing before heading in the Owl Room. Basically, it’s a small sanctuary where they take good care of owls and set them free once they are recovered.
So here are top 10 things we’ve learned about the owls: –
- A group of owls is called a parliament.
- Most owls hunt insects.
- Owls can’t see things close to their eyes which makes them farsighted.
- Owls can turn their heads 270 degrees (COOOOOL!!!!)
- There are 200 different species
- Owls even eat small mammals and can eat 1,000 mice a year. (This fact made me love Owls even more because mice scare me).
- Owls are nocturnal which means they are energetic at night time.
- Female owls are larger than males.
- Barn owls have heart shaped face (AWWWWWWH)
- Owls fossils lead back to 58 million years. (IMPRESSIVE)
Tim and I highly recommend the place. You will get to interact with the owls and the owl experts are always ready to answer your questions.
I think that’s the craziest thing I’ve done in my whole life. So, unlike Moroccan or Mediterranean bath, you will need to be completely naked in front of strangers. So here is how it all went; when we were flying from Dubai to Manila, Tim was trying to convince me to try the Japanese bath but I kept saying NO.
Everyday Tim would remind me that we will be going for a Japanese bath and I kept saying NO. After days and days of trying to convince me, I still kept saying NO. He suggested Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari which was highly recommended in Tokyo. I looked it up and said ok lets check out the area and if I’m comfortable then I’ll give it a try. I asked the lady if I can keep my swimming suit on and she was like ‘trust me, we Japanese ladies don’t care’. The lady next to her nodded and so I agreed.
You get to pick your Yukata and go to separate changing rooms to get ready. Afterwards you meet up in the centre where food is being served so Tim and I agreed to meet at a certain time and we went our separate ways. I panicked, I was all alone in a Yukata surrounded by naked Japanese women. So, I slowly took off everything and OMG I WAS NAKED IN FRONT OF STRANGERS.
I later met Tim at the meeting point and had an amazing Japanese lunch and we sat outdoors for a foot SPA. The funny thing is, if you have a tattoo you are not allowed in the bath because they’ll associate you with the Yakuza. So I will never ever get a tattoo and I recommend the experience. Yes, it sounds weird but they really don’t care.
We bid farewell to Kyoto and took the Shinkansen to Tokyo. It’s just the complete opposite, the city is filled with lights, night life and crazy excitement. Unluckily, I got ill, I was constipated, had high fever and a nasty cold but that did not ruin my holiday. I made sure we would have a great time.
Tokyo is so different from Kyoto, life is busy. Those youtube videos of the train rides are so true. You really need to squeeze yourself in a train and Tetris your way through. Tokyo is so special, besides the fact that fashion is insanely awesome and some people dress up like anime characters, Tokyo is the city for artistic and creative minds.
During the day, we visited Meiji Jingy Shrine which was peaceful. Then walked to busy Takeshita-don. OMG! That place is INSANE. PINK AND CARTOON CHARACTERS EVERYWHERE. I think I visited every store and even had an ice cream. The ice creams temperature was perfect, it wasn’t too cold. We stopped by an Owl Café and reserved our seats for the next day. Afterwards, we visited the ANIME WORLD in an area called Akihabara. As it was getting darker, I told Tim I needed to go to the pharmacy so we got some medication and sat for a while then decided to have dinner at Kabuki Cho, that place offers an unbelievable night life. Since I’m a Fast & Furious fan, we went to Shinjuku where the famous Tokyo Drift was filmed.
The following day, we went to Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari to experience the Japanese hot spring bath which I will blog about separately. We went to witness the Shibuya Crossing and went shopping in Omotesando and Aoyama. At night, we visited the Owl Café in Harajuku. I still didn’t feel so well so we headed back to our hostel but decided to go to a local restaurant to cook our own Okonomiyaki for dinner. That was fun.
Our last day in Tokyo we visited Senso-ji Temple and had lunch at Sushi Zanmai Asakusa Kaminarimon and the last place we visited was Tokyo’s Observation Deck. I love everything about Japan and I really can’t wait to go back and visit.
We met a lovely group of American girls and boys at the hostel who were heading to Yasaka Hall Gion Corner to watch the Geisha show. Tim and I met 2 amazing girls from the hostel. Amanda and Dani who are extremely friendly and sweet. Hope we will get to meet them again.
They asked us if we were free to join and since we had nothing else to do, we decided to go and watch the show.
We highly recommend the place and just a little tip, read the catalogue that’s provided before the show. It has the full translation so you won’t be clueless when watching. Note that the whole show is in Japanese. There will be a puppet show which I found creepy and a show about tea ceremony and arranging flowers. There will also be a comedy show which is hundreds and hundreds years old.
So if ever you are in Kyoto you must visit Yasaka Hall for the show. It is totally worth it.
Tim and I headed to Nara early in the morning to Nara. We really wanted to visit Nara Park because of the Deers. OMG! They are everywhere and they are adorable. You can buy biscuits from the ladies selling on the side of the streets. Each bag of biscuits costs ¥ 150.
Word of advice, DO NOT SHOW ALL THE BISCUITS TO THE DEERS. THEY WILL ATTACK. I REPEAT, THEY WILL ATTACK. Tim and I spent the day walking in the park feeding deers. There were even Japanese students who interviewed Tim because they were practicing English.
After a long walk, we came across a small market that sells street food and the Todai-ji Temple. You must visit it, it has the biggest Buddha in Japan. Todai-ji’s main hall also known as Daibutsuden Hall is also the biggest wooden building in the world. In the area you will come across the Todai-ji Museum.
Tim and I had an amazing time there and we highly recommend the place.
Visited: April 2017
Admission: ¥ 500 (Museum only) ¥ 800 (Museum and Daibutsuden Hall)
JR Nara Line 45 minutes by Kaisoku, 70 minutes by Futsu) and the train departs from JR Kyoto Station in Kyoto and arrives at JR Nara Station in Nara
One of the best days I’ve spent in Kyoto. Tim and I decided to visit the best and top temples of Kyoto in one day. So we woke up at 8 in the morning, had our breakfast and purchased a City Bus All Day Pass from our hostel which costs ¥500 approx. £4.
Fushimi Inari-taisha – Thousand Gates
The first stop was to Fushimi Inari-Taisha, which is a shrine located on the mountain, 233 meters above sea level and the shrine was initially built in 711 A.D and there are over 10,000 tori gates. You’ll notice a lot of fox statues and one particular fox holds a key in his mouth. Foxes apparently used to be the shrine’s messengers that’s why you will find a lot of statues.
As per Trip Advisor it won Travelers Choice Award for 2017 and it’s well deserved. Although it is a long walk, I highly recommend you walk it all and do not give up. Trust me, it is worth it. So take your time and enjoy it.
Visited: April 2017
Transportation: Take the Train; it’s closer to the temple than the bus station
Stop at Fushimi Inari Station.
Kinkaku-ji- Golden Temple
Also, known as the Golden Temple. The incredible temple dates to 1397 which was a villa owned by Saionji family and was purchased by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu a statesman. He transformed the villa into Kinkaku-ji and when he died, his will was to convert the place into a Zen Temple and now it is one of the most visited temples in the world.
Tim and I couldn’t stop taking photos of the temple and although it was Tim’s second time to visit the temple, he said it still looks surreal. The temple is completely covered in gold leaf and overlooks the lake. AHHH SO WONDERFUL. On our way our Tim and I stopped at the tea garden to enjoy a cup of Japanese green tea served with a Japanese sweet on the side to avoid adding sugar to the tea. Unfortunately, the outdoor garden was full so we had our tea indoors instead.
Visited: April 2017
Bus: 101, 102, 204 or 205
Ginkaku-ji – Silver Temple
Also known as Temple of the Silver Pavilion and the Jisho-ji which translates to ‘Temple of Shining Mercy’. It is also a Zen Temple representing the Higashiyama Culture. Ashikaga Yoshimasa created the temple as a retirement villa however after his death it has been become a Zen Temple.
There is an amazing feel to it. Calmness and nature makes you appreciate the present time. We usually dwell on the past and think of the future and ignore the present. However, if you are in Ginkaku-ji just enjoy the present moment you are in and attract all the positive vibe that place represents.
Visited: April 2017
Bus: 5,17 or 100
Honestly, it was not even on our list but we happened to be there. Chion-In is the headquarter of the Jodo-shu, founed by Honen. The story behind the temple is that it was originally built in 1234 by Honen’s disciple.
Tim and I visited the Temple and visited the massive Sanmon Gate. Unfortunately, we were there quite late so the temple was closed but we managed to walk around the area.
Visited: April 2017
There are so many other temples to visit in Kyoto but we narrowed the best temples in one day and we wouldn’t be able to visit the others since we will be heading to Nara the next day.
The first touristic attraction we visited was the Bamboo Forest located in Arashiyama, west district of Kyoto. If you are coming from Kyoto Station take JR Sagano Line to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station. However, if you are travelling from central Kyoto then Hankyu Line to the furthest Omiya Station then transfer to Keifuku Randen Tramline.
Tim and I arrived at the station and the first thing that caught my attention was the cherry blossom trees. We walked in the area before heading to the Bamboo Forest and tried a lot of street food. Of course, while walking we took lots of photos of the cherry blossom tree since it’s listed on my bucket list.
As we walked the streets and checked the market, we passed the Nonomiya Shrine. Honestly, the place was packed with people so we managed to take pictures and continued to the Bamboo Forest.
As soon as we arrived, my mouth dropped. The place looks surreal, it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to. The calmness, the serenity and nature; I just couldn’t believe my eyes. As we got out of the forest, we made a stop at Okochi Sanso Garden. Seriously I’ve never seen such beauty in my life, my eyes were glittering just like the girls from the anime LOL. I felt like I needed to be there at that moment, so we stayed there longer than expected and afterwards headed to one of the restaurants near the main road called ‘Gion Naritaya’. They serve very delicious ramen and for my muslim family and friends, good news they serve Halal Food.
Anyway, as it was getting dark, we headed back to the station and made our way back to Central Kyoto. I highly recommend the place because there’s something enchanted about it. It leaves you breathless and astonished. Till today I can’t stop talking about it and every time I see it on TV I get excited. We highly recommend you visit the Bamboo forest, I guarantee that you will fall in love with the place.
Visit: April 2017
- From Kyoto Station take JR Sagano Line to JR Saga-Arashiyama Station.
- From central Kyoto then Hankyu Line to the furthest Omiya Station then transfer to Keifuku Randen Tramline.
I seriously don’t know where to start and now that I’ve started, I’m not quite sure if I’ll ever stop writing about how amazing Japan is.
Unlike the majority of the people I know, Japan wasn’t on my list of top 5 places to visit. Please do not judge me, let me continue. So when I told my brother that I’d be travelling to Japan with Tim, his response was hilarious, he said “WHAT? You don’t deserve to go there. You do not even appreciate the culture.” I thought to myself ‘I did watch few Japanese anime and movies and also love their cuisine but yes he is right. I’m not a Japanese fanatic like most of the people but I must discover.’ Little did I know that I would leave my heart in Japan.
Anyway I know what I listed wasn’t sufficient enough for a person like me to travel to Japan. I did list Japan on my bucket list and particularly having a picture under a cherry blossom tree. SO TICK THAT. Anyway I’m not here to tell you about what is on my bucket list or anything lousy like that but I’m here to tell you how Japan had an impact on me and by far, it is the best place I ever visited.
On 24th March 2017 was the day we landed in Narita Airport, I’ve travelled as a Palestinian refugee holding a hand written passport that’s printed in French and Arabic. The guy at the immigration counter was amazed and couldn’t speak English. I stood there for almost an hour explaining to the immigration officer that I’m a Palestinian Refugee and my travel document was issued in Lebanon but I reside in Dubai and yes, I’m half Filipino. That made matters much more complicated. Finally, they scanned my visa and apologised for wasting my time. I said there was no need to apologise and I thanked them for trying so hard. I instantly thought to myself ‘OH MY GOD.!!!IMMIGRATION APOLOGISING’ that really doesn’t happen and I bowed and continued walking.
Tim and I got to the train station and were trying to navigate our way, I kept looking around with an astonished face because all the signs are written only in Japanese. Gosh, I’ve never felt so helpless abroad. After walking around, Tim managed to find the ticketing counter and the lady behind the desk had the most heart-warming smile and assisted us with our journey. And at that moment, I knew I’d love Japan.
Our travel to Japan consisted of staying at reliable hostels, eating at local restaurants, learning & embracing the culture, meeting new people and enjoying the nature. All of those things that I’ve listed affected me physically and emotionally but mainly mentally.
There were days Tim and I would just sit on a bench and just observe the people walk by. I cannot describe enough on how amazingly Japanese people are respectful. That word ‘respectful’ is also underrated. I’ve never encountered such graciousness and such mannerism and without even realising it, I unconsciously began to act and speak gently. Although the majority do not speak English, they will do their level best to help out. I still remember the pharmacist who held my hand because I was crying from the pain and she assisted us till we found the right medicine. She got a booklet with pictures and I just had to nod yes or no so she could give the right prescription. Other locals made an effort to help us find our way when we got lost. Those little act of kindness to a stranger proves that humanity still exists in this harsh world.
I will post about the itinerary and places we’ve visited on a separate blog post. Tim and I visited 2 major cities; Kyoto and Tokyo. They are completely opposite and not comparable what soever, each city is unique in its own way. I personally enjoyed my stay in Kyoto and loved every single thing about it.
I see myself living there, waking up early in the morning, riding my bike and eating Japanese food and enjoying the moment. I love the simplicity of their lifestyle especially in Kyoto. Speaking of Japanese food, everything over there is healthy or offered in healthy portions. Japanese people are health freaks and all the drinks especially in the vending machine are without sugar. Being Fat is illegal. Everyone maintains their weight and are in good shape.
I’m sure you are still wondering how Japan affected me; well besides eating healthy and walking everywhere. I enjoyed the nature and fell in love with the Bamboo Forrest. Breathing fresh air everyday helped my lungs. Japan’s nature makes you feel calmness and serenity. The past doesn’t matter to them and they live the present for a productive future and to keep their legacy for the next generation.
Arigato Japan for letting me get to know you.
Till we meet again
Tim and I took 14 days off of work; actually to be precis, we took 10 working days off to finalise personal errands in the Philippines and then continue our holiday to other destinations.
So our itinerary of 14 days covered, Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong and Macau. I guess being a full-time employee to a huge organisation restricts our travels because of the limited days off.
In UAE, we are entitled for 22 working days off but being an expatriate, our holidays include visiting families abroad which means travelling to the same destination quite often. We don’t mind it at all because we really do miss them. So our current travel mission is to cover as much places as we can in a short period of time.
Here is how our itinerary looked like (not detailed)
Day 1: Landed late night in Philippines
Day 2: Makati, Philippines
- Bonifacio Global City, Philippines
- Travelled to Japan
Day 4: Landed in Narita Airport and took a bullet train to Kyoto
Day 5: Kyoto
Day 6: Nara & Kyoto
Day 7: Kyoto and took a bullet train to Tokyo
Day 8: Tokyo
- Travelled to Philippines
- Landed in Philippines and spent 5 hours at a nearby hotel
- Travelled to Hong Kong
- Explored Kowloon Island
Day 11: Macau & Hong Kong Island
Day 12: Lantau Island – travelled to Philippines
Day 13: Eastwood, Green Hills, Pasig, Marikina and Antipolo.
Day 14: We woke up an hour before check out and had breakfast in Pasig and headed straight to the airport.
Day 15: BACK TO THE OFFICE
PHEW!!! Typing the itinerary was as tiring as the trip but worth it. LOL. I really want to dedicate time to write about it because we’ve learned a lot and observed a lot and I’m dying to share everything with you.
Unlike most of my other posts, I want to put a lot more effort into writing about our experiences and stories, particularly Japan. I’ve visited 20+ countries and Tim has been to 30+ countries and by far our favourite country is Japan and I can’t think of any other place that can beat it. It was Tim’s third visit and that says a lot and I can’t wait to go back.