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Musings on Travel, Fashion & Fun


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Japan – Deer oh Deers! Nara’s Most Famous Residents at Nara Park

Nara DeersNo visit to Nara will be complete without meeting its most famous resident, the free roaming wild deers (シカ ‘shika‘ or 鹿) at Nara Park 奈良公園, which is also the location of many Nara’s attractions including Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha, Kofukuji and Nara National Museum.

Nara DeersNara Park is just a leisurely five-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station or a a 20-minute walk from JR Nara Station. The park can also be reached by bus. If you are ever in doubt, just follow the deers which are literally EVERYWHERE you can think of, like in the shrubs or even inside a drain.

Nara DeersConsidered to be holy messengers of the gods, Nara’s 1,200 deer have become a symbol of the city and designated as a natural treasure under the Cultural Properties Protection Law. According to local folklore, deers in Nara were considered sacred due to a visit from Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto, one of the four gods of Kasuga Shrine, who appeared on Mt. Mikasa riding a white deer. Killing one of these deers was a capital offense punishable by death up until 1637.

Nara DeersSo these deers literally do whatever they feel like. Including stopping traffic.

Nara DeersNara’s wild deer are super chill with people, although they can get a little pushy when you start feeding them. They can be quite a handful at times as well…

Nara DeersLike this one who happily trotted into the pond just outside the Nara National Museum for a dip.

Nara DeersAnd came to ask to be fed after its skinny dipping. Shika biscuits, which smelt just like the wafers we eat (I had to resist trying them myself), were sold at kiosks along the park at 150yen for a stack. Our hotel kindly prepared a little bag of biscuits and bottle of water for our little adventure.

Nara DeersWhile the deers are generally tame, just be cautious as they can get aggressive. Afterall, they are wild animals.

The deers are pretty intelligent, and have learnt to bow to ask for food.

Nara DeersOnce the deers see the biscuits, be prepared to be surrounded and nudged around like a superstar. They butt you with their heads when you don’t feed them quickly enough, and the one behind lightly bit my arse to get my attention.

Nara DeersSee the affection they show just to get their treats.

Nara DeersThis clever one went for the shortcut and simply stood in front of the deer biscuit stall :D

Nara DeersGreedy little fellas. They are also very practical – they leave you as soon as you run out of biscuits to feed them.

Nara Deers“No biscuits for me? Bleahhhhh.”

Nara DeersOnce they are well-fed, they pick a spot and start snoozing. Nothing you do will move them, not even putting a biscuit right under their noses. So come early in the day when they are still hungry.

Nara DeersWe caught some hotties in traditional costumes playing ball at the park too. There was a festival nearby as well, and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with the locals, both human and animal.

Nara DeersOne for the wefie album ;) It was quite an experience getting upclose with the deers after hearing so much about them. It was totally worth the trip, not to mention there’s so much cultural sights to visit in Nara. I will be back to visit my furry friends…with thicker pants.

 

Read more about my travels in Japan

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Tokyo – Get up close with Japan’s Cutest Hooters at Akiba Fukurou Owl Cafe

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウWe have seen our fair share of pet cafes with dogs and cats, but it is in the land of the strange and wonderful that you will find owl cafes. Located on a little street off Tokyo’s Akihabara district (also known as the land of the otaku/geeks), you will find Japan’s first owl cafe featuring over 30 feathered hooters.

Pet cafes gained popularity due to the impracticality of pet ownership in Tokyo’s tiny apartments, as a place where one could still enjoy having a pet to play with. Owls are especially popular in Japan as not they are only adorable, owls are also a symbol of good fortune.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ
While there are a number of owl cafes in Tokyo, I chose this particular one as customers are allowed a high level of interaction with its owls. Reservation is also mandatory, which meant I could avoid wasting time queuing. The cafe allows up to 12 guests per session (1 hour), and guests are requested to arrive 15 minutes ahead of the reserved time slot for a short briefing on dos and dont’s. Payment is also collected upfront, so get ready the cash. The place is also not huge, so do make this the first stop of your day to avoid carrying your entire shopping there.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウPick your favourite Hooter from the Akiba Fukrou family. Apparently, these owls have a pretty good life. They go home to rest with the owner after a day’s of work, where they are rewarded with a feast of, erm, frozen white mice. I guess none of the customers would want to witness feeding at the cafe. I would freak out.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウYou seem to have stepped into another world once you enter the café – one where you have to speak in low voices and not move in sudden movements to avoid startling your new feathered friends – which is a direct opposite from the busy streets just outside. No flash photography is allowed, unless you want to risk being pecked by a whole gang of angry owls.

I was very fascinated with the variety of owls perched in this little room – I never knew there were that many! The well-behaved bunch consisted of a mix of native and imported species in widely-differing sizes, bred and domesticated from birth. You are allowed to touch the owls, and the correct way would be to gently stroke them with just one finger. While it may be tempting to cuddle them like a Pokemon soft toy, it would be best to keep them at an arm’s length. Afterall, they are still wild at heart.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThe owls are named after their personalities, and their names are indicated in the green sign above them. This huge fella named Takoyaki was almost half my body length. I wondered if it got its name – and size – from eating too many takoyaki. If I saw it in the wild, I would probably have shrieked and fainted.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウJust look at its claws!

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThey have their respective rest times too, which is indicated with a pink signage (ZZZ…) above its name.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThis fella was probably feeling a little anti-social that day, perching itself near the ceiling.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウSome others were trying to catch forty winks.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウWhile another pair looks to be in a domestic quarrel.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ“I am not talking to you.”

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThis little feather ball almost had me exploding in laughter – SO CUTE!

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウWhat beautiful animals they are.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウMeet Mr President. I bet it would make a better president than the recent ones we have.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウMr President is also a very curious creature. Don’t you adore his big round eyes?

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウI found myself trying to match the size of their eyes.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウAnd this one threw me a dirty look, hermp.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウEach customer is invited to choose to an owl and sit at one of the small tables with it. This one named Gorilla caught my fancy with its ‘shocked’ look.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウUnfortunately, Gorilla was rather camera-shy – no matter how I turned it, its head remained right in the same position – away from the camera and away from me. My hand was also getting tired from holding the sizable bird.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウOthers got into mischief and climbed on top of a customer’s head. Another one pooped on the pants of the customer, to which the staff cooed “He likes you.” Wow, what a way to show love.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウBy then I was getting a little restless as I searched for my second owl to hold. I was drawn to these two docile barn owls who watched me as I moved aimlessly around the place looking for THE one.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウI love its heart-shaped face! This little sweetie is called Whitebait, or しらす (shi ra su) in Japanese.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThis time, the staff put Whitebait right on my shoulder instead of perching it on my arm. I was initially a little apprehensive that it would poop on me or peck my eyeballs.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThis little sweetie quickly won me over. It was so tame and sweet. Its feathers felt so soft too. I had so much fun with it, I really wanted to bring Whitebait home.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウThis was my first encounter upclose with this creature of the night. Apart from being menacing prey hunters that we usually see in photographs, they are also affectionate, soft to the touch and so adorable.

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ*Heart melts again*

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロウ

Owl be back for more. (Couldn’t resist the corny pun :p)

 

Akiba Fukurou Owl Café アキバフクロ
Address:
67 Kanda Neribeichō, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to, 101-0022, Japan
神田練塀町67 アキバフクロウビル1F
Opening Hours: 12:00PM – 6:00PM
Website: http://akiba2960.com
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/akibafukurou
Email:  akiba2960@gmail.com
Price: 1,500 yen an hour, cash only. Reservation mandatory, book online up to 3 days in advance.
Getting there: Take the train to Akihabara station, followed by a 5-min walk. Directions here.
Note there is no phone at the cafe, so communication is via email only.

Here’s a list of animal cafes in Tokyo as well, from owls, dogs, cats, lizards and even snakes. Only in the Land of the strange & wonderful! :)


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Kyoto – Savouring Yuba 湯葉 at こ豆や Komameya

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantEating in Kyoto offers a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Japan’s former capital. Some local delicacies that you should try include Yudofu (tofu boiled in clear broth), Kaiseki (traditional Japanese multi-course haute cuisine), Shojin ryori (cuisine of the Japanese Buddhist monks), Kyo-wagashi (Kyoto sweets) and Yuba (soy-bean skin).

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantYuba 湯葉 is one of the main ingredients of Shojin ryori, and is also nutritious with high protein content. Yuba can be served raw or cooked in various ways, from appetizers, soups, desserts and even as vegetarian meat. At Komameya (‘little bean shop’), a yuba restaurant by Kyoto yuba maker Ueda Yuba Company, you can savour savor interesting dishes made with freshly-made yuba. This is also one of the few places in Kyoto that serves yuba made from black soy beans (kuromame) and green soy beans (edamame).

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantKomameya has two branches in Kyoto. I visited the Nishiki branch for dinner. It is not that easy to spot as it is located on the third floor of a building. The best landmark around would be Ippudo Ramen two buildings away.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThe restaurant was cosy and perfect to spend a leisurely meal at.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantKomameya serves a-la-carte dishes as well as set courses for lunch and dinner. I went for the 雪 Yuki Course consisting 10 dishes (it is a sizable feast for ladies).

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantWatching the chefs at work. Such seriousness.

Tofu is especially famous in Kyoto for a few reasons – the city’s large number of underground springs provide excellent water quality for making tofu from good quality soybeans grown locally. Moreover, the tofu-making tradition has been passed down from generation to generation in Kyoto and the competition is fierce to keep up with other shops. Finally, the demand for vegetarian food is large from the priests living in the many temples in Kyoto. Tofu will thus remain an integral part of Kyoto.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantI ordered an unsweetened soy bean drink to start with.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThe appetizer trio of black sesame bean curd and fried soy bean balls was a good start to work up an appetite for dinner.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantYuba ‘sashimi’

Yuba is made by simmering soy milk in a large, rectangular pan. As the soy milk boils, the thin, delicate film that forms on the surface and scooped up is yuba (See how it is made here). Asians would be familiar with this in its dried form as beancurd sticks (腐竹 fu zhu). When served fresh, you can dip it with a little soy sauce if desired. I prefer to savour as-is.

If you are there with friends, you can also order the yuba pot and try making it yourself. Otherwise order a-la-carte dishes instead of the set course, else there will be too much food.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantAn odd combination, but I loved the mashed soy bean curd with olive oil.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantInstead of the usual miso soup, the clear yuba broth with citrus was refreshing.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThe only meat dish was grilled fish with yuba and cheese.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThis dish of yamaimo (mountain potato), atsuage (fried tofu pocket), and grilled yuba reminded me of oden.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantBraised black soy bean yuba with golden mushroom, garnished with flower petals.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThe fried yuba was delish!

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantThe final savoury dish was Kumiage Yuba-don, a rice bowl covered with smooth soy milk yuba and a raw egg. Not a single grain of rice was left behind.

こ豆や Komameya Yuba RestaurantFinally, dessert was matcha soy bean pudding (which reminded me of panna cotta), topped with a piece of fried yuba.

I enjoyed my meal tremendously. It was mind-blowing to see yuba prepared in so many different and delicious ways, and at a wallet-friendly price. I look forward to visiting again the next time I am in Kyoto, and to check out other yuba restaurants in the city.

こまめや Komameya

Nishiki Outlet
Address:
3F, Libertas Nishiki-koji Bldg. Nishiki-koji, Higashi-no-Toin higashi iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
〒604-8127 京都市中京区錦小路東洞院東入る西魚屋町619 リベルタス錦小路3階
Tel: +81-75-221-7300
Webpage: http://www.ueda-yuba.co.jp/komameya_fifes/nishiki/nishiki.html
– 3 minute walk from Shijo subway and Karasuma train stations
– immediately west of Kyoto Daimaru Dept. Store north entrance
– 50 metres west of Nishiki Market west entrance
– 5-min walk from Karasuma Station on Hankyu Kyoto Line, or 5-min walk from Shijo Station on Metro Karasuma Line
Opening Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2.30pm; Dinner 5.30pm-10pm
Closed on Wednesdays

Nijo Outlet 二条店
Address: 〒604-8381 京都市中京区西ノ京職司町8-1
Tel: +81-75-812-3717
– About 2-min walk from Nijo Station 二条駅
Opening Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2.30pm; Dinner 5.30pm-10pm
Closed on Mondays dinner and Wednesdays

Lunch set course (a la carte available)
Yuba set course JPY2,000
Komame-ya set course JPY3,000
Dinner set course (a la carte available)
Yuki set course JPY3,500
Tsuki set course JPY5,000
Hana set course JPY7,000


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Japan, Tokyo – Plum Blossoms at Yushima Tenjin

Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalEvery year, the arrival of plum blossoms (ume 梅) herald the start of spring. These beauties typically bloom between February and March. The event is celebrated with plum festivals (ume matsuri 梅祭り) in public parks, shrines and temples across the country.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalI was happy to view the plum blossoms at Yushima Tenjin Shrine right in Tokyo.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalYushima Tenjin 湯島天神,also known as Yushima Tenmangu 湯島天満宮, is a Shinto shrine originally built in 458 A.D. to worship Ameno Tajikaraono Mikoto 天手力雄命, one of deities associated with strength and sports. Later in February 1355, the spirit of Sugawara Michizane 菅原道真, a historical figure, was also enshrined here to venerate his extraordinary virtue as a scholar.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom Festival
Due to Tenjin’s great love of plum blossoms, Yushima Tenjin maintains a garden of 300 plum trees made up of 20 varieties (Shirokaga white plums). The shrine also holds a yearly plum blossom festival (ume matsuri 梅祭り) every Feb-March depending on when the flowers bloom.
Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalBefore the Nara period, the term hanami (flower viewing) in Japan referred to the act of admiring plum blossoms before becoming almost exclusively linked with sakura by the Heian Period (794–1185).

Lord Sugawara wrote a famous poem that read:
“Let the east wind blow and send your fragrance
Oh, plum blossoms
Do not forget the spring
Even though your master is gone”Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalLike cherry trees, the Japanese plum (also referred to as Japanese apricot) come in many varieties, many of which were cultivated by humans over the centuries. Most plum blossoms have five petals and come  in colors from white to dark pink. Some varieties with more than five petals (yae-ume) and ‘weeping’ branches (shidare-ume) have also been cultivated.

Some ways to tell plum and cherry blossoms apart – cherry blossoms have split-ended petals while plum blossoms don’t. Several cherry blossoms bloom from a single oval bud, whereas there’s only one plum blossom per round bud. And, unlike cherry blossoms, plum blossoms have a strong, sweet fragrance.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalYushima Tenjin is also popular with students who come to present petitions on wooden votive tablets (ema) to Lord Sugawara’s spirit for success in examinations.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalOmikuji 御神籤Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalEveryone going shutter-happy with the pretty blossomsYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalIt’s also a great time to get married under the picturesque floral canopyYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalAnother wedding coupleYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalEven birds join in the celebrationsYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalAlong with the plum blossoms, a month-long matsuri festival consisting various events such as food stalls, performances, a mikoshi 神輿 (portable Shinto shrine) procession, tea ceremonies, bonsai plum trees display and other traditional Japanese art forms are also held at the shrine during weekends and public holidays.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalTraditional tea ceremonyYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalFood stalls selling local produce from the various Japanese regions. I would say it is a great place to buy some local gifts home.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalThese were yummy!Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalThe handmade zaru soba totally changed my impression of the dish – the noodles were springy and amazingly satisfying I drank up all the sauce hee. Slurppp!Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalBuying blessingsYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalFree cultural performancesYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalAnd yes, this is the 59th year the festival is held.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalPraying for blessings before the mikoshi processionYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom Festival

Yushima Tenjin Shrine 湯島天神 (Tenmangu 天満宮)
Address:
3-30-1 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, 〒113-0034 Tokyo
Opening Times: 6:00AM – 8:00PM daily
Nearest Train Stations:
– Yushima 湯島 Station, Exit 3 on Oeda and Chiyoda subway lines, 2mins walk (easiest)
– City bus 02 and 69, Stop at Yushima San-Cho-Me 湯島三丁目, 2mins walk
– Ueno-hirokoji 上野広小路 Station, Exit A4 on Ginza subway line, 5mins walk
– Hongo San-cho-me 本郷三丁目Station on Marunouchi Line, 8mins walk
– Okachimachi 御徒町 Station on JR Line, 8mins walk

Best times to view plum blossoms: Yushima Tenmangu Shrine  Flower information (usually mid-Feb to early-March)