August 26: Osaka Castle was my first and only stop for the day. I wasted no time getting there since the journey by foot was about two hours.
The majority of the area that houses the castle is a huge park, filled with plum trees, peach trees, and gardens.
However, the castle itself is rather small and is on its third iteration after burning down twice over the years. The most recent construction happened in 1583, so things are looking up. Speaking of looking up…
Inside the castle was a very cramped eight floor museum wherein you aren’t allowed to eat or drink (even water as far as I’m aware). It didn’t take long until I was bored so I quickly climbed to the top floor to snag some photos before descending.
On the way home I stopped at Shinseki – an area renowned for its food – and got an okonomiyaki (japanese style pancake) for dinner. In addition, I discovered a 24-hour grocery store called Super Tamade where the selection is fantastic and you can buy delicious ready-made food for ¥100.
I chose to end the day early and spent the evening watching Netflix and writing.
August 27: Five hours is how long it took me to finally arrive at my destination; on paper, it was two and a half. I’ll spare the details, but let’s just say everything is slow and infrequent in rural Japan.
Where was I headed that made this journey worth it? Rabbit Island.
Rabbit Island (AKA Okunomashima) is located about an hour outside of Hiroshima and, much like the name suggests, is an island filled with thousands of bunnies.
While no one knows for sure how the bunnies got there, two prevailing theories do exist:
1) During WWII the Japanese were using the island to develop poisonous gas. They used bunnies as test subjects. After the war, locals set the survivors free. Today’s population is the result of the remaining rabbits’ breeding over the years.
2) In 1971 a group of school children were taken on a trip to the island. With them, they brought a bunch of rabbits which were left there to be free in a safe haven. Again, today’s population came from years of breeding.
No matter which theory is the correct one, something is for certain: the rabbits LOVE the island. It has been set up as a sanctuary for them, with plenty of tourists and locals feeding them every day (with fresh veggies and rabbit food) and water set out every ten metres or so.
August 25: Aided by the air conditioner I had set to 18°C (to remind me of Canada), I finished my nap and made a beeline for some dinner.
It should come as no surprise that my first proper meal in Japan was sushi. I opted for a conveyer belt restaurant since they’re plenty of fun. The meal came with free matcha green tea, which I was absolutely stoked about.
If the sushi in Taipei was 10x better than back home in Toronto, then the sushi here was 10x better than Taipei. Best sushi of my life at the best prices of my life.
Exhibit A: Otoro (fatty tuna)
– The highest quality tuna, revered for it’s ability to melt in your mouth (and in my case, appear in dreams).
Canada Price: $16-20
Local Price: ¥291 ($3.43)
While I won’t break down their costs, the other pieces were just as amazing.
The plan for after dinner was to head to Dotonbori for shopping, but I stopped in my tracks after spotting something that I couldn’t pass up: an owl café.
Sunset Owl Café charged ¥1,500 for 50 minutes with the owls and a can of good beer (or juice, milk, or tea).
I ordered my drink, paid, and stepped into the owl room. The entire 50 minutes was spent in that room (apart from leaving briefly to down my drink). Between talking to the owl caretaker, petting the owls’ beaks (anywhere else usually makes them anxious or sad), and taking a ton of pictures, time just flew by.
I also got to hold an owl.
Then take more pictures.
When my time was up, the staff thanked me and I went on my way to Dotonbori
Only a few minutes later I hooked myself into another stop that would last from about 9 p.m. to 12:50 a.m. It was a multi-floor arcade called Round 1.
The first floor was all claw machines (and it was here where I spent the majority of my evening). I won two large plushies and a big box of cookies. By the end of the night, I was going around helping the occasional Japanese person win and save several hundred yen in the process.
The other floors had coin pusher games (like an entire floor was just that game x200), rhythm games, fighting games, and more (plus three floors of bowling).
By the end of spending a perfectly reasonable amount of time and money at the arcade, I desperately needed some sleep. Instead, I went to a 24-hour restaurant for some sukiyaki.
From there, I set out on the very long walk to the AirBnB (transit was closed and there was no way I was going to take another taxi anytime soon). An hour went by and I stopped into another place for some more food (and honestly some rest since my legs were killing me). This time I got a japanese omelette, beer, and roast beef (for under $10 by the way).
At 3:30 a.m. I was home. Tired and exhausted I laid down and went to sleep.
August 24: I was originally going to leave this day blank and say it was a travel day where nothing much happened. However, after the series of unfortunate events that crept into the next morning, the lack of a complete post feels far too dishonest.
My flight landed at Haneda airport in Tokyo at 10:33 p.m. Unfortunate Event (UE) #1: Despite Japan’s alleged efficiency, the customs line took nearly an hour for a relatively small amount of people. But, I suppose that’s customs for you. Things started looking up when my baggage was waiting for me.
With my head held high I made my way to the information booth to pick up my JR Pass (unlimited bullet train travel throughout Japan – versus paying $150 one-way between cities).
UE #2: The exchange booth closed at 6:30 p.m. and I would have to wait until at least 9 a.m. the next morning to pick it up from Shinjuku station. UE #3: Traveller SIM card pickup was also closed.
Okay, so most of the ‘UEs’ so far have been mere inconveniences. Yes, no Internet made navigation difficult and yes, having to delay my trip to Osaka the next morning meant wasting time, but things happen.
UE #4: 86% of my transport budget was wiped out.
By the time I got to the transit area it was already 11:30 p.m. and my AirBnB was an hour away by subway. This wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that public transit dies at 12 a.m. city-wide. So, taking a taxi was the only option. Little did I know taxis in Tokyo are notorious for being among the most expensive in the world.
The total? ¥10,130 (about $120 Canadian) for a 30 minute cab ride. (side note: Uber would have been just as expensive as they only offer “Premium” cars).
UE #4: The cab dropped me at the wrong place in the middle of a residential area. After about ten minutes of panicking I started heading to the nearest convenience store (I saw one on the way, maybe 20 minutes away by foot).
Luckily, I ran into two locals who were about to go for an evening stroll. Despite their near absolute lack of English knowledge, they managed to help me tremendously. They used their cellphones to direct me, including calling the number I had for the AirBnB (remember, I didn’t have a SIM card) and got all the necessary information. Then they walked me ten minutes to the destination and made sure I was inside before departing. Needless to say I graciously thanked them.
I squeezed into the AirBnB, nearly hitting my head several times. Once inside, I was welcomed by the extremely friendly host and her adorable two-year-old beagle.
After several minutes of petting the beagle, being showed around, getting settled, and petting the beagle some more, I went to sleep for the night.
August 25: I woke up at 9 a.m., got ready, pet the beagle, and headed to Shinjuku station. After 30 minutes of waiting (for two people to take forever and also being cut in line – UE #5) I got my JR Pass. Five minutes later I had a SIM card (2GB for ¥3750 – UE #6?). Finally, 30 minutes later I caught the train to Osaka with two minutes to spare.
August 21: …
August 22: After doing pretty much nothing the day before, I spent most of the day shopping.
I started off by attempting to go to Fu Hang Soy Milk for breakfast, but gave up after discovering its hour long line (for the second day in a row). I ended up skipping breakfast and going to Sushi Express for lunch (yes, despite my imminent trip to Japan).
From there I traversed to Guang Digital Plaza – a six floor shopping mall for computers and computer parts. Here I learned how little I know about computer parts. I also saw the graphics card I bought a year ago for about $600 being sold for $300. So that was… Something. Apparently I was so entranced by the mall that I forgot to take any pictures…
After getting overwhelmed several times I left to go to another big mall called Pacific Sogo. It was A LOT larger than I was expecting.
Including the basement, it was 17 floors total.
All the restaurants were about triple my budget so I ended up going to the food court downstairs for dinner. I got pork and egg on rice for dinner for 170NTD.
I also got FANTASTIC french garlic bread from a bakery (no, I didn’t take a picture).
August 23: For breakfast I had
Through the magic of modern technology and the Internet, I met up with a Taiwanese local who showed me around.
To start, we went to Daan Forest Park. A short amount of walking brought us to a stream (river?) where a bunch of different birds and several (non-Canadian) geese were hanging out. There was also a turtle sunbathing with its child on a log.
I also learned about this extremely painful exercise where you walk on sharp stones for what seems like a short distance. While I don’t really remember what it’s purpose was, I do appreciate normal walking that much more now. Here’s a short video of me walking it then complaining.
Using her local knowledge, my new friend showed me the hourly(?) water show ay Daan Park Station that I otherwise would have easily missed.
I also learned about the 2017 Summer Universiade (a large sports event) taking place from August 19 to 30. Apparently I was completely oblivious to this happening. Though, in hingsight, I saw a lot of signs for it everywhere (it’s times like this that I wonder how I’m a journalist). Anywho, after proving that I did in fact know what the Taiwan flag looks like I won a deck of cards with the Universiade logo on it.
Next stop was the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Here I experienced myriad of great photo ops (and I’m actually IN some of the pictures for once) and was educated in fun facts and some local history by my Taiwanese friend.
I also witnessed the changing of the guards (or more like the “ending of the guards” since it was the last shift).
A quick bubble tea detour later we headed to Raohe Night Market, which is famous for its excellent food selection. Being at this market alone would have been amazing in and of itself; having a local friend to show me around made it ten times better.
Photos and videos of me by Jennifer Wang
August 19: Having thoroughly not beaten the jetlag I decided to have a slow morning, skip breakfast, and sleep in. I made some calls to family and friends and then decided to explore a much more exciting part of town: Ximen.
So far I had only been to Da’an, which is a residential district (located near the previous day’s Taipei 101); Ximen was a HUGE change of pace.
Having landed in a busy square I struggled to find the restaurant I was seeking out for lunch. Getting lost several times along the way was part of the adventure, but my rumbling stomach wasn’t very amused. Finally, I made it to my destination; I arrived at Modern Toilet.
As they say, when in Rome… Uhh.. I mean Taiwan.
Looking past the absurdity of it all, the décor and atmosphere was great. As with everywhere else in Taipei, the staff were extremely friendly. I ordered my food (bread, and beef curry) and waited patiently.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I will say one thing: depsite looking like crap, that food tasted amazing!
With newfound energy I sprung forth from the building to begin my adventure anew!… Okay, okay, I awkwardly walked out of the restaurant and tried to find my way back to the main area.
Over the next few scorching hot hours I found various strange shops:
A candy shop that sold everything from sushi shaped sweets to chocolate condoms (not sure if flavoured or just chocolates, but they were all over the shop), to first aid kits; also normal chewy gummies, for the less adventurous lot.
Several shops selling all the random Japanese/Chinese gadgets you see back home in Canada and the States (except here they cost a fraction of the price). Beyblades, Pokémon merch, multi-coloured cat lamps, piggy banks with cats that collect the coins, and more.
And a two-floor One Piece shop (it’s a very well known anime, for those unaware).
I eventually got overheated and tired and started making my way back to the AirBnB for some rest. On the way, I stopped to try a Taiwanese delicacy: Mango shaved ice.
It was amazing!
When I got home I had spoke to Ren for a bit (the owner of the AirBnB) and then watched some movies before passing out for the night. (By the way, Taiwanese Netflix is MUCH better than Canada’s)
August 20: Again I had a slow start to the day so at around 2 p.m. I arrived in the northern area of the city.
After struggling to figure out the buses for about half an hour I made it to the Northern Palace Museum.
By the time I left, several hours later, I hadn’t even seen half of the museum (perhaps I will visit again another time). Here’s a fraction of the exhibits I saw:
I found myself desperately craving Japanese food. Luckily, I stumbled upon Sushi Express, which is one of those sushi-go-round places with the little plates. Each plate here costing about $1 US.
I really did mean to take more pictures of the food…
August 17: My flight – consisting of watching three movies and reading none of the four books I brought on board – landed at about 9:30 p.m. local time. Having managed to stay up most of the flight I was absolutely exhausted by the time I went through customs, grabbed my baggage, bought a SIM card, took the MRT to Taipei Main Station, and finally lugged my suitcase up 5 flights of stairs to arrive at my AirBnB.
August 18: I woke up at 8 a.m. convinced I had already overcome the jetlag (hahaha, no). After a quick trip to 7-11, I took a much needed shower, drank enough water to hydrate a horse, and headed out to Taipei 101.
Once I got to the Taipei 101 mall I immediately went down the first escalator I saw (my belly rumbling like crazy as I did so) and made a beeline for Din Tai Fung. Needless to say, I wasnt the only one with this place on my mind. Luckily being a party of one helped me grab a table with relative ease.
For those of you unfamiliar with Din Tai Fung, it is a world-renowned chain of dim sum restaurants that originated in Taiwan. They are most famous for their xialongbao (soup dumplings). For lunch, I ate xialongbao, steamed pork buns, and spicy vegetable dumplings.
For 600 NTD I bought an adult pass for the Taipei 101 observatory – a massive building that ranks amount the tallest on Earth. Even the elevator boasts a former world record for its incredible speed (~600M/min). The 360° view of the city was incredible (and incredibly intimidating too if I’m being perfectly honest).
Had my stomach not been upset from travel, I would have been able to enjoy bubble tea, mango frozen desserts, and pineapple cakes.
Hanging in the centre of the obsevatory floor there was a huge wind damper that prevents the tower from swaying during typhoons and other inclement weather.
On the way down from the observatory I passed through a (mandatory) exhibit for the Taiwanese coral gemstones. Here are some of the neater sculptures:
The price of the smallest one I could find was 480,000 NTD (~$20,000 Canadian).
Desperately needing a break from the heat and humidity I went back to my AirBnB for some R&R plus air conditioning.
For Shabbat dinner (Jewish sabbath) I visited Chabad, where I conversed with the Rabbi who has been living here for the past six years. A few brief conversations later I excused myself so I could go back to the AirBnB and pass out for the night.