Japan On A Shoestring with Karaksa Hotel

Asia, Hotels, Japan

Every Pinoy traveler’s dream destination includes The Land of the Rising Sun. And why wouldn’t it be, the place is screaming with so much culture and life, and every attraction is bucket-list worthy: the gleaming temples and architectures, modern cityscapes a la sci-fi film, stunning parks in vibrant colors, heavenly hot springs—all begging to be explored.

Its fusion of ancient traditions and modern technology makes it an endless discovery and a country that holds a lot of surprises. In fact, Japan is the fourth most-visited country in Asia last year according to the World Tourism Organization, so it’s no doubt that it’s on top of most people’s bucket lists.

Kyoto: A time-warp to old century Japan

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Kyoto’s Bamboo Forest

If Tokyo is the loud, beating heart of Japan, Kyoto is its more peaceful soul. This city is bursting with history and tradition, you’ll be amazed with how its century-old culture and architectures have remained intact up to this day.

Walk through the green wonderland that is the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, pass by the historic castles dating from ancient eras, admire the aesthetic pathway of Fushimi Inari Shrine, and experience the Japanese way of life by trying the delectable cuisine like the Kyoto’s popular kaiseki meal.

Golden Pavilion Kyoto

Golden Pavilion

One of the city’s highlights is the Kinkaku-ji, also called the golden pavilion, which sits in a lush of greenery surrounded by water where you can be one with nature. A trip to Kyoto won’t be complete without visiting this renowned Buddhist temple, so don’t forget to take photos while you’re there!

The city is also home to lovely cherry blossom trees and colorful geisha culture. With its reflective spirit and calm vibe, Kyoto is an amazing experience that you won’t get enough of.

Kyoto Facade

Karaksa Hotel Facade in Kyoto

Where to stay

Located at the heart of Kyoto lies Karaksa Hotel, a three-star leisure hotel that is a total bang for your buck. Think star-ranked hotels’ hospitality and facilities in a completely affordable price. It’s very accessible to the Arashiyama and is only 3 minutes away from Omiya station, so it’s a smart hotel option after a long day of exploration in the city.

Osaka Food

Osaka Food

The gastronomic adventure that is Osaka

Osaka is a dynamic city. For instance, it’s the food capital of Japan, so it’s the ultimate go-to place for binge-eating. If you’re in quest for the yummiest authentic Japanese eats like takoyaki, horumon and okonomiyaki—just head to Dotonbori or Shinsekai. Name it, they have it. The city is also home to popular tourist attractions such as Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, Osaka Castle, and Universal Studios Japan.

Osaka

Osaka’s familiar sights

For those who like to observe city skylines, Japan’s tallest skyscraper, Abeno Harukas, has an observation deck called Harukas 300 where you can admire the city’s sweeping views 300 meters high.

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle

While you’re there, you can visit the Kintetsu Department Store and Art Museum just a few floors below. The nightlife is also flourishing here, so be sure to be wide awake at night while exploring its happy streets.

Osaka Breakfast Area

Osaka Breakfast Area

Where to stay

At the end of the day, have a good rest at the comfortable rooms of Karaksa Hotel, a leisure hotel just a few walks away from Osaka’s main shopping district, Shinsaibashi. Osaka Shinsaibashi I is located at 1-6-9 Bakuroumachi, Chuo-ku, Osaka City, just a 5-minute walk from Sakaisuji-Hommachi Station/Nagahoribashi Station.

Come home to Karaksa

Whether you went to get cultured at Kyoto or eat your heart out in Osaka, you can come home to the inviting comfort of Karaksa Hotel, especially designed for the smart Asian traveller.

Kyoto Hollywood Twin

Kyoto Hollywood Twin

Inside, there’s everything you need for a cozy stay. The rooms are fully-air conditioned and equipped with hot and cold shower, all of which contains the basic necessities like the latest flat screen TV, universal sockets with USB ports, bath towels, hair dryer, suitcase storage under the bed, Japanese-style bidet, mini refrigerator, toothbrush set, shampoo, conditioner and face soap, pajamas, sanitized slippers. There’s also a mini desk area if you have an urgent work to check. The room sizes include double decker and Hollywood twin for 2 adults and their child, and connecting room for group of friends or bigger families. The average room size is 18 sqm.

Osaka Triple

Osaka Triple Room

Its interiors are charming—every corner is a minimalist’s haven. The hotel is an experience itself: their amenities include a smoking space, and prayer room for the Muslim guests. A high-speed Wi-Fi service is also installed in the whole building, so you won’t easily get bored. Guests can also assure their important belongings are safe with their safety deposit box.

The overall vibe of the place feels like home–you can chance upon its Filipino receptionists, and there’s a TFC channel in your room television when you feel a little home sick. That’s because it has a touch of Pinoy: the hotel’s owner, Xymax Corporation, Japan’s premier asset property management company has teamed up with Robinsons Land Corporation (RLC), one of the leading property developers in the Philippines. RLC is the official Sales and Marketing agent of Karaksa Hotel in the country.

Osaka Hollywood Twin

Osaka Hollywood Twin

The Osaka branch features a laundry area and a leisure space with massage chairs and a wide array of vendo machines for snacks, toys and souvenirs, plus dining sets for eating or chatting with your companions. The Kyoto branch, on the other hand, features only twin rooms: Bunk and High Floor for up to 2 persons and Hollywood for groups and families.

A trip to Japan most likely comes with a hefty price tag, especially since the country is screaming with lots of attractions to put in your itinerary. To maximize your experience, start by choosing an affordable hotel to stay in. Karaksa Hotel is a great value for money, complete with basic amenities and comfortable accommodation. It’s slightly cheaper compared to other hotels of the same kind in the city, but it offers a top-star hotel experience that won’t hurt your wallet.

Kyoto Hollywood Twin

Whether you grab a seat sale or impulsively book a tour to Japan, fret not! You can book at Karaksa Hotel easily through http://www.gohotels.ph/gohotels-now-in-japan/. By booking at any Go Hotels branch, you can get a chance to win a trip for two to Osaka. Click here for more details.

Karaksa Hotel, in partnership with Go Hotels, will open five more branches before the Tokyo Olympics 2020: Hokkaido, Sapporo, Tokyo Ginza, Shin-Osaka and Namba to cater more budget travelers. You can expect the Namba branch to open this November.

Summer Exploration in Kansai

Asia, Japan

Japan is a country with diverse culture brought about by its chain of interesting regions. And if you were to choose only one to visit this summer, head to Kansai — the heart of Japan.

It houses some of the country’s key cities which includes Kyoto, the thousand-year city full of priceless historical structures; Osaka, the city of castles and gastronomic adventures; Nara, home to roaming deers and old temples; Kobe, an attractive port city—and they’re all a train ride away from each other.

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Osaka Castle. Photo from Pexels.com

Kansai is screaming with rich history and culture, you won’t find any other region in the land that will give you a complete and compact tourist experience.

Kick off your trip with a visit to Kyoto’s famous temples and shrines and experience a time warp to the old-century Japan. And what’s a tour to the country’s old age without trying out their iconic national costume?

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Fushimi-Inari Shrine in Kyoto. Photo from Pexels.com

Have your old Japanese culture fix by renting a kimono at Yumeyakata, one of the top kimono rental shops in town, where you can choose over a variety of stylish and chic options.

Not only you can play dress up while strolling around the city, their trained in-house stylists will also glam you up for location photographs. See their packages and rent through their website.

For the perfect home away from home, Go Hotels’ partner hotel in Osaka and Kyoto is the best option to enjoy the Kansai Region.

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Karaksa Hotel Osaka Shinsaibashi | is located at 1-6-9 Bakuromachi, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi near the famous Shinsaibashi shopping area and Karaksa Hotel Kyoto is located at 12-13 Mibubōjōchō, Nakagyō-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu.

It’s a smart choice for travelers looking for a comfortable and safe place to stay in Japan. To know more about the hotel and its facilities, click here.

If you’re thinking of other places to visit this summer, Go Hotels has a total of 13 branches nationwide. With Go Hotels, there’s no excuse to delay or put off travel plans because of affordable room rates. You can book your stay easily through http://www.gohotels.ph/.

 

Winter Adventures in Japan

Asia, Japan

Ask a casual traveler what he thinks of Japan and most likely, he will start talking about the mega city of Tokyo and its blinding lights, its efficient transport system, high cost of living, and great Japanese food. If the traveler is art and history inclined, then perhaps he will start dreaming of the imperial city of Kyodo, its perfectly preserved wooden houses and the beautiful geishas, clad in beautful kimonos, that walk around the old city.

But Japan is so much more than its first world megacities or historic towns.

Japan, a large archipelago in the East Asian region, has millions of other stories to tell and even more adventures to offer to different folks with different strokes.

Specifically, Japan’s Hokkaido region bristles with snow sports activities come winter season.

The Land of the Rising Sun’s unique feature is its fascinating geography which comes to life in the snow season and boasts of extreme, high-octane sporting activities.

With over 500 ski resorts nationwide, skiing and snowboarding are prominent winter sports best practiced at resorts in Hokkaido, Tohoku, Niigata, and Nagano.

You can also try other snow activities such as snow rafting, snow shoeing, cross country ski, and snowmobiling

Around Mt. Fuji, resorts such as Niseko,  Shiga Kogen, and Zao, offer marvelous views of the beauty of the great mountain.Of all three, Niseko is definitely the most popular and it attracts snow sports aficionados from all corners of the its powdery snow.

For travelers who enjoy high altitude, climbing the Daisetsuzan National Park in Hokkaido and Kamikochi in Nagano-ken should be top priority.

For those who are into a ore relaxed experience during the winter, one can head out to the famous Sapporo Winter held in February, and marvel at larger than life ice sculptures depicting famous people, places and landmarks from all over the world.

Started by a few high school and middle school students in the 1950s, the Sapporo Snow Festival has become an iconic event in Hokkaido which attracts about two million visitors from all over Japan and the world, every year. The festival is so popular that teams from Canada and the United States are even participating in it by sending teams.

Cebu Pacific has direct flights to Japan.For more information and flight bookings, visit www.cebupacificair.com

Photo Courtesy of Japan National Tourism Organization

Experience Fukuoka’s cherry blossom festival

Airlines, Asia, Japan

Seeing a cherry blossom tree in full bloom is truly a sight to behold. Its blooming marks the end of winter and the coming of spring. In Japan, it also symbolizes the nation’s deep-rooted belief that life’s immense beauty cannot last forever. 

First glimpse in Kyushu

Every year, tourists from all over the world come to visit the different cherry blossom spots in Japan. However, one can have the first glimpse of blooming Sakura leaves in Kyushu, where the much-anticipated seasonal cycle starts.

There are countless parks where people can practice hanami or “flower-viewing” in Kyushu. One can head to its capital, Fukuoka, or Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, Kumamoto, Miyazaki or Kagoshima, as cherry blossoms in each destination are set to bloom from late March to early April.

Located in the southernmost part of Japan, Kyushu is bound to be the first to experience the change in season. In the following months, the cycle moves upward to Osaka, Kyoto, mainland Tokyo, Hokkaido and cities in other islands. 

Bask in Fukuoka’s rich culture

Fukuoka is one of the largest and most active cities in Japan. When the castle town of Fukuoka merged with the port town of Hakata in 1889, the city became progressive while maintaining its rich culture. Hakata remains to be the central district in Fukuoka and contains the JR Hakata Station, the main railway station that transports people all over the city. The Fukuoka Airport is also as accessible as the other forms of transportation available, ranging from local bus lines to long-distance buses.

Home to more than a thousand cherry blossom trees, the most popular parks in Fukuoka are Fukuoka Castle (Maizuri Park), Uminonakamichi Seaside Park, and Nishi Park (Nishi Koen), all just about a few minutes’ walk from the nearest train stations.

Aside from the alluring Sakura tree parks, the capital of Kyushu also houses a variety of other tourist destinations. For enthusiasts of history and culture, the Fukuoka Castle ruins, the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, and the Hakata Machiya Furusato-kan (a folk museum that recreated townhouses from the late Meiji era) are the places to be. When it comes to food, the Kagomma Furusato Yataimura food stalls, as well as the noodles in Ichiran is a must-taste for foodies and enthusiasts alike, while the rural beaches in Nokonoshima and Shikanoshima will surely delight the adventurous-at-heart.

Complete your Fukuoka-Kyushu experience

The island of Kyushu and its capital Fukuoka serves as Japan’s gateway to its neighbouring countries, making it a melting pot of different cultures. Fukuoka, as a destination, can truly provide historical and cultural experiences for everyone to enjoy.

Its rich geography boasts of charming qualities that are second to none. Scattered all over Kyushu are Onsens or “hot springs,” brought to life by vibrant volcanic activity, making Kyushu a must-visit for tourists looking for relaxation. A 4-hour drive from Fukuoka, Aoshima beach in Miyazaki has shallow waters perfect for a refreshing dip on hot summer days. About an hour and-a-half away from Fukuoka is the Kumamoto Prefecture, with hills and plains that glow green during the summer season, fit for an artistic eye that appreciates nature’s profound beauty.

These are just some of the activities that one can enjoy in Fukouka and the rest of Kyushu. With a lot more to discover, it is definitely an out-of-the-box experience for visitors that complements the fleeting beauty of the Sakura Festivals.

Starting December 17, 2015, explore and experience the different destinations that make Kyushu stand out, with the rest of the wonders of Japan, with Cebu Pacific’s new Fukuoka route. For more information and flight bookings, visit www.cebupacificair.com.

A Short But Memorable Visit to Nagoya

Asia, Japan

Growing up, I have always dreamed of visiting Japan and I have always been grateful that this dream came true, several times already.

I have roamed the streets of Tokyo, Kyoto, Hokkaido, and the industrialized and very modern city of Nagoya.

Thanks to some corporate friends, I was able to visit Nagoya and explore both its very modern and ancient attractions that make it one of the most popular and important cities in all of Japan.

nagoya2

Nagoya is a major city of the Chubu region and is the capital of Aichi Prefecture. It is one of the most populous cities in Japan thanks to big companies and industries available in the city. It is also one of the most important ports.

My trip to Nagoya consisted of several meetings with business partners during the first few days but I was able to do some sightseeing as well during the tail end of the trip.

Thanks to my generous host, I stayed in the Marriott Associa hotel, a two story hotel which is located just on top of the JR Central Towers Nagoya station, the easiest access to the bullet trains.

To easily locate the hotel, just look for the two tall cylindrical towers from the Nagoya skyline.

During my tour, I was able to visit Nagoya Castle, which is easily the most famous and most visited landmark in the city.

Originally built in 1612, Nagoya Castle is one of the testaments to the power of the clan of powerful warlord Oda Nobunaga, who, along with his protege Tokugawa Ieyasu led the Tokugawa era of Japan. This era, was mainly the period of Japan’s unification.

nagoya1

As the history books say, Nagoya is the main stronghold of the Tokugawa clan.

The castle is popular because of the golden tiger-headed carp, a symbol of Nagoya, which is found on the castle’s roof.

I also visited the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology as well as the Toyota Automobile Museum which houses some cool, over the top cars, I can only dream of owning.

me at the automobile museum

We also toured around the site of the 2005 Aichi World Expo.The expo is the grandest showcase of what each country has to offer and it happens every five years. The last World Expo 2010 was held in Shanghai.

I wanted to go to the Atsuta Shrine which supposedly houses the mythical Kusanagi sword  (Sword of the Gathering Clouds of Heaven) but time constraints prevented us from doing so. The sword is one of three Imperial Regalia of Japan. However, no man has seen it.

The Japanese believe it’s being kept at Atsuta Shrine but it is not available for public viewing.

Nagoya is a very enchanting city rich in history and culture. I would have wanted to explpre more if not for the meetings I had to attend to during my visit.

However, I am looking forward to the time when I can come back and explore more of its beauty and charm.

*cover photo from http://www.lookjapan.org

Kyoto: A Fusion of Old and New

Asia, Japan

I took my first steps in the ancient and historic city of Kyoto after taking a 40-minute supersonic trip from Nagoya aboard the Shinkansen bullet train.

Kyoto, which has been the primary battlefield during during the heated battles at the tail end of the Tokugawa era in 1867, saw its streets splattered with blood of samurai and their vassals both from the imperialists camps and their foes.

Kiyomizu arch

During such times, Kyoto was the seat of the Imperial government and bore witness to the massive bloodshed   until the new Meiji era finally put an end to the non-stop fighting. It was also during the Meiji era that the samurai swords were banned, eventually making the Samurai way of life obsolete.

The seat of power was also taken away from this ancient city in favor of Edo (now called Tokyo).

Nearly 150 years later, Kyoto is now a vibrant city, which boasts, among others, a fusion of both the ongoing industrialization and commercialization of Japan, as well as its efforts to preserve and protect what is left of a very important era for this Asian super power.

Our tour guide promised to take us to key shrines and temples in the city, but I was more interested in seeing how this city is trying to adapt to modern times.

At the height of the second world war when Japan was invading nearby countries such as the Philippines, the US forces initially planned to bombard Kyoto with atomic bombs, but the American forces eventually spared it from any damage.

This explains why Kyoto was able to maintain its old district. This city has numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Walking around this city, remnants of the old world are still visible through rows of wooden houses lining little streets surrounding the major temples and shrines. Each house is adorned with paper lanterns and wind chimes, typical of a traditional Japanese home.

During my visit at the end of autumn, I also saw women and children wearing the traditional kimono, as if showing to the flocks of tourists parading in their streets, that Kyoto remains the old charming city it used to be.

a commercial district in Kyoto

Evidences of Kyoto’s increasing favor for commercialization and industrialization, however, are everywhere.

A city known for its ramen and sushi now has several McDonalds and KFC outlets.

The city’s skyline is also now being peppered by towering hotels and other commercial establishments catering to the growing expat community as well as the increasing number of visiting foreigners.

At Heian shrine with friend Elaine

One of these is Kyoto Brighton hotel, where I stayed for two nights. It was a relatively expensive hotel but given the high-cost of living in Japan (Tokyo is the most expensive city), I was thankful that it is somewhat luxurious and gave us a great view of the city. It is located to almost every major temple and shrine and it is less than half a kilometer to the former Imperial palace.

Now, hotels are not the only signs of commercialization in Kyoto. It seems that with the city’s embrace of the new world, its people are also ready to jump in the business bandwagon

Streets leading to the Kiyomizu temple, while still filled with old wooden houses, are now littered with gift and souvenir shops selling a host of mementos ranging from the paper artworks, Japanese dolls and sword replicas.

This is the same for streets and gates leading to the Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) temple and Heian shrine.

Food stalls and restaurants are everywhere, always ready to welcome weary travelers and tourists after a long day of visiting the temples.

But even as the city shows signs that its ready for a full economic takeoff, the people of Kyoto, however, remain as humble and low key.

In the souvenir shops, in the food stalls and restaurants, they wear traditional Japanese wardrobe and greet each new visitor with a smile and a bow.

Their gentle demeanor instantly makes you feel at ease. Their polite greeting and treatment of all visitors, both foreign and local, are a throwback to the times of ancient Kyoto when life was life was simple.

Without a doubt, Kyoto’s major attractions are its old temples and structures dating back to the Imperial Japan but I think its equally charming and unassuming people is also a major attraction.

I walked around Kyoto’s streets for a whole day and after seeing its palaces, temples and shrines and eventually meeting its fantastic people, I was sure that this trip is special and that in the near future, I will have to come back.

Lost in Tokyo

Asia, Japan

It was nearly Saturday midnight and the cold Tokyo wind was beginning to send chills down my spine.

Tokyo’s night-dwellers, most of them wearing dark suits, others in outlandish clothes in varying shades of neon colors, were passing by  and I, an outsider in this bustling and noisy city, had nowhere to go.

It was my fourth night in central Tokyo and against my better judgement, without any guide,  I decided to explore its every nook and cranny, getting helplessly lost in the process.

JR LINE

Glancing at my faded Tokyo train and railway map, I could hardly read the stations and the railway lines I need to take to get myself back to Ariake Bay. I was shaking in panic.

Earlier in the day, I trooped to Ueno area from my hotel in Ariake near the bay area, to make a must-do pasalubong shopping for all friends and relatives who demanded gifts.

My 11-year old nephew, who’s been nagging me for a play station portable (PSP) even warned me not to go back to Manila without any gift at hand and I didn’t want to him.

Ueno, one of the more famous destinations in Central Tokyo is home to great bargains for shoes, clothes, food and almost everything you will need so a visit in this town was a top priority for my pasalubong campaign. It is also convenient because it’s just a station away from the electronic town of Akihabara ( a must-see destination for shoppers wanting that big discounts for I-pods, phones,laptops and other high tech and latest gadgets).

Unfortunately, it seemed that Tokyo was so high-tech for me that its highly complicated train and railway system left me dazed and confused during my first moments of solo exploration.

I have spent a good hour loitering around the Shimbashi station of the JR East line, but still could not find my way towards the connecting Yurikamome train that would take me back to Ariake.

And though I made attempts of ‘dokoni imaska Yurikamome’ to Japanese passersby, nobody stopped to give me detailed directions on where to go so I just decided to just explore Shimbashi.

9:35 PM

Shimbashi is a business district and the newer skyscrapers are beginning to change the landscape of this busy area. Walking around, you would notice large neon signs for money exchange (largely because this is a transfer point of the major transport systems in Tokyo and because of the rich population of foreign visitors).

Skipping dinner for shopping, I also could not stop staring at the fancy restaurants around Shimbashi, some of them offering ramen and tsukumen at 1,400 yen (around P600) a cup.

But with my preference for raw fish, the sight of endless sushi houses in Shimbashi was truly agonizing especially for someone working on a dangerously limited budget.

Shimbashi is also 10 minutes near the shopping districts of Ginza and Shiodome so the idea of continuing my pasalubong hunting was tempting.

shimbashi station

But with a measly 1,000 yen inside my pockets and a few dollars left after my earlier bargain-hunting, shopping was definitely no longer an option and I had to contend with just looking through the windows of fancy shops in the district.

As the minutes passed by, my mind was beginning to ponder on the possibility of missing all the trains and being forced to sleep on the cold pavement of Tokyo’s streets.

Under normal circumstances, I would not panic during such episodes, but my childhood has left me scarred and well-aware of the perils of losing my directions.

As a curious 5 year-old, I followed my sisters on their way to their grade school in the northern portion of Binondo, Manila one morning of 1987. It would be three weeks after that I would next see them.

Losing track of my sisters, I ended up being taken cared of by a rich Chinese family at the opposite side of Binondo.

While that family took good care of me, the thought of losing my family forever terrorized me so much that I would wake up in the middle of the night and cry while looking out the window of my adoptive family’s house. I would also refuse to eat with the company of the people I cannot understand at all (I would later realize that they were speaking in Mandarin). My parents found me after three weeks with the help of relentless announcements in newspapers and television programs.

I returned to my old life and family but I was never the same. Growing up, I would always follow map directions to a T.

But this time was obviously an exception.

Yurikamome Line
 10:30 PM, (almost two hours later)

With very few precious time left before the Yurikamome line stops its operation, I summoned all my strength and courage to again ask Japanese strangers for directions on how to get to the Yurikamome line that would take me back to Ariake bay.

I know that if I don’t make it in time, I would be definitely be sleeping in the hard, cold streets of Shimbashi. Or worse, the roving patrolmen of the Japanese police may invite me for sake at the nearest police station.

My stomach already growling and my mind filled with the various doomsday scenarios, I hesitantly approached a woman sitting at the nearest bench at the JR station.

With strain clearly etched on my face, I asked her one last time for directions and to my luck, she quickly gathered bag and walked me through the confusing pathways around the station to the front gate of the Yurikamome line in Shimbashi.

Me in Roponggi area

And with a small smile, the lady said ”oyasuminasai” (good night) to me. I quickly boarded the last train and silently expressed my gratitude to her. I was sure that she was an angel in disguise out to save me from misery.

While my evening was not exactly good ( it was filled with misadventures as a matter of fact), I gave her a grateful bow and repeated the greeting because if not for her, I would have been totally lost in the streets of Tokyo and fail to find my way back home.