Saturday, May 31, 2014

Grape and Jewelry (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

Every so often, I've had semi-serious discussions with friends about what we're most willing to spend money on.  I know a couple of people whose biggest weakness/indulgence are shoes.  I also have one friend who rewards herself by buying expensive jewelry, handbags and clothes.  

But I honestly will say that I'm far more willing to spend money on delicious food and vacation trips, including to the country famous for its expensive fruit (including melons and grapes) and a city (Osaka) whose denizens are associated with the practice of kuidaore (i.e., eating oneself bankrupt)!  

Walking around Hong Kong, one sees many jewelry and luxury watch shops, and make it seem like someone not into jewelry (like myself) are the odd exception rather than the norm. The funny thing though is that when hunting through my photo archives for suitable images for Sandi's and Gattina's choices of Photo Hunt themes this week, I noticed that the vast majority of female -- not just male -- movie stars that I've taken photos of actually have not been dripping with jewelry like one might expect -- and this even when appearing on glamor occasions like film premieres!

As exhibit A, I offer up a photo of superstar actress Carina Lau flanked by her Beijing Love Story co-star Tony Leung Ka Fai and director Chen Sicheng: Note her sparkly but not all that large earrings and the lack of a necklace on her neck!  And as exhibit B, I offer up a photo of legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve, an attendee at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival -- who, while favoring earrings larger than those by Carina Lau's, also eschewed having any jewelry around her neck. ;b

Friday, May 30, 2014

Kanazawa sites where indoor photography is not allowed

One of the few sections of the Seisonkaku Villa
where photography is allowed

Since photography also isn't allowed in Myoryuji (AKA 
Ninja-dera), here's putting up  a photo of the ninja-themed 
Hello Kitty souvenir I got myself in Kanazawa! ;b

Kanazawa is famous for getting lots of rain -- so much so, in fact, that the historic city in Ishikawa Prefecture that a local proverb goes to the effect that "Even if your lunchbox, don't forget your umbrella"!  Thus it was that I made sure to travel there before the rainy season officially began in Japan.  

Even so, when I checked the weather forecast shortly before I headed over to Kanazawa, I read that days three and four of the six days in total of my vacation were predicted to be rainy ones.  So not only did I bring an umbrella with me during my most recent Japan visit but I also planned visits to lots of places where I'd be spending the majority of time indoors on the days that it rained -- which actually ended up being only a single day rather than two 24-hour cycles.

Thus it was that, on day three of my holiday, after having a tasty buffet breakfast at the branch of Toyoko Inn at which I was staying, I took a bus over to Seisonkaku, a large shingle roofed mansion built in the 19th century by one of the Maeda lords (Nariyasu) for his mother (Shinryu-in) to comfortably retire to.  An elegant and distinctly feminine "samurai villa", it reminded me of the imperial villa in Nikko that I had visited some three years ago -- and I ended up spending a leisurely hour or so at that location.

Then, after a sushi lunch at Omicho Market, I headed over to Myoryuji, a Buddhist temple located in Kanazawa's temple district that's (in)famous for having numerous secret entrances and exits, trapdoors and staircases.  Visitors to the temple's that been nicknamed Ninja-dera are not allowed to wander around by themselves; instead, they are obliged to take a guided tour (as well as pay 800 Yen) in order to enter into the more unusual sections of the temple.

After going on the tour and seeing what's in the temple, I totally understand this decision on the part of the powers that be at the Mroryuji.  We're talking, after all, about a remarkable structure that looks like it is a two-storey building from the outside but turns out to have four floors, seven tiers, 23 rooms (or chambers) and 29 staircases -- many of which are not all that apparent until pointed out by the guide! Put another way: one easily can get lost in Mroryuji or even inadvertently trapped in one of its rooms!

I guess it helps preserve their air of privilege (in the case of Seikonkaku) or mystery (in the case of Myoryuji) that photography's not allowed in either the villa established for a lady or the temple that's come to be associated with ninjas even though its authorities deny any connections over the centiries with ninjas. In any case, it means that you're going to have to visit these locales in Kanazawa to see their interiors for yourself.

Given that my visit to Mroryuji was easily my favorite part of day three of my recent Japan vacation, you know that it's to the "Ninja-dera" that I'd recommend that people visit -- more so than Seisonkaku.  And even though the temple authorities emphatically deny that it has/had any connections with real ninjas, a visit there -- along with the Ninja Mystery House at the Toei Kyoto Studio Park -- can't but get me even more interested than before in those legendary agents of espionage whose ingenuity can seem more superhuman than merely mortal! ;)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sushi at Kanazawa's Omicho Market

What looks like two unbelievably huge oysters actually 
are four still pretty large oysters (two on each half shell)!
 A sanshu-don bowl comprising uni, crab meat and ikura -- 
with seaweed, ginger and other bits thrown into the bargain

Ikura gunkan with -- yes, really! -- edible gold flakes
added on as garnish
This evening, I had sushi for the first time since returning from Japan one and a half weeks ago.  Normally, I eat sushi once -- sometimes even twice -- a week in Hong Kong but I ate so much sushi on my recent vacation that I didn't have a major sushi craving until today!

After getting back to Kanazawa from my Shirakawa-go excursion, I decided to head over to Omicho Market, where I had read that there were a number of sushi-ya.  Although I also had read that most of the market closes by 6pm, I wasn't prepared to find that the area was on the dark and deserted side for the most part by the time I went there to have dinner.  
Still, all was not lost because I found a welcoming branch of Sushi Zanmai that's open 24 hours and proceeded to have another great meal there -- one that rivalled the two I had at the Sapporo Susukino branch of this excellent chain that I first was introduced to at Tokyo's Tsukiji Market.  
More specifically, I went kinda crazy and ended up having an order of four large -- and very lovely -- oysters on the half shell (for 1200 Yen), one nice piece each of akami (red meat), chuu-toro (medium fatty) and o-toro (fatty) tuna, four ikura gunkan that were absolutely delicious, two kani miso gunkan (which, if I were picky, would say was okay rather than expectedly ectasy-inducing!), and one generous-sized piece each of squid tentacle, suzuki (Japanese sea bass) and amebi (a type of prawn that Kanazawa's famed for) nigiri sushi.
Despite also having a glass of draft beer and two types of sake, my dinner bill came to just around 5,000 Yen (i.e., ~HK$380 or less than US$50).  While that total is nothing to sneeze at, it really does represent good value considering what I ate, and the quality of it.  Also, while the first branch of Sushi Zanmai I went to was a conveyor-belt affair, the Kanazawa branch -- like the one in Sapporo that I had gone to previously -- isn't.  And yes, one does indeed sit in front of a chef who then makes the sushi you order.
On days 3 and 4 of my vacation, I went again to Omicho Market for sushi -- only on these occasions, I opted to have lunch there, when the market was bright and busy.  For both of these lunches, I decided to check out the sushi-ya glowingly described in Paul's Travel Pics' Kanazawa - Restaurants, Budget Hotel and Transportation blog post; with my first lunch at Omicho Market consisting of a uni-crab meat-ikura sanshu-don at Kaisendon-ya, and the second consisting of a deluxe nigiri sushi set at Yamasan Sushi.
In all honesty, if not for Paul's recommendation, I would not have eaten at Kaisendon-ya -- because there were no customers there when I entered, and this despite it being around 12.30pm -- what should be prime lunch time in Japan!  But throwing caution to the wind, I ordered the 2,000 Yen sanshu-don.  And, well, I guess it's a sign of how high my standards for sushi have become that I'd say that it was tasty but hardly revelatory.
The next day at Yamasan Sushi, there was one more customer there than there had been at Kaisendon-ya.  But this time, I actually had gone past many people's lunchtimes, so I was less bothered by the lack of customers.  As it so happens, that one customer (a matronly female who seemed to be a regular) was digging into a kaisen-don that was considerably bigger than what I had had at Kaisendon-ya the previous day.  In fact, it looked so substantial that I decided that it'd be too much for me!

I'm in agreement with Paul that Yamasan Sushi is a cut above Kaisendon-ya.  But despite it looking like -- and probably being -- a more traditional sushi-ya, my vote goes to Sushi-zanmai as the best place where I had sushi in Kanazawa -- and yes, this despite the chef at the restaurant chain that originated in Tokyo not scattering gold flakes on my sushi the way that the one at Yamasan Sushi did! ;b

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Manga/anime surprise(s) in Ogimachi

It's not every day that manga-themed ema can be found
at a Shinto shrine -- and a rural one at that!

 It looks like some of the shrine's visitors are
pretty good at drawing manga themselves!! :)

human imp that's Mei can be found in Ogimachi too :)

Unlike on my Kyoto vacation, during which I visited lots of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, I didn't visit all that many temples on my most recent Japan trip.  At the same time though, it so happened that I checked out -- or at least visited the grounds of -- three Shinto shrines during my day in Shirakawa-go's Ogimachi village.

The first one, situated close to the popular scenic viewpoint on a hill, was the small shrine that I was headed to when a snake decided to slither by in front of me.  The second, slightly smaller shrine also was located at the edge of the village, albeit on lower ground -- and like the first shrine, is a good place to go if you wish to feel far away from what passes as a madding crowd in Ogimachi.

The third was by far the largest of the Shinto shrines in Ogimachi -- but its size was not what I found particularly interesting about it.  Rather, it was that I came across many ema there which appeared to be manga-themed along with other more conventional looking ema

A possible reason for the existence of these ema came from a Japanese friend living in Hong Kong, who told me that she had initially been surprised to find out that her nephew had wanted very much to visit Shirakawa-go but gotto understanding why this was so when he told her that it's referenced in a popular Japanese video game!

Searching on the internet, I also found references to Shirakawa-go -- especially particular locations in Ogimachi -- having served as models for locales in an anime series called Higurashi no Naku ni. A blogger who's a fan of the series visited Ogimachi a while back and it's fun to see and compare photos of real-life scenery and anime screengrabs that he posted.

And yes, I'd love to be able to do that some day for Ponyo's hometown of Tomonoura.  And ditto re making a pilgrimage to "the Totoro house" -- or, rather, the incredibly detailed, life-sized replica of the house that My Neighbor Totoro's Mei, Satsuki and their father -- and eventually, their mother too -- lived! :b

Monday, May 26, 2014

The picturesque village of Ogimachi in Shirakawa-go (Photo-essay)

Before I went on my most recent trip to Japan, several people asked me where I was planning to go to.  Seeing the blank looks of pretty much all of those non-Japanese folks who asked this question when I told them "Kanazawa", I figured I might as well not bother telling them that I also was planning a visit to Shirakawa-go -- for despite its shared UNESCO World Heritage listing with nearby Gokayama, this mountainous rural region is not one that many people have heard of.

At the same time though, I wouldn't say that Shirakawa-go -- or, at least, the very pictureseque village of Ogimachi -- is off the beaten tourist's track.  Indeed, as my bus rolled into the parking lot across the river from the gassho-style farmhouse-filled village, I was horrified to see what looked like a horde of visitors heading over the suspension bridge to my destination that day!

Fortunately, fears that I would find the entire village over-run by tourists proved to be unfounded.  Indeed, early on during my time in Ogimachi, I easily found myself in an area with more wildlife than people -- and was horror-struck to see a snake slithering over an unpaved trail that I was venturing along!  And no, I didn't manage to take a photo of the snake... but I did manage to calm down and proceed to take a lot of other photos that day!! ;b

After crossing the river and arriving at Ogimachi proper,
my first goal was to head to the view point --  something 
that it looked like many others had had the same idea to do!

On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if I were the only 
person who spotted this pair of copulating bugs on the side
of the trail leading up to that view point! ;b

Even if the hike up to the view point had been four times
as long or difficult as it was, it still would have been 
worth it to be able to come across a sight like this

A more close-up shot, courtesy of my camera's zoom lens,
with Wada-ke in the foreground and Nagase-ke (with the 
large trees in front of it) further in the distance

Down in the village, I spotted workers working on 
one of the gassho houses' thatched roof

 On the upper floors of Wada-ke, one can see how ropes, rather 
than nails, are used to hold together various beams and pillars 
-- but most visitors are more interested in the views from them

Then you've got Puppet Ponyo, who's happy to 
pretend to be part of the items on exhibit 
on the upper floors at Nagase-ke! :D

 On the same side of the river as the bus stop is 
an open air museum I found less interesting than Ogimachi 
proper -- but still had some photogenic spots of its own

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ma On Shan Country Park's Ngong Ping plateau hike sights

This afternoon was the clearest I've ever seen it be at
 On the long way down to Ma On Shan town,
my hiking buddies and I came across 
what looked like chopped up bits of snake!

This large green bug that looked like it escaped from a
sci fi movie presented us with another startling sight!! 

After whole weeks when it seemed like there never would be a rain-less day in Hong Kong again, this weekend promised to be dry and sunny, and hot.  So much did I trust the Hong Kong Observatory's weather predictions this time that when it rained early this morning, I didn't freak out and just assumed that it'd stop raining by the time my two now regular hiking buddies and I went on our planned outing this afternoon.
Eager to take advantage of the promised high visibility as well as dry afternoon, we decided to do the Ma On Shan Country Trail in reverse the way I had done with a different hiking buddy some years ago, albeit on a lower visibility as well as cooler weather day -- and this despite knowing that it'd be a challenging hike during hot weather (like today, when the temperature went up to 34 degrees Celsius in parts of the territory).  This is because I was very much looking forward to getting super clear views from atop Ngong Ping Plateau of the surrounding area.
As it turned out, we not only got great views deep into the Sai Kung Peninsula but also far south-eastwards all the way to the Ninepins, Clear Water Bay's High Junk Peak, Tung Lung Chau, Hong Kong Island and more -- and this not only from Ngong Ping plateau but as we climbed up the steep trail from Tai Shui Tseng to it.  Among other things, I don't believe I've ever been able to see Hong Kong Island's Mount Parker and Mount Butler from this part of Hong Kong before.  And it also was cool to be able to so very clearly see High Island Reservoir's east as well as west dams, and how the water contained inside it is not only a different shade of blue from the waters of such as Port Shelter but also at a different elevation.
At the same time though, this hike is one that also will go into my memory as one where we made a number of interesting critter spottings -- including of species of butterfly I hadn't previously seen (and managed to take photos of), including one magnificent example of a white dragontail, and a whole lot of hairy caterpillars.  Ironically. however, one of the more startling critters spotted this afternoon was one which was very much dead rather than alive.  Even stranger was that this snake looked like it had been chopped up in pieces and then its bits left on the side of the road for flies and similar bugs to feast upon!

Yet, the prize for strangest critter spotted today must go to an approximately six inch long green bug that I think was a caterpillar but had one of the weirdest heads I've ever seen, and also was quite a bit more aggressive than other caterpillars I've seen in the past. More specifically, while caterpillars tend to try to go away from the large critters trying to photograph it, this one not only came nearer but also reared its head in ways that would be construed as pretty menacing and scary if only it were, say, 10 times bigger in size! ;b

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Yellow and Mirror (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

I'm sorry I missed taking part in Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts last week on account of my being away on vacation.  Funnily enough though, two of the images I've chosen for this week could have worked for Sandi's choice of theme for last week of "water" -- and if you stretch a bit to argue that the grounds of a temple are where one would get inspired to think abstractly, then all of these images would fit Gattina's choice of theme for last week as well!

As it also happens, my choice of photos for today's Photo Hunt also happen to have been taken in the country which I visited last week -- but whereas I went to Kanazawa, Shirakawa-Go and Osaka on my recent Japan vacation, these images are of the Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto

Should there be any doubt: That golden yellow building in the photos is indeed in the famous Golden Pavilion whose upper floors have been covered with gold leaf, and is topped by bronze phoenix ornament whose bronze is more yellow-tinged than the orange color I tend to associate more with bronze.

Set in a beautiful Japanese stroll garden, the Golden Pavilion extends over the body of water called Kyoko-chi (i.e., Mirror Pond), on which the image of the Kinkakuji often can be seen reflected.  On the afternoon I visited, the waters of Kyoko-chi was so still at one point that I also managed to capture beautiful images of clouds, the sky and surrounding foliage as well as Kinkakuji mirrored on the pond's surface.

Altogether, it was one breathtakingly stunning sight.  People who, after seeing these images, want to make a beeline for this famous Kyoto temple should realize though that it's -- understandably -- a super popular attraction and that it's well nigh impossible for you to take in this beautiful sight in silence -- since there'll be crowds of people standing beside and behind you, many of whom are not moved to silence by the Kinkakuji and Kyoko-chi's beauty but, rather, to loudly exclaim how wonderful it all is! ;)

Friday, May 23, 2014

What I had for dinner on my first evening in Kanazawa

What I had been pining to eat in Japan (as well as sushi)

It may not look particularly appetizing but trust me
when I tell you that it's delicious!

Not something that's traditionally Japanese 
but, again, I found it pretty yummy! :b

Before I headed over to Japan last week, I told a friend that I planned to eat sushi every day.  What I didn't tell her was that I also was going to make sure I had me some kushiage on this trip -- and as it turned out, I ended up having this less well known type of Japanese food -- and one that's also less readily available in Hong Kong -- at as many meals as I did sushi.

Shortly after arriving in Kanazawa (and even before I went to check in at my hotel), a ravenous me headed straight from the train station with baggage in tow to the branch of Mori Mori Sushi in the Forus shopping center located just a few minutes' walk from the station.  But although I liked that I had a taste of kaiten-sushi in the part of Japan with which it's associated, I have to say that it was probably the least satisfying meal that I had on this trip, and this despite its selection including an innovative and delicious gunkan maki offering that contained both raw quail's egg and natto.

In contrast, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner at an izakaya I chanced to head into because I liked what I saw of its picture-rich menu, only to discover that it had a wonderful 299 Yen for a mug of draft beer special promotion going on!  Almost needless to say, I did imbibe at that welcoming branch of Yoronataki that evening.  But, truly, it was the food that made my evening -- and got me deciding that it'd be a good choice of eatery to eat at again before I left the city (not least because my dinner bill ended up being just around the 2,000 Yen mark!).

After ordering my first mug of nama biru, I set about ordering a dish of kushiage moriawase (assorted kushiage -- and yes, moriawase is a very useful word to know when ordering food!) -- which turned out to be five sticks that included tomato, shrimp and various meats.  It may all look like regular frittered food -- but I am being honest here when I say that I love what can come across as a cross between yakitori and tonkatsu far more than I do such as English fish and chips or even Japanese tempura.

For textural contrast, I went with a dish that had gooey Japanese mountain yam at its center and chunks of raw fish and scallop along with its natto, cucumber and other edibles to mix with it and consume.  Although this was one dish that's far from aesthetically pleasing, it truly was one that I found really delicious -- so much so, in fact, that it caused me to make audible sounds testifying to the pleasure that consuming it gave me!

My final dish was something one the light side and which looks deceptively simple.  Its principal components are raw Japanese tomatoes and fairly generic bite-sized chunks of Cheddar cheese -- but oh my re the green dressing/sauce drizzled over them. Is it possible that it was a mix of tangy pesto, reassuring spinach and rich avocado?  In any case, that's what I variously tasted it to be! ;b

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kanazawa's Kenroku-en's sights (Photo-essay)

Among the main reasons why I wanted to visit Kanazawa was because it's home to Kenroku-en, reputedly one of Japan's three most beautiful gardens.  And one of the chief reasons why I went to Japan in mid-May was because it's before the rainy season begins but after Golden Week.

However, when looking at the weather forecast in the days leading to my most recent Japan trip, I saw that it was supposed to rain on the third and fourth days that I'd be in Kanazawa even while being dry during my other vacation days.  So after I checked in at the extremely good-value-for-money Toyoko Inn Kanazawa-eki Higash-Guchi, I headed straight over to Kenroku-en (N.B. "en" is Japanese for garden) to spend a couple of hours taking in the sights at that beautifully laid-out -- and maintained -- 105,000 square meter-sized traditional stroll garden:-

From one side of Kenroku-en, one can get 
panoramic views of Kanazawa and beyond

...but in all honesty, the more up close views to be had
inside of Kenroku-en actually are more visually impressive!

 I must admit to finding the statue of Prince Yamato Takeru to be
goofy looking but nonetheless think its existence adds a special 
something to the garden which took over a century to complete

On a similar note, I think Puppet Ponyo's presence
enhances this photo taken inside of Kenroku-en :)

 It's still only spring but certain colorful leaves 
look more like what one'd expect to find in the fall

 Many a large tree at Kenroku-en have been
given supports for their undulating branches

This two-legged stone lantern is the symbol 
of Kenroku-en and even Kanazawa itself

However, I prefer the sight of the oldest fountain in Japan
-- especially viewed from those angles when one can get
the bonus sight of a rainbow :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Travelling on trains in Japan

There's plenty of leg room -- and sufficient luggage 
space too -- aboard Japan's Limited Express trains

 So one can comfortably sit back and enjoy passing sights
-- like this rural scene in the vicinity of Lake Biwa 

 When looking out of the train window, one often sees
a mix of everyday and exotic sights

Before going on my recent Japan holiday, I worried about two things, both of which involved the train journey I'd be embarking on shortly after arriving at Kansai International Airport. The first had to do with whether I'd be able to easily switch from one train to another in order to get to Kanazawa, on account of there being no direct train that'd take me from the airport to the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture -- unlike is the case with, say, Kyoto or Sapporo.  

The second concerned whether there'd be sufficient space for my luggage -- since unlike some other countries', Japan's trains do not have designated baggage carriages.  And although airport trains such as the Haruka Limited Express that I had taken from Kansai International Airport to Kyoto last year have designated storage space for larger luggage (i.e., the kind that would be too big and/or heavy to put up in the overhead spaces), most other trains -- including the Thunderbird Limited Express trains that I'd be taking for most of the way to Kanazawa -- don't.

Because of the first concern, I decided to go for more flexibility and not opt for reserved seating on the trains.  This way, if I failed to make the first connection, I wouldn't get financially penalized for taking another, later train.  A second reason for not going with reserved seating which one would have to pay more for was that I had read that long distance trains in Japan don't tend to be full unless one's travelling on peak holiday periods (such as Golden Week). 

And so it proved -- with there turning out to not only be plenty of empty seats in the unreserved compartments that I travelled in but, also, plenty of space for my luggage too!  For, as I found, there's actually quite a lot of leg room built in -- so much so that I would pretty easily have managed to fit my bag in between my seat and the one in front too.  

Something else that made travelling with luggage easier for the likes of me is that not all that many of the train passengers had bags as large as the one I had checked in on my flight, so the luggage space set aside in each carriage in the last row of seats (as can be seen in the photo at the very top of this blog entry) is actually very little used!

All in all, I find travelling on trains in Japan to be pretty pleasant affairs -- with my favorite category of train being the limited express. For while the shinkansen (bullet train) can be downright luxurious, it actually can go too fast for me to properly take in views of the landscape that whizzes all so quickly by when one's travelling on it and on the other side of the equation, journeys on local and rapid categories of trains can seem to go on forever because they stop at stations along the way so very often.  (As for the express category: there actually don't seem to be that many trains that fall in this category -- or, at the very least, I don't seem to have encountered too many of them on my Japan journeys!)

Something I like a lot about being on trains in Japan is how so much of the passing scenery can be really interesting.  In the case of the trip to and from Kanazawa on this recent trip, I was intrigued by seeing so many rice and other agricultural fields located so close to not only the train tracks but also paved roads, residences and -- this is something I remember from my first trip to Japan back in 1982 -- graveyards! 

I also like the look of a lot of the villages that I passed by -- where, to gauge by the size and physical condition of the houses, there's not that much economic disparity between the richest and poorest inhabitants.  More whimsically, I love how such as a giant Kannon statue can suddenly be spotted looming above all else.  It's not so much that I get impressed by a community's religious fervor but, rather, that such sights do add something eye-catching to the landscape!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

In Japan once more (with Puppet Ponyo in tow)! :)

Truly, one doesn't have to look hard to find
-- and spot -- Hello Kitty in Japan :)
 And ditto re places where old and new
meet and look to comfortably coexist

In addition, rest assured Puppet Ponyo fans that there were plenty of
photo opportunities for my kawaii travel companion on this trip too! :)

For those wondering why I haven't blogged for the past few days -- it's because I've been away on another trip to Japan!  This time around, I spent the majority of my vacation in Kanazawa, Japan's second largest city (after Kyoto) to escape destruction by air raids during the Second World War, but also paid visits to UNESCO World Heritage-listed Shirakawa-go (specifically the village of Ogimachi) and the city of Osaka (a culinary capital which I've visited twice before, most recently back in 2008).

Suffice to say that I did a lot of exploring and walking (more than 20,000 steps a day, according to my pedometer!), and also eating and drinking, and photo-taking, during my six day holiday!  Before I went on my vacation, I told a friend who regularly checks this blog to expect lots of food-centric photos from this trip.  
But as it turned out, I also have lots of non-food photos to share -- including of a magnificent garden (which is considered to be among the top three landscape gardens in Japan) a wonderful contemporary art museum (with exhibits that actually could be considered fun as well as aesthetically impresive), and a village so rural that I actually spotted a snake slithering across the path leading to a small shrine that I was heading to!  

For the record: I didn't manage to take a photo of the snake -- not least because I was too stunned at my coming across the sight of it.  (In all honesty, it already can be unnerving to spot snakes when out hiking in Hong Kong, so imagine my shock when coming across while being a tourist in Japan!)  However, rest assured that I did take plenty of really cool photos that day -- and that they show a side of Japan that has hitherto not been highlighted on this blog.

At the same time, there also were plenty of spottings of sights that I've come to associate with Japan -- including of the cute cat that's celebrating the 40th year of her existence this year.  As for Puppet Ponyo: suffice to say that she'll be making further appearances on this blog over the next couple of weeks or so, and that I do love her she was able to make a few more friends while out and about on this latest trip (back) to Japan. :b