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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Inasayama Observatory 稲佐山山頂展望台

Visited 19.03.2014

How the night scenery should look like on a clear day.
Voted as the new top 3 night scenery in the world (alongside Hong Kong and Monaco), Mt Inasa (Inasayama) has risen to become one of Nagasaki's most prominent attraction. Been to Mt Hakodate and Mt Moiwa in Hokkaido, to admire the night scenery of Hakodate & Sapporo city respectively. To date, my vote still goes to Mt Hakodate because of the unique looking landscape and breathtaking night view.

Mt Inasa stands at 333 m tall and visitors can get a good view of Nagasaki Harbour and Nagasaki city from the observation platform. As the night comes closer, the entire city gradually lights up, creating a spectacular, jewel-sparkling night scenery. It is also referred to as "10 million dollars" night scenery because it cost that much to provide the electrical energy to light up the city!


Took a bus and alighted at Ropeway mae bus stop. Walked towards this big torii which led to the ropeway station (Fuchi Shrine station) at the foot of Inasayama. Before we bought the ticket, we were informed that the view from the observatory was not clear that night. After much contemplation, we stick to the plan and prayed that the weather would improve when we reached the summit. Got off from the ropeway and walked another 5 mins to reach the observatory. Unfortunately, the fog continued to mask our view and we could not capture the best side of Nagasaki city on that night. However, solely based on the landscape, I will still retain my vote on Mt Hakodate.

Ropeway ticket to replace the poor quality photos taken that night.
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Inasayama Observatory 稲佐山山頂展望台
Opening hrs: 0900 - 2200 hrs
Round trip = 1,230 yen; Single trip = 720 yen

How to get there:
(1) Nagasaki Ropeway (長崎ロープウェイ): http://www.nagasaki-ropeway.jp/
Take Bus 3 or 4 from Nagasaki JR Station to Ropeway-mae (ロープウェイ前) bus stop, walk another 2 mins to Fuchi Shrine station (ロープウェイ淵神社駅) to board the ropeway for Inasadake.

Note: Ropeway is suspended for service till 5 Feb 2016 for maintenance work. During this period, buses are deployed to ferry visitors from Nagasaki JR Station to Mt Inasa summit (every 2 hourly on weekdays and hourly on weekends). Do note that prior reservations are required to take this bus service. Bus fee = 1,000 yen
Temporary bus service to Mt Inasa: http://www.nagasaki-ropeway.jp/news/file/62file_20150423180242.pdf



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Video: Inasayama Observatory were featured in 遇约九州, a Taiwan produced travel program promoting Kyushu. Scroll to 29:40 for their recommendation.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Shikairou 四海楼

Visited 19.03.2014


Chinese food in Japan? One food I was eager to eat was "Champon", a type of noodle soup which is well known in Nagasaki. Despite staying just across Chinatown where there are many restaurants offering this signature food in their menu, I decided to travel two streetcar stations to patronise Shikairou instead. Reason being "Champon" was created by the boss of Shikairou - Chen Shun Ping (陈顺平). Story goes all the way back to Meiji period. Chen Shun Ping created this huge serving of noodles specially for poor Chinese students in Japan. The name "Champon" came from the Hokkien phrase "吃饭" (pronounced as chak-ben) which means "eat food". No one would have expected that this kind act would elevate this bowl of noodles to become a specialty of Nagasaki.

Shikairou is a stand-alone five storey building and the exterior reminded me of some Chinese historical monuments. Bronze statues of two deities, Thousand Miles Eyes (千里眼) and Follow Wind Ears (顺风耳), were placed on both sides of the entrance. Dragon, an auspicious character to Chinese, are craved on stones and displayed on the central stairway. Took the elevator to fifth storey where the main restaurant is located. Restaurant also offers a panoramic view of Inasayama through the tall glass panels. Despite this being my first time eating Chinese food in Japan, Shikairou felt like any high end Chinese restaurant I have patronised before. From the delicate porcelain tableware imprinted with dragons, familiar Chinese characters on menu to traditional Chinese tea, the entire place was infused with Chinese style elements.


Ordered the couple of dishes to try:
(1) Champon noodles (ちゃんぽん)
- Was stunned by the close-to-overflow bowl of noodles when it was served. Milky broth is cooked using chicken bone and pork bone. Rich flavours of the soup is absorbed by the yellow noodles. Other ingredients such as squid, prawns, vegetables, fish cake and shredded egg are added on top to complete this bowl of Champon. This is what a good stomach filling bowl of noodles should be!

(2) Fried rice with corn soup
- Average, was expecting more wok hei fragrance in the fried rice.

(3) Pork belly bun
- The famous and familiar pork belly bun (扣肉包) is known as 角煮 here. Was surprised that their bun is as good as what we get here in a local Chinese restaurant. Meat was tender braised, and the fatty portion of the meat melts in your mouth. This is my favourite dish out of the three ordered.

Do you know? There is a fast food restaurant in Japan, named Ringer Hut, that serves Champon noodles. First established in Nagasaki, Ringer Hut's business has expanded other areas in Japan as well. Though I have spotted several of their outlets during my trips in Japan but have not try it yet.
Website: http://www.ringerhut.jp/

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Shikairou 四海楼
850-0921 長崎県長崎市松が枝町4-5
Opening hrs: 1130 - 1500, 1700 - 2100 hrs
http://www.shikairou.com/

How to get there? 
(1) By Streetcar - From Nagasaki JR Station, take line 1 and transfer to line 5 at Tsukimachi (築町). Alight at Oura Tenshudo Shita (大浦天主堂下).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Dormy Inn Nagasaki 出島の湯 ドーミーイン長崎

Stayed 19.03.2014 (1 night)
Booked thru' Agoda.


Hotels in Nagasaki city are pretty scattered. On most occasions, I tend to choose hotels that are adjacent to train station mainly for convenience reasons. Decided to stay slightly further from the train station and picked a hotel at the Chinatown district. By streetcar, its about four stations away from Nagasaki JR Station.

First time staying in Dormy Inn and it exceeded my expectations (though the name suggested that it is an inn). More than an inn, this hotel has its own public bath and sauna facilities and provide free supper at night - two perks that identifies itself from other business hotel chains. Located just in front of Chinatown street, the hotel has injected some Chinese style elements amid its modern design e.g. decorative windows and lamps. Front desk is not located on the ground floor - have to take a lift up to third floor. Restaurant and public bath are also located on the same level.

Complimentary soba at night.
Stayed in a twin room (21 m2) - room is spacious with adequate walking space and equipped with basic necessities. After utilising accumulated points from Agoda, one twin room stay per night cost about ~140 SGD. Did find time to utilise their public bath and it was not too bad - two to three pools with different water quality (had one with floating yuzu fruits). At night (2130 - 2300 hrs), they offered free buckwheat soba as supper. Despite being complimentary, the quality was not compromised at all - enjoyed my hot bowl of soba very much! And I actually preferred the soba to the breakfast that was provided on the following morning. Later did I know, this complimentary soba was actually unique to Dormy Inn chain of hotels (not exclusive to Nagasaki branch).

All in all, a pleasant first time experience in a Dormy Inn hotel, and I am now always on a lookout for their branches whenever I plan a trip to Japan.

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What's nearby?

(1) Chinatown street (長崎新地中華街), located just in front of the hotel.  

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Dormy Inn Nagasaki 出島の湯 ドーミーイン長崎
http://www.hotespa.net/hotels/nagasaki/

(1) By Streetcar - From Nagasaki JR Station, take line 1 heading for Shokakuji Shita (正覚寺下). Alight at Tsukimachi (築町).

Monday, May 18, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Nagasaki JR Station 長崎駅, Nagasaki City Streetcar 長崎電気軌道


Nagasaki JR Station, the terminus station on Nagasaki main line.

The following trains serve this station:

(1) Seaside Liner, a local train which commutes between Sasebo and Nagasaki. Time taken to travelled between both locations is ~90 mins.

(2) Kamome, a limited express train which commutes between Hakata and Nagasaki.

Left corner: Ltd Express Kamome departing from Nagasaki JR Station; Right corner: Castella cake can be purchased from souvenir shops in the train station. 
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What's nearby?

(1) Nagasaki City Streetcar (Nagasaki Denki Kidou 長崎電気軌道)
The most convenient way (for tourists) to explore Nagasaki city is to ride on its streetcar! The streetcar network is pretty extensive and most of the attractions are within walking distance from the streetcar stops. Each trip cost 120 yen, regardless of the number of stops travelled. If you are transferring to another line to continue your journey, do request for a transfer ticket from the driver before alighting the streetcar.

Nagasaki City Streetcar Map
Alternatively, purchase a one day pass at 500 yen for unlimited streetcar usage if you plan to take the streetcar more than 4 times/day. The pass can be purchased from the tourist information center in Nagasaki JR Station and front desks of selected hotels. Got mine from Washington Hotel, which is located opposite to Dormy Inn Hotel (the hotel I stayed in).
http://www.naga-den.com/kikaku/language/english

Right: 1 day streetcar pass
(2) AMU Plaza & JR Kyushu Hotel Nagasaki
A shopping complex, which is owned by JR Kyushu, is connected seamlessly to the train station. AMU Plaza houses a cinema and popular brands such as GAP, MUJI, ABC Mart and even Tower Records. If you wish to stay close to train station, JR Kyushu Hotel Nagasaki will be a good option. 
AMU Plaza: http://www.amu-n.co.jp/
JR Kyushu Hotel Nagasaki: http://www.jrk-hotels.co.jp/Nagasaki/

(3) Buses (to Mt Inasa Ropeway)
Take Bus 3 or 4 from the train station to Ropeway-mae (ロープウェイ前) bus stop, walk another 2 mins to Fuchi Shrine Station (ロープウェイ淵神社駅) to board the ropeway for Mt Inasa.
Note: Ropeway is suspended for service till 5 Feb 2016 for maintenance work. During this period, buses are deployed to ferry visitors from Nagasaki JR Station to Mt Inasa summit (every 2 hourly on weekdays and hourly on weekends). Do note that prior reservations are required to take this bus service. 
Temporary bus service to Mt Inasa: http://www.nagasaki-ropeway.jp/news/file/62file_20150423180242.pdf

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Commemorative stamps: 



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Lucky's Burger ラッキーズ鹿子前店

Visited 19.03.2014


US Fleet Activities Sasebo was established here in 1950s. The fashion of eating burgers was also gradually developed, and the initial intent was to provide comfort food to the people serving the naval base here. Quite different from the conventional fast food centres, the burgers here are made upon order and packed with hefty ingredients. From then now, many such restaurants surfaced, offering a good variety of burgers. A Sasebo burger association was also set up to promote this unexpectedly popular gourmet food in the city- a stand bearing this "Burger Boy" mascot will be placed outside these restaurants. Currently, there are about 20 restaurants within this association. 

Sasebo Burger: http://www.sasebo99.com/restaurant/?cate_m=30Tip: Do pick up a Sasebo Burger Map from the Tourist Information Center located within Sasebo JR Station.

Visited Lucky's which is located in Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort. Interior looks like any other fast food restaurant and the usage of blue, red and white colours added a tinge of American flavour. Lucky's offers a standard menu of burgers - beef, chicken, fish and bacon as the main meat ingredient, together with cheese, egg, vegetables and sauces stuffed between two toasted buns. Ordered their signature bacon & egg burger (standard size). Totally awed by the first bite - impressed by how the different flavours of meat, egg, vegetables and mayonnaise sauce, blended harmoniously together in one small simple burger. This is how a good burger should taste like! If you plan to visit Pearl Sea Pearl, I will recommend to pay this restaurant a visit. Definitely one of the food that I will reminisce about when I think of Kyushu. 

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Lucky's Burger ラッキーズ鹿子前店
長崎県佐世保市鹿子前町1055 九十九島パールシーリゾート内
http://www.lucky-group.co.jp/luckys/
Opening hrs: 1000 - 2000 hrs


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Other options:

(1) Log Kit ログキット
Their main shop is located at Yatake-cho (矢岳町). Later found out that there is a smaller branch located strategically within Sasebo JR Station. Almost wanted to grab one but had to rush to board the next train.

Log Kit Sasebo JR Station Branch ログキット 佐世保駅店
佐世保市三浦町21-2 JR佐世保駅
Opening hrs: 1000 - 2000 hrs
http://logkit.jp/

(2) Hikari ヒカリ 
Another famous brand in Sasebo, this restaurant is located side by side to Log Kit at Yatake-cho. Fortunately, they have opened another branch in Sasebo Goban Gai 佐世保五番街, a shopping complex which is near Sasebo JR Station.

Hikari Sasebo Goban Gai Branch ヒカリ 佐世保五番街
佐世保市新港町3-1
Opening hrs: 1000 - 2100 hrs
http://hikari-burger.com/


Log Kit + Hikari Main Shop (Yatake-cho)
佐世保市矢岳町1-1
Opening hrs: 1000 - 2100 hrs (Log Kit); 1000 - 2000 hrs (Hikari)
Take a local bus from the bus terminal outside the east exit of train station and alight at "Motomachi, Shilitsusogo Byooin Mae 元町・市立総合病院前". Approx 2 mins walk from bus stop.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort 九十九島パールシー リゾート, Kujukushima Sightseeing Ship 九十九島遊覧船

Visited 19.03.2014

Kaiou, the pirate themed sightseeing ship, which has been replaced by Mirai.
Backup plan. Because of the bad weather and failed attempt to capture a good overview of Kujukushima from Funakoshi Observatory, I made a last minute decision to embark on a sightseeing ship cruise to come closer the islands, hoping to overcome the earlier disappointment. It took us 15 minutes to walk from Funakoshi Observatory to Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort, where the sightseeing ship pier is located.
  
Don't be misled by the name of this place (at least I was), as there are no luxurious hotels or private beaches here. Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort (formerly known as Saikai Pearl Sea Resort) is more of a leisure and entertainment zone - a pier for sightseeing cruise ships, an aquarium (Kujukushima Aquarium Umikirara 九十九島水族館 海きらら), shops and restaurants (Lucky's Burger) are all gathered within the same area. There are two sightseeing ships which set sail around Kujukushima and the entire journey takes about 50 minutes: Pearl Queen and Mirai, a pirate themed ship which has replaced the former Kaiou (海王).


Features. Chose to ride on the pirate themed ship, Kaiou, which was making its first sail of the day at 1130 hrs. Bright red hull was very eye catching and made me look forward to the ride. Though crow's nests which served as lookout points were available, it was not accessible (at least no one dare to do so without any safety harnesses on). The pirate theme was also extended to the interior - you can find treasure boxes filled with gold coins, toy skulls hanging from the ceiling, cannon and cannonballs directed outwards.

Ship moving through the narrow water way between two islands.
Experience. Stayed outdoor throughout the entire ship journey. As anticipated, Kujukushima felt less breathtaking when viewed at grade level. With a map in hand, I tried to trace the route that the ship was taking and identify the unique features in some of the islands (that were mentioned in the brochures), while enjoying the cooling sea breeze. You would also notice numerous buoys arranged in a square fashion in the sea - oyster farming is actively practised in the calm waters surrounding Kujukushima. The most exciting part of the ride was when the ship sailed skilfully through a narrow waterway between two islands.

Conclusion. Overall, the sightseeing ship journey was pleasant but did not bring out the best side of Kujukushima. I will still recommend making your way to any of the elevated observation spots to capture a better view of the cluster of islands, especially on a good weather day.

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Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort  九十九島パールシーリゾート
〒858-0922 長崎県佐世保市鹿子前町1008番地
http://www.pearlsea.jp/english/

Sightseeing ship sailing times:
- Pearl Queen: 1000, 1100, 1300, 1400, 1500 hrs
- Mirai: 1130, 1330 and 1430 hrs
Fee = 1,400 yen (adult); 700 yen (child)

How to get there?

By bus from Sasebo JR Station:
- Bus stop #1 (not located in the bus center, just turn left after exiting from train station): for rapid service bus to Pearl Sea Resort (パールシーリゾート). 6 buses per day and bus timings have been arranged to allow seamless transfer from/to Ltd Express Midori train.
Fee = 240 yen. Bus timings: http://www.pearlsea.jp/english/access.html

- Bus stop #6 (in bus center): for local bus to Pearl Sea Resort (パールシーリゾート). Fee = 240 yen.
Bus timings: http://www.pearlsea.jp/access/shieibusjikokuhyou.pdf

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Kyushu Spring 2014 九州春季之旅 - Funakoshi Observatory 船越展望所 (Kujukushima 九十九島)

Visited 19.03.2014


Kujukushima means 99 islands in Japanese. Despite the name, there are a total of 208 islands, most of them are inhabited, within this cluster and it is said to be the most highly concentrated in Japan.

Two ways to see Kujukushima:
(1) There are several designated observation spots in Sasebo city to take in the splendor of Kujukushima. Some are accessible by local buses.
(2) Regular sightseeing ships which departs from Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort at stipulated timings.


My personal preference was to capture an overview of Kujukushima from the observation spots rather than get close to them physically via the sightseeing ship. Unfortunately, the weather was cloudy resulting in poor visibility. Original plan was to visit Tenkaiho (展海峰), which is known to be the best viewing spot for Kujukushima. However, after consulting the staff at the Tourist Information Center at Sasebo JR Station, we made our way to Funakoshi instead, the nearest observatory from the train station. The visibility was poor as expected and I could imagine how scenic the view of the green islands and blue seas here will be on a good day. Hopefully better luck on my next trip to Kyushu.

(1) Funakoshi Observatory 船越展望所
From Sasebo City Bus Center (Bus Stop 7), board the bus heading for Tsukumo-en (つくも苑) via Zoological and Botanical Garden and alight at Kujukushima Botanical and Zoological Garden. Bus journey takes about 25 mins. From the bus stop, walk for another 10 mins before reaching destination. From what I recalled, this winding road leading to the observatory has no designated pedestrian walkway, therefore do stay closer to the sides.  
Website (in Japanese): http://www.sasebo99.com/spot/61464/
Bus schedule (in Japanese):
下船越・展海峰入口・つくも苑(動植物園経由) http://city-sasebo-koutuu.jp/jikokuhaifu5.html
展海峰入口・つくも苑(赤崎/動植物園) http://city-sasebo-koutuu.jp/jikokuhaifu6.html

Other well-known observation spots:

(2) Tenkaiho 展海峰
Apart from its 180 degree panoramic view of Kujukushima, Tenhaiho is a popular flower viewing spot too. Be captivated by blooming yellow rapeseed flowers in spring and a carpet of purple cosmos in autumn.
From Sasebo City Bus Center (Bus Stop 7), board the bus heading for Tsukumo-en (つくも苑) and alight at Tenkaiho iriguchi (展海峰入口). Bus journey takes about 40 mins. From the bus stop, walk for another 6 minutes before reaching the destination.
Website (in Japanese): http://www.sasebo99.com/spot/274/
Bus schedule (in Japanese):
下船越・展海峰入口・つくも苑(動植物園経由) http://city-sasebo-koutuu.jp/jikokuhaifu5.html
展海峰入口・つくも苑(赤崎/動植物園) http://city-sasebo-koutuu.jp/jikokuhaifu6.html

(3) Ishidake Observatory 石岳展望台
What makes this secluded observatory an attractive one is its elevation. This also implies visitors will need to overcome a gradient to reach here. Did a quick check on online photos posted and I was awed by the picturesque photos taken on a good day. Have noted down this place as a spot to visit next time round.
From Kujukushima Botanical and Zoological Garden, walk for another 30 mins up slope.
Website (in Japanese): http://www.sasebo99.com/spot/273/

(4) Yumiharidake Observatory 弓張岳展望台
Visitors get to capture both Kujukushima and Sasebo city skyline from this observatory. Buses to Yumiharidake are quite infrequent and the bus journey from Sasebo JR Station takes about 25 minutes.
Website: http://www.sasebo99.com/spot/265/
Bus route (in Japanese):
弓張岳 http://city-sasebo-koutuu.jp/jikokuhaifu21.html

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Funakoshi Observatory 船越展望所
〒857-1231 長崎県佐世保市船越町147