Saturday, September 30, 2023

Japan 2023 ✈ Hanshin Tigers Baseball Game

We had originally planned to visit Japan in June 2020. Over the last 3 years, we had cancelled and rebooked this trip multiple times as Japan was one of the last few countries to reopen its borders to tourism post-Covid. After waiting for 3 years, we were glad to finally make this trip happen this year! This trip has been 3 years in the making and I must say Japan certainly lived up to our anticipation!

18 Apr 2023 (Tues): Hanshin Tigers Baseball Game @ Koshien Stadium
Back in 2020 when we first planned our Japan trip, we had planned to watch a baseball game in Japan but of course that trip didn't happen. Fortunately, our trip this year coincided with the beginning of the baseball season and the Hanshin Tigers was scheduled to play at Koshien stadium while we were there. 

There are actually two pro baseball teams in the Kansai region - Orix Buffaloes (Kyocera Dome) and Hanshin Tigers (Koshien Stadium). We chose Hanshin Tigers because they are one of the most iconic teams in Japanese baseball, and the best part, they have crazy fans and the loudest stadium.

I know nothing about baseball so hubby was the one in charge of the research on  purchasing the tickets and choosing the seats, all using Google translate. We bought our tickets for the April 18 Hanshin Tigers vs. Hiroshima Carp game on March 2, and received the QR code (tickets) via email...all in Japanese. Our ticket cost ¥4,700 ($35) per person.

After spending first half of the day at Nara, we took the train from Nara and arrived Koshien Station at 4.10pm, 2 hours before the game started. Many other Hanshin Tigers fans were also arriving on the same train so we followed the crowd towards the stadium. 

We arrived earlier to buy cheer bats, and hubby wanted a Hanshin Tigers shirt. We bought the 2 cheer bats from the Lawsons store outside of the stadium for ¥1,600 ($12) and hubby got a T-shirt from the official merchandise store for ¥3,630 ($27). The Hanshin Tigers fans are definitely very supportive coz the official merchandise store was packed! 

We walked around the stadium, took photos with the mascots, and saw the Babe Ruth monument. Hanshin Koshien Stadium is an iconic sports mecca in the Kansai Region. It was built in 1924 and is the oldest baseball stadium in Japan. It hosts the National High School Baseball Championship every summer. We entered the stadium from gate 5.

After entering the stadium at 5.20pm, we walked around to check out the food options. Koshien stadium offers an extensive food selection, there were stalls selling sushi, yakisoba, yakitori, takoyaki, pizza, ice cream, beer, etc.

We bought two player-themed bentos and Asahi beers for dinner. I chose #5 Chikamoto bento with octopus, while hubby chose #0 Kinami with hamburger patty. The bentos had a very nice presentation but it looked better than it tasted. Throughout the game, we bought some chicken skewers and a few more beers, and spent a total of ¥9,600 ($72). We used credit card to pay for the food at the stalls, but used cash for the beer girls.

Our seats (29段 55 & 56) cost a bit more because it was in the covered section (right field by 1st base) and was more comfortable with backrest, and flip table for food & drinks. It rained a lil' at the beginning of the game so we were glad we chose these seats.

The crowds started arriving as it got closer to game time

The stadium was full by 7pm. We were actually surprised the stadium was completely full as it was a Tuesday and most people had to go to school/work. We saw many fans who came straight from work in suit. Tigers fans are amazing! 

The atmosphere throughout the 3-hour game was absolutely incredible with the Tigers' fans cheering, chanting, and singing all night long. The coordinated cheers and 'karaoke' went on for the whole game (whenever Tigers was batting) with a different cheer song for each player. We were so glad to sit in front of a kid who is a big fan as he was singing along every single song. I don't know much about baseball game so I actually enjoyed the crowd more than the game coz the fans' energy and enthusiasm were ecstatic! 

It was 0-0 for most of the game and Tigers was trailing 0-1 until the very end. It was the bottom of the 9th inning, all bases were loaded, 2 strikes 2 outs, foul balls 4 times to stay alive, and Tigers won with the very last swing! As you can imagine, the entire stadium went crazy celebrating the victory! You've gotta watch the video to 'feel' the atmosphere.

The game ended around 9pm and we took the train/subway for 30 minutes back to Osaka. The train station and train were crowded but it was very organized and orderly. We didn't even have to wait at all for the train back to Osaka.

Our first Japanese baseball game was such a great and fun experience. We definitely recommend everyone to watch a Japanese baseball game if they visit Japan, even for those who doesn't know baseball. On a side note, we were so glad we saw the Hanshin Tigers, coz they just won the Central League Championship for the first time in 18 years!

Japan 2023 ✈ Oh Deer Nara

We had originally planned to visit Japan in June 2020. Over the last 3 years, we had cancelled and rebooked this trip multiple times as Japan was one of the last few countries to reopen its borders to tourism post-Covid. After waiting for 3 years, we were glad to finally make this trip happen this year! This trip has been 3 years in the making and I must say Japan certainly lived up to our anticipation!

18 Apr 2023 (Tues): Osaka - Nara - Koshien Stadium - Osaka

Our 2nd morning in Japan started slightly later at 9.15am with another sumptuous free breakfast at the hotel before heading out for sightseeing at 10am.

 Took the subway from Hommachi to Namba station. Used day #1 of our 3-day Kansai Thru Pass as we were traveling quite a distance to Nara. Besides, the Kansai Thru Pass is very easy to use as it covers many different train lines (excluding all JR trains) which covers majority of the public transportation lines in the Kansai region.

Followed the Nara signs at Namba station to connect to the Kintetsu Nara Line. There were signs on the floor to indicate where to board the train from but I am pretty sure most tourists don't follow these!

We boarded at the first stop so there were plenty of space to sit for the 40 min train ride.

Arrived Kintetsu Nara Station at 11am. Welcome to Nara! 

Nara is known for the deers and indeed, we spotted deers everywhere just a short 5 minutes walk from the train station. The deers at Nara Deek Park roam around freely. These 'Japanese' deers are very well-mannered and kept bowing to request for crackers. They certainly are not afraid of people at all and we even saw one headbutting a kid who got too close to it. Most of the deers were chill and polite, but there were signs reminding tourists to be careful as the deers are wild animals and can attack people occassionally. :)

As you can see, we kept our distance from the deers but the deer would just walk up close to!

We (intentionally) missed the cherry blossom season to avoid the crowd by traveling in April but was lucky to still see some cherry blossom trees blooming in Nara.

After getting entertained by deers for about 30 minutes, we continued our sightseeing at Todai-ji Temple. This temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it also serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism.

Entered the Todai-ji temple complex from the Nandai-mon Gate, with two huge guardian figures on both sides.

Todai-ji is a Buddhist temple complex made up of several buildings. One of the main building is the Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden), which houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha. There is a ¥600 admission fee to enter but it was good enough to see it from the outside so we decided to skip it.

Todai-ji temple was a big complex indeed, and the deers are roaming around here too! These deers are the smart ones hanging around right next to the cracker!

Todai-ji Shoro (Bell Tower)

Cool buildings as we walked along the path to Nigatsu-do Hall.

Nigatsu-do Hall is located on the hillside of Mount Wakakusa wih a good view of Nara. There are big white lanterns hanging around the temple.

Even though we had to walk quite a bit around the Todai-ji temple complex, many pathways were shaded with trees, which made it a pleasant walk. We were also there during spring so the weather was nice and cool. 

Deers everywhere in Nara...literally!

The Kasuga-Taisha 'orange' shrine with many hanging gold and bronze lanterns.

Stone lanterns around Kasuga-Taisha shrine. Entering through the Keiga Gate, there is a wisteria tree called "Sunazuri-no-Fuji" (wisteria flowers dropping down to reach the ground). The wisteria flowers bloom from late April until early May.

After spending about 2.5 hours walking around Todai-ji, we wrapped up our tour of Nara with a final stop at Kofuku-ji Temple around 2.20pm.

We saw a few big groups of students in Nara... was it school field trip season?

That's a wrap for our 4 hours visit of Nara. Time to hop back onto the train for an hour to our next destination...Hanshin Koshien Stadium for our first Japanese baseball game! I guess schools ended around 3pm as we saw quite a lot of students on the train. The elementary school students looked cute in their uniforms and school bags. Also spotted a Hanshin Tigers fan on the train. We were confused by his fashion initially but found out later that he's just a big fan of Hanshin! 

Monday, September 25, 2023

Japan 2023 ✈ Osaka - Cup Noodles Museum, Yamazaki Distillery, Umeda Sky Building

We had originally planned to visit Japan in June 2020. Over the last 3 years, we had cancelled and rebooked this trip multiple times as Japan was one of the last few countries to reopen its borders to tourism post-Covid. After waiting for 3 years, we were glad to finally make this trip happen this year! This trip has been 3 years in the making and I must say Japan certainly lived up to our anticipation!

 After a good night's rest, we started our day at 8.45am with breakfast in the hotel on our first day in Japan. The daily free breakfast from 7am-10am was one of the main reasons I chose to stay at a Holiday Inn Express instead of the other IHG hotel options in Osaka.

The buffet options were much better than the ones offered in HiX in the US...salads, fruits, bread and pastries, yoghurt, sausage, scrambled eggs, mapo tofu, grilled fish, rice, stir fried veggies, lotus root, okra, kimchi, pickled dishes, seaweed, miso soup, etc. 

I absolutely enjoyed the oriental breakfast options while hubby opted for the western options as usual. This breakfast was actually brunch for us. =P 

After breakfast, it was time to begin our sightseeing using Japan's convenient rail/subway system. Thankfully, Google Map made it super easy to navigate. Hommachi station was a short 5 minutes walk from our hotel. Even though there are 3 different subway lines (i.e. Midosuji, Chuo, Yotsubashi) that goes through Hommachi station, the Midosuji (red) line was the one we used the most. We took the 9.50am subway from Hommachi to Umeda Station, which was a short 5 min (2 stops) subway ride. 

Umeda station is a big station with several train/subway lines running through it.

We made a quick stop at Umeda station to pick up our 3-day Kansai Thru Pass at the Osaka Metro Commuter pass sales counter in Umeda station. We bought this on Klook's website for $40.35 per person. It was very easy to purchase this on Klook and redeem it at one of the many locations listed. Best of all, we could use credit card to purchase. If we had purchased this pass in Japan, we'd have to use cash. Our plan is to use this pass for our travels on the next 3 days to Nara, Kobe, and Kyoto. My 'cost analysis' showed that it would be cheaper to use this pass than to pay for each train separately. =)

After collecting our pass, we took the 10.20am Hankyu train to Ikeda station. I love the old school train design and the velvet seats. Since we boarded at the first stop, there were plenty of seats for this 20 min ride. We navigated our way around Japan with Google Maps coz it has so much information and was super accurate! 

From Ikeda station, we walked about 5 min (400m) to the Cup Noodles Museum. Entrance to the museum is free and you can purchase tickets for ¥500 if you want to make your own cup noodles, which we didn't. 

We walked around the museum but everything was in Japanese only and honestly there weren't much to see at the museum.

We went to the 2nd floor to watch the noodle-making workshop instead. It was actually more fun to watch how quickly and efficiently the staff cleaned!

After spending 45 minutes at the museum, we hopped back on the train at 12.10pm to our next stop. Looked like we were the only tourists on the train. When changing train at Juso station, we noticed that not only do everyone stood in line here, they even stood in the 'correct' line for the different! It took a minute for us to figure out where to stand but we made sure to do as the Japanese do...haha! 

Arrived Oyamazaki station at 1pm and walked 12 min (1km) through a residential area to our 2nd stop for the day....Suntory Yamazaki Distillery.

Visiting this place was not easy as only visitors with reservations were allowed to enter. Even getting a reservation to visit was like trying to get concert tickets. When they opened the reservation system on March 5 for April's reservation, there were 4000+ people in the queue and by the time I got into the reservation system after waiting for an hour, there were only few spots left for the museum. The Distillery Tour was already fully booked. We were glad to at least get a reservation for the Yamazaki Whisky Museum free tour as the distillery would be closed for visit starting May 2023 till Nov 2023. We were lucky after all.

After a quick check-in at the security gate, we were given a tag for our visit to the museum. Our reservation was for 2pm, but they allowed us to enter earlier at 1.15pm.

If you're wondering why this place is so popular, Yamazaki is where Japanese whisky was born in 1923, and this year is the 100th year since the history of Japanese whisky began. Another reason why this place is so popular is because Suntory is home to award-winning Japanese whiskies - Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu. 

I am not a whiskey connoisseur but I know Hibikis are one of the most popular Japanese whisky. We couldn't find them in any stores and they weren't sold in here either. 

Yamazaki is the most sought-after Japanese whisky brand on the market.  

After learning about the history of Japanese whisky, we proceeded to the whisky tasting area.

The whisky tasting menu. We opted for the ¥1,100 Yamazaki Brand lineup set (Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve, Yamazaki 12 Years Old, Yamazaki 18 Years Old) and the ¥2,400 Long matured whisky set (Yamazaki 18 Years Old, Hakushu 18 Years Old, Hibiki 21 Years Old). For the more serious whisky fans, the Hibiki 30 Years Old, Yamazaki 25 Years Old, and Hakushu 25 Years Old were also available for tasting at ¥3,700 each.

The staff nicely lined up the whisky bottles for us to take photos. =)

Conclusion from our whisky tasting....Hibiki 21 was the best among the ones we tried.

We wrapped up our tour with a visit to the gift shop to buy souvenirs. Each person can buy one of the Yamazaki Distillery limited gift set for ¥3,468 ($26), which includes a 300ml Suntory Single Malt Whiskey Yamazaki Distillery Limited, a box of chocolate, and a Yamazaki Distillery-exclusive glass, packed in a nice bamboo paper bag. We bought 2 sets of the gift sets and the 180ml Yamazaki whisky and chocolate set for ¥2,477.

After spending about 2 hours at Yamazaki, we headed back to Osaka Umeda station to have early dinner at Ichiran next to Umeda station. There were no lines at 4pm.

Ichiran is one of hubby's favorite asian food so we were happy to be here again.

Such a simple and satisfying meal as always, perfect after whisky! 

Walked 10 minutes from Umeda station to the Umeda Sky Building.

The main reason we came here was for this cool glass tube-like mid-air escalator. We took the elevator up to 38th floor to get to the escalator. There are ticket machines selling tickes to the Floating Garden Observatory one level above, but we didn't go.

Headed back to Umeda station at 6pm to take the subway to Shinsaibashi station. It was rush hour so the train was packed.

We went to the Capcom store but hubby was disappointed with what they had there. We then walked through the covered walkway to Bon Repas whisky store and was disappointed again coz they didn't have any Hibiki available. We also bought Uncle Rikuro's cheesecake and took it back to the hotel. Honestly, I felt this was a bit overrated.

That's a wrap for day 1 in Japan. Next post, we will be heading to Nara to see lots of deers and watch our first ever Japanese baseball game.