Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Free, Public, Open Yet Sheltered Toron Foot Bath @ Lake Toya [Hokkaido, Japan]

I don't love the cold and have no plan for a winter trip as i hate bundling up like a dumpling when i am outdoor and have to endure the heated frustration when i step into a building with a radiator.

It wasn't that snowy cold when i was at Lake Toya in August but the chill had set in and i noted from the map that there's an outdoor foot bath that visitors can soak for free! Keyword - free. 

The structure didn't particularly stand out and looked like a longish pavilion from afar. Nevertheless, my feet were excited as they would love to get away from the night-time temperature drop.

Ahhhhh........ the temperature was just right; condition was murky although i am assuming the spring water was mineral rich rather than dirty. Best of all, no one to share the bath with me! 

Iconic dragon acted as the centerpiece for the sheltered foot bath and was also the source of the spring water. As it was night time, i honestly didn't do justice to the area with my lousy camera skill.

Even though there's no gate / door, i noticed the board listing operating hours. Those traveling to Lake Toya in winter would be pleased to know that it's also open from 10am till 4pm! 

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Location Map
Refer to town map brochure as above and look out for Toron foot bath along the promenade. p.s. i didn't resize the map; hence, please save and download as a copy for reference. 


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Road Station Akaigawa - Rest Stop Between Otaru & Lake Toya @ Hokkaido [Japan]

Driving from Otaru to Lake Toya would take us about two hours and that's pure driving!

There's no way i can endure sitting on my sharp butt for that long a period and even though i had factored in a few stopovers, i think it's fate that we chanced upon the above rest station and decided to stop for a piss.

I don't quite understand the Japanese characters but i recognise the surroundings and went to search for the station on Google Map (satellite view). It didn't take me to find out its actual name; Road Station Akaigawa.

There were two buildings and i happily bounced over to the smaller one as the pee can wait. My guess is that the carpark of the station was pretty packed and many could be already crowding the toilets.

Store was like a farmer's market and decked out with fresh, local produce! Since i had no intention to cook a meal in Japan and my mom wasn't with me (she would have identified a few vegetables to haul back to Singapore), the variety didn't quite interest me.

Fruits were more appealing but 5,000 yen (S$62) for this box of cherries was too hard to stomach, even if they were delicious! To be fair, it might be S$62 for two boxes although i still find that pricey.

Was about to pop by the main building when i spotted something right in the middle of both structures; a relaxed corner with a tiny garden. Okay, relaxed more for the adults as it's more a smoking area.

Garden was well patronised by young families with kids though and i can imagine why with the nice climate and the backdrop of rolling hills!

And there's the irresistible water feature which always proved to be a hit with young kids. Think about the time when you were a kid; to dance and play in the rain was a random yet darn fun thing to do!

It wasn't rain but you just need a few pairs of hands to splash the water to make it feel like it's drizzling! The place wasn't as elaborate as the kind we see in Singapore's shopping centres yet you can feel the joy judging from the families' laughter.

One of our travel mates bought a pack of Japanese cherries and shared with us! So kind of him and they were really nice and not deadly sweet.

Dogs on the run!

Inside the main building was a cafeteria, a store that sells souvenirs, snacks and most importantly, has a bakery wing! The bakes had such a wonderful aroma; i was persuaded to grab a few pieces.

Crispy cream danish appeared to be the popular item and it didn't cost more than S$2 each. I got one and it was delish! Buttery and not cloyingly sweet; the perfect pastry for someone who wants something not too heavy.

Got a sweet bean bun at the end too and while it wasn't out of the normal, i enjoyed the fluffiness of the bun. Regretted not buying a few more for breakfast the next morning...

Dogs again; i think it must be great being a pet dog in Japan as they were so well trained and there are ample public spaces for them to roam around. 

Time to continue our way to Lake Toya!

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Location Map

As above.

Website


Monday, January 15, 2018

Ramen Ippontei (一本亭) - Go for the Salt Noodle @ Lake Toya [Hokkaido, Japan]

My intention was to have a delicious scallop meal at Lake Toya but the place was already closed for business at 6.30 pm. How come so early?!?! Without a second option, our group of six persons was in a fix on a suitable place for dinner!

We took out the map of Lake Toya that was given to us by the inn's operator and after deliberating for a while (honestly, six brains can be one too many to make a decision), we opted for ramen at Ippontei as the weather at Lake Toya was a bit cold and having a bowl of steaming hot soup with noodles would likely be enjoyable.

Our fingers were crossed when we parked the car, as this ramen restaurant could have been shut for the day too! For Singaporeans who have been too accustomed to finding food at night, it's a cultural shock when dining establishments closed so early.

Heng still opened for business although I am hesitant to sit on the tatami mats; I did that once and the painful cramps that came after I stood up remained etched in my memory.

Anyway, there was no available room but I am happy to be given counter seats!

Darn, don't understand anything except for the word 'menu'! I can roughly make out a few Chinese characters yet there's a missing symbol on the menu; the chef recommended logo!

The operator kindly passed us a Chinese menu after seeing our puzzled looks! There's also an English version which I would share at the end of this post.

Salt Noodle - as indicated on the English menu, I just picked off the first item on the menu which I knew would be shio ramen. As I was craving for meat, I topped up the ramen with another portion of chashu!

Loved the lightly flavoured soup that had a pinch of salty aftertaste and I was so glad to have topped up with extra chashu as each slice was impossibly sauce! Nothing's perfect though; the noodles were heavy and too eggy for my liking and why did they have to add in bamboo shoots?!

Why didn't any ramen restaurant in Singapore think of the above?! It's so convenient to have the spoon firmed placed at the edge without it slipping into the soup.

The above was a half eaten soy sauce ramen that's ordered by Alex; why did I bother showing it? Because it wasn't great; cloying after a while and it tasted like a pot of weakly flavoured braised pork. *shake head*

We were not the last customers but the owner came out and switched off the lights shortly after we exited; it's not even 7.30 pm! Rest assured, there's always 7-11 if all the restaurants had closed.

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Location
78 Tōyakoonsen, Tōyako-chō,
Abuta-gun, Hokkaidō 049-5721, Japan

Google Map
Search for Ramen Ippontei under Lake Toya (06-07 Aug)

Operating Hours
11.30 am to 2.00 pm
6.00 to 8.00 pm
(Actual time might differ)

Menu
As above.

Pricing
Shio Ramen - 700 yen
Top up Cha Shu - 300 yen


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Kluang Street Art - Murals along a 250-meter Stretch @ Laman Kreatif Kluang (Near Famous Kluang Rail Coffee) in Johor [Malaysia]

The popularity of street art in Malaysia has extended beyond Penang but i was surprised to read of a mural street at Kluang when i was doing research on what to do in the small Malaysian town.

Turned out it was less than 200 meters from where i stayed (i.e. Hotel Anika), and we decided to check it out after breakfast at the famous kluang rail coffee!

Maybe because the day was still early (about 9.00 am), the street (more the back lane between two rows of shop houses) wasn't crowded and we had the luxury of space to take many photographs without much photo bombs.

As expected, this would be a picture-heavy post with over 90 photographs and while i can share as many pictures as my camera can take, this should only serve as a reference since nothing beats seeing the art for real.

Unlike the street art in Penang, the version in kluang was concentrated along this one, long street. Some are just boring wall paintings although there are those with 3D elements for that more interesting photo taking.

Without Alex, my sister would have to step in as the model for my pictures; she is a better candidate though as her actions were expressive, random and totally in sync with the theme of the artwork behind her.

Don't play play; she's the mother of the equally expressive Jovyn.

Green mold on the wall provided a perfect base for the grass in the above mural that depicted a typical scene in the kampong with kids playing in the outdoors.

Kluang's super heroes - one looked a bit like the famous batman and the shorter sidekick seemed like bird man with its unforgettable beak-mask.

Another one with batman climbing up a water pipe while a colony of bats flew towards him. After a while, i did notice that bats were featured heavily along the street and thought it must have either been a state obsession or that Kluang is littered with bats!

Our Joyce in her usual, cheeky self. With her daughter, she might behave a bit more guarded as she had to set an example but once her kids are not with her, all hell breaks loose.

Caricature drawing on a wall.

Village life again although there was an incredibly realistic feature for this wall mural and it's not the metal pipe that was made to look like a vine. Look closer.

The 'bird house' that's thickly caked with bird poo!

On a lighter note - miniature kids having fun; blowing bubbles, playing on a wind and somersaulting on a long, metal, black pipe.

Rare picture of me with my favourite cartoon character; crayon shin chan! I actually have all its comic books (translated to Chinese characters) and was devastated when the author (Yoshito Usui) died in 2009.

Sometimes, we don't need to learn Malay to know what the words mean. From the above, i can roughly guess it means camera here since the Malay language borrows quite a lot of modern words from English.

Optical illusion on the floor - i have no idea what MPK means; i know MBK is mahboonkrong mall whereas MPH is a popular bookstore in Singapore and Malaysia. A check on the web revealed that MPK stands for Majlis Perbandaran Kluang; Malay for Kluang Municipal Council.

Dora the explorer!

My sister with a gigantic cat without a mouth (yes, i am aware that's Hello Kitty) and a life-sized robotic kitty; Doraemon.

Eh, the "real" Kluangman; take note of the bat-like shadow!

Making use of corners!

Placed side by side, this reminded me of a book cover that my ex boss showed me; at front cover, it was a boy who seemed to have died from hunger during wartime but once you turn to the back, you can see that a soldier, partially hidden by a wall, had shot him.

Didn't show face because it appeared rounder (aka fatter).

Remembering my time at Jeju's trick eye museum with both my sisters; it was memorable for two reasons. We had fun which was good but right after the visit, we got into a car accident.

No idea what they are supposed to mean...

Performance murals showcasing the three majority races in Malaysia; Chinese lion dance, Malay Kuda Lumping and Indian performers.

Cartoon and/or movie characters were heavily featured; not sure if copyright would be an issue but i doubt it as shops hawking pirated CDs are still commonly found in Malaysia.

Evil mouse going to hit a sleeping cat; the direct opposite of Tom & Jerry! Notice that plastic structure below the words "singgah yok"? That's a plastic seat for maximum two persons.

The street was the gold winner for the international green apple award; you can read more here but i noticed the page had indicated Klang (a city in Malaysia) instead of Kluang.

Nothing creative for the above; it's really just mould on the wall.

Love how the wall appeared to have been ripped apart to show the pretty gal.

The street is broken up into two sections as there's a road that runs across it; we were done with the first section and we shall proceed to the second one now.

More "trick eyes"!

I roughly made out 'kluang' in the above artwork although i think there's an extra letter for L. Now that i am older, i realize the mind is not as visually creative as before. Guess i need more "training" to attune my brain to think out of the box.

Featuring the life of the locals!

This is my favourite mural at Kluang Street Art; with the old and fading signboard above, the old gentleman might have been waiting for his turn at acupuncture and dental clinic.

Zoom in and it's a picture of a sorrow-looking old man who could have been living on his own. As many youngsters from Kluang move out to find jobs in the cities and nearby countries like Singapore, i guess the above would pull the heartstrings of those who are not living with their parents in Kluang.

Comic strip mural!

Hopscotch - i bet many kids nowadays would not know what the above is although in my time as a kid, we often play it at the void decks.

Standing in an aromatic cup of Kluang coffee!

It was really fun to have my sister around and even though she always said she will QC the pictures of her that i put up in this blog; she has never requested i take down any of them!

Mural of a tailor / clothes alteration shop and right opposite is the 'real' tailor and clothes alteration shop; the irony and corresponding contrast between the fake and real.

Looks like chalk drawing on a blackboard. 

Other artwork along the street.

Strangely, i saw a lot of illustrations for Johor state flags and the crown emblem but not so much on Malaysia national emblems. With the political conflict between the state and federal, who knows if Johor would make its way out of the federated states of Malaysia.

The seldom seen payphone!

Foldable tables and chairs were put out on the street by a nearby coffee shop for customers to soak in the artwork while having a cup of Kluang coffee coupled with signature local breakfast delights like butter kaya toasts and soft boiled eggs!

I think it's the national flower of Malaysia; hibiscus?

Joyce rushing to catch the school bus! In the 37 years that i have known my sister, i don't think she has ever been late for school. Even if she is, the reason is likely me since we studied in the same primary and secondary school.

What do the four artwork have in common? Bats and i am sharing the reason why bats are featured so prominently in Kluang. Answer: the name Kluang was drawn from Keluang which means "a type of flying fox or rather a type of fruit bat that used to be plentiful in the district decades ago"!

Given the esteemed bat's status, we should not shy away from being one!

Hm... seems like the street art was further extended; even though we were in a rush to return back to the hotel (returning to Singapore that day and would like to beat the jam), we concluded that we might as well check it out.

Last look of the 'official' creative street.

Zebra crossing that's painting to look like train tracks? Well, i bet many drivers would be confused and that's not fun when you are in a rush!

What we found on the other side; most impressed with the last artwork and i think there's a time capsule right in front of the mural that shows the heart shaped symbol from two hands.

Biggest artwork as the above; a mural that reflects racial harmony which is as important to Malaysia as it is to Singapore.

Remember the coffee shop that put out the tables and chairs? Aside from coffee and toast, you can get roti prata too! My bad, roti prata is known as roti canai in Malaysia.

So which kind would you prefer? A dirty, boring back lane versus one that's full of colour, vibrancy and creativity?! For me, i would definitely go with the latter!

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Location
Enter from along Jalan Sultanah that's opposite the fire station (known as balai bomba). Recommended to visit after having kopi and toast at the famous kluang rail coffee.

Google Map
As above; search under day 2 for "Kluang Street Art".


To read more about our short 2-day, 1-night road trip to Kluang, click here!

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