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Travel Diaries: Osaka, Japan

Japan has always been a special place for me. Immersing myself in Haruki Murakami’s captivating world as a 20-year-old led me to dream of a country of color and solitude. I lived vicariously through his lonely, pensive male characters. Visiting Tokyo, then, was a dream I kept reliving, and I had the opportunity to continue my love affair with Japan – this time in Osaka.

From crowded subways littered with homegrown clothing brands, restaurants, and coffee shops, each space offered something new. We stayed in a small Airbnb in Nishinari-ku, a 5-minute walk from the Tengachaya Station. I experienced a more provincial part of Japan – a small, quiet town with a supermarket that closed at midnight. Every day, I would eat my curry – my stomach would regret it, I won’t – and the dreamiest vanilla mochi ice cream available in convenience stores. People were warm but kept to themselves.

I encountered my first winter, learning how to layer a turtleneck after another and finishing off the entire outfit with a mustard-colored wool coat I got on sale. I praise the Lord for Uniqlo’s Heattech Technology (and my pink Nike rubber shoes). The cold felt all kinds of wonderful, a reprieve from sunny Manila.

Where to go?

  • Universal Studios: I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve only read 4 books from the Harry Potter series. *prepares to be ostracized* Die-hard follower or not, everyone can relive a part of their childhood in Universal Studios (for ¥7,600/P3,300). Prepare yourselves for a lot of waiting and walking. Have your power bank fully charged for an endless amount of Insta-worthy spots.
  • Dōtonbori: For a black hole of good food open until the wee hours of the morning, Dōtonbori is a must visit. The large, eccentric signages point out the food being sold in each area. You can also do some crazy shopping. You’ll find international brands like Forever 21 and H&M here, which isn’t common in other areas. It’s best to visit at night because it’s more alive and incredibly beautiful – perfect for photo opportunities.
  • Daiso: You won’t run out of discount stores in Osaka. Perfect for pasalubongs, Daiso is a treasure trove of super cheap gifts and trinkets like stationery, clothing, and make-up. Most items are ‎¥100, so don’t forget to get something for yourself, too.
  • 3 COINS: If you’re not yet done shopping, 3 COINS carries‎ everything at ¥300. With 3 available types of stores (3 COINS, 3 COINS + Plus, and 3 COINS OOOPS!), you can easily find these in the subway. They carry a lot of trendy items targeted amongst teenagers like self-tie chokers, colored socks, and graphic tote bags. I even purchased my pretty mirror, which I use as a make-up holder there!
  • Tsutaya Ebisubashi: Finding Tsutaya in the midst of busy Dōtonbori for the bookworm in me was priceless – though I left with a magazine, or 2. I enjoyed 5 glorious stories of books, cosmetics (!), and CDs. A Starbucks is also situated on the 1st floor, where you can rest after a full day of shopping and eating. Just know it’s a particularly crowded area – with locals and tourists alike – so it isn’t the quietest spot.
  • IKEA Tsuruhama: It took a kind Japanese local and her daughters to bring us to the free IKEA shuttle bus service in JR Namba Station, a 15-minute ride away. Of course, I had to have the infamous Swedish Meatballs served with mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam, and green soybean.

Watch: Best Things to do in Osaka via Erwan Heussaff

Anyway, I’m sorry for the lack of information since this trip was so spontaneous! We also prioritized more shopping spots, oops. I’m coming back over the summer and will definitely explore, take down notes, and prepare a more informative entry. Enjoy your weekend – wherever it may take you. Sayōnara! 🇯🇵

For more photos from Osaka, follow me on Instagram: @shemakeshimknown.


A Guide to Beauty and Skin Care Shopping in Japan

I just came from a short trip to 2-7° Osaka and before all the ruckus – including daily responsibilities, occasional (almost) quarter-life crises, and mild anxiety attacks – I’m dedicating a few entries to Japan, beginning with a guide to beauty and skin care shopping!

Japanese drugstores are everywhere, and they’re overwhelming – to say the least. They’re bright, colorful, and carry thousands of beauty and skin care products from both local and international brands. You may get lost in the array of cutesy packaging – Sailor Moon liquid eyeliners and Hello Kitty sheet masks, anyone? Catered to the Japanese, packaging includes indecipherable language for the ordinary English-speaking fellow. How can you wisely spend your hard-earned money on your next trip? Let me help you with that!

First, where can you buy skin care and make-up? Fortunately, you can easily spot a drugstore. They’re outside your Airbnb, inside the subway, jumbled within shopping districts, and even the airport. Drugstore chain, Matsumoto Kiyoshi, can be found outside, and you’ll see it immediately by its mustard yellow and royal blue logo. They carry international drugstore brands (Maybelline New York, L’Oréal Paris, Rimmel London, etc.) plus local brands (Canmake, Shiseido, Excel, etc.). @Cosme, on the other hand, is a special beauty store that I found in Tsutaya located in Namba (near the crowded Dōtonbori area – beside Forever 21). There are locations both in Tokyo and Osaka. From an online platform – rating and reviewing the best in Japanese beauty – to a physical store, they carry a mix of Japanese drugstore and high-end. If you feel like splurging and you’re on the look-out for international high-end brands (Dior, Chanel, bareMinerals, etc.), Takashimaya is a good place to be.

How to make the best out of your shopping? Here are some tips!

  • Buy in tax-free shops.

Spot the cherry blossom logo! Overseas visitors staying in Japan for less than 6 months can have their taxes returned – the higher the purchase, the greater the discount! Bring along your passport with you. My biggest mistake was buying a single item in different stores thus not qualifying for tax-free shopping. I could have saved so much money!

More on Japan’s tax-exempt shopping here.

  • Research!

Peruse Japanese beauty blogs and websites like Tokyo Beauty Book, Savvy Tokyo, The Beauty Maniac in TokyoRatzilla, and Cosme plus watch YouTube vlogs from Kim Dao. Be on the lookout for best-sellers which have #1 on the packaging.

  • Keep photos of your to-buy list.

I hardly met people who knew how to speak English. If you’re looking for specific products, it may be difficult to converse with the salesladies, no matter how willing they are to help. Hand gestures are not enough! Keep photos of items you want to buy, and if you can’t find it on your own, just show your phone.

  • Buy items available in Manila but are cheaper in Japan. 

Stock up on Bioré’s UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence, Shiseido’s Perfect Whip Foam, and Canmake’s Shading Powder, which are significantly cheaper abroad. If you’re also packaging-conscious, you can buy your favorites with a Japan-exclusive packaging. I went loca upon seeing my favorite Maybelline Lash Sensational Mascara in a pink metallic packaging that I had to get it (although it was twice the price, oops). Brands that are also available in Manila carry Japan-exclusive items so check that out! L’Oreal’s Lucent Magique Cushion and Cushion Glow Blushes are divine!

Hope this helped, and I can’t wait to show you my Japanese beauty and skin care haul next!


Exploring Home: Bohol

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A few days after my 24th, I found myself on a plane to uncharted territory.

I lost myself in Bohol upon seeing the most awe-inspiring, pastel colored sunset at the Bohol Bee Farm while, of course, stuffing myself with delicious homemade Avocado and Melon ice cream from The Buzzz Café. How could something so beautiful exist? For the next few days, I forgot the chaos of city life at Hennan Resort cherishing peaceful afternoons at the beach front rereading Captivating by Stasi and John Eldredge. A friendly reminder, “Your feminine heart has been created with the greatest of all possible dignities – as a reflection of God’s own heart.” And, how could I forget such touristy things? On the same day, I found myself aboard the Loboc River Cruise, marveling at the infamous Chocolate Hills on a freezing, rainy noon, and hiding from…tarsiers.

You are something else. I’ll see you soon, Bohol!

When I look at the night sky and see the work of Your fingers – the moon and the stars You set in place – what are mere mortals that You should think about them, human beings that You should care for them? Yet You made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:3-5)


Travel Diaries: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

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There is a sense of normalcy, at last. Elections season is over. Friendships have been restored, campaign posters no longer deface the streets of Manila, and my heart is lighter upon letting go of misplaced anger – over headlines and 140-character sentiments. April and May have been unimaginably full: making my new blog live, speaking in a Blogger’s Conference, getting back to my freelance photography and writing jobs, and devoting time for fellowship. It took me a month to process my thoughts and actually make time for this space. Thankfully, I am more available and no longer glued to my 5-year-old dying laptop – slowly begetting one idea after the other – shamelessly singing Jessie Ware songs inside an empty church on a weekday.

I allow myself to daydream once in a while. My body refuses to stay still and wait for worlds to get lost in. Then, I have to remind myself that this is my reality: sometimes dull and uninspiring yet always abounding in grace. When I look for places I can fully devote myself to – sometimes, people’s hearts – I don’t find the wait too exhausting. My photographs become reminders of purposed moments and meetings, which are even capable of changing me.

Early in January, Hannah and I booked a spontaneous trip to beautiful Kota Kinabalu after months of submitting to the so-called wanderlust. Last April, we experienced three days of unbelievable joy. I expected little from a place I hear nothing about but now, I can recount every moment I was in absolute awe of His creation. From post-midnight walks within the small neighborhood to vibrant Sunday morning strolls in the street market…remembering the beauty and character of Kota Kinabalu keeps my soul beaming.

Where to go?

  • Klias River Cruise: A 2-hour ride away from the city brings you to Klias River Cruise, home to the endangered proboscis monkey and fireflies. Here, we found ourselves wet from the summer rain and admiring the grandest sunset my eyes have ever seen.
  • Kinabalu Park Botanical Garden: The Botanical Garden in the midst of the park is a great escape from the city’s heat and humidity. Bask in the flora and fauna and revel in glorious solitude.
  • Desa Cattle Dairy Farm: Our spirits were high upon arriving at the cattle farm – the most surprising part of our trip. We were overwhelmed by boundless pastures and mountain ranges. Don’t forget to enjoy a delicious carton of fresh milk or yogurt before leaving.
  • Gaya Street Sunday Market: A perfect place to get local products for pasalubong – art works, clothing, and antiques – the Gaya Market is open from 6 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon.
  • IMAGO Shopping Mall: With beauty stores such as Sephora, Sassa, and Watsons, Imago is the best place to spend your hard-earned money. Padini Concept Store is also a favorite for cheap, trendy clothing and apparel!

Where to eat?

  • Kedai Kopi Yee Fung: For less than P100, the Yee Fung Laksa is a must-try.
  • Oldtown White Coffee: I am still dreaming about the White Curry Pan Mee! The 24-hour restaurant – renowned for their coffee – remains my favorite food destination in Kota.
  • Fish Market: A seafood paradise for locals and tourists alike, the night fish market is an experience of its own.

Life via Instagram: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Grace was everywhere.

Going to Kota Kinabalu with my incredible friend, Hannah, is easily one of the best decisions I have ever made. Yes, it meant having unnecessary anxiety attacks days before our flight, having a sore body for an entire week, and draining my savings after months of preparation but it was an adventure I would write about again and again.

We experienced rain for the first time while traversing through a river in search for endangered animals and witnessed the most captivating sunset. We found ourselves reveling in the presence of fireflies at eight in the evening. We filled our spirits with joy while up in the mountains – deep in prayer, abounding in gratitude – with endless pastures as our view.

Love is moving. I can only stand in awe of how good He is.

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. (Matthew 25:21)