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Restaurant Review: Saizeriya Italian Restaurant (Sunpiazza Duo, Shin-Sapporo, Japan)

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As we arrived at Shin-Sapporo station quite late at night (around 9PM), many of nearby restaurants and shopping malls have closed or about to close. Near Shin-Sapporo station, there was a shopping mall (Sunpiazza Duo) and AEON mall. However most of the stores over there were already closed. As we were looking for any restaurants, the mall directory showed the food court has already closed but the restaurants at 5th floor were still open. As we arrived at the fifth floor, there were not many choices. The strong candidates for our dinner place were a ramen shop, japanese traditional restaurant and to our surprise: Saizeriya italian restaurant!It was still open until very late night (10.30PM), so we still had couple hours before it’s closing.

Before we came to Japan, we had watched many videos in Youtube about Saizeriya. It seems an interesting dining place that offers value for travellers on the budget. The prices were not expensive and there are free refills for drinks (very unusual for restaurants in Japan). We didn’t expect to get quality as high as regular italian restaurants but to our surprise, the foods that we had during our dining at Saizeriya were quite decent. It took us a while to scan the menu (you may find it here: http://www.saizeriya.co.jp/menu/grandmenu.html) which was quite thick and full of foods that made us salivating while looking at them.  The dessert section at the back of the menu was enough to convince ourself that our choice was not wrong.

I got myself a hamburg steak. I couldn’t stop drinking the Melon Fanta, despite of the bright green color. For dessert, we ended our dinner with Ice Tiramisu and Italian Custard pudding. We were quite satisfied by the service although they only had two people working at that small restaurant place. Besides us, there were three group of customers having dinner at that late night. We will definitely go to Saizeriya if we ever found ourself in the same situation next time we go to Japan.

 

Address:

5-6-3 Atsubetsu Chuo 2 Jo, Atsubetsu-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido – Japan

Ph: +81 11-890-2696

http://www.saizeriya.co.jp/

 

 

Japan Trip (Spring 2017) Day 4 Part 1 – Exploring Otsu City (Miidera Temple)

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I woke up around 7AM at my hotel room (I was staying at 22nd floor of Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel). I remember that I had to move room to the Sky room which is located at higher floor (33th floor). After a nice bath, I went to 35th floor restaurant to get a breakfast. After a good & plenty breakfast, I decided to go to Otsu station as my point of walking tour. I was planning to visit at least three places (which was very ambitious), not knowing that the heavy storm was already brewing at the northern part of Lake Biwa that morning and was heading south to Otsu. That was partly my mistake but the weather in this area indeed was quite unpredictable. It had decided the fate of that ambitious plan and I eventually was only able to visit the first place, which was Miidera Temple. Regardless of the outcome from today, at the end of the day, I had very good experience in Otsu.

Miidera Temple, or also known as Onjō-ji (園城寺), was recommended by the lady at the Otsu visitor center near the Otsu station. She also recommended to go to Hieizan Enryaku-ji Temple, which was located further north and had to be accessed by Cable car from Sakamoto. As my third original destination, I wanted to visit Biwako Terrace (which is located even further north and I had to go to Shiga station to access the Biwako Valley Ropeway from there). However, as I mentioned earlier, the other two were just simply impossible to go since they were closed due to heavy storm that hit the Otsu area later that day.

Miidera01MiideraPOVMiidera15Miidera14Miidera13Miidera12Miidera11Miidera10Miidera09Miidera08Miidera07Miidera06Miidera05Miidera04Miidera03Miidera02

 

From my hotel, it only took about 15 minutes to reach Otsu station by hotel’s shuttle bus. I stopped by at the Otsu Visitor center that’s located next to the station and acquired some maps and brochures of the area. From there, I walked north, along the narrow street, towards Miidera temple. I had to follow the straight line until I reach a local market and turn left, going through the indoor market. It was a very good sightseeing and I had a chance to greet “Ohayo gozaimasu” to some people that I met on the street. I stopped by at few stores, bakery and took some photos along the way. Without I realized it, I spent a good hour before I reached a big Torii made from stone/concrete. From there, a short walk to the entrance (it was not the main entrance however) of Miidera temple. After paying the entrance fee, I was told to take the stairs to go up.

When I looked at the stairs, I barely could see the top. It was quite an effort to go up using the stairs. While making few brief rests, suddenly it started to rain! As a person coming from Seattle’s Pacific Northwest, this rain was not much and I actually liked it, rather than being in a hot and humid weather. The rain drops, fresh air, and a hint of trees’ scent kinda gave me a boost, as if they were saying “Gambatte kudasai!” to me as I was climbing the stairs that seemed never ending. Surelly I have been in such situation before in the past, but I didn’t feel any difficulties climbing the stairs, despite of I was carrying quite heavy backpack.

When I reached the top, I could see one of the building in the temple complex.

 

 

Hotel Review: Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel

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This 3.5 star hotel in Otsu, Shiga prefecture, Japan has special place in our heart. If a man could build a nirvana, this probably one of the best of such thing on Earth. The view of Biwako (Lake Biwa) from this high rise tower is amazing. It is a jewel hidden in this city called Otsu, which is just a stone throw away from north of Kyoto.

Before coming to this place, I had no reason of staying in Otsu. However, after reading the reviews and seeing amazing photos of this hotel, I immediatelly cancelled my previous plan of staying in Kyoto. Also it only takes about few minutes train ride from Kyoto station to Otsu station (i.e.: JR Biwako Line). This hotel provides a free area shuttle that can pick people up at the Otsu station. Despite of the shuttle only runs every hour on certain day (please refer to hotel official website since schedule may change in future), I did not mind a short wait when I arrived at Otsu station.

Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel SeibuLake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel Biona 01Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel Biona 00LakeBiwaOtsuPrinceHotel_BridgeViewLakeBiwaOtsuPrinceHotel_BreakfastLakeBiwaOtsuPrinceHotel_BiwakoMapNearFrontDeskLakeBiwaOtsuPrinceHotel_EntranceBiwako00

While waiting, I was at the Starbucks near the station, sipping Sakura Frappuccino while looking at the shuttle stop across the street). It is probably nicer if the area shuttle can pick up people in front of the Otsu station but the shuttle stop area is just across the street. There are few other area shuttles belong to other hotel (Biwako Grand hotel is one of them). So make sure you choose the right one that has the right hotel name (I may try staying at Biwako Grand hotel in future visit and will post a review when possible). Since I only carried my small luggage with me at that time, it was not difficult to get inside the shuttle since it was a medium size bus. My bigger luggage was already sent to the hotel from their “Welcome Counter” service at Kyoto station. My Japanese friend who told me about such service. I found their service was superb. They were located near the Kyoto Station South Exit, JR Shinkansen Hachijo Exit. Be mindful about their availability hours since they have a 2PM deadline on sending luggages to the hotel from the station.

I had opportunity to  stay at two different rooms in this hotel during my short stay in Otsu. The first one was Sky floor suite at 22nd floor. And the second one was at the 35th floor. The first room was overlooking the center of the lake and the other one was overlooking the east side of the lake (I prefer the first one since I could see the west side of Otsu city and the lake Biwa better but the second one had a good view of the Omi Ohashi bridge, Yabasekihan park/island and east side of Otsu city, as well as Kusatsu city from distance since the room was is at much higher elevation).

When I arrived at the hotel, I saw bunch of umbrellas placed on bins near the entrance. At that time, I guess it’s probably raining a lot in this area. I was greeted by a lady at the Concierge and she showed me to the receptionist counter for check-in. The person at receptionist counter spoke to me in Japanese, and I politely informed him that I’m from USA and only can speak a little bit of Japanese. And then we started conversing in English. The check-in time was brief. After giving my passport to let him get a copy and filled in the guest info form, I was given card key to the room. I asked about my big luggage that was sent earlier from Kyoto station and he told me that it’s already in my room. Whoa! What a nice service!

A bell boy took me to my room at 22nd floor and I found my luggage already parked inside the room. The room itself was amazingly huge. I fell in love already with the room. Upon walking inside, I found the bathroom, sink, toilet room, and closet were in the middle of the hallway. The bedroom was very spacious with sofas, cabinets, flat panel TV and all amenities there. The windows were even more amazing since they have unobstructed view of the lake and surrounding cities with mountains in the background. The lake Biwa was almost like sea since I can’t really see the other side of it.

I couldn’t really wait for me to try the Japanese style bathroom. The tub was big enough for my tall body to sink in, but as I remember, I had to wash my body first. There was a small plastic chair for me to sit down while washing my body before entering the tub. I really like the design of the bathroom and the faucets. All of the shampoo, liquid soap, conditioner were very well made and I felt like I was in a spa. While enjoying my bath, I was still in disbelief that I was in Otsu and found such hotel.

After I went back from dinner with friends, I was quite tired from my journey. The bed was very comfy. After watching TV, I felt a sleep like baby and did not wake up until around 8AM the next morning. After a quick shower, I went down to receptionist and asked them that I will have to move to different room. They told me to leave my luggage in the room and it would be delivered to the new room. I went up to 37th floor to get breakfast at “Lake View Dining Biona” restaurant. Breakfast time was only until 10AM, so I only had a little bit over one hour to enjoy the breakfast buffet. I only needed to show the breakfast coupon that was given inside the check-in package. The waiter showed me to my table and gave me a card to place on the table to indicate it’s occupied.

The Biona restaurant was magnificent on service, food quality, as well as the grand view of Lake Biwa. That morning, a good amount of fog was coming from the mountain on west side of Otsu city. The view was simply astonishing. I couldn’t stop taking photos and videos from the window, almost forgotten about the breakfast if I did not hear my stomach’s sound. The food choices in Biona were quite rich. From Western style on the left side to Japanese style on the right side, I had difficulties on determining which one to get first. I normally do not eat a lot for breakfast but that morning, I was able to eat two plates and some fruits. They had a special drink (I forgot the name) with purple-ish color that was made from mix of veggies and fruits, which I really enjoyed drinking it. The pastries were also quite tempting but I only tried two of those.

While eating my breakfast, I started to notice a very beautiful instrumental music that really compliment the atmosphere in this restaurant. I can’t forget the sound of piano, strings and guitar that were playing very softly and had Japanese nuance in the melody. It was a mixed of easy listening, jazzy, japanese and new age. Since I was so curious about the music, I had to ask the lady at the cashier counter about what songs were being played. She showed me that it was played using streaming device. I had opportunity of taking snapshot of the name of the music but until now, i still couldn’t find the music. I did find (by some luck) of music that’s almost similar with that.

What’s missing from this hotel were there was no coin-operated laundry facility nor Sento (japanese public bath). The number of elevators were sufficient and fast enough to go the upper guest floors. The service from all workers was superb. The hotel was clean and has very good amenities. Wifi/Internet was fast and the rooms were huge for a hotel this class. I noticed all the cups in the room’s cabinets were ceramics with hotel’s logo on it. Certainly I was extremely satisfied with my stay during spring season in this hotel. It really made my visit to Otsu a very good experience. You can’t go wrong by staying at this hotel when visiting Otsu. My japanese friend’s parents also always choose this hotel to stay when going for vacation at Otsu.

As an update: Upon my return to Seattle, few months later, I received an invitation to stay in this hotel from Shiga prefecture – Biwako Tourism Bureau. It was as a result of my submission about Shiga and Biwako that I did during my stay in Japan. It was a very unexpected gift! I will post my story and my 2nd review of this hotel later.

Official Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel website:

Hotel Review: Lake Biwa Otsu Prince Hotel
Our Takeaways
Hotel Review - Comfort9.5
Hotel Review - Location8.5
Hotel Review - Service9.5
Hotel Review - Quality9
Hotel Review - Cleanliness9.5
Hotel Review - Value9.5
Hotel Review - Hotel Facilities9
Hotel Review - Room Amenities9.5
Hotel Review - Entertainment / Fun9.5
Hotel Review - Communication9
Pros
Fabulous View of Lake Biwa
Fantastic Breakfast/Meals
Huge Rooms
Good Services
Cons
A bit far from Otsu city center (but they provide shuttle to Otsu station and plenty taxi are available)
9.3
Overall

Restaurant Review: Kamado Takitate Gohan Doi (Kyoto Station’s ASTY Road, Hachijo-guchi, Kyoto – Japan)

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It took me a while to choose restaurant for my lunch while in Kyoto Station’s Hachijo-guchi area. I ended up spending more than 15 minutes walking along the Asty Road, which is located at the far eastern part of that area. There were so many choices but I decided to pick something unusual for my lunch. I skipped Sushi, Tempura, Ramen and other “”common”” theme restaurants and decided to choose this restaurant with a quite long name: Kamado Takitate Gohan Doi (Google translated this into “”Furnace kettle with fresh rice””. I kinda got the meaning despite of I don’t speak or read Japanese very well). What’s unusual is this restaurant offers you all-you-can-eat Japanese pickles! Of course they also have “”normal”” main menus. I told myself I can’t miss this opportunity to try all of the Japanese pickles.

 

For the main course, I chose a complete set (“”setto””) of friend chicken (“”Kara-age””) with tempura and croquette (“”Potato korokke””). Despite of their interior looked low-key, their foods were a killer. I went back and forth to try the pickles in the island near the back of the entrance.

 

During my lunch here, I saw something that I can’t believe my own eyes. I saw someone whose resemblance similar like a young little girl that I saw in Kyoto station 10 years ago when I first visited Japan but now she looked like already a teenager (high school student perhaps?). At that time long back then, she was with her mother, going to eat lunch at Kyoto station! Why was this so special? Because what caught my attention was she looked almost the same as Shizuka from Doraemon Japanese Cartoon (if she ever became a real human). That incident really made my day. I got myself a good chuckle. Doraemon was something that was hugely popular among Japanese comics fans in the 90s during my school time.

 

Having lunch in Kyoto station was something that brought back my good old memories of the days that we spent in Kyoto back in 2007. It always be a different experience everytime we visit Kyoto but the nice atmosphere was the same. Unfortunately I can’t spend too much time in Kyoto that day since my friend is waiting for me in Otsu that afternoon (hence I didn’t get many photos of this place as I was in hurry). After my lunch, I went to second floor at Kyoto station to get to my next train to Otsu city from Kyoto. It was a very good lunch indeed.

 

 Address:

Kyoto City Kyoto 600-0000 Kyōto-fu, Kyōto-shi, Higashishiokōji Takakurachō,  8-3

JR Kyoto Station Hachijyuchi 1st Floor ASTY ROAD (Area: Kyoto Station)

Tel: 075-634-8545

(Please verify the address since I only got it from third party source and relied on Google translate/maps)

http://www.doishibazuke.co.jp/kamado-doi/kyotoeki/

 

Hotel Review – Sunroute Hotel Kawasaki

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This 3 stars hotel is located a few blocks away from JR Kawasaki station and Keihan Kawasaki station.

Japan Trip (Spring 2017) Day 1 – Kawasaki

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We chose Kawasaki due to its close proximity to Haneda airport. We knew about Kawasaki area after watching some online videos about Kawasaki (including the official promotion video from Kawasaki city). The downtown Kawasaki area near the Kawasaki JR station and Keikyu Kawasaki station is pretty much crowded by many hotels and shopping malls. For examples, there are at Lazona Kawasaki Plaza, La Cittadella shopping mall, Azalea underground shopping mall, atré Kawasaki mall, Dice shopping mall, etc.

For hotel, we picked Sunroute Kawasaki hotel since we thought it was a decent hotel near the train station.

HOTEL SUNROUTE KAWASAKI | TOKYO & KANAGAWA

It took about a short 15 mins walk from the train station and the hotel was rather easy to find. When we arrived at the hotel, we found out that the Excelsior cafe where hotel guests normally could get their breakfast there was under total renovation and was closed for public. Despite that minor issue, we were quite satisfied with the room that we got. It was clean and had no smoking odor at all. The bed was quite comfortable. The only thing that was quite tricky is to use the thermostat. Apparently during cold seasons, the air conditioning in many hotels in Japan (especially in Hokkaido which was our next destination) only has heater mode. They however provided a portable air purifier which could function as an AC too.

Since we arrived at Kawasaki late afternoon, we took some rests after we checked in. I was worried that we would not be able to wake up if we take a nap. My worry was proven right. We overslept until almost 8PM despite of we had set wake up call alarms! We didn’t realize it that most shopping malls around Kawasaki area closed at 9PM local time. When we got out from the hotel, it was already past 8PM. We found a small restaurant next to the entrance of atre Kawasaki mall. The food was good and not expensive. It was somewhat a mix between Japanese and Chinese foods. When I mentioned the food was “”oishii”” (delicious), one of the workers in restaurant told the chefs that a customer gave a compliment. They took it with great appreciation.

 

At one point, we diverted from main roads to go through alleys on the way back to hotel. There is a big pachinko establishment near the hotel and the area was full of night clubs and karaoke places. We didn’t feel quite safe while walking in those alleys. Few times we were approached by some men who offered their services. We politely refused it. After such incident, we decided only to go next to main roads walkways.

The next morning, we checked out from our hotel and requested for luggage storage since we want to go for lunch (skipped breakfast) at the nearby mall. We took a longer route to go to the Lazona shopping mall. On the way there, we stopped by at La Cittadella. Since it was still early morning, many stores and restaurants were not opened yet. La Cittadella indeed was beautiful. I felt like it was heavily influenced by Spain architecture but still maintain the Japanese flavor.

 

From La Cittadella, we walked north and then took a right turn towards the atré Kawasaki mall. I passed by Nikko hotel and also the small restaurant that we dined last night. From atré Kawasaki mall facade, there were escalators that go to upper floor where the Kawasaki JR station is. It was already crowded by people but the rush hour traffic was already reduced as it was almost 10AM. I observed the elevator was located at the far right corner of the station (which was important for us since we were carrying luggages). We walked towards the corridor that connects the station and Lazona mall.

 

As we were standing in the front of Lazona mall, the atrium was an open space, surrounded by many stores which was at the 3 – 4 floors wings of the mall, I noticed each of store’s employees were already standing in front of the store entrance. As the clock hit 10AM (it rang a bell but I wasn’t sure if there was a real clock or just an automated announcement via PA speakers), the employees were making a bow to salute customers. It was pretty impressive sight. What an amazing thing.

We entered the mall from the third floor. There was an amusement center near the entrance of third floor. As we walked around the third floor, I realized that we were hungry. We started exploring the mall and found the directory map and as usual, the food court and restaurants can be found at the basement level.

 

When we reached the food court, it was still empty and not too many people were eating there. To my surprise, I saw a familiar brand there (besides McDonald): Panda Express! There were many varieties of foods in the food court. Starting from Ramen, Udon, Chinese foods, Thai foods, Korean foods, Sushi, and all the way to Steaks. We ended up eating Japanese style bento. Of course, I chose Fanta Melon with bright green color which we don’t have it in USA!

With the stomach full, we walked back towards our hotel to grab our luggage and headed to Kawasaki JR station to go to Shinagawa JR station to catch Shinkansen to Kyoto! Surely there were many other things we could do in Kawasaki, but the time was already almost noon. We were lucky to be able to get Shinkansen by 2PM. When we reached our hotel in Kyoto later, it was almost 7PM. We definitely will visit Kawasaki again in future.

Japan Trip (Spring 2017) – Haneda Airport (International terminal)

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We usually use Narita airport every time we visited Japan. However this time, we chose Haneda airport for our arrival in Japan. We were attracted by its close proximity to Tokyo Metropolitan. Narita airport is much bigger than Haneda airport but it is also much farther.

I arrived in Japan much earlier than my family (about few days early) since I had to meet some Japanese friends first in Kyoto and Osaka. My arrival time at Haneda was around 3PM afternoon. My flight from San Francisco was quite smooth. Perhaps I was so excited and forgotten about being sleepy due to time difference. Tokyo was already in future time (if compared to Pacific Standard time).

The facilities in Haneda airport international terminal was quite new. The restrooms were clean and modern. If there was one thing that I was not prepared, it was the temperature inside the immigration area. It was steamy hot like sauna. I was wondering if they turned on the heater by mistake or just simply not enough air conditioning. As I was sweating, I told myself to bear the heat for few minutes. I went through immigration pretty fast. Only got asked for how long I would be staying and what was the purpose of my trip. After getting my luggages, I took a cart and put my luggages there (I like that using cart is free, unlike in Seattle airport that you need to pay), walking towards the customs. I was only asked whether I brought any foods or things that must be declared. I told them I brought gifts and souvenirs for my friends in Japan and showed them the bag which I carried with me all the time.

As soon as I stepped outside the customs area, there were so many people waiting outside the arrival gate. I quickly took my cart near the Tourist information area. I was looking for JR office to exchange my JR Pass voucher with the actual JR Pass (I got a 14-days pass) as well as some brochures and maps for Tokyo and Kawasaki areas.

Soft launching of TravelMaga (Rebirth of our travel blog)

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We decided to resume our travel blogging after more than 6 years of hiatus, to commemorate a special promise that we made to our friends which encouraged us to resume our blog. We stopped our old travel blog on the day of Fukushima incident in March 2011. It didn’t mean that we stopped travelling. It was just we had been looking for something missing after such trauma for the meaning of our life. Many life perished that day. Our friends in Japan were affected by it tremendously. Upon our first visit to Japan in May 2007, I made a promise, in front of a rare occurring of “”Diamond Fuji”” phenomenon, that I will visit our friends again in 10 years. I did not know why I suddenly spoke such weird promise but it seemed to be a premonition. Why 10 years??? I had no clue. And here, we are about to make our trip to Japan again in March 2017. I told them it is way too long to wait for 10 years to visit them, despite of constant communication between us to keep our friendship alive. Many things had happened since then. We honestly do not know what would happen during our trip this time but we had done our planning many months before this. As our trip is nearer, the excitement builds up.

This time around, we are planning to go to Hokkaido (Hakodate, Sapporo, Otaru), Tokyo (Kinsicho and Sumida areas, Yokohama, Hachioji, Odaiba, Kawasaki, Shinagawa), Kyoto, Otsu, Osaka, Mt Fuji (Kawaguchiko and Fujinomiya), and Narita city. Two of our contributors will join us in this trip. Since our days will be full, perhaps our blogging might be disrupted by few days, so please bear with us. For this trip, we are bringing our TMobile phone with us to test its claim of coverage in Japan which is supposed to be part of our plan without extra charges for data roaming and text (voice has additional charges which varies but incoming calls are supposed to be free). It is quite daunting. We will report our finding later. Previously we were considering to rent smartphone or mobile-wifi but it’s not cost effective and we were already spending considerate portion of our budgets for accommodations, transportation and foods.

We will also post our past trips that we made during our hiatus whenever it’s possible. Our trips are not strictly for Japan and USA but we had traveled to Australia and New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada,  China, Taiwan, Europe (multiple countries), etc. Also hopefully we could bring the old archive from our previous generation of our travel blog into this new media. Enjoy!

 

TravelMaga Team

Travel Gear Review: LowePro ProTactic 450 AW Camera Backpack

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We managed to get this versatile camera backpack just right before our trip to Japan earlier this Spring 2017. The primary requirements for the ultimate camera backpack that we were looking for were:

  • it should be not too big but can carry at least 2 DSLR bodies with zoom lenses
  • lightweight but strong
  • can carry 15 inch laptop
  • preferrably should have back entry rather than front entry (for security)
  • tripod and action camera straps/mounts
  • have waistbelt
  • not expensive but also not from cheap materials

We reviewed many backpacks that matched those criterias and got at least 5 candidates (we’ll review each candidates). In final, we found LowePro ProTactic 450 AW was the final contender. There are however few drawbacks/issues that we encountered during our trip to Japan while using this backpack. Hopefully LowePro will address them in future for next generation of ProTactic (or new backpack series).

 

 

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