Kyoto (last day) + Etajima + Hiroshima

On our last day in Kyoto, we visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Fushimi is particularly famous for the 10,000 torii gates (honoring Inari, Shinto god of rice) which lead you to (and up!) holy Mount Inari. 10,000 gates! How crazy is that? You can walk for 2-3 hours straight up the mountain-side through these seemingly never-ending gates, to give you an idea of just how crazy of an experience it was. It was pretty intense. While I was especially excited to see the vibrant orange color, I didn’t expect to see such beautiful shades of orange. It was truly quite a magical experience.IMG_1087Prayer plaques adorning fox faces (foxes are thought to have been Inari’s messengers). IMG_1095IMG_1082IMG_1102

We tried raw horse meat and fatty mane sushi…IMG_1113And the infamous (sometimes lethally poisonous!) fugu (pufferfish) sushi – all three of which were surprisingly tasty, if not strange.IMG_1114Late that night, we took a night bus (10:40 pm) from Kyoto to Hiroshima, where we quickly boarded a cable car (at 6 am) to the Hiroshima port, and then from there a ferry to Etajima island and from THERE a bus across the island, where we then TREKKED up this ridiculous hill with our packs to get to our home for the next 4 days. Turns out, the travel was worth it.

Etajima turned out to be the perfect mix of a Marquette, Michigan + Portland, Oregon. It felt industrial, and close-knit, cozy and cold. The people were warm and remarkably curious about us (we saw absolutely no foreigners anywhere). We loved it. One night, Kev and I made our way an onsen (another public bath house) on the other side of the island. I wasn’t there for more than 2 minutes, when I was bombarded by about 12 old Japanese ladies trying to speak with me (again, while stark naked) SOLELY in Japanese. Lots of cave-lady sign language and laughter allowed us to communicate (albeit in a comically basic way :)), but it was experiences like this that made our time so wonderful.

IMG_1134We stayed in a 100+ year old traditional Japanese-style house which was built by the owner’s great-grandfather. Interestingly, he actually saw the “mushroom cloud” from the nuclear bomb across the sea in Hiroshima from this home. It was a balmy 39 degrees while we were on the island, and in an attempt to stay warm, we went through copious hand warmers (of which we had 2-3 stuck to various parts of our bodies or tucked in our socks at any given point throughout the day), drank enough coffee to shake for a 24-hour stretch and (if we weren’t walking around) sat literally inches in front of our kerosene+fan room heater swapping sides every few minutes to prevent one side of ourselves from catching fire while the other side froze like an ice cube. You wouldn’t believe it by my description, but it was glorious.

No shoes allowed in the house (worth noting, Kev was in good company with our host’s love of crocs :))IMG_1142Our backyard.IMG_1144Also worth noting that we truly had the best host ever. Yohei taught us about how to make delicious somen noodles, made us fancy bancha-bark tea, (after learning about our love for ramen) cooked us ramen eggs and homemade toast and overall was just full of great conversation and warmth. While we didn’t think our stay could have gotten much better in Etajima, Yohei was truly the icing on the cake.IMG_1153

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Another beautiful feature of the island, was that it was full of mandarin and orange groves.IMG_1160There were these old-school rickity orange-moving carts scattered up and down the hills, which only added to the nostalgic feel.IMG_2707IMG_2705We collected awesome shells on the beach.IMG_1170IMG_1182

IMG_2767Walked through scallop farms.IMG_2754

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IMG_2740IMG_2746IMG_2695Geocached through beautiful patches of cabbage and various veges in practically every yard.IMG_2785We tried lots of new snacks.IMG_1192Last night with Yohei.IMG_1213On our way to catch a bus to get to the ferry on our way back to Hiroshima, we happened across these two ladies cooking up Okonomiyaki, these strange cabbage + pancake + noodles + BBQ sauce things and decided to give them a shot. They were delicious and again, the women were unbelievably warm.IMG_1221IMG_1225On our ferry back to the mainland with stormy skies.IMG_1234IMG_1250Back in Hiroshima, we went to the museum. It was something Kev and I both felt really strongly that we wanted to experience, and truly (not that we expected much different), it was just unbelievably depressing. The entire museum was filled with stories of specific people (many of those showcased, children) who were victims of the nuclear bomb. There were melted skin fragments housed in jars, nails and hair and burnt clothing galore. Photographs of charred skin and gaping wounds rinsed with “black rain”. First-hand video accounts of victims remembering what that day was like for them, and all that they lost.  Almost 140,000 people died that day. 140,000…IMG_2810This is the concrete slab that so many of us have seen pictures of in our history books of a person’s shadow “burned” on to the stone.IMG_2812A traumatizing diorama of children with melted skin.IMG_2796Hiroshima’s Peace Dome still standing from the bombings.IMG_2787I still have yet to process what it truly meant to me to be an American walking around the streets of Hiroshima and encountering so many people (on both Etajima and in Hiroshima) that must have been directly affected by the bomb. While everyone we met asked us if we were Americans, we were treated with nothing but kindness. Time and time again I am reminded that there are always two sides to every story – what we learn in history about our reasons for the bomb dropping and learning a bit about the story that Japanese tell their children about why we dropped the bomb in the museum, being a perfect example of this. I’ll never know what is the lesser of two evils, or what makes a time”right” to go to war – and am thankful that I am not in a position where I will ever need to decide, and that I have lived my entire life with my family and those that I love safe from the threat of it. Regardless of the story told though, it is abundantly clear to me what an appalling thing war is, and regardless of how it begins that it is most frequently the innocent that lose the most.

 

 

Kyoto + Arashiyama + Nara + Kinkaku-ji + Philosopher’s Path

Kyoto. Although still relatively large and modern, it’s OLD WORLD Japan – meaning the buildings, the customs, the food – everything is reminiscent of the past. it’s easy to imagine that you’ve been transported back in time, and frankly, fun to do so! From the BEAUTIFUL temples, cobblestone paths, out-of-this-world bamboo forests, wildlife (deer!) hanging out in shrines, geisha cruising the streets, beautiful waterways, short doorways and unbelievably friendly people…it’s a gem, there’s no question about that.

PROOF: (Kevin is stuck on short door way)IMG_0999Geisha out and about…IMG_1005We showed up to Kyoto without a place to stay for the night when we first arrived because (while we didn’t know when we decided to travel here) November/December are considered the busy season in Japan due to the fall colors, and everything we could find online was booked. While we managed to book the rest of the week, we decided to test our luck and just show up and hope for the best – fully expecting the sleep on a park bench or in a karaoke cafe for the night. As luck would have it, we met this awesome dude Yu, who just minutes after meeting him, invited us to his apartment for the night to spend the night, free of charge. It’s worth noting that the day before, we had been exploring a new area and stopped to take a breather and minutes after sitting down, a group of 4 women picnicking nearby brought us tea and sweets…the day before THAT, on a rainy day, our coffee was bought for us by a couple of wonderful Japanese women nearby. Needless to say, it’s been this kind of generosity and overall kindness that has really made Japan a special place for us to visit. The more places we visit, the more amazing sights we see, it’s never been more clear that it is the PEOPLE and the connections that we make that really make a place memorable or a place special. That could not be more true of Japan.

Today we walked the “Philosopher’s Path” which is named after the 20th century philosopher, Nishida Kitaro, who used this walkway as a meditative practice. The walk itself can be completed in about 30 minutes (although it took us hours) as there are multiple temples, etc along the way that are worth seeing…

Just to start this blog out right, I have to say – what a hunk, am I right!?IMG_2563

Posing on the Philosopher’s TrailIMG_2621

Not a shrine, but a pretty worthwhile stop for cute points- cats nestled up together in a cart trail-side to avoid the wind (of which there was ample today!)IMG_2623

We also encountered many artists painting and sketching along the way. Given the picturesque nature of the walk, it’s not overly surprising they chose such a beautiful spot. Apparently in the spring, cherry blossoms adorn the pathway – and while the fall colors have been nothing short of amazing, I bet that it would give our walk today a run for its money.IMG_2617

Kami stones along the wayIMG_2609After walking for not much time at all, we hit Ginkakukji temple.

To be honest, I was hesitant to go check out this “zen garden” and temple, because truly, 1.5 months in Japan, we have seen our fair share of temples/shrines/gardens and I wasn’t feeling the need to pay for another…BUT (thankfully!) Kevin insisted (which I never will live down), and it was TOTALLY WORTH IT. The temple grounds were actually constructed in 1460 (SO CRAZY!) by a man facing his retirement – and the sheer amount of planning and thoughtful design that went into constructing this (now) temple was truly amazing. The pictures don’t do it justice (but, do they ever really?!)

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My favorite pic of the day 🙂 We call this the “booty toosh” Tyra (Banks) would be proud.IMG_2586IMG_2600IMG_2582IMG_2575IMG_2579IMG_2572IMG_2574IMG_2567IMG_2569

Yesterday we checked out the “Golden Temple” aka Kinkaku-ji. We walked for about 2 hours (literally) to get there, but dammit if it wasn’t worth it too! The fall colors were out of this world, and it was yet another instance of “man, I’m happy we saw that.” I’ll tell you this, the Japanese have a way with integrating the landscape into their artistic design and have a serious knack for maximising tranquility among the magnificent. Nature perfectly placed, golden water reflections…Kinkaku-ji is a perfect example of this.

IMG_2320IMG_2351Told you.IMG_2349

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TWO days ago, we took a train to meet up with a friend we met in Tokyo to visit a city called Nara. We originally heard about Nara from Anthea, who visited Japan a few years back. After informing us of a ridiculous deer infestation of the city, and hearing her stories, we decided to check it out. IT WAS CRAZY! Aggressive, and Pavlov-ed responsive to deer cookies, these little buggers were NUTS! (Full disclosure: While I like to think of myself as fairly tough, I was actually pretty freaked out with their aggressiveness….and while I DID feed them towards the end, I would not say I came ANYWHERE close to feeling comfortable – DEFINITELY not enough to feed them from my mouth like Kevin did :)) Given the fact that it’s hunting season back home, I couldn’t help but laugh knowing we were literally surrounded by HUNDREDS of deer eating OUT OF OUR HANDS when the rest of our families were freezing their butts off for hours waiting for just ONE to approach. Come to Japan guys! Just sayin’!

Seconds after walking to the “Can I purchase deer cookies?” counter, Kev was greeted by a new, hungry friend.IMG_2382He took to his new job right away.IMG_2414

Kevin the Deer Whisperer.IMG_2413Deer selfie!

IMG_1034Kev and our friend Ira without enough hands for crackers.IMG_2428

Not surprisingly, there was ANOTHER! temple that we checked out, so we walked to Tōdai-ji (see those ominous clouds?!)….IMG_1037It was raining pretty hard on and off, so Kevin dressed for the occasion.IMG_2465IMG_2475IMG_2458

We weren’t the only ones interested in it though…IMG_2440

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And the day BEFORE THAT we checked out the BAMBOO FOREST aka Arashiyama. If you’ve ever seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, you have an idea of this place – only with one difference. Loads of tourists. Even still, it was INCREDIBLE. BREATHTAKING. OTHER-WORLDLY. Bamboo for DAYZ.

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IMG_2532IMG_2503GEISHA/MAIKO SPOTTING! Apparently bamboo forests aren’t only for tourists!IMG_2508All the beauty worked up Kev’s appetite for something sweet (which happens by the minute, I’ll tell you), and we happened across a super cute little homemade custard stand. Good luck? Yes. Happy camper? YES.IMG_2546

And again, our walk there was pretty ugly….IMG_2545

Sick of gorgeous fall colors yet?IMG_2539

We’re not.IMG_2541IMG_2548

And the day ended, just as most seem to…with RAMEN + beer.IMG_2551IMG_0985

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times – Life is pretty darn good, and we are feeling pretty damn lucky.

Japan (Tokyo) Week 1

So, wow. We’re in Tokyo. How lucky can we be?

On our way to Toyko

We knew as soon as we got our airplane food, we knew we were going to be in love. I mean, look at this cute little bento!Airplane Bento

Kevin holding his first Japanese yenIMG_1438

Too bad for him, bills are NOT common here, so he needed to get himself the world’s cutest change purse to keep himself organized 🙂IMG_1572On a budget, we’ve been frequenting the grocery store regularly…these were SAMPLES…I mean, right?! TOKYO.MDG_1668

We did the whole Halloween thing! Turns out, Halloween hasn’t really been celebrated except during the last 10 years or so…This is our (soon to be!) new Japanese teacher 🙂

P.S. Lamest costume ever award goes to BOTH of us – 2 hours before the party I purchased saran wrap and balloons to be (as seen below) the world’s most awkward Jelly Belly, and Kevin literally put on my pants and called that his costume. Yup. My husband fits in my pants. No I’m not happy about it.

P.P.S. Turns out Kevin isn’t in any of the photos before my camera died – but I can assure you, he was there, drinking and eating as much of the “all you can eat/drink party” part as humanely possible and having a merry time talking with his Japanese brethren…

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Kevin has found his new life’s passion: Pokemon! Gotta catch ’em all (or so he tells me :))IMG_1624

We’ve done a LOT of walking. The metro/subway lines are pretty darn expensive (about $3-7 one way), so between the two of us, that adds up. So walking it is! IMG_1616

But, while walking – we often happen across places like this:IMG_1613

Or see super futuristic water taxi things, like this!IMG_1618

Or cute mini bonsais of every shape and size, like this!IMG_1619

Ridiculously cute ads  like these are everywhere.IMG_1625

We visited the Sensoji Temple, which was pretty awesome…IMG_1595IMG_1597

And got our fortune!IMG_1601

WHICH WAS BAD! Hilariously bad. Try to read it, if you can. Turns out (to sum it up) Our wishes will not come true, our marriage is not good, and we should NOT be traveling…WELP!  Sorry fortune gods!IMG_1603

We’ve learned to love maccha tea (or at least I have – Kev’s been a die hard maccha fan forever or so he tells me)IMG_1580

We managed to get tickets to the Studio Ghibly museum (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and loads of other Miyazaki films) using an all Japanese prompted touch screen to print tickets. After 15+ minutes, here is Kevin: VICTORIOUS.IMG_1575

We tried some traditional Japanese sweets (ice cold noodles to be dipped in sugary sweet sauce), If texture issues present yourself while eating, this is probably not for you.Traditional Japanese Dessert

And went to our first Japanese tea house!First time in Japanese Tea Garden

And met new friends (picture shown: on the way to the Ninja Temple – Ninjadera Temple)Walking to Ninja Temple

Thousands of Japanese paper cranes for eternal good luck inside temple cavePaper Cranes at Money Washing Shrine

We visited some traditional Japanese Gardens (Kiyosumi Gardens)Kiyosumi GardenKiyosumi GardenCrane at Kiyosumi GardenKiyosumi Garden

We’ve tried lots of new food and drink and brushed up on our Japanese (aka: learned a few mini phrases to make us not seem like total jerks :))Japanese Tourist Alert!

Went to a (few now!) conveyor belt sushi place!Conveyor Belt Sushi DateGenki Sushi

Walked around the crazy Shibuya streetsShibuya Nightlife

Used a bidet (too much info?) and learned that they even come equip with music as you pee! What will they think of next?!Fancy Airport Bathroom Buttons

At night, many neighborhood restaurants are illuminated like this…On a cool night, the warm glow and ramen scents swirling the air, it feels just like a movie. I feel pretty confident life doesn’t get much better. IMG_1700

We’ve started to really have a taste of fall (and oh, how we’ve missed it!)IMG_1697

Shinjuku Gyoen (another Japanese garden)IMG_1691

We picniked here for a few hours and Kev read while I did some Sashiko (Japanese embroidery) that I learned from a meet up group I attended earlier in the week – it was a pretty awesome day.IMG_1692

There have been awesome (and very, very funny) street performers all over the place – below you’ll see a group of about 15 Rock n’ Rollers in their fancy leather jackets (complete with slicked back hair and combs in their back pockets) who frequent the park and dance literally ALL DAY to old school Rock and Roll. Pretty entertaining to say the least.MVI_1460

Trinket heaven.

IMG_1545I got flair.IMG_1548

And there are VERY weird shops all over the place – like this “make your own doll” shop (see those eyes?!) where grown men in business suits and cute lovey couples alike shop “Build a Bear” style, but for dolls…IMG_1553

Kevin plays videogames in AkihabaraIMG_1561

More weirdness on the streetsIMG_1540

We even went to the Cup Noodles museum (which turned out to be awesome!) and even got to make our own Cup Noodles! (Kyle, get ready! Christmas is coming!) IMG_1663IMG_1636IMG_1640IMG_1650IMG_1653IMG_1660

Last week, I met up with these fine folks to go run around the Palace. After our run, we went to an onsen/sento (public bath house, complete with saunas, hot tubs and the works) and then went out to dinner. A perfect night.IMG_1665

Kevin imagines he’s making a Suntory commercial for Lost in TranslationIMG_1686

And yesterday, we went mushroom hunting (although we only found poisonous mushrooms). It was beyond great to get out of the city, but we couldn’t help but wish we were back in Portland with Alicia and Justin having our (what has come to be) annual fall mushroom hunting experience. IMG_1703IMG_1721IMG_1722

On our hike we saw rice being dried, which I had never seen in the “wild” before, and thought was pretty cool 🙂IMG_1726IMG_1704IMG_1728

 

I’m sure there are things I’ve missed, but that’s a pretty solid take on the last week. One down, 3 more to go, Tokyo – we’re ready for you!