Categories
Japan Tokyo

The first 4ish months living in Tokyo: A shorter post, probably, or at least fewer photos

We have officially been in Tokyo for four and a half months now. I wanted to record a bit about how the move went and how things are going on in this still relatively early stage of our life here – last time we moved to Japan I didn’t actually post anything until we were fairly close to leaving and I think it’s possible I missed some of the details from early on.

When we landed in Japan this time around I felt quite a bit different than last. I’ve developed a sort of constant (perceived) life-GPS or “grounded-ness” that made it impossible for me to feel that my life had totally changed when we stepped out of the airport. I still feel like me, just in Japan. That might not make sense but in the not-so-distant past I remember arriving to a new place and having an out-of-body feeling that took a LONG time to go away. This was disorienting but on the plus side, very exciting and in ways intoxicating. That said I felt (and still feel four+ months on) very very happy, you might say “joyful” when we got out of the airport.

Our flight was uneventful. We brought quite a bit of luggage with us, arguably more than we needed, but a lot of the stuff we packed was books and clothing for Lindsay’s job. We also brought some particularly heavy stuff, e.g. silverware because I hate spoons/forks that bend easily. When I think about it now I’m honestly not sure how we had so much stuff.

One of the first photos I have out of the airport
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All of our bags. Roughly 300 pounds worth of luggage.

Edit from later me: I’m finishing this post in the main Hong Kong library, we just flew back out of Haneda to HK yesterday and it was strange coming back through the airport the other direction, especially after spending so much time in Tokyo over the last months. Somehow the airport felt “small”, despite being a major international airport.

We decided to be lazy and take an Uber to our temporary AirBnB. It was relatively cheap (maybe USD$40ish?) but taking the train would have been a huge pain with our luggage (almost always we’d deal with the pain to save 30 bucks or whatever, but it was just too much to carry on a packed train).

Out first night we went and got sushi and a conveyor belt sushi place right next door to us, Hama-Sushi. This was sort of cool just because in Koryo we also had a Hama-Sushi that was walking distance from our apartment so it felt nice to go back to one of these places after being gone from Japan for such a long time. In addition to being able to see the Hama-Sushi from our bedroom window, we also had a 7-11 about 30 feet from us. Convenience stores are something we missed a lot about Japan so this was sort of stupidly magical I’d say.

EDIT: I didn’t really mention here super clearly re: moments of joy, but going to this Hama-sushi and sitting at the counter, tired and pretty dazed with jet lag Lindsay and I both had moments when we sort of laughed to ourselves / stupidly grinned at each other because of how thrilled we were to see little things, like the not-even-that-nice-because-Hama-sushi wet napkins you get for washing your hands, or the songs that play as your mediocre-but-amazing-by-many-standards tuna nigiri zipped to us. Just little moments like this that I’m failing to really describe that we felt really really happy. We continue to have quite a few of these as I mention below.

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This is the view out of our bedroom window, which also happens to be the living room)

After eating sushi we took the train to see Lindsay’s school.

Here Lindsay is in front of her school on our first night in Tokyo

We rented an AirBnB for two weeks in an area called Kamata, a major station in the Southern part of Tokyo. We actually ended up really liking the area and considered living there, but it was not quite as central as we were hoping.

The AirBnB itself was small, but fine. We ended up staying in two different rooms because we had to extend our stay (twice!) as finding a permanent apartment proved harder than expected (more on that in a bit). A somewhat long and boring tour of the apartment is here – actually it’s both apartments we ended up staying in:

Lindsay decided to go into school on Saturday (we arrived on a Friday), so Saturday was her first big day. I went with her to school on the first day (and on Monday I think). I’ll let Lindsay talk more about her school / work if she wants, but in short her school is great and she is happy to be teaching again.

Apartment searching ended up being pretty long / soul sucking. It wasn’t exactly “stressful” because we knew we were going to survive and eventually find a place, but basically every apartment I looked at had some issue. Even the apartment we ended up with isn’t perfect (it’s expensive and has a sub-optimal layout) but the first 3 or 4 apartments I saw were just not very inspiring (and still expensive!).

We ran into two major issues:

  • We were being picky on account of our Koyro living situation (multiple cockroaches throughout the week, sometimes on the bed when you were sleeping, etc) and wanting to stay in a convinient / desirable part of Tokyo to give us the best shot at being happy and
  • We are foreigners so many apartment rental companies don’t want to rent to us (for good reason – we tend to come and go, break contract with nothing really tying us to the country)

These are just a random, sort of difficult to get much from photos, but sort of gives an idea. The apartment from this photo was in an older building, and the price was still roughly 170k yen (roughly USD$1100 per month)

A weird old air conditioner with tape forming a seal, plus a window that was tinted dark and barely opened
The view out of the main door / balcony of the apartment, an overflow parking area. Not super inspiring.

We had done a TON of research trying to figure out where to live before coming to Tokyo. It’s such a huge city and as mentioned above we wanted to give ourselves the best chance of enjoying our experience here. I think we could be happy anywhere realistically, but also we want to meet friends and go and do things while living in the city we’ll be much more likely to do those things if it doesn’t require an expensive or hour+ commute. So we had originally planned to live in either Juyagaoka or Oimachi while keeping an open mind to other options as well.

While Lindsay was teaching the first week I spent a TON of time (10-15 miles a day) walking around all of the potential neighborhoods trying to get a feel for them. This is not each because with such huge area to cover and so many different side streets and alleyways (etc) I never really felt 100% sure that I “knew” an area. That said I put in quite a bit of effort and at least felt like I could develop opinions.

Juyagaoka is a very nice neighborhood, more upscale, with tons of boutiques and lots of very cute shops. It’s quite popular with families and I’d say the population trends more middle-aged well-off types. I think we could have been happy there BUT the reality is we’re not really the type of people to shop at fancy boutiques or higher end fashion stores and such. It’s fun to walk and look at cute little stores with fancy stuff, but we don’t shop there realistically.

The other area we had been recommended a bunch (keywords being down to earth and convenient in a lot of people’s opinions) was Oi, (long O sound, Ōi technically, or 大井), Shinagawa. This area (or Ward, or City) in Tokyo that is very close to Lindsay’s school and pretty convenient for getting around the city. This is where we ended up finding an apartment and where we now live!

The apartment we ended up in was actually originally recommended against by the real estate agency we were working with (for good reason really) because the layout is “weird.” Layout in an apartment, especially a small apartment (ours is 42 square meters) is really really important. Arguably our apartment feels more like a 30 square meter apartment than 40 based on how we’ve been using it, however there are a few features of it that we really like.

Apartment as of a few months ago. We’ve added a few things since this point but it’s still largely the same at this point, or at least very recognizable!

The video above is a good way to get a pretty good idea of what the apartment is like, but the things we like are:

  • It’s a brand new unit, never lived in, so very modern and clean feeling (with the exception of a smell discussed below)
  • It’s in a VERY convenient location – I say this at least once a day to Lindsay, but we are about 12 minutes walk from both Nishi-Oi and Oimachi stations (西大井駅と大井町駅), which translates to us being able to get to 75% of the city without transferring. E.g. we can go to Shinjuku station or Shibuya without transferring. Or we can go down to Yokohama without transferring. Etc, etc.
  • Lindsay can walk to her school if she wants, it’s about a 25ish minute walk but very doable and reasonably pleasant. Alternatively, when it’s really raining she can take a bus that picks up about 5 minutes from the apartment.
  • Because we’ve opted to stick our bed in the tiny room in the basement (see video), it means we have an entire extra “bedroom” that we can use as a guest bedroom OR use for a bonus-chill space / room or office. It’s not a practical optimization for day-to-day living, but it’s really nice to have the option of having the extra area (e.g. Corie is coming to visit in a bit and she’ll have her own room – with us having to walk through it in the morning to get upstairs, but still, better than having to sleep in the living room I think.
  • The kitchen area while small is actually pretty well setup for cooking. Counter space is plenty, stove is nice enough, sink is great. Overall it’s not a bad space to cook or significantly worse (sadly) than our house in GR because the layout is pretty optimized in Japan, vs a bunch of smaller counter spaces in GR.
  • I didn’t explicitly mention this but part of the reason we wanted new construction was for concrete walls, and so far it seems to have paid off in terms of noise issues. We hear almost nothing from our neighbors, and we hope we aren’t causing any issues for anybody either. So far no noise complaints at least!
  • The actual area is fairly cute, and there is a lot of options within 10 minutes walk in terms of food, grocery shopping, etc.
  • There is a nice little public bath (sento) almost visible from our apartment window. Maybe a 3 minute walk door to door (though here is where I have to admit that I shamefully have not actually been to it yet!)
  • There are a ton of great restaurants, izakayas, etc, within 10-15 minutes. There is a somewhat well known area near Oimachi station with a bunch of tiny little side streets with bunches of tiny little izakaya and restaurant. Four or five nice grocery stores within 15 minutes walking. It’s not that “special” compared to other halfway major stations in Tokyo, but still.

Some bad things..

There are some bad things, specifically:

  • The apartment isn’t cheap. It’s on the top end of our budget when looking for apartments in Tokyo. By US standards it’s reasonable I suppose, but for us currently it’s a significant amount of money
  • The apartment is on the ground floor, which means when we open our windows we often have people looking inside as they walk by. This is something that hasn’t bugged us too much, but it does mean at night we aren’t opening our windows wide looking out over the city, we are closing our blinds. There is a plus side to this, which is it’s very easy to get in / out of our apartment, sometimes walking up a few flights of stairs in the morning or at night after a long day is sort of enough to prevent you from wanting to run outside to get a snack at the store or whatever.
  • When we first moved in there were two bad smells
    • The first smell was a sort of sewage small of some sort, LIKELY caused by a water trap being empty (because the apartment was new). This smell was terrible but went away fairly quickly after we moved
    • A lower grade musty / ammonia / ??? smell possibly (likely?) from new construction has been around for a long time. I’m not honestly sure how much of this is because of the relatively fresh concrete (my dad immediately said “smells like fresh concrete” when he visited, honestly I didn’t even consider that) vs the must of having the basement be below ground vs something else. I will say just recently I’ve noticed the smell is generally better and less noticeable, although in our clothing closet I feel like the smell can “build up” if we don’t leave our closet door open.
  • Dust. We are lucky with the new construction in that we have a TON of big vents for lots of airflow, but on the flip side these seem to let in a TON of dust. I imagine living on the first floor next to a small but fairly regularly trafficked road doesn’t help. I’ve since installed a bunch of “filters” and am hoping this will improve things
  • The area right around our apartment isn’t super exciting. I’m talking within 5 minutes. The sento being there is pretty awesome, and we have a Lawson, but there isn’t like a HYPER LOCAL (next door) bar or anything like that.
  • I would also say the neighborhood feels halfway between a place where people live and a super hip area. Actually that’s not a good way to describe it… it’s just not a casual, sort of down to earth area, but it also isn’t absolutely hopping. I think because it’s a more expensive area there are more people commuting, going to bed early, waking up early, working hard. Hard to describe, but there is another station one stop South called Omori, when you walk around that area it feels a bit more “salt of the earth” or something, more people walking around in Crocs to get cigarettes and beer at the grocery store, more seedy feeling pachinko parlors, etc. I think in ways I wish our area was a bit more like this just because it is the type of place where you feel like you can let your hair down a bit more vs knowing most people you run into are probably very busy running to their stressful job. This is probably not a fair or accurate assessment of reality, but from a non-Japanese speaking person living in Tokyo the past 4 months this is my general feeling.

Getting to some sort of point

The point I originally wanted to make with this post is that coming to Japan this time felt different. I feel like I have more personal “baggage” which keeps me a bit more grounded. I’m not sure that’s ALL bad though, despite how it sounds. At the same time I want to make the point that I’m really happy, and there are a lot of moments of true joy that I feel on an almost daily basis. I’m living a dream in a huge number of ways. Walking through the quiet, calm, peaceful side streets of Tokyo after a night out with Lindsay, knowing there is so much here for us to explore and learn about, I’m incredibly grateful to have this experience and I’ve mainly been successful in fighting down any sadness I feel knowing this won’t be forever.

I think my biggest hope for myself is that out of this time I have to live in Tokyo, I find something to take with me that enriches the remainder of my life. I’m not entirely certain what that means to be honest, I just really hope I can come away from Tokyo with something that in 5 or 10 years when I’m feeling sad, or like life is hard, I can use. I guess maybe a better way to say it is that I hope in a way I can turn my time into an investment in my future, vs just a fun period of time I enjoy.

ALSO, a few more things to note just for the ol’ memory banks to be jogged when I read this in 10 years:

  • I had an amazing trip with some friends (without Lindsay, who had to work!) to Nasu and hiking / climbing some mountains, which culminated in this frankly amazing mountain onsen / lodge that was absolutely incredible (this is just a small video from the walk from the lodge up to the open bath, which was incredible at night under the stars with a cold beer in hand)
  • Lindsay and I are currently as I type this in Hong Kong, and will be here over Xmas 2023.
  • We’ll be going to Macau for a day as well, which will be fun I’m sure (or at least hope – I just booked round trip tickets for 120 bucks for an 8 hour stay, I’m hoping we aren’t ready to go home after an hour or something!)
  • We had an amazing trip to Nikko together for a long weekend which was great. Stayed in this old youth hostel on a river, really amazing time.
  • We feel like we have endless things to explore in Tokyo, it’s almost overwhelming to think about how much we don’t know and haven’t seen (yet it’s becoming a bit more familiar on the whole)
  • We’re starting Japanese classes officially next month, which is huge, because the language barrier and intimidation we feel is perhaps the hardest thing about living here.

OK, what a mess of a blog post.

Categories
Camping Japan

We’re (probably not) moving to Tokyo (edit: ok, actually we are)

Warning: This will be more of a high school emo style blog post without a lot of photos, so set your expectations accordingly!

Note: if you’re reading this, either we’ve decided to move to Tokyo, or it’s been weeks or months since this discussion came up and we’ve decided not to and the thought has been well put to bed. I’m writing this for myself, to process my thoughts / feelings and document them for the next time this type of life changing issue comes up.

Two weeks ago Lindsay got a “cold call” from a quality international school in Tokyo, Japan asking her to interview for a middle school position that starts in August of this year (roughly three months time). They had found her resume in a hiring pool from a job she had applied to a long time ago and reached out randomly and without prompting. This was totally out of the blue, and unexpected, and pretty “world rocking” to be honest. To be clear, we had absolutely zero plans on moving to Japan, or even visiting Japan this year, BUT… Tokyo! One of the worlds great cities! Japan! Curry! Onsen! Sento! Beautiful mountains and streams and Hokkaido in the fall! Easy access to Korea and Vietnam! Etc.

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Film Japan United Kingdom York

A few random film photos from the past few years

The ones of people that regularly read this blog likely are aware that I have a film camera to take most photos these days. That isn’t saying a lot really, I don’t actually take that many photos nor is my heart quite in it the same way it was back in university days. That said, I wanted to post a few random photos from the past few years as I just recently FINALLY was able to go through and scan my film photos from our time living in the UK.

The photos from Japan I actually have had on Flickr for about a year now – there was a photo store in the mall in Koryo ( エコール マミ ) called Kitamura and I was able to cheaply get all of my film developed there. When I moved to York, I had a few last rolls of film from Japan to develop and there was York Camera Mart that was great. Unfortunately because of covid, I wasn’t able to developed most of the film I shot in the York so ended up developing the rest of it in San Jose when I moved out to California (where we live now – Oakland!).

Anyway, here are some photos.

Categories
Japan

Tonight is the last night in our Japanese apartment

The past several YEARS of updates have often been written out of necessity (wanting to capture / record memories so we can look back and remember some details about the things we’ve done) more than because I had a strong urge to say something, and they’ve been long, and most importantly they’ve been very untimely.

But today, I wanted to do something slightly different and post an update as something is happening. As soon as I post this blog post, I will shut my laptop, go into the laundry area, unplug the SoftBank Hikari router and NTT fiber modem, put them in a pre-addressed box I have sitting next to me, walk to 15 minutes down the street to the post office, and send them back to their respective companies. Soon after that, the water company will come to our apartment and shut off the water. Then Lindsay will be coming home from her LAST day teaching English in Japan, saying her last goodbyes to teachers and friends at school. We’ll spend most of the rest of the evening finishing packing and cleaning. We’ll then sleep our very last night in our apartment in 広陵町, Japan, and tomorrow (likely after a morning trip to the local onsen and a final walk together through the rice fields behind our apartment) we’ll head to the Kansai International Airport (KIX) to start the long trip home.

Categories
Japan

And now we live in Japan

About ten months ago Lindsay and I moved to Japan. Specifically a small(ish) town in the Kansai region, in Nara prefecture. The town name is Koryo, and has a population of roughly 35k. The town is roughly 30 minutes by train from Osaka, and around 45 minutes to Nara city. The other major-ish city that is nearby is Kashihara which is around 15 minutes to the East.

Categories
Japan Travel Uncategorized

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.

 

 

Categories
Japan Travel

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.

Categories
Japan Travel

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!