I recently returned from a two-week adventure in Japan! Want to know what I did? Well, you're in luck because my mother requested an "email-a-day" and instead of just placating her, I kind of used it as a travel journal instead, so here's everything compiled as letters to my Mom.
Its almost 9pm here and Ricky & I finally made it to our hotel in Tokyo!
Long flight and ready to sleep. So much in-flight entertainment on plane, I was so shocked. New release movies, games, etc. Made the trip less tedious for sure.
We have WiFi now too for the entirety of the trip.
Lucky to have Jenna with us to show us the ropes, it would probably been easy to navigate airport/transportation without her knowledge but it probably would have taken MUCH longer. Japanese people are nice and expect foreigners to not know anything so politeness goes a long way. (I learned that "Arigatou gozaimasu" is a more polite way of saying thank you).
Quiet and clean on the streets. Very quiet. Almost weirdly quiet. Lots of cars/trucks/people/biking in sidewalks but no honking, no loud talking or cell phone talking. No locks on bikes parked outside restaurants. But this is experienced at night so I wonder how it will be in daytime. I didn't feel unsafe but it creeped me out how quiet it was - I felt like my rolling suitcase was the loudest thing ever!
Check out these slippers and jammies in our hotel, I don't think Dad could fit in this hotel room comfortably! :)
Tomorrow morning we're headed to Kyoto to check into our AirBnb.
This morning Ricky and I went to a nearby convenience store to get breakfast. We got fresh seaweed salads with soy sauce dressing and buns. I didn't know they were going to be filled - like doughnuts. I had a plum one and Ricky got a red bean one that tasted like honey.
Yen is very different. 1000 yen = roughly 10 USD. They put actual dollar value on their coins so it's not "pocket change" and actually worth something, compared to the US where pennies/change are not very valuable. When checking out, you put the money on a little tray, not just handing it to them because that is considered rude. Everyone is nice and polite and forms queues for everything. I feel rude not speaking because I don't know the language but i say arigatou with every interaction.
Bri & CJ had breakfast at their hotel which is traditionally mostly rice, miso soup, and fish.
Ricky called his dad (It's free for him) and he asked if anyone has reacted to my hair and we said we both noticed a man startle at my hair on the street last night but he might have been kind of drunk.
We got on a train to Kyoto and also bought a gift of crackers to give to our Airbnb host. It's customary to leave a gift, kind of like you leave small gifts for tipping. I should have thought of that before leaving or I would have made something cool at work or Wisconsin/Minnesota treat to leave behind.
The train is going 200 mph so it's very fast! You see something cool and point it out and suddenly you're in a tunnel and it's gone forever!
Lots of school children playing on playgrounds/parks all wearing bright neon color coordinated hats, probably for safety and to make sure they don't get mixed up when it's time to leave. It's super adorable.
Also, lots of urban farming, very cool.
It's quiet on the train and it's actually quite nice, but very strange. There's talking and children making noise but it's VERY quiet. There are signs saying "turn phone on silent".
We bought canned alcohol for the train ride and I got a malt beverage produced by Sapporo which had a picture of a rose on it. It ended up tasting like sour cherry cough syrup. It was gross. I also bought a backup one that's like alcoholic grapefruit sparkling water.
We made it to Kyoto around 4pm, settled in and napped - the time change isn't easy but I'm going to listen to my body and sleep when I'm tired!
Also went out for ice cream. Very good. It's great because the labels are all in Japanese so it could actually be healthy! (Har har har)
More adventuring tomorrow!
Our first Day in Kyoto!
Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan until the 1800s when the Imperial Palace moved to Tokyo, so there is a lot of history here in Kyoto.
We visted a few shrines today. The first was Kiyomizu-dera, which is the largest and most popular. VERY busy...like Disney World.
We had to walk up a steep hill through a cemetery which was so reverent and impressive.
We paid 400 yen (4 usd) to enter and it was thousands of steps through beautiful structures and stone gardens. We paid $1 for one of those Japanese stick fortunes - you shake this barrel and a stick comes out with a word on it and the woman handed me a paper with Japanese Kanji that I couldn't read at all - hopefully It's a good fortune?
Incense burning everywhere and it smelled so good. There were places to cleanse yourself with a water ritual but I think I will try it at a less busy shrine.
There was a special section for the "love stone" which was a rock that's supposed to bring you love. Not really sure? There were at least two girls with their eyes closed and hands out in front of them blindly walking and their families around the guiding them to "find love". At least i think that was the tradition. Everyone around was smiling and happy. It was really sweet and genuine.
There was a busy marketplace around the temple but everything in the shops was very touristy and literally "made in japan" haha.
Japanese people-watching is fun, all the fashion and mannerisms. I love the fashion, a lot of teenagers wear wild interesting fashions like sneakers with plush bunny faces for the tongues, but the older women all wear nice knit clothes and heels. A lot of people were dressed in traditional kimonos...absolutely gorgeous. No one is wearing shorts or t-shirts, and the ones who are you can easily tell are American.
The second shrine we went to was Tofukuji Temple. Less crowded and more quiet. Wooden bridges over a river and trees/nature everywhere There was a Buddhist Zen garden at this one and Ricky and I sat for a while, it was so relaxing and beautiful.
Jenna showed me how to ask for blessings at a "lesser" shrine to Buddha and I will show you the ritual when I get back - it involves tossing a coin into a wooden bin, ringing a bell, clapping, bowing, etc. A lot to remember!
Not sure what we are doing tomorrow, Jenna is headed to Nara but I think we might check out more of Kyoto. This city is also famous for the Geisha culture - in a neighborhood called Gion. (I remember this from reading "Memoirs of a Geisha"!)
But there's also several more shrines on Bri's itinerary we haven't hit up yet, so that might be on the dock tomorrow.
Food of the day was a green tea / vanilla mix ice cream cone that I didn't take a picture of because I ate it too fast - it was SO GOOD!
Also weather here is very "spring" all you need is a light jacket, very sunny. Cherry blossoms are blooming! I got sunburned today on my face!
Wish you were here to experience this. Weather is *perfect* - 67 degrees and sunny. The wind blows so it doesn't get too hot.
We have been rising pretty early, around 5-6am, which surprises even me! CJ is not happy about this because he says it's VACATION! Haha. It helps us plan our day though, we have a little meeting about what we're going to do and then go on our way. Today was a pretty chill day, Ricky and I went to a vegan restaurant and I ordered Udon noodles with fried bean curd. It's not rude to slurp your food here, and I'm glad because it's quite difficult eating soup with chopsticks! If no spoon is served with it, you lift the bowl to your mouth to finish the broth.
After, we went to Inari Temple which is nearby our Airbnb. It's quite a famous one with the thousands of orange gates. It's SO MUCH hiking and we were ill-prepared for it so we didn't make it to the top. We are planning on going back tomorrow with everyone else and hopefully there will also be less people around because it will be a weekday.
We also did a lot of walking and went through some neighborhoods, which was one of the things I wanted to do while I was here. Everyone has plants outside on their stoop. Ricky observed that everything is clean, but It'he stores and sone homes are very old and some are run-down/faded-looking.
The streets aren't laid out in blocks, it's more of zig-zaggy pattern, what we would think is an alley is actually a street, but you can't use it to cut through to anything!
That's it for now!
Went to Inari temple again today and finally reached the summit! Fox statues all around, they are guardian spirits of the mountain. All of the orange pillars have been erected after a wish has been grated, and most are sponsored by businesses. I think it's interesting because you walk throygh and It's so peaceful and reverent, but the pillars probably say " Drink Coca-Cola!"
We saw some Japanese woman yell at a caucasian man for drinking water on the path. She yelled at him and he didn't understand and she said " SPEAK JAPANESE!" It is disrespectful to eat or drink in the shrine. There are spots along the trail to stop and restaurants/vending machines/gift shops and that is the only place you are allowed.
That was the first time I've seen a Japanese person show disdain for a foreigner, but I also do not feel welcome here. Some restaurants have English translations, but others do not and this tells me they are not welcoming to foreigners. There are a lot of tourists, foreign and Japanese alike, so many languages!
Anyway, at Inari, we went down a path that said "NO EXIT" only to find this gorgeous peaceful waterfall and shrine. It was probably my favorite part of today. It felt very magical in that area but also A LOT of hiking. There were so many stairs! We were very beat afterwards.
Also had a fried rice with BBQ soy sauce on a stick, kind of like the state fair! And sake flavored ice cream, which just tasted floral.
Walked 20 blocks home and took the rest of the day to relax - we literally hiked A MOUNTAIN!
Tomorrow we're checking out and headed to Tokyo. Bri, CJ, and Jenna are going to the Robot restaurant and Ricky and I will get dinner and chill and plan our week.
Not much for today's update. We travelled from Kyoto to Japan on the high-speed train and hot to our Air BnB around 4pm.
Today was filled with walking! Ricky and I walked up to Akihabara, where all of the anime/manga kind of culture is. It was kind of closed, being the morning but we will go back at night for the excitement.
After, we walked to the Imperial Palace, which was really pretty and all of the cherry blossoms were falling and we had a picnic there, it was very relaxing.
After, we went to Ginza district which is very high-end shops like Dolce & Gabana, Chanel, Fendi, YSL, etc. We had a great time here because it was mostly Japanese people here, but also very out of place because it was $$$. We did find some unique items that we will probably go back.
The trains are fun to navigate by ourselves, it's really crowded and busy but I love people watching and It's definitely a great experience so far.
We are staying in the Ueno district, which is rich in culture and art and I think we will check it out tomorrow.
Today was spent taking it easy and exploring Ueno, the area in which we are staying. We toured through a shopping area and checked out a 9-story you store which was really fun but overwhelming with sounds/lights/people.
We discovered our Air BnB has a cool roof with a nice view of the Tokyo skytree so Ricky and I had a little picnic! My favorite food so dar is Onigiri, which is cold rice and seaweed, but the ones I specifically like are filled with pickled tomatoes - so it's sour! Really tasty and not very caloric!
I did a bit of laundry and am letting it air-dry. (Hello world, here's my undies on display on the balcony!)
Tonight we explored Ueno at night. So many lights, smells, and sounds! There are Pachinko and slots casinos we passed by and every seat is filled. It's crazy!
Tomorrow, we are going to check out Harajuku and Shibuya neighborhood, which is very "typical Tokyo" if you think about Tokyo, that is the area we are going to explore. It also has the fun crazy fashions so I'm very excited for people watching/window shopping.
Love you, I'm getting a little homesick but so happy to be here. It's so springy and warm!
Today was spent exploring Harajuku! It's a really cool area with fashion shops and a lot of street fashion. Definitely a very "Jenna" place!
Everyone looks so effortlessly cool here, I felt so uncool exploring this neighborhood. It's trendy and hip, and then on other streets It's high-end stores with men with white gloves to hold the door open for you. Recognizable brands that I have never seen outside Vogue magazine! I now understand why Tokyo is a fashion hub.
Harajuku is also famous for it's buy/sell clothing thrift stores, so you know I had a great time! I couldn't find a lot of shoe sizes that would fit me (I'm literally too big for Japan, but Bri made the observation that even though we're Japanese "large" it just means the sales rack is FULL of things that would fit!)
We did stop into a shop that had a vintage Boy Scout uniform on display, and the patch said "St. Paul Minnesota"! And another vintage item (a bathrobe) I saw had "Made in Madison, Wisc." on the tag...the Midwest found me in the East!
You could probably make a lot of money bringing American vintage clothing to Japan and selling to these vendors. Japanese people don't barter/haggle and a lot of things were stupidly expensive so I decided to save my money.
The busy/famous street is called Takeshita Street and IT IS BUSY. So many people! It was quite overwhelming so we went across the street to Meiji Shrine which was a beautiful and relaxing greenspace. (It was much needed because I was feeling myself getting very cranky).
Some info I read about Meiji Shrine is that an average of 15 weddings a day are hosted there, so I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a wedding party, but did not. I did see why It's a wedding venue, it's a very peaceful place amidst a city.
Not sure what the plan is tomorrow, but I would definitely go back to Harajuku because I could definitely spend DAYS just people watching.
Did I tell you I experienced an earthquake yesterday?
It was at 8:30am and Ricky and I were both awake and on our devices and all of the sudden the bed started shaking and he was like, "jenna stop" and I was like, "no you stop" and we bickered about it and then we kind of realized it was an earthquake. We felt it! It was so cool and weird feeling.
Today, Ricky went to visit a friend in Nagoya (where they produce cars, etc,) and i spent the day touring around Ueno Park with Bri & CJ, and saw a shrine, had a picnic, just had a great time!
There was also a flea market that was fun to peruse through, but I wasn't sure about haggling, because prices were very high to me. I wish haggling was a thing here because I love doing that at flea markets!
Also pictured is what I call an adult juice box, It's sake with a straw and it's only 100yen. What a deal. Haha.
We also went to McDonald's in Japan AKA "ma-ku-do-na-ru-do" (per Bri's request) hoping to have something exotic, but sadly, no dice. I did order a teriyaki burger and it was exactly how you would expect. I think there are some specialty McDonald's items like (chocolate covered fries) but we might not have been at the right location.
This afternoon we all went to Studio Ghibli Museum, and it was...underwhelming. more of a children's museum, and everything was in Japanese, but it was only $10 for tickets so it was worth it.
We had lunch at a cafe and I ordered a "rice plate" or $7.50 which was a salad, egg custard, potato salad, two onigiris, miso soup, and later at the end of the meal, the waitress brought out another mug of something hot and we were so confused of what it was, but discovered it was creamy mushroom soup!
At restaurants, you have to ask to order and ask to pay the creek, or else they will leave you to sit there forever. Also, the water glasses, are very tiny, and the waitress never refills them, or it's self-serve, or you have to ask. And napkins come in tiny packages and are moist! Only one per person.
Food, I've learned, especially fresh food, is very cheap and easy to find, but everything else is SO EXPENSIVE. I haven't drank much while here, but beers are pretty much the same cost or cheaper in America. About $3/16 oz. at the convenience store, and $6 at the bar. Happy hour is a big thing here, bars are PACKED 5pm-7pm but then empty after that.
After, we went to Shibuya, where the famous crazy crosswalk is that you see in movies, and it was very cool. Ricky took some cool (awkward) pics of me crossing the street with a ridiculous critical mass of people. I got a big kick out of it, but I don't know why. It just felt so lively and busy!
Tomorrow, Ricky and I are planning to go visit the Tokyo Skytree and treat ourselves to a ticket to the observation deck, then we have reservations at The New York Grill at the Tokyo Hyatt, made famous by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannsen in the movie Lost in Translation. Should be some nice views of Tokyo there too.
Great day shopping for souvenirs and amazing date night at Tokyo Park Hyatt 53rd floor. Fanciest dinner I have ever had. Great way to finish a trip!