Japan

Can’t I Just Stay Here Forever? Kyoto!

After Yokohama, we had an incredibly long journey carrying all of our luggage to Kyoto. When we made it to the last train stop, it was raining and dark! We had to somehow hold an umbrella, carry our bags and find our way through the streets of Kyoto to our hotel. It took us longer because we had to stop every once in awhile to reposition our bags and check the GPS on our tablet.

Eco and Tec Hotel was actually very easy to find, if we didn’t have the tablet to navigate us, we’d probably never find it. There wasn’t a big sign for the hotel and it was down a residential street that didn’t look like there was anything more than just houses. We also got off at the further train stop, not knowing that there was one about five minutes from the hotel. When we made it, we were so relieved and happy! As we checked in they asked to take a picture of us to put on their Facebook page. I guess they take pictures of all their guests. We looked beat down, wet and miserable!

After we had unpacked, we went downstairs to the community room. This is a really cool hotel. There is only one employee at a time who cleans the rooms and checks in guests, because of this and an effort to stay green, they don’t change towels or clean rooms often. If you want those services done regularly, you have to pay extra. We were only there for about two nights so it wasn’t a problem. The community room had free water and tea, free wifi, and massage chairs! We both jumped in the chairs and enjoyed a much needed massage! I was exhausted and hungry so we ordered a pizza and called it a night!

The next morning it was a little grey outside but we had mapped out everything we wanted to see. We walked down the main road in Kyoto to a coffee shop, where we had breakfast and decided that we wanted to rent bikes!

Our hotel had an affordable bike rental rate, so we decided to do that. GREAT idea!! I had so much fun and it was much easier than walking. My feet were hurting after all the walking we had done in Tokyo. I was wobbly at first and afraid I was going to hit a pedestrian, another biker or a car!

We rode through a market with a lot of shops that we visited later for souvenirs. I loved this about Japan, everyone rides a bike. You’d think with Guam being so small that more people would ride bicycles; but I’m sure with the heat, uphill roads and distance between villages this wouldn’t be such a fun experience. Our first stop was the Kyoto International Manga Museum! I’m a fan of Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Totoro…) so I was really excited. The museum was made in an old school building. There was a mixture of Manga art and history and history about the school and Kyoto. Very interesting. There were TONS of comic books that you could lounge around and read, unfortunately we didn’t see any that were in English so we just looked through the pictures. My favorite part, well two parts, first was the “How to Draw Manga” section where you could learn the Manga drawing process and then there was another room where they had artists from around the world draw something based on the word peace. It was so creative! Most of the art rooms had a no photos rule so I didn’t get to take many pictures.

After the museum we realized that it was pretty late and we still wanted to visit another museum. We used the map to find our way to Nijo Castle. We rode through the quiet streets . Getting used to driving on the opposite side of the rode was a challenge, but fun!

For a small fee we parked our bikes in the bike lot.

The park where the castle was is HUGE. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the castle nor could we wear shoes. There are many beautiful gardens and ponds.

In one building, where we couldn’t wear our shoes, the floors were called Nightingale floors and made a cricket sound whenever stepped on. This was so the Shogun could hear if anyone was trying to sneak up on them.

It was late when we got back to our hotel, but we still wanted to explore! We’d gone back to the shopping area where everyone seemed to be. I found an all you can eat pizza place and Peter had some bad tasting beer which was all you could drink for an hour. At the end of the night we stopped at Pig & Whistle for a drink before heading back to the hotel for bed.

The rest of our trip we explored Kyoto. There are so many parks and beautiful historical structures everywhere. Even walking down the narrow roads we found shrines and Japanese style homes.

On our last day we took a walk and saw this bright red  bridge thing. As we walked toward it we came to another park.

Here we found another shrine and garden.

We saw these fountains everywhere and weren’t sure of the meaning. We watched as school children went to them and washed their hands with the water. It was a beautiful, bright and sunny day on our last day in Kyoto. I didn’t want to leave.

We had some extra time to kill before we needed to head to Narita, so we went to the Kyoto Handicraft Center. I’d spotted it on the map and really wanted to go there. At the moment, the original building is under construction so everything has moved out to a different building except for the craft center. Peter and I decided to do some arts and crafts! I painted a clay doll bell and Peter did the cloisonné key chain. It was SO much fun! You get some guidance from the craft center helpers, watch a video and learn about the history of your art work. It was so relaxing and peaceful.

If you want to go to Japan, but you don’t want to navigate the busy rail system or deal with the city life, then Kyoto is the perfect place to relax and go at a slow pace. I wish we had more time here to see more sights.

Goodbye Kyoto and Japan. Hope to see you again!

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Yokohama & Goodbye Tokyo

It was a bittersweet goodbye to Tokyo; although, I was looking forward to the rest of our trip I still felt like I hadn’t seen all of Tokyo. We boarded the train to Yokohama on a somewhat gloomy-looking day. In addition to the dark skies, I wasn’t really feeling well.  Peter had a lot of energy and was excited, but my body was dragging and I felt like I needed to just rest and recoup. I tried not to be a party pooper, but I was ready to just get to Kyoto!

Yokohama is another large city but has it’s differences from Shibuya. More easy going and less of a city feel, it was even more organized and clean (if that’s even possible). We walked to the Yokohama Bay Quarter where we took a bridge to the Nissan building. Peter sat in his favorite Nissan car the Skyline GTR. From there we went looking for the Landmark Tower and the giant ferris wheel.

On the way, we discovered a Krispy Kreme and stopped for a snack. I felt a little bit better but I was still dragging and freezing cold. Coming from the comfort of 86 degree temperatures year-round and going to Tokyo’s colder weather was not an easy adjustment. We found both the tower and ferris wheel. The tower had an entrance fee of 500 yen, which we skipped. It is one of the largest buildings in Tokyo. Instead we rode the 15 minute ferris wheel where we could see all of Yokohama. It was incredibly high, the highest ferris wheel I’ve ever been on. There was a large amusement park that looked fun.

With a long journey ahead of us, we boarded the bullet train that took us to Kyoto!

Japan vacation video

Banksy in Shibuya!

I really miss Japan. Why did I love it so much? Probably because for the past year I’ve been living on a very small island with limited things to do. Japan is also very clean and orderly,  which I like A LOT. I loved getting lost in the maze of streets and finding something magical. One night, Peter and I went for a walk in Shibuya. As we were crossing the street I spotted some street art on the corner of a building. I gasped and whispered, “Banksy.” I took a million photos of the little girl with her hands covering her face. Banksy is a street artist and a great one. I know of his work because he left a few of his graffiti art pieces in Portland, Oregon, which a friend of mine showed me.  Ever since then, I’ve been hooked on his work. Please look him up! I couldn’t believe my eyes! As people were busily passing by this piece of art, I stopped and just stared for a few minutes. I can’t believe I got to see another one! I feel soooo lucky. After this, we kept walking until we saw a bar down in a basement. When we entered we realized that it was a Spanish restaurant/bar! I was so happy! We had tapas and drinks. I had the best Sangria ever and Peter had some beer with a mountain of foam on top.

You can’t stay in Shibuya without walking through the GIANT intersection/crosswalk. I’m sure you’ve seen it in movies. It mirrors the one in New York City. When the walk symbol appears, THOUSANDS of people cross the street in all directions. It’s really magnificent!

I can’t get over how much I enjoyed Tokyo and, as I mentioned in previous blogs, the fashion!

Everything in Japan is cute. The billboards, the people, the clothes, the food…EVERYTHING. There are even things to make cute things cuter…Once Peter and I saw a bunch of school girls run into a basement with pictures of half naked teen boys and lots of girls with big eyes. We saw one couple go down, so out of curiosity we followed. When we took the last step down, ROWS and ROWS of photo booths were cluttered in this basement. And these weren’t just your ordinary photo booths, NO they were awesome photo booths. For about 300 yen you could have your photo taken and edited to look like a cartoon character. I, of course, went overboard and chose the options to make us very bright and white and also to give us GIANT pupils. Yea, it sounds scary but it was SO funny and cute. We did it a few times for fun and laughs. Then, you get to add hearts, rainbows you name it and you get two copies. It was really fun and I suggest that you do this because it will give you a good laugh. After awhile though the cuteness actually made me feel sick haha. I had enough…

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Parks & Toilets in Tokyo!

When Peter and I were researching things to do in Japan, we came across Tokyo Disneyland! In my 27 years of life, I had never been to any Disney anything! It has always been a dream of mine to go. Peter wanted to go as well, so I decided to take him as part of his birthday! Finding Disneyland was a complete failure! We still hadn’t mastered the train system and couldn’t figure out how to get on the right train to go to Disneyland. When we finally got directions, it was late in the afternoon and we didn’t want to pay the nearly $200 fee for two people and not get a whole day at the magical kingdom. So instead we went into central Tokyo!!!

By the way, the JR system is VERY busy and fast paced as you would expect in a big city. If you ask one of the railway workers, they are usually able to help.

 
(photo of central Tokyo station)

We ended up at the Central Tokyo station on a very beautiful day. Despite our original plans failing, I was so excited when I saw the park across from the station! So this was where all the tourists were! Tons of people taking photos, old men painting in the park, pretty flowers and fountains. I don’t remember the names of the parks that we visited, but they were all within the same area of each other.

At the entrance to the fountain park there were two bridges over a beautiful river. I saw a swan and turtle and was delighted when the swan floated toward me and I was able to take a picture of the two animals together! I actually took many pictures until I was reminded that there was much more to see.

The fountain park was sooo beautiful and the architecture was very modern. 

(A group of students who asked me to take a picture of them!)

As we walked through the fountain park, we stopped to have a snack and then continued walking toward the Imperial Palace. Although we couldn’t find the entrance, we wandered around looking at the trees, bridge, guards and statues. The sky looked like it had been painted! The day was perfect. I really like the trees at this park, and there were a lot of them. Much of the park was sectioned off so you couldn’t walk on the grass and instead had to follow the gravel path. When I saw the Japanese-style structures I then realized that I was in Japan! How did I get here when I never imagined EVER being here.


After walking around Tokyo, we hopped back on the train to Ueno. The sun was beginning to set when we made it to the station. Across from the train there was yet another park! This park was HUGE and had so many things to do, but since we were there so late we didn’t get to see everything. We did however manage to walk through the park and look at all the art and landscaping.

We saw these birds everywhere and decided that they were ravens. (If you know what they really are please correct me.) They are about twice the size of crows!


Why did I take a photo of this toilet?? Well, as you can see, it is QUITE different from any toilet I’ve ever seen. This bathroom, at the park in Ueno, had both traditional Japanese squatting toilets and Western toilets. I just thought it was  different. I did not use this and wasn’t even sure if I’d be physically able to!

Happy Birthday & Harajuku Time!

After Ginza, I thought my feet were going to fall off. I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and rest, but then Peter said he wanted to experience Tokyo nightlife. We’d planned to go to a dance club near our hotel, but while he was researching the address he found out that the club he realllyyyyy wanted to go to had a shuttle that picked people up and dropped them off across from our hotel in Shibuya! I guess it was meant to be. So, he had a few birthday drinks and we hopped on the free shuttle and headed to Ageha. This is a HUGE club! There are like 5-6 clubs within this one building. Entrance was about $70 for the both of us and drinks were about $10! My favorite part was the outside area called Water. There’s this small pool where we all danced around and occasionally a drunk person would fall in. It had the best energy, it was outside and I enjoyed the music much more. There was another dance floor that I didn’t like so much. There they played trance music and had a CRAZY, intensely loud sound system. There were other areas of the club and even some we didn’t see. It was massive!

Clubs in Japan don’t have a time when they stop serving alcohol so we were out dancing until 4 am. We brought in Peter’s birthday dancing away to techno/trance music. We finally decided to head home and get back on the shuttle. If you do plan to take the shuttle, make sure you grab a return ticket at the club to get back home. We didn’t know about this but thankfully the bus driver let us back on. If you stay long enough, you can watch the sun rise over the bay.

The next day we of course got a late start to our day. We headed to Harajuku to celebrate some more! This was one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting. It’s so famous and with the fashion I’d seen in Shibuya, I couldn’t imagine what I would see in Harajuku.

The amount of people walking the streets was quite overwhelming so we started by walking down the main street. It was very crowded and filled with TONS of shops. Some of the shops sell clothes that Harajuku girls would wear, like this dress I spotted on the store front window. There are a lot of different Harajuku styles, some of them wear doll clothes or dress up like cartoon characters.

I found these funny glasses and made Peter try them on since he was the birthday boy! He’s such a good sport 🙂

We went in and out of the shops, stopped here and there to people watch, got lost and ended up where we wanted to be. 

I can’t get over the amazing fashion I saw everywhere. It was a breath of fresh air after Guam’s very laid back style. I felt like I needed a whole new wardrobe! Everything was stylish, even the dogs!!!

We sat down for awhile to rest our feet and we decided to head back into the crowds. We turned a corner and THERE she was. The first Harajuku girl I’ve ever seen in real life! She was standing on the steps posing for photos. I got really nervous and just walked past her but Peter stopped and asked, with hand gestures, if I could take her photo and she said YES! There weren’t too many of them walking around and that was a bit surprising. The few that I did see were definitely out for the attention and specifically to have their photos taken! I’d been hoping to see Harajuku girls so I was VERY happy!

We went to Harajuku twice, once in the evening, where I spotted the second girl!

Next we headed to an art museum that we were very excited about because Guam lacks museums and art. Design Festa Gallery in Harajuku is my favorite art museum EVER! Once an old apartment building, the rooms are rented to artists who display their artwork. Entrance is free and artwork is sold in the rooms. There’s also a coffee shop and restaurant.  The outside of the museum is covered in paintings and designs. It’s SO cool! Once you walk through the apartment building/art museum you end up outside on a sidewalk that leads you to another building with MORE art. Inside of the next building we saw two-three floors of art. Some Manga, fashion, abstract…it was all amazing and wonderful. We bought a few post cards as gifts and headed outside. Both of us became really inspired and decided that we wanted to go to art school and become artists haha.

The sun was starting to set but we kept walking, this time we were on some quieter streets. We wanted to finish the day with Peter’s birthday meal! We’d both researched a restaurant that is said to have the best fried pork. Thanks to his tablet, we found the restaurant easily. The restaurant is called Maisen and it’s very nice inside. We both had different variations of the fried pork which also came with dessert. It was a good meal and the birthday boy enjoyed it!

After dinner we walked the streets and visited a few shops, including a sticker shop and some fancy watch store. Shops tend to close around 9 pm.

Harajuku was so much fun. I love the culture and art the most. There was a lot we didn’t see and I wish I could have spent more time there. We did stop by Kiddyland which is a giant department store full of toys. There were way too many people in there and it was a bit warm so I just looked at some stuff and left.

When the shops close and roll down their metal store front covers, we noticed that some of them had very nice graffiti paintings on them!

One of the best days during my trip to Japan! I hope it was a birthday Peter will never forget 🙂

Glamorous Ginza

We spent our first full day in Japan roaming around Ginza! If you like shopping, especially if you like high end shops, then Ginza is probably the right place for you. Peter and I on the other hand just wanted to go to Ginza because of the ginormous Bic Camera! What is this you ask? Only the biggest electronic store I’ve ever been to! Floors and floors of all the electronic goodies you can think of! Even things that haven’t been released in the U.S. Without even realizing how much time we spent in Bic Camera, it was dark by the time we left. My feet hurt soooo bad and I began to feel hot and dizzy so I found myself a nice bench and waited as Peter looked around. He ended up getting himself a birthday gift and I got him some accessories for it. He also found the DJ gear and of course he DJ’d for the shoppers haha!

This is also where I discovered that Japan has the BEST toy machines! Rows upon rows of machines that don’t give out crappy break-the-same-day toys. They give out the good stuff!

But before all of that we were lost on the streets of Ginza! Thankfully, we stumbled upon a KFC that had free internet and we loaded a map to find our way back to where we wanted to be.

Ginza Street is full of people, shops, tourists and SHOPS…I said that already. We found ourselves a bench in the middle of the street, but first we stopped for juice because it was a hot day, and people watched for awhile. While we were sitting, a man dressed in robes came to us and put a photo of Buddha in our hands. Then he brought out a book and had Peter sign his name and put down an amount of money that we wanted to give! I was appalled because it was sort of forceful. Peter couldn’t say no, so he fished out his money from his pocket and when the man saw how much money Peter had, he crossed out the 1000 yen ($12.00) and wrote in 2,000! I didn’t let Peter pay 2,000 and I refused to sign the book. I gave back the photo of Buddha and he left…we watched him wander over to the next unsuspecting tourist couple walking behind us. I was quite offended and Peter was regretful that he gave in to the robed man. But he is much nicer than I am and I like that about him!

As I continued people watching, I fell in love with all the fashion. The fashion in Tokyo is absolutely the best I’ve seen. It’s so unique and inspiring. I wouldn’t wear most of it, but I appreciate it and am in awe of people who aren’t embarrassed to express themselves through their fashion.

The funniest thing happened while we were looking at the shops and walking down the sidewalk. A group of older Japanese men and women came rushing over to Peter and asked if they could take photos of him walking for their photography class! So of course Peter agreed and I took a quick shot of them taking photos of Peter! I thought it was sweet.

We walked and walked and WALKED. I love all the streets in Japan that turn into a cluster of new streets at every corner. You could get lost and somehow manage to find yourself again. The architecture is beautiful and changes with every few blocks. I found this glass building that I love!

We eventually came to the Sony building where we spent some time looking at all of the Sony products and Peter played a racing game on a giant projector screen.

We continued walking and I began to realize that everything in Japan is cute!

By the time dinner came around, we were starving and just picked whatever we could find. That happened to be a place called Jonathan’s.  It had an interesting variety of food. I guess it was Japanese and other. I’m not sure what the other was. Like hamburger patties with fries, pizza, garlic bread, and some other stuff that I didn’t recognize. There were a lot of Japanese items to choose from as well. The menu was in Japanese and we just pointed to a bunch of pictures and ate. It was a little difficult for me to find food in Japan because I don’t eat seafood and most everything had some sort of seafood in it. Even the noodles that say they’re vegetable had shrimp in them. I ate pizza a lot. Boring, I know.

We decided to walk some more and just look at all the buildings and people. Then we jumped back on the train and headed to Shibuya. It was Saturday night and we planned to bring in Peter’s birthday with a bang!

Hello Shibuya!

Sadly, my week long vacation in Japan has come to an end. I never could have imagined JUST how much I would enjoy this trip. As you know, I’ve only been working at my current job for a few months and had to take unpaid leave. I was worried about the cost of this trip and unexpected expenses. I was thinking, “It’s Peter’s birthday so I just need to suck it up and let go,” and I did just that.

Friday, the day of our departure, Peter and I went to work and the minutes were ticking by SO slowly! Finally, 2:00 PM hit and I was out the door and on my way to pick up Peter. As usual, we were running late trying to finish last minute things. Our friend picked us up and dropped us off at the airport where we ran and made it just on time. The flight was smooth and quick. As we descended toward Japan I got butterflies in my stomach. Another stamp in my passport! Curiosity ran through my body as I imagined what it would be like.

 From the airport we found the JR (Japanese Railway) ticket office where we activated our week long train passes. We also bought train tickets to the Shibuya Station. There is this really good deal if you buy a pass, one way or roundtrip, and you are a foreigner you get a Suica card with 1500 yen (about $19.00 USD) per pass to spend anywhere that accepts Suica. The card is loaded with yen and all you do is scan it at checkout. Upon return of the card, you get 500 yen back. Pretty great! We used ours to buy drinks from the vending machines at the train stations.

 The vending machines are super cool! I was wondering why the drinks are so small, until later I realized that people chug their drink and throw it in the garbage bin located next to the vending machine. This also explained why we could never find garbages anywhere other than near the vending machine. People also don’t eat and walk. You could even buy beer from these machines!

We made our way to the NEX and took the train a few hours to Shibuya, Tokyo!

How we got around in the train station beats me. Everything is pretty much in Japanese, with a few signs in English. Luckily Peter brought his tablet and loaded a few maps on it to guide us. We made it to the hotel after crossing a giant intersection and weaving through the crowd of people. By this time my energy level boomed and I couldn’t wait to dump our luggage at the hotel and hit the streets for some adventures!

We stayed at the Tokyu Inn Shibuyu. I wish I had taken a photo of the room because it was SOOO small and the bathroom looked identical to an airplane bathroom plus a tub. The room was meant for two people but there was absolutely no walking space. But that didn’t matter because we really didn’t plan on spending any time in there. We unpacked our things, freshened up and headed out again.

We walked around the streets of Shibuya. Although there were a lot of people out, it was very quiet. I guess that’s one of the main differences I noticed while in Japan. No one talks on their phones while walking, people usually mind their own business and don’t pay attention to others and everything is absolutely clean and orderly. I love it! We searched for some food, but it was pretty late so we were stuck with Family Mart and 7-11! I found this random piece of pizza with corn on it and Peter had an assortment of foods. When we got back we found these funny little robes/pajamas on our bed. Peter and I wore them. We ate and watched the people through our window on the 7th  floor until we fell asleep.


The next morning we walked across the street to this small cafe. We don’t speak Japanese and most people we met in Japan didn’t know any English, so we communicated with hand gestures and pointing to pictures. We ended up pointing to this picture on the menu for breakfast and chose this delicious sandwich and two coffee drinks. Like most things in Tokyo, space in limited so we ordered our food downstairs and ate on the 2nd floor overlooking the streets. I really appreciate the attention to detail and the presentation. From the way food is placed on a tray, to the packaging of store bought items even how you present your money to the cashier at the register. Everyone takes pride in everything that they do.

After breakfast we headed to the train station, where we got lost in the station for about an hour! We FINALLY figured out that we can only us JR lines with the train pass and were in the wrong part of the station. So, we made our way to the correct area, boarded the train and headed to Ginza…