Japan Travel

20 Highlights for 20 Days

April 3, 2016

I landed in Japan exactly 20 days ago.  Since arriving, I have been running around in Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Amagi.  I have spent time with family, friends, two cats, two dogs and one squirrel.  Rest assured, I haven’t gone mad and befriended a feral squirrel in the woods.  The squirrel is actually my cousin’s pet and lives with my family in the house.

Here are my 20 highlights over the last 20 days:

#20 | The Kill Bill Restaurant

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Remember the restaurant fight scene in Kill Bill with the Crazy 88?  Well, the inspiration for the restaurant scene was based off of an Izakaya in Tokyo called Gonpachi.  I am a huge fan of Kill Bill and Quentin Tarantino so needless to say, I was stoked to eat here.

#19 | Melon Bread Green Tea Ice Cream Sandwich

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Sugary melon bread hot out of the oven + green tea ice cream?  It was a weird but amazing combo.

#18 | Lights at Hakata Station


Fukuoka’s Hakata station is decorated with the prettiest lights.  The station is home to Il Forno Del Mignon, a famous and extremely popular stand that sells bomb chocolate and sweet potato croissants.  The station also has the “creative life store” Tokyu Hands which is filled to the brim with crazy and useful Japanese inventions. It’s my favorite department store in Japan!

#17 | Binging on Washi

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washi tape – noun. a type of decorative colored adhesive or masking tape originating from Japan

I am turning into a crazy washi person.  I have washi-taped my cellphone, my chargers, my computer, random pieces of paper….anything and everything I can get my hands on.

#16 | Shirokuma in Kagoshima


There’s a famous shaved-ice dessert originating from Kagoshima, Japan called Shirokuma (white bear or polar bear).  Condensed milky goodness so light you don’t know where it went after you’ve swallowed it all up.

#15 | Robot Restaurant in Tokyo


The Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo was truly an unforgettable experience.  Even if I wanted to forget it, I wouldn’t be able to.  The sights I witnessed that night have permanently been engraved into my brain.

There are no words to properly describe the absurdity of this show – you just have to see it for yourself.  I am sure I would not have paid the 8000 YEN if I knew what I was in for, but I have to give the creators props because they remarkably blurred the lines between fantasy and reality.  They give life to the most unimaginable characters who are born in their wildest dreams.

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#14 | Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima


Hiroshima, Japan is famous for it’s Okonomiyaki, dubbed the “Japanese Pizza.”  This one was kimchi-flavored with soba noodles.  Drool.

#13 |  Shibuya Crossing


Not my first time visiting Shibuya Crossing, but it was my first time viewing it from the 25th Floor of Excel Hotel.  This intersection never gets old.  The sheer number of people crossing each time the light turns green is crazy.  This view always takes me back to the movie Lost in Translation and that scene from Baraka.

#12 | Flashing Lights in Akihabara


It was my first time visiting this Tokyo neighborhood.  Akihabara is the shopping district for all things electronic, anime, gaming, manga, etc.  As you exit the subway station, you are greeted by a flood of overstimulating colors and flashing lights.  Scantily-dressed young women are handing out flyers, beckoning locals and tourists, both men and women, to pop inside one of the dozens of maid cafes scattered throughout the neighborhood.  I didn’t end up visiting a maid cafe (and don’t think I will!), but walking around Akihabara was an experience in and of itself.

#11 | Kiyomizu-dera at Night


Kiyomizu-dera is a sacred buddhist temple in Kyoto.  It’s only open for night viewings several times a year and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Aside from taking in the views, my mom and I did a tour through the Womb of Zuigu-Bosatsu, or the womb of motherly Buddha.  We held on to a beaded railing and slowly walked through a pitch-black maze signifying Buddha’s womb.  The complete darkness inside was meant to detach the individual from the outside world.  When we arrived to a glowing stone in the middle of the “womb,” we were supposed to make a wish.  Unfortunately, I was so disoriented and edgy as I navigated through that pitch-black hall that I forgot to make my wish!  I was too focused on trying to get out of there.  The good news is that once you make it out, your body and soul will be purified so I figured even though Buddha didn’t get my wish, at least I made it out.

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#10 | These Postcards

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I bought these postcards for obvious reasons.  I mean, it’s not every day you see cat sushi.

#9 | Omakase in Tsukiji


Omakase: noun (in a Japanese restaurant) a type of meal consisting of dishes selected by the chef. 

All the restaurants at Tsukiji Fish Market have large crowds waiting outside to eat omakase.  Some people wait 2 to 3 hours before they finally enter for their turn in the small 10-15 pax capacity establishments.  I didn’t wait that long, but I waited about an hour because you can’t go to Tokyo without eating fresh sushi/sashimi in Tsukiji!  Tokyo’s famous fish market is moving to a different neighborhood in November 2016 so I was happy to get some noms in before the site moves.

#8 | Ikutsushima Shrine and Torii


Miyajima is known as Island of Gods and is considered one of the most beautiful spots in Japan.  We lucked out because it was such a beautiful, sunny day when we visited the island’s Ikutsushima Shrine and the Great Torii Gate.  During hightide, the torii looks like it’s floating.  We visited during lowtide and were able to go right up to the orange gate.

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#5 | Buddhas in Red Beanies


Daiganji is a Benzaiten Temple on Miyajima.  Benzaiten is the Buddhist Goddess of “everything that flows” – music, eloquence, wisdom…  The temple has all these amazing Buddhist and Benzaiten statues, the majority of which were sporting little red beanies.  And by coincidence, I happened to be sporting a red beanie that day too!

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#6 | Fushimi Inari Shrine


In my previous visits to Japan, I had never made it to the iconic torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine.  Another item checked off the bucket list!

If you have a lot of money lying around, you can donate a torii gate in your name.  The black inscriptions on each gate state the name of the person or company who donated and the date of the donation.

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#5 | Arashiyama Bamboo Forest


There is a magical forest in Kyoto called Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

There is also a Japanese word called komorebi, a noun illustrating the concept of sunlight filtering through trees.

A beautiful word for a beautiful concept.

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#4 |  Hanami


Another bucket-list item checked off the list!  My first cherry blossoming viewing (hanami) in Japan was a success!  I wrote a full blog post on the cherry blossoms which can be found here.

 #3 | Tokyo Reunion

One of the greatest things about traveling is meeting all different kinds of people from all over the world.  You share beautiful connections and experiences with travelers, many of whom you will never see or talk to again.  A select handful become friends who you meet up with again down the line.  That’s exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago – a grand ol’ reunion in Japan.

Javi and Milton are from Argentina.  I met Javi through a friend five years ago when he visited Los Angeles.  Javi showed me around Buenos Aires when I visited last October.  David is an American living in Hong Kong.  I first met David in Santiago, Chile.  And guess what?! We all got together again in TOKYO!

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#2 | Ojiichan’s Birthday

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We celebrated my Ojiichan’s (grandfather in Japanese) 88th birthday a couple of weeks ago.  The 88th year of life is called beiju and calls for a special celebration in Japanese culture.  The significance stems from the similarity between the kanji for 88 (八十八) and the kanji for rice (米).  And we all know how important rice is to the Japanese so we can assume this birthday is a big freaking deal.

#1 |  Obaachan’s Kimono


For the last few years, I’ve had this vision of decorating a wall in my house with a beautifully draped, authentic kimono.  I don’t own a house yet, but I have the kimono!

My obaachan (grandmother in Japanese) let me choose one of the kimonos from her stash and dressed me in the final pick before packing it away for safe keeping.

Kimono dressing is an art form.  There are many individual pieces and accessories needed to complete the finished product – it requires many layers of fabric and lots and lots of patience.

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The final result:

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About thirty years ago, my mother was pictured wearing this very kimono.  The quality of her photographs are subpar, but it’s pretty neat to compare mother and daughter, then and now.

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