This is my 2nd full day at home here in Portland after 17 glorious days away in Japan. It is incredibly difficult to readjust to life back in the United States, even after all of these visits.
Day one was spent in Kamakura. This time I spent the visit on the opposite side of town. I had an incredible passion fruit sponge cake and visited the Mame Shiba Inu cafe. The dogs were completely indifferent to us being there, as one would expect of the cutest, snottiest dog breed. I also got to check out a temple and an amazing lotus garden.
On day 3 my friends and I made our way to Yamagata via shinkansen. Yamagata is a small city, but it is sprawling and quaint in a way. I had a great oil soba noodle dish (my favorite Japanese meal) on my first night there AND I got to enjoy a spectacular sunset complete with the surrounding mountain range.
Day 4 found us heading to the spot that has been #1 on my must-see list for a few years now, Yama-dera. Yama-dera is where, in 1689 the famed poet Matsuo Bashō wrote his haiku –
“ah this silence
sinking into the rocks
voice of cicada”
The pictures do not do it justice. There was a sense of real camaraderie among the people climbing the many steps to the beautiful temples. We were the only American tourists there. They made Sakuranbo (cherry) ice cream at a local shop and the shop keeper was so kind with us and curious of how we even came to be there. She was also curious about the sexy anime boy bag my friend was carrying.
These sakuranbo candies were ridiculous. I bought 12 bags. I found them at a train station in Oishida while we waited for our taxi to… Ginzan Onsen!
This place was remarkable. We soaked our feet in the mineral-rich waters before making our way around the tiny village, the trails through the hills surrounding it, and a glorious little waterfall. We also enjoyed the most satisfying cherry sake. Cherries again because the region is famous for them. Kelly had one sip of the delicious drink because her eye closes when she drinks even the weakest alcoholic drink imaginable.
After Yamagata we headed back to Tokyo and headed to the Yayoi Kusama Museum. The sheer joy her pumpkins give you when you see them in person in indescribable.
My friends stayed in Tokyo the following day, but I got back on the shinkansen and headed to meet a new friend in Nagoya, Masa. He purchased a piece from me online earlier this summer and we got to know each other over email communications. We both took a chance and I took the 2 hour train ride to meet him. He picked me up at the station and informed me he didn’t make plans, but was a trail lover like me. So, to my surprise he was willing to drive my behind 2 more hours into Gifu, one of the most gorgeous prefectures I have seen. We hiked in the humid heat a little bit on the trail that connects Tsumago and Magome. The old buildings are filled with tiny shop owners selling sweet and savory treats. The heat made me not so hungry, but we had some delicious rice cakes anyway. We headed back to the station to get me back to Tokyo, but not before Masa showed me his large home and the temple he spent much of his youth in. They opened it up just for us so I could see inside and I felt honored and humbled. My phone chose this time to randomly blast a Chris Brown song that I don’t even have saved in my phone. *tries to be quiet and respectful, fails horribly. Masa walked me to my train and we said goodbye and I was filled with joy over making such a good friend and sadness over the uncertainty of when we would see one another again.
The following day found my friends and I and our friend William attending the new, permanent installation by TeamLab: Borderless. Some of you readers may have seen my pictures from previous TeamLab events. This one did not disappoint. Rooms upon rooms of well thought out, brilliantly conceived lightshows and interactive light displays really blew our minds.
Then, it was time for our annual trip to WonderFest to look at upcoming toy releases and brave the crowds. I had a hard time here. We got drenched as we were herded around the outside of the entire complex before finally getting dumped into the showroom floor with the masses. The crowds weren’t as intense as AnimeExpo, but my back hurt, my feet were drenched, and I just could not snap out of it. Travel isn’t always pretty, but the sight of these breath-taking toys did boost me a bit.
From Wonderfest we headed to the airport and the large northern Island of Hokkaido – Sapporo to be specific. Exhausted and still damp, we called it a night so we could rise early for a bus tour of…
FURANO!! The area is known for its agriculture and pastoral scenes and we got to see so much of it! That gelato you see is blueberry honeysuckle from Furano dairy farms and it was so, so, so good.
On our second full day in Hokkaido we decided to stay in town. The city charmed all of us with its $2 trolley that circles a large portion of the city, its views from Mt Moiwa, and for me – the thicker, farm raised boys everywhere. Dude. so cute. Also, the subway at night is full of life and the windows are down so you get a strong breeze as you travel station to station and something about the city just feels so right.
Mt Moiwa boy for life.
We flew back to Tokyo early the next morning and went straight to JWorld to see my beloved Haikyuu (volleyball anime) boys, to Daikanyama for a cafe that I had to see (but flaked on when I saw the wait), and to dinner with my friend Miniko, a Shibuya shop owner. I got to have oil soba again at my favorite place in Yoyogi and walked around in the humid night to take a few pictures. I still love Yoyogi so much.
The next day my friends headed to Osaka, but I opted to get back on the shinkansen to see Masa again. This time he picked me up and we drove straight to the mountains in Gifu, just beyond the town of Gujo to escape the heat and view a spectacular waterfall, Amidaga. The trails were neatly kept and there was even a ramen shop in the woods below the falls! Afterwards we headed back to Gujo and the little market sitting on the Nagara River. What a place! I couldn’t help but imagine my life there as a farmer. Back in Nagoya we saw the beginnings of the Cosplay world event before saying goodbye again. This time I felt a little less sad with more confidence that we would for sure find a way to see each other again. Also, he gave me coffee that he roasted that I am drinking as I write this post and it is delicious.
I had a final 2 nights and a day in Tokyo after that, but I was a bit too numb with the fear of returning to the US to really absorb anything. That map above shows where I have spent time in Japan so far. Fukuoka and Kyushu are next I believe and you best believe it will be gorgeous and wonderful.
For 5 visits to Tokyo now my closest friend Kelly has been gently suggesting a day trip to Kamakura. Every other time I brush the suggestion off and find a way to stay in Tokyo. Part laziness, part there are so many things to do I almost have a panic attack thinking about missing out on something. This time, though, and with the help of Gabrizelle – we made it happen. It was glorious.
This sexy little camel adorned a tiny restaurant on a narrow street filled with gorgeous, but quaint shops and dining spots.
Hase-dera is set on the hillside and is a glorious spot with many things to gaze at and a view to die for.
Blossoms just outside Hase-dera caught my eye.
DAIBATSU – the big Buddha. He survived a tsunami that washed away the temple around him. You can actually walk inside him – avoid this if you hate the heat and are claustrophobic. I survived, only just, but it was awe-inspiring to see the work done to make such an awe-inspiring Buddha.
Lone giant crow surverys the crowds at Hase-dera. Children dropping ice cream ensure that he will eat like a king in no time.
Watch out for kites wanting to rip into your tender flesh! Seriously though, seeing these majestic beauties soaring above us at Hase-dera was a bit of a thrill for me as I’m a bird guy.
The view from the top at Hase-dera convinces me that I must see it again when I return. I also said some really intense prayers both here and at Fushimi Inari (more on that later) and when those prayers are answered I HAVE to go back to humbly give thanks.
When we left Hase-dera I hydrated with one of these babies. Words cannot convey the tart apple punch to the face. This was my only Vivit’s sparkling apple juice I enjoyed in Japan and I will be counting the days until I can shove guzzle another. After a slow, beautiful walk through Kamakura and back to the train station we made one last stop for a bowl of noodles that made me weep. The flavour. The pride noodle man should have. Oh man. I’ll either speak on Inari and Kyoto or Team Lab in my next post. Stay tuned!