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.
My very first Shinkansen ride brought me to Kyoto just about 2 weeks ago. The ride was incredible and Kyoto held many wonders. The Kyoto central train station is truly something to behold.
Day 1 (first full day)
We woke up early and headed to Nara and the famed Tōdai-ji temple. The deer, long believed to be divine messengers have free run of the area around the many temples and are nothing short of the cutest thing ever. We fed a few and I pet a few and I got several snouts and antlers shoved up my butt, but we all know I love that hot antler action. The temple was crowded, but the crowds were overshadowed by the enormity and history behind Tōdai-ji. Truly a wonder to behold. Dragonflies danced in the air as we walked around.
Let us not speak of Universal Studios. The trauma is still too recent, the feelings too raw. No, there were certainly wonders to behold there and we ended the day watching a spectacular One Piece live show, but I struggled with the heat and the crowds and the consumerism.
We stayed in Kyoto for our third day and visited Nijō Castle. The floors inside were built to squeak to warn of intruders. The ancient wood massaged my feet as we walked around looking at amazing gold leaf murals. I saw a monster snake swimming in one of the garden’s ponds and relaxed to the ever-present sounds of cicadas all around me. After a good deal of time at the castle we took the subway back down to Nishiki Market – a narrow walkway in the heart of the city that runs several blocks. It is filled with wonderful little gifts and homemade local foods. And just a block over from that is another walkway with more shopping and arcades and restaurants.
On our fourth day in Kyoto my friend and I endeavored to get away from the crowds and headed to Ohara. It worked. The bus drops you off across the street from a bamboo forest. The path turns narrow very quickly and winds along a little creek on one side and quaint shops on the other. I really found bliss here walking the curved pathway and looking at the locals and their wares. The Sanzen-in temple was so gorgeous, but the gardens and forests around it really inspire. We spent a great deal of time wandering mossy pathways and taking in sights I can’t even begin to describe. It is almost as though I didn’t know what green was until I beheld Sanzen-in. While there we also enjoyed some special tea made with seaweed, nettles, seasalt and gold leaf. On the walk back to our bus I bought and ate the world’s greatest pickle. No joke. The best pickle of my life. We also encountered two of the cutest middle school boys who needed our help with their summer break homework. This day could not have been better.
On day 5 we met my true love, Osaka. I’m not really sure how to even describe the feelings I had there, but I felt welcomed and at home. Sometimes a city’s energy will speak to you immediately and this was the case with Osaka. The place had a grittier feel than any other place I have experienced in Japan. It also was the first place in which I saw many people with tattoos and a funkier style. I enjoyed shopping there and the coffee. It was like each store I went into was more welcoming and more amazing than the last.
On day 6 I got to see my dear friend weep tears of joy as we took in Hemeji castle. She had been dreaming of visiting for many years and once you see the place you can understand being overcome with emotion. As we started the long walk through town to Hemeji Castle my thoughts were we would be able to explore the grounds outside and take some breath-taking photos, but I was not prepared to be allowed to go inside, and not just go inside, but explore every floor, all the way to the top. The history here is a bit overwhelming and inspiring at the same time. I wish that I wasn’t focused so much on the hole in my sock, but it gives me a chuckle now to think about walking around inside a beautiful piece of history and cursing my sock and feeling that everyone is looking at me and judging it, but…look – at least I’m honest.
I get a bit confused remembering everything that we experienced and when because I feel we crammed quite a bit in 3 weeks, but one night we sat on the river in Kyoto with many locals and looked at fireworks and caught Pokémon and walked a glorious alley filled with lively people and restaurants and dodged bats.
We saw the golden and silver temples in Kyoto and I was a sweaty sardine on a bus and a woman crammed her umbrella into my left testicle so hard that I saw stars. But then my friend took me back to Osaka and I forgot all about it because Osaka.
I think there was a day 8 too and I got mixed up. Where am I? So, on the 8th or 9th day we headed back to Tokyo on the Shinkansen and I saw the hottest cop in the whole world. (Japanese men with muscles make my head spin around)
We had three more days in Tokyo and got to hit most of our favorite spots, but the beauty was – we were back in Shinjuku and both feeling a little more comfortable with the area, with the language, (me just a tiny bit) and feeling a lot at home. Our hotel was beautiful, and we were on the top floor of the Hotel Century Southern Tower. Our view was spectacular and the staff was phenomenal. Words can’t even describe the glory of the all you can eat buffet in the lobby restaurant either. I would write a song about it if I could write songs. We got to visit our friend Maiko and her nee bundle of joy, Skye… And we come to the end, to the return to the United States and louder, ruder people, to streets NOT filled with anime ads, to misbehaving children and coffee that is good, but not perfect. Look, I get that it is annoying to hear about this stuff when you’re my friend and American, but once you fall in love with Japan and its people, there is no going back. My friend told her co-workers of her love and loss regarding Japan: “It’s like you only get to see your spouse every 8 months” – but he still sees other people. Sometimes people you know even go and hook up with him and you have to see it on social media and you aren’t hurt. You understand and know that you’ll be reunited soon.