After spending 10 days in Japan, followed by a week in Korea, my mind is still processing the whole, amazing experience. I visited Japan in 2008 on my round the world trip, and it’s still one of my most-loved countries for so many reasons. For now, I’ll start by sharing some of my favorite Instagrams from Japan!
Frozen yogurt and freshly made potato chips, drizzled with chocolate sauce at Calbee+ on Takeshita St in Harajuku.
Japanese bookstores have a nice selection of cat magazines. Shocking how much print is NOT dead in Japan. Side note: their fashion magazines come with a purse attached!
One of the things I love about Japan is their dedication to cute (“kawaii”) culture. Socks shopping at Mighty Soxer on Takeshita St in Tokyo.
Biking in Karuizawa (& fall colors). Also love the trust factor of bike locks in Japan.
Hot coffee from vending machines – why do we still not have these?
Snow monkeys soaking in their mountain onsen in Yudanaka – one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen!
Fall colors from the Shinkansen train from Nagano back to Tokyo.
First stop in Osaka: okonomiyaki for dinner
The best aquarium I’ve ever visited. Fantastic.
Japan takes photo booths to a whole new level. Another Japan item I thought would have reached American shores by now.
We stopped by a cat cafe in Osaka. It was an… odd experience.
Worth a second visit. Golden Pavilion temple in Kyoto.
Udon in Kyoto.
Love the food “cart” culture along Fukuoka’s waterfront.
We spent our last few hours in Japan watching sumo!
Today was one of my favorite days so far. This morning, we took the train to Himeji to see the castle. We were told it’s the most visited castle in Japan, but thankfully it’s spring, so it wasn’t very crowded. I read in my guidebook that you can rent bicycles for free at the train station, so we checked at the info booth, and they had tons of bikes available. It was so much fun riding down the main street towards the massive castle. When we arrived, we parked the bikes outside and took our bike keys with us. The bike locks are a little clamp and spoke with a key, so the lock stays in while you’re riding and then you “lock” it and take the key with you. Not totally theft proof, but they’re too polite here to steal a bike if it required wire cutters. If only this method worked in Portland.
I spent way too long wandering around in the castle, but it was just so amazing. We also visited the Samurai gardens, before riding back into town for lunch. We parked our bikes, while we walked around the town and then realized too late that we were going to be late for our 3:02pm train. So we sped back to the bike return and then ran, ran, ran to the station. We missed the train by 2 minutes, but we made excellent time. We ended up taking a different route back to Kyoto, testing out our Japan Rail passes with a transfer instead of waiting for an hour at the Himeji station.
After another day of temple roaming in Kyoto, we decided to go geisha spotting in the Gion district. We saw one almost immediately and then didn’t see any more, for the rest of the evening. I’m glad I saw ‘Memoirs of Geisha’ before coming to Japan. It made visiting the Gion District more interesting. After venturing down several side streets and being turned away at several restaurants (apparently this area is notorious for turning foreigners away), we went to a place that serves a local Kyoto specialty. It’s a pancake/omelet type dish, with ginger, which really added to it. After dinner, we walked around more and checked out a few of the local places. We ended up taking the metro two stops closer to the hotel, before grabbing a taxi, since they’re fairly expensive here. Oh and the ticket machine in the metro had a “help” button, which when pressed, opened a little door and a real person leans out. Maybe it was the Asahis, but it was pretty sweet. And the taxi drivers wear white gloves and the doors open automatically. Too much in this country makes me giggle.
I love Japanese vending machines. This morning I had hot coffee, yes, hot coffee, straight out of a vending machine. And it wasn’t one of those stick the cup in and push the button kind either. It came in a can, and it was hot. In Kyoto I even found a vending machine that sells ties and SD memory cards. The Japanese must think we’re so uncivilized and low-tech when they come to America. We’re way behind the times in terms of vending machines… and toilets.
We arrived in Kyoto at noon, and promptly went in search of lunch. After the monastery food, I was set on pizza. Thankfully, Kyoto station is a mall and a station, so there were endless food choices that gave me a break from the culinary wonders of Japan.
The afternoon was spent visiting several temples and shrines in the Kyoto area. I’m very glad that I used the Frommer’s Japan travel guide book to get their star ratings for temples. I get templed, shrined, and pagoda-ed out rather quickly, but I like to walk, so it was great to spend several days walking through Japanese gardens and temple grounds. The Kyoto bus pass is so easy too. The bus route map is color coded and numbered, they make it almost too easy to travel here. :)