Japan 

October 1-10, 2016

I’ve wanted to go to Japan for a really long time now, and I knew I wanted to go in the fall, so when the opportunity came up for me to go I immediately thought of my friend, Dustin. We had still kept in touch, even after I left Minnesota, and we often talked about traveling and him coming over to see me. It was the perfect opportunity! A few messages and Facetime calls later and we were buying tickets to Japan for a friend vacation.

Day 1

I landed in Japan early in the morning. After what seemed like forever I finally got my official JR Pass and headed into Tokyo. Thanks to an app I had downloaded earlier I was able to get to our first hostel, Wise Owl Hostels. I felt pretty awesome and wanted to continue my self-given title, “Queen of Trains”. My gloating aside I freshened up and got back on the train to go have lunch with Nana. Nana was my roommate in the dorms when I was attending SJPrep. We had a great time together, so being able to see each other in person again after almost 4 years was surreal. We went to lunch and Nana treated me to a standard Japanese lunch. It was delicious and seeing Nana was great! We caught up and then sadly I needed to let her get back to work.

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I still had time before Dustin arrived, so I walked around Yoyogi Park and saw the Meiji Jingu Shrine. After that I checked out a few shops, but didn’t really feel like shopping. I headed back to the hostel and anxiously awaited the arrival of my friend.

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Seeing Dustin on the street in Tokyo was unbelievable. It was as if someone had taken that Minnesota boy and just dropped him into my world in Asia. We hugged and got him settled into the hostel. We had a quick walk around before we settled in a coffee shop and chatted. Then we found a place to eat dinner (It was Chinese food. Face palm!) and then passed out.

Day 2

We got up and headed towards Kyoto-almost a 3 hour train ride. I was so proud of Dustin that day. He powered through me dragging him around Kyoto despite his jetlag.

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We dropped off our bags and then went to Fushimi Inari Taisha and hiked around. It was quite hot out and the walk up the mountain got pretty tedious at times. A few times we got stopped and asked if it was worth it to walk all the way to the top. I told Dustin the reason why we got stopped so many times was because of his friendly face, haha. This proceeded with Dustin calling me “salty” the rest of the trip. What can I say? The sass just blurts out.

Fushimi Inari was spectacular. The amount of work it must have taken to build it must have required countless hours of tireless dedication.

We went back into Kyoto and had lunch in Kyoto Station and then went to Kinkaku-Ji “Golden Pavilion”. Another breathtaking view!

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I attempted to get us on a bus that would get us to a different station, but we ended up in the wrong area. With that failed attempt we went back to Kyoto Station to head up to the Manga Museum. It was a bit more money than I would have wanted to pay to get in, but it was worth it. (This is how ridiculous we are. We got Starbucks before we went to the museum. The ticket attendant told us we couldn’t take it in so we put our Starbucks in one of their rental lockers. Worth it!)

Rows and rows of manga lined the wall. We didn’t discover the English section until the very end where I briefly got to read a few stories before we had to leave.

We went back to our hostel area, had dinner, drank some Japanese IPAs and then went to bed.

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One of the cooler hostels I have stayed in. You got your own mini-room.

Day 3

We woke up super early, had breakfast and then went to Kiyomizu-dera. It was absolutely beautiful! It was set on the outside of Kyoto on the side of the hill surrounded by green trees and shrubbery.

After that we went to Nijo Castle.This is where the “not enough koi” saga began. We were just standing, enjoying the view of the castle when Dustin turned and said “you know there really isn’t enough koi”. From then on wherever we went to an area that had any form of water around it Dustin would check for the “koi ratio”.

We had some sushi for lunch and then walked around Nishiki Market. It was intriguing to see Dustin comment on some of the strange things in the market. Near the end I stopped Dustin and made him tried mochi. It was so fresh and delicious!

We went up to the Imperial Palace, but it was closed. One of us had forgotten to read the open dates in the information section (it was me..I forgot…) So we walked around the park. We were in good spirits and enjoying the vastness of the park, despite my slip-up.

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Let us in!

Last minute, I said we should go to a temple that was on a bus route located nearby. We ended up taking a bus to Higashiyama Jisho-ji. This was also located on the outer edge of Kyoto. Because of this the beautiful zen garden was surrounded by green trees and walking paths. It was very peaceful.

On the bus ride back to Kyoto I stopped us at a shopping area and we went to the Pokémon Center. I noticed a sign that said something about telling them if it was your birthday month. I told the people that it was Dustin’s birthday month, so they gave him a crown and a card. He was embarrassed but I thought it was hilarious. We had a nice laugh and I got to be the Queen of Pokemon for like five minutes.

After that we went to Kyoto station and had Ramen, then we went out for a glass of wine and called it a night.

Day 4

We got up early and took the train to Osaka. We stuffed our bags into a locker in the train station, bought a one-day Osaka Pass and went to the Umeda Sky Building.

Afterwards we went over to the Osaka Castle and Osaka International Peace Center. I had forgotten that Osaka was one of the places that the US had bombed during World War II. It was so sad looking at pictures of the city burned and nearly flattened in devastation.

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Once we were done at the Peace Center we went back to the station to have Korean food for lunch.

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We grabbed our bags and went to our Airbnb. Thankfully, we were able to find it just fine although we had problems opening the front door. We finally got it figured out with the help of this random guy. I took a nap, we relaxed, and then we headed out for the night.

We went to the Tsutenkaku Tower, but I was super disappointed. It was not lit up and when we got up to the top it was full of random things, and the glare from the windows was so bad that I wasn’t getting any good pictures. At the top we found out we couldn’t go out on the observation deck because it closed at 5:30, but the advertisement showed people at the top at night!? My disappointment aside I was soon uplifted by this random Pocky Museum on a lower level. Overall, the tower was reallyyyy random.

From there we went to Dotombori and walked around until we found a sushi spot. It was a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. Dustin had never been to one before so he was really excited. We filled up on sushi and then walked along the canal. One of the advertisements in the canal was for Febreze, but the display was ninjas jumping around fighting the bad smell (?). It was a perfect example for me to show Dustin how random Asia can really be.

It was time to rest our feet, so we bought stuff at the grocery store and chilled out.

Day 5

Despite the possibility of a typhoon coming we still took the train to Nara.

We got off the train and immediately started walking toward the Kofuku-ji Temple and the Five Story Pagoda. The first thing we noticed were all the deer walking around.

Following the path we walked by the Nara National Museum and went up towards Todai-ji. This temple is famous for having one of the largest Buddhas in it.

We then took a walk through Nara Park with more deer. I swear I took one hundred pictures of deer.

In the park we saw Kasuga Taisha and Shin-Yakushi-ji. We kind of took the back way around Nara so we ended up walking through some really nice neighborhoods.

We eventually stopped for lunch at this cute little restaurant and then did a sake taste testing at Harushika Sake Brewery. I did not feel tough enough to drink Sake and I felt like Dustin and I were way too loud while we were cracking jokes and drinking. At the end of the taste testing we got to pick which cup we wanted to keep.

We decided to call it a short day and slowly walked back toward the station. We walked through this kind of market area and then got some Starbucks and headed back towards Osaka.

We chilled out the rest of the evening eating snacks, looking up info, and relaxing.

Day 6

We woke up and left Osaka heading towards Himeji. I finally got some coffee when I got there which made me very happy. We went and walked around Himeji Castle. The grounds were huge and we spent a lot of time walking around the area and then up all the way to the top of the castle. We even got to walk around the corridors of the castle as well. This was by far my favorite castle and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of it.

 

We went to lunch. I had some conger eel, which I actually really liked, then we went to get train tickets.

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We had a little bit of a wait before our train so we got a coffee and sat by a little park. Dustin got to Facetime his mom and sister for a little bit which was cute.

We took the train to Hiroshima and got a little lost in the station. An information desk worker set us straight and we got on a tour loop bus that dropped us off right in front of our Airbnb place. (We later referred to those buses as the weed buses because their symbol was a maple leaf…but it also looked oddly like a marijuana leaf.)

After settling into our Airbnb we walked to Hiroshima Castle. It was a rustic looking castle that we could also walk all the way to the top. The cool thing about this castle is we could actually see artifacts in the castle.

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I was so hungry and also wanted to shop, so we walked to a SOGO and ate some ramen, dumplings, and beer. We looked at the map of the building and I realized all the shops were super expensive so we went back to our place.

Day 7

We woke up and got some breakfast then took the sightseeing bus to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

First, we went into the Peace Memorial Museum. It took us through the events of the day when the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 4, 1945. It then went through the aftermath of the atomic bomb and how it affected the war, Hiroshima, and the hundreds of people affected by the bomb. Going to memorials like these are always tough when it is your country that caused the long-lasting pain and suffering. The burns on victims were so bad they turned my stomach, but I still felt it was so important to read the stories and the history behind why the US had picked Hiroshima as the target for the dropping of the atomic bomb.

Once we had walked through the museum we then walked through the park by the Children’s Monument and the A-Dome. It was a heavy morning, but important nonetheless.

We then went to Hiroshima Station and took the train to Miyajima. We got to ride the ferry across Onoseto Strait and walk along the bank. The island contains Itsukushima Shrine, one of the most famous floating torris in Japan.

It was really cool walking around that area with the deer. There were also people walking around in traditional clothing. An entire family was dressed for what looked like a wedding photo shoot. We continued through the area stopping for snacks until we were ready to go back to Hiroshima.

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The best of friends!

 

We went back to our Airbnb. Dustin stayed back to rest and I went for a walk and to do some shopping. After I came back we went to dinner at a restaurant near our place recommended by our host. We had Okonomi-yaki, which is a mix of cabbage, egg, pork, and noodles topped with a delicious spicy bbq type sauce. It was soooo good! While we were in the shop Dustin all of a sudden said, “we are on TV”. I looked at the TV and missed it. Sure enough, earlier in the day at the peace park kids were being filmed and we also got caught on camera. Of course my first question was, “did I at least look good?” Haha!

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The rest of the night we stocked up for the morning and chilled out.

Day 8

Our train was at 6:13am, so we had to be at the train station very early. Our amazing host helped us book a taxi, so by 5:30am we were in a taxi heading to the train station. It is quite amazing how expensive a taxi is in Japan. Just getting into the taxi costs $5USD. It ended up costing $8USD for a 5 minute ride.

Our train tickets were only for the smoking car. We did not want to reek of smoke by the time we got to Tokyo, so we went to the non-reserved section of the train and sat in some empty seats. Then we just chilled out for 4 hours.

At Tokyo Station we decided to get lunch before finding our Airbnb. We ate at a vegan restaurant in the station and it was so good!

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With fully bellies we took the train out to our Airbnb. It was in a quiet, nice neighborhood and the place was amazing! It was like an open apartment with everything included. We were even able to wash our clothes.

We ended up watching a movie before we finally left the place. I was immediately intrigued by a second-hand shop nearby and got a light jacket. We headed out to Harajuku. Nana was running late so we walked down Takeshita Street. The street was overloaded with tourists shops, clothing stores, and anime shops. There were different goodies to eat and I wanted to try them all. We ended up sharing a Cheesecake and Ice Cream Crepe, an Oven-baked Chocolate Eclair, and a Kobe Burger.

After some confusion on where to meet we finally met-up with Nana and her friend Nate. He was also from Minnesota and had been living in Japan for 8 years. Nana took us to one of her favorite ice cream shops and walked us around the area. Then we went to Roppongi. Roppongi is famous for its’ nightlife and all the food. We got a cool view of Tokyo Tower from Roppongi Hills. Then they took us to a Chipotle style place. I was in food heaven since I had not eaten Chipotle in two years. To add on top of the food belly I was getting Nana took us to Cinnabon. OMG! I got a cinnamon roll and I was so happy.

It got to the time where we had to say goodbye. I was sad to say goodbye to Nana, but we had done it so many times before that I knew eventually we would see each other again.

Day 9

It was our last day together and I felt bittersweet about it. It was so cool to have Dustin travel around Japan with me. It was also interesting seeing Dustin after two years. We had both changed in different ways and I had forgotten to expect that. I always think people will assume that I will change because I am the one living abroad, but I always forget that everyone back home just doesn’t stop living their lives. Time doesn’t freeze and I feel like I am constantly reminding myself of that. Although the core of Dustin has not changed, just like the core of everyone else I know back home hasn’t changed, but how they live their lives have. Having Dustin around reminded me of that and it gave me a little pre-cursor to what it will be like when I go home. I didn’t want to leave and I didn’t want him to leave, but I knew we would have to the next day.

We watched a movie in the morning and met our hosts, and then ate lunch in the neighborhood before we headed into Tokyo. We went to Yoyogi Park and looked around Meiji Shrine. I had already been there, but it was still neat. There was a procession for either a funeral or a wedding. It was hard to tell.

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On the other end of Yoyogi Park we saw the Japanese Elvis Dancers. Nate had told us they meet every Sunday afternoon and dance to Elvis music. They were cute and entertaining. It was such an odd mix of cultures, but in a good way.

 

The rest of the afternoon we took to walking the streets around Shibuya. The area has lots of shops, random art, and many places to eat. I spotted a coffee shop that was selling Pumpkin Lattes. Yum! We even walked across Shibuya Crossing. This intersection is known to be one of the busiest intersections in the world. When the lights turn green hundreds of people walk across the intersection. We had to walk across it twice because we went in the wrong direction to see the famous dog statue, Hachiko.

Around this time we left Shibuya and ventured down some streets towards a Daiso (a Japanese dollar store). I noticed a bagel shop and picked some up for the next morning (they were delicious!).

We headed back to our Airbnb neighborhood, did a little more shopping, and then relaxed for a bit. Our last meal together in Japan was sushi. We went to this little sushi restaurant nearby and got to watch the chef make the sushi. It was really good and the two people working there were really nice. We made some last minute snack purchases and then stayed in for the night.

 

Day 10

My flight was at 8:50am, so I need to catch a 5:40am bus to the airport. I got up and said goodbye to Dustin. Good thing I was still in a haze because I probably would have cried my eyes out. I got to the airport and still had time to get a coffee before getting on my plane.

I can’t even express in words how nice it was to see Dustin and how amazing it was to get to travel around Japan with him. He got to see a little bit of what my world in Asia looks like and just having someone slightly understand my situation is so nice.

Japan was amazing and I couldn’t have asked for a better trip! Until next time. 🙂