Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Japan: Public Spaces

There were a few things we noticed pretty quickly in Japan.

First was there obviously are a lot of people. No kidding.. We got into Shinjuku at about 9pm on Friday night.. For those who don't know Shinjuku has a lot of entertainment, bars, arcades, big stores- a place people flock to for fun- like on Friday nights. So we were thrown into the bustling sea of people to try to find our hotel. Thus leading to item two...

Except for the bigger streets, most streets don't have street signs. Or even names really. Walking directions from google maps can literally be 'go straight, cross a crosswalk, cross a crosswalk, go left, cross a crosswalk, cross a crosswalk, go right, destination will be on the right.'. Not necessarily the most helpful directions when many of the streets look more like what would ne an alley in the US, or don't exactly go off at angles. Nor when on a Friday night in Shinjuku after traveling for close to 20 hours. But we found our hotel thanks to Amy's notes, which lead to item three...

Japanese people are polite. And nice. And respectful. And polite. Did I mention polite? The greetings, the bowing, the thank yous- it's probably how rich people get treated all the time. But the convenience store clerk at 11pm in a super busy part of town when dealing with an American doesn't know a 100 yen piece from a rock... So patient and polite. It just seems to be so engrained in the culture. I'm under no delusion that people didn't get super annoyed by this foreigner who doesn't speak more than 5 words of Japanese taking super long and have to be asked 4 times if I wanted my food nuked in the microwave.. But they were so nice, and apologized if some on their side held things up... Which leads to item four...

People do their jobs... and take them seriously. Yes, I did see people doing jobs they clearly weren't enjoying and there's obviously people who don't have any passion for their jobs. But they did their jobs. And not halfway- they did it the best they could. Service was amazing, food ordered came out freshly cooked and in almost no time at all. If someone wasn't in a task they would be restocking, dusting, reorganizing, greeting customers coming the door, cleaning... or just patiently waiting for someone to need help. Which leads to item five...

You don't tip in Japan. It's just not done, I think even rude or insulting. I guess they will run after you down the street if you leave anything. I'm assuming everyone at least is making an acceptable wage, but it's also cool. Everyone working there is all working there- you may be greeted and seated by a cook, have 3 different people come to your table when you press the button (there will be more on the button...)... Such amazing service, like 20% or easily more worthy tips... But nope. No tips.

That's all for now, there's a lot more to brain dump so will update soon!

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Sakura at Shinjuku-GyoenMonkeys!!!Monkeys!!!Monkeys!!!Monkeys!!!Monkeys!!!

Japan, 2013, a set on Flickr.

Pictures from our trip to the Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama - among lots of others from Tokyo and Kyoto - have been added to our Flickr page! I'll work on actually writing stuff (and finishing writing stuff) once all of our pictures are uploaded so stay tuned...

WiFi or: how we really were on the internet in Japan

We were able to have internet pretty much at all times when in Japan.  Whether on a train, in a park, temple, or 100 yen store we could get to the internet.  But the truth is there was almost no open free WiFi anywhere.

Japan in review- drinks

Since there were vending machines and convenience stores everywhere we went in Japan there wasn't much opportunity to go thirsty.  I tried to keep a list of all the different drinks we tried, I know it's not complete and I may not have gotten my notes 100% correct, but better than nothing.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Japanese Adventures with Hello Kitty

In planning our trip to Japan, I randomly found an app on the iTunes store for my iPhone called "Visit Japan with Hello Kitty" - it was, apparently, only available from September 3, 2012 until March 31, 2013.  The official site was here and there's more Official info about it here - those are probably pointless links if the app is no longer available, but if you are able to find it, it's fun and I used it earlier today so I know it still functions.  I played with it a little before we left, but I couldn't figure out what it was supposed to do, besides provide a bit of info about touristy places in a cute format, and almost deleted it.  Luckily, I didn't - and happened to open it and click on the camera button - Hello Kitty magically appeared on my camera screen!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On the train to the airport...

We are on the train to the Narita airport.  It's been a quick two weeks, so much seen and so much left to see.  We have tons of photos, videos, recaps, thoughts, and other random things we will try to update or upload as soon as we can. 

In a couple hours from now we will be on the plane, and after about 12 hours of flight we will be arriving a couple hours earlier than now today (gotta love that timezone flip.)

Tokyo Disneyland

We spent our last day in Japan at Tokyo Disneyland! It was bittersweet - all the awesomeness of Disney, but a little sad since we couldn't forget our adventure was almost over.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Updated photos!

We have uploaded more photos from Japan, there are tons left to be uploaded but we are trying to squeeze as much out of every day while we are still here!

Flickr Japan Spring 2013!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Kansai region, (pre) part 1

We're heading back to Tokyo tomorrow so I wanted to save a place for a summary of what we've done the past few days in Osaka and Kyoto.  John and I are both so completely exhausted by the time we are back in our hotel room with nothing else better to do than blog about it so you'll have to wait for more detailed accounts...(I'm not sure that sentence even made sense...)

  • Amy vs. Dehydration
  • Tokyo to Shin-Osaka via SHINKANSEN!
  • Checked in to the Station Hotel Shin-Osaka

  • Silver Pavilion
  • Philosopher's Path
  • Sakura!!!
  • Temple with the Twin Dragons...

Western Kyoto
  • Monkeys!
  • Bamboo!
  • Buddhas!
  • More Buddhas!!!
  • Even more Buddhas!!!!!

  •  Golden Pavilion
  • Big Boy...in Japan
  • Shopping in Kyoto
  • Narrowly escaped disaster #1
  • Sakura: After Dark

  • Osaka to Nara
  • Oh deer...
  • Narrowly escaped disaster #2
  • Technology is rad
  • Amy and John make a very solid attempt to take Osaka... 
 ...the suspense is killing you, right???!!!  Probably not, but feel free to fake it for us - we don't think we're all that interesting we like inspiration (thanks, Mom!  We hope you noticed that we mentioned both the weather AND eating in our last post!).

Anyway, we are happy, we are tired, we have sore feet, we love Japan.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Quick update...

We added some more photos from our adventures in Tokyo - you can see them here!

We're currently staying near the Shin-Osaka JR station in Osaka - it's a nice hotel and a very quick and convenient Shinkansen ride to Kyoto!  We've spent the past 2 days seeing the sites in Kyoto - temples, shrines, and monkeys!!!  We're going to do some more of that today, starting with the Golden Pavilion, then maybe we'll check out Osaka.  Tomorrow, we're thinking we'll go to Nara, stopping at Fushimi along the way.  As always, we'll do our best to keep you posted...but we are having an awesome time and we are EXHAUSTED by the time we get back to our hotel at night so be patient with us!  

The weather has been perfect - about 55-65 during the day - and we're keeping ourselves fed and watered.  We'll be in Osaka till Sunday then heading back to Tokyo (change in plans!  More on that later...)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Tokyo, part 1


We are leaving Tokyo and heading to Osaka/Kyoto for a few days so I thought I'd sum up how we've spent our first 3 days in Tokyo.

We arrived at our hotel Friday night around 9 PM.  We checked into our hotel and then wandered around Shinjuku a little, got some pasta from the Lawson convenience store under our hotel, and went to bed - we were pretty exhausted!

  • Walked around Shinjuku a bit before getting the train to Kichjoji (Shinjuku to Mitaka station)
  • Walked to the Ghibli Museum - we met a couple of friendly Australian girls on the way

  • Explored the Ghibli Museum and watched the current short animated feature, コロの大さんぽ (Koro no Daisanpo) - it was completely in Japanese - with Japanese sub-titles, but the story was simple and cute so we managed to follow along just fine.  We stopped at the gift shop where I got Catbus and Little Totoro keychains and some Totoro stamp sets.

  • Walked through Inokashira Park - lots of Hanami spots and lovely sakura trees 
  • Had lunch at Freshness Burger in Kichijoji before heading back to Shinjuku
  • Walked along a lovely path full of Sakura trees and visited the Yasukuni Shrine 
  • Wandered around the Roppongi area a bit before taking the subway back to Shinjuku
  • Visited the Hanazono Shrine - we didn't find anything about this Shinto shrine in any of our guidebooks, but we could see it from our hotel room so we decided to check it out.  I'm sure we'll see bigger shrines that will make this one seem very uninteresting, but for our first time exploring a shrine, it was pretty cool (we didn't really do much exploring at the Yasukuni Shrine on Saturday - just took a few pictures and took a quick walk through their exhibit of "gifts", I guess.) 

  • Walked around the Shinjuku Gyoen which we loved!  This park didn't seem especially interesting when we read about it in our guidebooks, but again, we were VERY pleasantly surprised!  It is a large-ish, quieter park - unlike Inokashira, alcohol is strictly prohibited and tripods ARE allowed so there is a lot less of the "Hanami action".  It is filled with gorgeous sakura trees, ponds, gardens, a tea house, and some lovely wooded and also open spaces.

  • Walked around the Ginza area and the Sony store - lots of big-name-brand, expensive stores and fancy things of that sort.  We kept seeing the police blocking roads and white vans with loud speakers, but we don't know what they were saying - it didn't seem especially pleasant, though.
  • Took the subway to the Tokyo station to get to the Imperial Palace.  We did lots of walking around the grounds and gardens...and more walking...and more walking…
  • Walked back along the street LINED with bookstores of all sorts - and then the street full of music shops (we'll probably check those out again in Tokyo, Part 2.)
  • We loved the Shinjuku Gyoen so much that we went back - still absolutely gorgeous…
  • Walked to the Meiji Shrine and wandered around there a bit.
  • Had lunch in Harajuku - and braved the SEAS of Japanese teenagers in the Takeshita-Dori.
  • Walked to Shibuya and used all 5 crosswalks in Shibuya Crossing, visited the Hachiko statue, and got some stuff at Tokyu Hands.
  • After returning to our hotel for a short rest, we went to the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices to get an awesome view of Tokyo.
  • We stopped at the arcade for a few rounds of Taiko no Tatsujin and some (mostly failed) attempts at the UFO (claw-grabbing) machines - John did win me a fork-playing Rillakuma with a chocolate-covered strawberry on his head, though.
  • Checked out of the Best Western Astina Shinjuku - we LOVED this hotel so it was sad!
  • Stopped by the massive Kinokuniya bookstore and the Uniqlo/BIC Camera…complex(???) in Shinjuku.
  • I  ended up getting a wee bit sick (dehydration, exhaustion) so we decided to get a taxi to the Tokyo Station and make our way to Osaka!!!
I was feeling fine by the end of the day - just needed lots and lots of water - so stay tuned for our adventures in Osaka and Kyoto!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Some of John's initial thoughts on Japan

Since Amy posted while I was sleeping I'll get some in while we rest up quick before heading out to lunch.

1) People who are working take their jobs seriously. I haven't noticed anyone on their cellphones or Facebook or anything. There is always someone walking around and making sure items are stocked and orderly and dusting off things. If their job is to take orders or greet or help the public they stand at their counter or entryway or wherever they are until they need to do their jobs. And no matter what their job is they seem to try their best to do it well..

2) Speaking of dusting in point 1, I haven't noticed dust. There obviously is if it had the chance to sit undisturbed, but everything is so clean....

3) People are aware of their surroundings but mind their own business. Even people we walked by that were obviously out to the bars to get their drink on might be loud and in party mode, but not the kind of frat boy PARTAY obnoxious or we're partying noise and if you're not as loud as us we'll be louder and make sure you know we are drunk..

Ok lunch time.
Part 2.
4). Everyone seems very well dressed. Like not just nice cloths or anything, but like properly up together outfits. Even people you'd expect to not be, like some of the punks, dorky guys, and other random people... It's like if there was a professional photo shoot and they just walked off the set. It's just noticeably perfect.

5) Everyone is always moving but they don't seem to be in a super rush, even when they are. Like people will be running to catch a train or whatever, but if they miss it they just politely wait for the next one.

6) Traffic. Crossing super busy streets is hectic and cars turning will advance right up to the crosswalk but don't threaten to run you over. They just queue up and just wait. Very disconcerting the first few times with a big truck just rolls up on to you while on the road.

7) TV is a weird mix of the Today Show, the gong show, public access, and the Jerry Springer show. Or anime.

8) The architecture is very varied. We have seen buildings shaped like battleships, Jenga, wavy slides, castles, old European buildings.... It's very cool that they aren't boring.

Some of Amy's Initial Thoughts About Tokyo

It's 3 AM in Japan.  I slept about 4 hours, but seem to be wide awake now.  We'll see how long it lasts as I try to write this...

Anyway, I thought I'd record some of the things I've noticed so far in Tokyo - it's only been a little over a day so maybe it'll be interesting to see how my perception changes.

1.  Tokyo is CLEAN, even though there are a gazillion people here and there never seems to be a public garbage can anywhere.  The streets are clean, the subway stations are clean, the sidewalks are clean, our hotel is clean, the green spaces are clean - everything is CLEAN.  It doesn't feel like a sterile sort of clean - it is maybe more like people have respect for their surroundings and who wants to be surrounded by trash?  I'm not sure, but I like it (except when I need to throw something away.)  I also haven't noticed any homeless people - very different from other big cities I've been to.

2.  People in Tokyo are always moving.  When they are not moving themselves, they are being moved by something else like escalators (standing on the LEFT side), trains, or subways.  Even the people just standing around seem to be moving or momentarily waiting to move.  It maybe sounds hectic and overwhelming - and it kind of is - as I mentioned, there are a GAZILLION people here; however...

3.  People in Tokyo are respectful.  The vast crowds of people don't push or shove, they don't randomly stop in front of you then get mad when you run into them, and they seem to be aware of the people and things around them all the time (e.g. even people walking around texting in a crowded train station seem to know exactly where they are).  We noticed that we very often forget that we are very obviously outsiders - we don't get stared at or anything like that.  People do their best to make sure we understand with gestures, using calculators to show us numbers, carefully counting back our change, and other things like that.  We have had people randomly ask us if we need help - and they sound like they genuinely want to help us.  It's nice.

4.  Tokyo feels safe.  While making our way through a SEA of people in the Shinjuku JR Station, it's occurred to both of us that we should feel unsafe, or at least like we should be extra, super careful/aware, but it's a very momentary feeling.  Of course we have common sense and take precautions - we're not stupid.  It's very nice to not feel like...prey, though.

I'll stop here for now.  We are continuing to post photos on Flickr as we have time between our adventures - you can find them here.  We'll add captions as we have time too.  John's been taking tons of videos with our little Flip camera and also several photos with our DSLR camera that we haven't uploaded yet so watch for those.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Our first photos are on Flickr!

We posted many of the photos we've taken so far - you can see them on Flickr (you can also click on the thing with the photos on the right side of the screen).

We're in Japan!

IMG 1948

Standing in line at the airport for train tickets, but we are here!
Update: we got the train tickets, waiting for our train to take to Shinjuku to get to our hotel.  It's super clean but almost no garbage cans/bins anywhere.  I found a guy with a roller bin so guessing thats somewhat common..  train just got here!  Good thing we got assigned seats..  whoa they flipped the seats around 180 degrees since this is the end of the line this direction.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Our flight to Japan...

Here we go!!!
We "splurged" on an upgrade to Delta's Economy Comfort seats - and it was totally worth it.  
IMG 1947
Thanks to www.seatguru.com (as well as common sense), I also got us the bulkhead seats.  Check out the amount of leg room we had:
John and his loooong legs were quite comfortable for 13 hours!
We also had our own touch-screen monitors with tons of complimentary movies and TV shows.  We liked Wreck It Ralph a lot!
…and we're falling asleep…more later...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Taiko No Tatsujin - super awesome fun time!!!

We've discovered a series of Japanese video games that we are currently a wee bit obsessed with: Taiko No Tatsujin.

IMG 5233

It makes me feel like we're learning Japanese sounds…or at least the words to the Mickey Mouse Club theme in Japanese...

Monday, March 11, 2013

What we are excited to experience in Japan…

  • The Japanese version of Western food
  • Vending machines
  • Buddhas…en masse
  • Karaoke
  • Efficient transportation (Shinkansen!!!)
  • Japanese TV
  • John wearing Japanese pajamas
  • Tokyu Hands
  • Sakura
  • Kawaii
  • …all the things we can't even begin to understand that we don't understand.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What's with all the empty posts?

You may have noticed all the empty blog posts recently added and they probably seem pointless, especially since we don't have to make them public till we feel like it (like, when we've actually added content).  However, life around here has been all about Japan and, while it's not especially interesting, we thought it'd be a good way to kind of hold ourselves accountable and give our many adoring fans (hi mom!) an idea of what we plan to tell you about how/what we've been planning the past couple months.  Also, finding travel guide-type things that seem to be aimed at people like US are very hard to find...so, maybe, some other 30-somethings will happen to find this blog someday and find it incredibly useful (that'd be even more likely if I ever got around to writing the "About Us" stuff, I suppose.)  Anyway, it's what we have.  Enjoy.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

Itinerary Updates (draft)

  • Tokyo guide
  • Extra day in Tokyo; 1 less day in Kyoto
  • No Kanazawa
  • Disneyland during Tokyo Part 2
  • Tokyo day trips - Kamakura and Nikko

Friday, March 1, 2013

Learning Japanese

    So, learning the Japanese syllabaries was a gazillion times easier than I assumed it would be.  One little word:  memorization. 

    Rote memorization via flash cards and iOS apps...

    6 days later:

    • Purpose - ability to read menus (we don't want to accidentally eat sperm filled squid testicles)
    • Progress
    • Katakana - super easy
    • Hiragana - slightly harder, but barely
    • Kanji- it can be fun...
    • Studying - methods
    • Useful apps/tools
      • Sticky Study
      • Anki
    • Links
      • Tae Kim's Learning Japanese

      Thursday, February 28, 2013

      Tokyo Free Guide (draft)

      We are very excited to meet Chikako, our Tokyo Free Guide!  (I'll actually write stuff here at some point)

      You can check out their web site here - http://www.tokyofreeguide.com/

      Tuesday, February 26, 2013

      Sunday, February 24, 2013

      Thursday, February 21, 2013

      Sunday, February 17, 2013

      How we've learned about Japan

      We get bored with Lonely Planet travel guides pretty quickly so these are a few things that we've used to augment our Japanese research:


      Big Bird in Japan:

      IMG 4607


      Jiro Dreams of Sushi:

      Jiro ono


      Studio Ghibli:

      IMG 5159


      Postcard from my dad, 1989:

      IMG 4635

      Saturday, February 16, 2013

      Totoro! (draft)

      We watched - and fell in love with - Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro this weekend!

      Monday, February 11, 2013

      Friday, January 25, 2013

      Pretty good timing!

      The first cherry blossom forecasts have been released in Japan - and it looks like we're in luck!  You can see the details (in English - not the easiest thing to find) here, but here are the dates that matter most to us (and by us, I mostly mean me - pretty pink flowers don't really excite John very much):

      Location               Opening               Estimated Best Viewing 

      Tokyo                   March 25              April 1 to 10

      Kyoto                   March 28              April 3 to 12

      Hiroshima              March 27              April 3 to 11

      Osaka                   March 27              April 2 to 10

      Nara                     March 30              April 3 to 11

      I know these dates are likely to change and you can't really predict the weather blah blah blah (I'm from Minnesota - I get it), but it bodes well and makes me super excited!

      Tuesday, January 22, 2013


      We've booked all of our hotel rooms in Japan!  Our criteria for choosing hotels was pretty basic: 

      Cost - $75-$150

      Location - short walk to a JR Shinkansen station (bullet trains that we will have almost unlimited access to with our Japan Rail Passes)

      Bed size - at least an American double - especially when we realized the common "small double" is just a little larger than a twin size bed here!

      Cancellation policy - since we booked our hotels before our plane tickets, we wanted to make sure any reservation we made was 100% refundable (most of the ones we looked at were - we used Orbitz and Booking.com)

      Once we found those things, we read reviews on TripAdvisor.  My favorite are the very angry, 1 star reviews because "the TV was in Japanese!" and "the room was so tiny!" (always left by Americans - often with the next review being from a non-American: "the room was very spacious!")  We get that things in Japan are much more compact than we are accustomed to - and in Japanese...since we are going to be in Japan...(I think some people on TripAdvisor must not be able to grasp that).  It was useful to find out how much English the staff seems to know, the quality of the Internet, and what "perks" are included (pretty much breakfast and toiletries at our price-point).

      I think the hotels we settled on all look pretty decent:

      TokyoBest Western Shinjuku Astina Hotel Tokyo
      We figured we'll be pretty overwhelmed by the time we get to our first hotel so a Best Western seemed like a good choice since the familiar brand feels a little more like "home."  We got a standard double room with a buffet breakfast on Orbitz for $125/night.

      Osaka/Kyoto:  Shin Osaka Station Hotel
      Hotel rooms in Kyoto were hard to find - and expensive when we did - so we decided to use Osaka as our base for exploring the area.  The hotel is very close to the Shin-Osaka Shinkansen Station where we can take a JR train to Kyoto in 15-30 min (much shorter than our daily commutes to work!)  Our room is an economy double from Booking.com for about $106/night.

      Hiroshima: Sheraton Hiroshima Hotel
      We plan to spend a couple days visiting Hiroshima and Miyajima so we'll spend one night here - and in a deluxe king room (John was pretty excited about that part!)  It was our most expensive room (the king sized bed is a bit of a splurge, but I think we'll deserve it by then) at around $150/night - we found it on Orbitz.

      Tokyo:  Mitsui Garden Hotel Ueno
      We'll head back to Tokyo for the last couple days to stay in the Ueno/Akihabara/Asakusa area.  Our double room here was about $135/night on Booking.com.

      We are also considering a side trip to Kanazawa - if we decide to do that, we have a room booked at the Garden Hotel Kanazawa.  Our double room was about $100/night on Booking.com.

      おやすみなさい (Oyasuminasai) and good night!

      Sunday, January 20, 2013

      Itinerary has been posted!

      A very rough outline of our current plan is now available on the Itinerary page.  There is definitely no shortage of places to go and things to see - and our Japan Rail Passes and meticulous planning will ensure we visit as many of them as possible (or at least get really lost making a solid attempt trying)!  Hotels, however, are a little harder to find, especially since we will be there during the Sakura season (hopefully), so the rooms we've managed to book are helping to provide the framework.  So, anyway, that's what we have for now.

      さようなら and good-bye!

      Saturday, January 19, 2013

      Planning via Pinterest

      I love Pinterest...I love it so much I force myself to avoid it so I don't end up spending several hours pinning projects I'll never do and recipes I'll never cook and houses that'll never look like mine.  That being said, I have found it somewhat useful/inspiring for researching and planning our trip to Japan.  Here are links to my boards (FYI - I almost NEVER update the descriptions/comments on things I re-pin):

      Japan - Tokyo
      Japan - Hiroshima
      Japan - Miyajima
      Japan - Nara
      Japan - Quirky, Cute, Crafty Shopping
      Tokyo Disneyland


      Friday, January 18, 2013

      Japan 2013: Let the Adventure Begin!

      Since it is officially official that John and I are going to Japan this spring, I created this site to share all of our plans and adventures!

      As we research where we want to go and what we want to see, we're working on creating an itinerary - I'll post that on the cleverly named "Itinerary" page.  It's not intended to provide a rigid schedule for our trip, but rather a flexible outline to make sure we make the most of our two weeks in Japan - and hopefully save us from (too many) hours of wondering around lost and confused.  It will change a lot over the next couple months so I'll try to let you know when we've updated it and why.

      Eventually, we'll add some stuff about us to give you some insight on our perspectives. Maybe we'll even answer everybody's burning question, "Why Japan?"  If there's something besides that you're dying to know, feel free to leave a comment.

      We'll probably have plenty of other exciting features to add once we actually have content - I'll try to remember to announce it on Facebook when that happens, but check back if you're interested because I'll probably forget.

      さようなら and good-bye!