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!