Japan Adventures: $100 Street Food

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Oops! We didn't exactly get a menu. Because of the language barrier, we just sort of pointed and nodded at what they were cooking. The tripe is Greg's fault.

Mecha oishii, though. ;) Yum!

Japan Adventures: Asakusa

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Whew! Our first shrine. Tokyo is amazing that way. Amidst all the industrial buildings you can find serene, beautiful temples hidden almost everywhere.

The incense, located at the entrance to the temple, is for cleansing your body and spirit. Move the smoke over your affected parts for healing. (Where do I begin? I went with just a general cleansing.)

In Japan, anything written is beautiful.

Gargoyles protect the temple.

The details of each structure were pretty awesome.

On to the next! A kind woman rushed up to us and communicated that we needed to walk around the building to another location to see something amazing. I don't know if she thought we were lost, or if she was just being helpful and didn't want us to miss anything. Given how helpful everyone was in Japan, I'm going with the latter.

Inside the building that you had to enter in order to reach this garden was a museum, housing incredibly old sculptures and paintings. Photography wasn't allowed, so what we saw will remain a secret.

Cherry blossoms have begun blooming across Tokyo. This is just the beginning of the week, so whatever moments of beauty we felt privy to on this day were set to be demolished every subsequent day as the blossoms opened further all around the city. Hanami (flower watching) begins.

Japan Adventures: The Streets

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I'm going to be taking you with me on this journey as we go. It's the only way for me to properly process it. Yes, there are a lot of pictures to work through, but mostly I need to re-experience this trip for myself in order to understand what happened. We spent the entirety of our time in Japan at a dead sprint from about 7am to 11pm (at least) every day. I have no idea how many miles we walked.

I remember thinking at the time that I needed to be fully aware as I was going. Eyes wide open. (I'm going to keep saying that.) I knew that we were experiencing too much at once to fully comprehend as we went, and I wanted to take it all in as best as I could with intention to emotionally download everything later. That's exactly what I'm doing. When I close my eyes, all I see are lanterns and powerlines. I feel like my dreams are never going to be the same. They all take place in Japan, at the same frenetic pace with which we spent our time there. My brain is processing through millions of moments and images.

Is this because I'm an artist? Was my brain recording everything for use later? Do my travel companions understand what I'm going through? Is this normal? Is my brain permanently trapped in Japan, waiting for my body to return and get it?

In the meantime, here's what happened next. We were released from the subway onto the streets, left to walk in awe at the totally alien landscape before us. This wasn't even our destination, we're still heading there! Everything in Japan was new to us. Every step was an exploration.

Honestly, it was exhausting. We didn't comprehend how much walking we were doing, and each of us experienced some level of dehydration or physical collapse at one point or another along the way. We all looked a little zombie-like by our last day. I lost five pounds despite eating nothing but beer and fattening food. We weren't getting quite enough sleep, at least I wasn't, but I didn't notice too much during the day. I was running on pure adrenaline and wonderment.

Japan Adventures: Waking Up in the City

And so our adventure begins.

We'd had an entirely enjoyable 12 hour flight the day before, arriving in Tokyo in the late afternoon. I thought I'd want to knock myself out for the flight, since I can barely stand the 6 hours to Hawaii without losing my mind, but Korean Airlines provided plenty of entertainment to keep me awake. I spent much of the time catching up on a few movies that I haven't had time to see in the last year. Did I mention, personal TVs?? I think there were like 30 movies to choose from. Also, our side of the plane came equipped with the sweetest flight attendant ever, who patiently repeated the Korean words for "please" and "thank you" every time we asked. Perhaps learning Korean on the plane was a bit much to ask of ourselves while trying to remember key phrases in Japanese simultaneously. But, we were eager to be culturally participatory. It worked out either way, and by the end of the flight, we were homies.

When we arrived in Tokyo, I think we were too bleary-eyed and travel-weary to take many pictures. We struggled through leaving our hotel after checking in and asked the nice man behind the hotel counter where he recommended we eat dinner. It was a nice meal, had traditional-style on the floor, and I think it involved sushi, but to be honest, I remember very little of that night. I remember the restaurant was on the 5th floor of a building. After stocking up on pastries for the next morning, we turned in.

Astonishingly (for me, anyway), I sprang out of bed at 5:45am. As soon as my eyes were open, I knew I didn't want to miss a thing. It basically remained that way for the entirety of the trip. Eyes wide open. 

These were all taken from our hotel room window. (Hotel Niwa, if anyone is interested. It was by far the best hotel we stayed in, small but swank, and I highly recommend it. Very reasonable.) It was interesting to see so many windows of residences too. Each person had different curtains, some had balcony gardens, some didn't. It felt a little like glimpsing into their lives. I was very curious to learn about the everyday lives of those in Tokyo. It fascinated me.

I thought I would dislike the city. I don't like cities. Granted, I've been to few. I don't like crowds is a better way to put it, or noise, or buildings, or hustle and bustle. At least that's what I thought. Tokyo was already beginning to change my mind and it wasn't even 7am. Who knew a sunrise reflected into the glass windows of a kojillion office buildings would look so pretty? We drank the provided Green Tea and gazed out the window for quite a while before realizing that there was a whole (truly gigantic) city out there awaiting us. I couldn't wait to get outside.

With Captain Greg taking the helm at directing us around a maze of subways and trains that looked mind-boggling from the map, we bought our tickets and embarked on our first Tokyo subway.

A quick sum up of Japan

The trip of a lifetime? Perhaps for some. I can see how one might think that, because it was truly one of the best experiences of my entire life, and I must say, minus my wedding in Hawaii, I'm having trouble thinking of something that matches this. It was absolutely, unequivocally, entirely life-changing. Amazing is not nearly a strong enough word. However, it wasn't simply the trip of a lifetime. For us, it was the first of many. :) We don't plan to stop. This is just the beginning.

I have far too much to say, and I'm planning a gazillion in-depth blogs about our experiences, so allow me to simply mention a few key points here.

• Japan is AWESOME. Awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome. Awesome.

• There was not mass hysteria happening, and the cities were full of people. We didn't feel any earthquakes, and the only reason we knew anything was happening was from people in America informing us of it. Tokyo and Kyoto were filled with wonderful, bustling people. Cherry blossoms were perfectly in bloom. There were parties in the parks. The streets were jam-packed with people. Everyone was incredibly kind to us. I will have doubts about American news broadcasts from this day forward.

• Korean Airlines ROCKED. I'm never taking another airline ever again. Well, okay, I wish I could always take them. Personal TVs with a huge selection of new movies? Lots of music? Video games? Korean food? Free booze? Super sweet flight attendants? Yeeeeesh they were cool. I didn't even sleep on the plane because I was so happily entertained.

• I LOVED being in the city. I thought city life would be a downside to an otherwise ancient and serene place. I don't like cities, I don't like crowds, but that was before I was in Tokyo. It was incredible. I loved the power lines, the subways, the crowds, the lights, being on the street with thousands of people late at night. It blew my mind. It felt unquestionably safe. It was invigorating and I could see living there for a few months quite happily. [Hint dropped.] It was beautiful.

• People in Kyoto eat nothing but cake. No, seriously. On one day, we walked for miles and found nothing but cake shops. We asked around for sushi and people looked at us like we were crazy. Sushi? Really? Have some cake!! Just as our blood sugar was about to send us throwing ourselves into the river, we found ramen. Oh thank god, ramen. We tried asking the nice restaurant owner why there was so much cake everywhere, and she took us outside to point out all the different places we could buy some if we had such a hankering for it. Why clarify at that point? We'd been fed.

• There was way more karaoke had in one week than in the last 10 years of my life. There are pictures. Many many pictures. We rocked out. Hard. I even closed my eyes while belting out Eternal Flame. THAT'S RIGHT, SUCKERS.

• Beer in vending machines! And sake in juice boxes! And you can drink them openly and publicly on the street! At one point, we took our beer cans and walked around a zillion-story shopping mall just because we could. Oh, how I love Japan.

• Many thanks to our Tokyo-Homeboy, LT Konishi, for showing us the city the way a local would see it. He provided us with experiences that we simply would not have had any other way. The best food we've eaten in our lives, the prettiest park I've ever seen, the opportunity to meet other local Tokyoites, and see parts of the city our guidebook didn't know existed. He was also a great translator, map, and karaoke rockstar. We met him 10 years ago, but now we call him a great friend. Dude: Nothin' but love for ya. Check out his site, he's also a badass photographer. :)

• We visited every temple in the Kyoto area that we possibly had time for, and WOW. Gorgeous. The architecture in Japan is something I couldn't have imagined. At one point we biked up a huge hill toward Kiyomizu Dera (above) and passed the largest Japanese cemetery I've ever seen in my life. We stopped to take it all in. Cemeteries in Japan are breathtaking.

Alright I'm done for the moment. That was longer than I intended (I have so much to tell you about!) but my jet-lag headache is returning and in order to facilitate the massive plans we have for our future, I have lots of work to begin. Let's just say that we plan to return to Japan sooner than you might think. Between that, our continued intention to move to Hawaii eventually, and our further world travels, it's gonna be a busy decade. :)