Hey all! I just got back from my epic trip to Japan and China! And by "just got back" I mean I have been home for almost three weeks now, on cloud nine. I don't think I can express what this trip did for me, in me. Besides the obvious "I CAN'T BELIEVE I'VE BEEN TO JAPAN AND CHINA", my journey through these amazing landscapes tied up so many emotional loose ends, gave me so much inspiration, so much energy to get moving! We landed back in Minneapolis and I haven't lost the momentum yet. Because there are so many pictures and such a full itinerary, I'm going to split up my report by country. This is Japan.
We flew out of Minneapolis, through San Francisco, and then boarded our 12 hour flight to Osaka! It's the longest I've ever been on a plane, and even though I was totally exhausted (because I spent almost the whole night before we left packing finally) I'm never able to sleep on planes. We landed in Osaka around 4pm local time, and in Japan's customs we found some members of our tour group and chatted with them.
Osaka greeted us with a perfect late afternoon sunset, everything was pastels. The skies were pale blue and pink and the city was whites and grays and was accented in seafoam green. And you could see the blue mountains in the background, it was so pretty! Also, very important, our hotel room had slippers and jammies!
Somehow I managed to take some pictures despite having been awake forever. That night we had our welcome dinner and then after 27+ hours of being awake we KNOCKED OUT.
After a delicious hotel breakfast, we visited Osaka Castle. We couldn't tour inside, just hung out around the park.
We bought our first ice creams! I got a matcha, Eva got vanilla, and through a translation error we accidentally ordered an extra vanilla, so we gave the extra to someone in our group! Ice cream is how you make friends.
After Osaka Castle, we began the drive up Mount Koya. Our bus driver was so skilled on the narrow and windy roads!
We visited the largest graveyard in Japan! That night we were staying at a monastery, where they gave us yukatas and we slept on futons spread out on tatami mats, and we had our first public bathing experience! Nothing bonds a tour group like seeing everybody butt-naked on your second day together.
Above: Photographic evidence of me being incredibly jetlagged.
We were invited to experience meditation, and I liked what the monk told us: "Don't meditate to become healthier. We meditate to control our breathing. Becoming healthier is a side effect."
We only got to be there one night, and I was sad to leave the monastery, the monks were so nice and they all waved to our bus as we left, it was so sweet! I was pretty carsick while we drove down the mountain, but the view was so beautiful.
An hour or two later we were in Kyoto! Kyoto is the cultural center of Japan, and it used to be the capital. We first visited a sake museum, where we got to learn how sake is made, and we also got a free bottle of sake as a souvenir?! Let's get on that, America.
We visited the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine with over 10,000 gates, where students come to wish for academic success! We had the opportunity to pray and wish for something so I bought a fox face charm of sorts and prayed for music success.
VERY IMPORTANT!!! Outside the shrine was a super great street food market, where we had gigantic chunks of bacon, that potato spiral (which Eva was incredibly excited about), and that amazing custard bun, which was one of the best things I ate on the whole trip.
Our local guide for the day was Akira, or as our tour director called him, Mr. Sunshine! He brought us to the much photographed Golden Castle (where we bought paper fortunes...mine was excellent) and the famous love rock, which was at a beautiful temple with a three-story pagoda. There is a special shrine where you can make a wish and it is sure to come true, but you can only wish there once in your lifetime. I decided to save my wish for the next time I'm in Japan.
We loved smiling at the school children and watching them smile shyly back. At our hotel, there was a junior high class checked in the same time as us, and a couple of boys came up to me and Eva to try to have an English conversation. It went something like this:
Boy: Where are you from?
Boy: Oh, me too!
Us: Oh yeah? You too?
Boy: Uh...BYE! (and then he ran away)
The next day was our free day in Kyoto, we took the bus to the bamboo forest, where everything was so green and beautiful!
From there we broke off and Evaand I went to Kyoto Station to try Mister Donut!!! So chewy!!! So delicious!!! When we asked our tour director how to get to Kyoto Station, he asked us why, and we had to admit we were going purely for Mister Donut, and he laughed at us.
After donuts, we wanted to find the Kyoto Animation shop, which we had to reach by train. Somehow we managed to buy tickets on the machine (after taking 8 years to fin dthe English button) and made it to the right train line. I loved the train ride out to the suburbs of Kyoto, I want to live in the neighborhood we went to! The KyoAni Shop had a lot of other anime merch besides the one I watched (Hyouka), but I got a cute Satoshi head and a couple of cute buttons, too! No pictures allowed inside though.
We bummed around drinking peach water for a bit after that and then made our way back to the train. The platform director came out to make sure we knew where we were going (we didn't, and if he hadn't we would have gotten on the wrong train), which was so sweet and everywhere in Japan the locals were taking care of us!
Once we were back in Kyoto, we searched for the cat cafe we wanted to check out, and started walking! On the way there, we smiled at some high school girls and the giggled and crooned, "Kawaii~!" while we walked by and it was the most magical thing that has ever happened to me.
After a lovely two mile walk, we found it but it was closed for maintenance! We were super upset and our phones were dying so we tried to find coffee shops to charge our phones at, and after two dead ends (they were both closed!), our phones died and we decided to try and make it back to a big road so we could hop on a bus. But on our way, like destiny, we saw a girl go down some steps into a hidden coffee shop, Drip & Drop, where we rejoiced, ordered coffee, and finally got to rest and charge our phones!
When we left, we caught a bus to Kyoto Station, but ended up on the wrong bus. I was looking at the bus map, trying to find the stations the speaker was announcing, and after like six stops the woman next to me (who had been looking at the map in my hands), asked us where we were trying to go. We told her Kyoto Station and she said we were going the wrong way! She tried to explain how to get to the right bus, but eventually couldn't find the words and she actually guided us off the bus, walked us to the right bus stop, read the sign to tell us when the bus was coming (it was the last bus of the night and it was coming in 15 minutes!!!). We thanked her profusely, and as we sat in the dark we noticed a dark shadow across the night sky, and Eva realized it was the actual mountain perimeter of Kyoto, we had made it all the way to the MOUNTAIN!!!
We got on the right bus and rode it all the way back to the station, where we went up to the Ramen Koji Floor, an entire floor full of ramen shops.
A nice couple helped us order from the machine, and we ate delicious ramen before heading back downstairs to hop on the bus to our hotel. Somehow we got on the wrong bus again, but luckily we noticed by the second stop and got off quickly and decided to just walk the mile back to our hotel, where we fell asleep hard.
The next morning we took taxis to the train station, and took the bullet train (the one named after the 'speed of sound') to historical Hakone! We visited a castle converted into an elementary school, where the kids waved "hello!" cutely to us! Eva got creative with her photographer poses and I was quite proud.
Then we drove up the mountain (Mount Kisokoma I believe?) to see the peak of a natural gas volcano. It was pretty cold and rainy but it was really cool!
Afterwards we drove down into Atami, where we would be staying for the night. On the way, one of our tourmates shouted, "There she is!" out the window, so we all looked and saw the white capped peaks of Mount Fuji, and I literally almost started crying it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.
The next day we went to the beautiful grassy ruins of the forbidden castle, which was so pretty! It was a pretty long hike, and we saw some mountain caretakers trimming bushes and tending the wilderness like a garden.
Next we drove to Lake Ashi (Crater Lake) for a boat ride, and all I could think of was how much it looked like Star Lake from Howl's Moving Castle! Like, just look at that lake. Are you kidding me?
After that we took a gondola ride up another mountain to witness a fantastic view. I distracted myself from the heights by pretending I was on the cable car in Pokemon. Japan really is 80% mountains!
On our way to Tokyo, we stopped at Kamakura, which is a very melting pot-esque city. It's where the US Navy base is, and it kind of felt like a surf town. I liked it! We ate burgers and starbucks and felt like our homesickness was appeased for the time being. We also found a cute Studio Ghibli store!
In Kamakura we visited the Great Buddha!
Then it was back on the bus, we drove through Yokohama and got to see the skyline at the golden hour, I really wish we could have visited Yokohama but Tokyo was waiting!
We got to Tokyo at about 6:30, checked into our hotel rooms and settled for a bit before meeting our tour director who brought us through the metro to the famous Shibuya Crossing! I guess we were still feeling a little homesick, so Eva and I ate dinner at the McDonald's overlooking the crossing, had melon cream soda floats and then made it back to the hotel for bed.
The next day was our free day in Tokyo! We started back at Shibuya Crossing, where we sipped coffee in Starbucks and planned our day out on a napkin across from a man making origami flowers. Once we were finished, we made to leave and the man across from us offered us two paper tulips and asked us to write a message in his notebook, where he keeps messages from foreigners who visit Japan! There were messages from Australia, England, Kenya, and he explained he was making friends all over the world because we are all one world together. We both wrote messages, thanked him kindly and left with permanent smiles on our faces.
We hit Shibuya 109 first! All eight floors of the fashion tower! Halfway through the tower, my dad woke up back in the states and sent me a text reading: "Lots of foreign AMEX charges. Assuming this is okay." We dropped our loads and loads of bags off at our hotel room, and then went back on the metro to find the Pokemon Center, where I emptied my wallet yet again!
After that we went to a really cool store called LOFT, and then had lunch at a Chinese place in the mall. We were both so tired of fish, haha! There was a planetarium and an aquarium in the mall, which would have been really cool but we didn't have time to visit. :(
A nice lady helped us find the metro again after lunch, she was with her baby and mother, and she asked us where we were from and told us her son Kai was half Australian! It was nice to visit the neighborhood-feeling parts of Tokyo.
Afterwards we hit the Muji flagship store, which is basically the Japanese IKEA.
After that we went to the Aoyama Flower Market, where we bought perfume! If you smell me, and I smell delicious, it's because of that amazing perfume. I was really excited because I had wanted to visit the teahouse, and it did not disappoint! I had a kimono tea blend, Eva had a delicious mojito, and then we split a delicious rose parfait that was so pretty I almost didn't want to eat it!
The next day was our sightseeing tour of the city! We happened to be there on Tokyo's biggest festival of the year! All of the locals were in traditional clothing, so many men in banana hammocks!
We visited the fishmarket which was unfortunately mostly closed, but it didn't really matter because we don't like fish. We did get some delicious ice cream, though! Then we drove by the huge Imperial Palace and the business district of Tokyo, as well as the biggest station in the city, where there was an entire floor of pastry shops!
Harajuku!!! Basically the pre-teen version of Shibuya 109.
I was astounded by how much of an urban sprawl Tokyo is. It just kept going and going and going, no matter how far we walked, or rode the metro, or looked.
Before dinner we went to a big square in Aoyama/Shibuya and a bunch of cute boys asked me for a photo, and also for my LINE account which I didn't give them but the photo part was nice! We were starving so Eva and I ordered a hot dog at a coffee shop (idk it's Japan) to recover from the fish market and then we all went to a Korean BBQ place for our last dinner in Japan! It was easily the best meal of our entire trip.
That night we packed as best we could because the next morning we were flying out to Beijing! Saying goodbye to Japan was so hard, I'm already planning so much for when I get to go back! Hopefully that's not too far away.
In Japan everybody was so kind and gracious and genuine. I seriously left a big piece of my heart. I'm still debriefing this country with so many of my friends, it was just so incredible.
China is next, stay tuned!