Last October was the 1 year anniversary of our 2017 trip to Japan, and I revisited all of the memories in a series of daily blog posts featuring my photographs and journal writings (check them out if you’d like, starting with day 1 here!)
I miss Japan very much- it’s like a reverse homesickness where I have a special place in my heart that aches to visit this far away place again. I am still thinking about Japan every day, and I convinced Dustin that we need to go back sooner rather than later- so we are going to spend Christmas in Tokyo this year!
When we went in 2017 we traveled around from Tokyo using a JR pass to get to Gunma, Kyoto, Osaka, and Kinosaki. We saw so many gorgeous places and ate so much amazing food. It was a fantastic trip.
This Christmas we are planning to spend the whole time in Tokyo so that we aren’t moving from place to place so much (resettling into new inns and hotels, moving our luggage around) and we can just explore at leisure from our home base in Ikebukuro. There are so many spots in Tokyo that we have only barely explored, or not at all. I can’t wait. I even have 2 tattoo appointments penciled in with a studio in Shibuya!
Wish us luck! I’m saving all of my pennies… (well, figuratively- they don’t make pennies anymore in Canada…)
I finally made some videos with clips from our 2017 trips around Japan 🙂
These are just mashups of videos taken from my cell phone, my camera, and probably a little bit of Dustin’s cell and camera too. Some parts are a bit shaky but I kept them in because they were still cool memories. A few of these seem to be things that I didn’t even realize I was filming at the time… each video has a whole bunch of quick clips featuring some of the cool and beautiful things we saw in Japan.
Video 1: Tokyo- Ikebukuro, Ikebukuro street festival, Shinjuku, Shinjuku park, Shibuya, Shin Okubo, Harajuku, Ueno, Nagano Broadway, etc.
Video 2: Gunma- Takaragawa Osenkaku onsen ryokan (family run hot spring inn)
Video 3: Kyoto, Osaka- Higashiyama, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Universal Studios Japan, Harry Potter World, Kyoto Station, etc.
Video 4: Kinosaki- Mikunia onsen ryokan and ryokan town (hot springs town), autumn street festival, kaiseki meals, etc.
For the last couple weeks I’ve been watching this anime in bits and pieces on my lunch breaks at the library:
While I picked the Sakamoto anime up on a whim and haven’t yet read the manga, I thoroughly enjoyed this series and recommend it for anyone who wants a lighthearted and humorous romp.
That said, a lot of the humor may be lost on people who aren’t already familiar with anime tropes- much of the hilarity comes from the ridiculous setups, recognizable character models, and punny wordplay, all of which generally poke fun at often overused or exaggerated scenarios.
Sakamoto himself is the star of the show, of course, and he is a character that is impossible not to like- some students love him, some want to be him (or beat him), but he is completely on another level- aloof and magically skilled at never being uncool. At the same time, he’s also kind and chivalrous.You can’t rustle his feathers, no matter how hard you try. The best part, though, is the variety of inventive and ridiculous ways he manages to circumvent every attempt to thwart him or take him off guard.
The show takes itself just serious enough to get you invested in the characters a bit, but it’s extremely fun to simply go along for the ride and see how many times suspension of disbelief can be crushed, or how many times the fourth wall can be broken by a side-character’s casual observance.
I recommend Sakamoto for you, your Mom, your dog, your boss, and every childhood friend you no longer communicate with.
This is the final day of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 22, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 22, October 22nd, 2017
Today is a day of sighing. A few sighs of contentment (one last soak together in the big tub, tenpura and shaved ice at the airport), but mostly it’s sighs of sadness to be leaving Japan. I am looking forward to seeing my friends, my dogs, and Dad of course, but this is the only time I’ve never felt the weird ache of homesickness while travelling- just pure enjoyment. I may have had a few more quiet tears as well… T.T
We packed and prepped until checkout time, when Sawanoya summoned a cab for us. I gave them some candies and one of my paintings. Our taxi driver was flustered trying to fit our luggage into his tiny car in the pouring rain, and we didn’t know what we could do to help, but he finally managed eventually. Although we thanked them repeatedly and expected them to go back inside, the staff of Sawanoya all stood outside the entrance of the ryokan in the pouring rain, bowing to us until our taxi was out of sight. Such a lovely family, and a welcoming ryokan.
We took the Skyliner from Ueno station to the airport and ate some delicious aforementioned food, bought sweets for the long plane rides ahead, used up the rest of our coins in the gashapon machines, and bought a few last-minute gifts and souvenirs.
And well, here we are. Narita airport is the most fun and interesting airport I’ve ever been to, but it’s still an airport… meaning we have to face the fact that we are leaving.
We are on our first plane now. We’ve had delays already due to the extreme wind and rain, so it looks like we will miss our connection in Vancouver? Oh well, we’ve finished our trip so I don’t really care at this point. I joked that I’d love if the typhoon stranded us here… of course, we’d have to go home eventually, but I have to say, Japan has been the trip of my life and I definitely, definitely want to go back again someday! ❤
This is day 21 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 21, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 21, October 21st, 2017
Our last free day in Japan. I can’t say “it went by soooo fast!” because having 3 weeks here ensured that we had enough time to explore and enjoy our trip without it feeling too short. It feels like forever ago that we left from home and arrived at Narita airport, but still I have a hard time saying goodbye.
Today was an emotional day for me and I found I went to tears easily just thinking of leaving Japan and how this has been my dream wish trip for so long.
So, today Dusty and I revisited a few of our favourite spots together. After ham and eggs at the Sawanoya and a quick bath each, we went out into the rain again.
Together we revisited Akiba and played rhythm games and a Walking Dead crossbow-shooter at Akiba Taito Station.
We returned to a few shops, including one of Dustin’s favourite finds, Yodobashi Camera, which he’d been wanting to show me for a while. At Yodobashi I was looking for a simple handheld CD player so I could listen to my new drama cds and music cds on the plane ride home. While I was examining the different walkman models on display, the alarm went off- the security wire on one of the walkmans was loose. A security guard appeared INSTANTLY, seemingly out of nowhere. I didn’t know how to explain in Japanese that the alarm system wire triggered because it is loose, and that I wasn’t trying to steal the walkman! A staff member was understanding and fixed it right away, but I was impressed with the security at Yodobashi!
Dustin got me some Japanese PS Vita games (Diabolik Lovers, mainly) for my Christmas gift <3. After Akiba, I headed out to meet Hazuki for lunch- Dustin wasn’t feeling up to it (or… he’s also shy with meeting new people, I don’t know!)
The metro was a bit confusing, so I was a little late ^-^’ but we went to a delicious resturaunt where we had sushi and sashimi (I can’t remember the name of the area at the moment…). I met Hazuki’s friends Tomo and Momo who were very kind and friendly and easy to talk to. We chatted and had a really great meal.
I gave them some maple candies from Canada and one of my tiny Northern Lights paintings- coincidentally we had talked about the Northern Lights during lunch, so they were interested in the painting! They helped me find my way back to the JR lines afterward.
I went back to Ikebukuro and visited Lashinbang and Animate one last time, picking out some more CDs for the plane ride home. I made the mistake of taking the stairs instead of the elevator all the way to the top of Animate. I ended up as sweaty and gross as our first day in Ikebukuro, and I felt bad for the people who had to stand in my armpits on the back train back to Ueno!
The night involved bathing, crying in the bath, packing, crying while packing, being very tired, and carefully applying eyes and mouths to my doll heads so I could spray them with Mr. Clear (“Matt” Spray) finisher in the morning (I don’t know if I can bring the aerosol can with me on the plane).
I stayed up too late and went to bed sometime after midnight. Who knows what time it was when I actually fell asleep…
This is day 20 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 20, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 20, October 20th, 2017
Today was a magical day. We finally went to the Ghibli museum in Mitaka<3
What a special place. Being huge Studio Ghibli fans, it was one of the “must go” places for our trip, and since the regular tickets for the month sold out the DAY they were released online, we had to book a tour package. We paid a lot of extra money for a bus ride to the museum from a hotel in Shinjuku and a “tour guide” who gave us some tips and info while on the bus. Still, worth every penny! Our guide took our picture at the entrance to the museum but the “tour” ended there- the creators of Ghibli Museum want it to be a place of exploration and discovery.
Ghibli Museum has a rule of no cameras or phones to be used inside for photo taking (outside is ok). I’m very glad, because knowing me I would have been trying to take pictures of all of the wonderful things inside, seeing them through the screen of a device rather than my own eyes. It was lovely to just enjoy every moment without the urge to snap pictures everywhere. I did purchase a couple of photo books from the Reading Room shop to help me relive the special memories of Ghibli Museum.
The museum is so wonderful, certainly the most memorable and awe-inspiring “museum” I’ve ever visited. Some rooms were open and airy, with frescoes of Ghibli inspiration and stained glass windows. Others were crammed full of so many interesting things- antiques, relics, storyboards, paintings, sketches, film strips, art and sculpture, shadowboxes, eye-trick illusions, hidden messages- that you could spend all day examining the details.
One favorite exhibit of mine was a special limited-time interactive display room with focus on food in Ghibli films- humble, everyday meals that are rendered in realistic, mouth-watering detail and even carry significance in the plot.
I was also transfixed by the giant zoetrope, a spinning lightbox, which had Ghibli figures inside in various transitioning poses so that, when spinning, it creates moving images (Totoro hopping, a bat flying, etc.)
We visited the takeout cafe window outside and had hotdogs, springrolls, ice cream, beer (me), and applejuice (Dustin).
Visitors to the Ghibli museum are given the special opportunity to watch an original animated short film in the Saturn Theater. These films are not available anywhere else, as Ghibli museum wants them to be another special part of the magic for visitors. The films are rotated regularly, and the one that was playing this October was Koro’s Big Day Out, a film about a dog who escapes while looking for the little girl who left for school and gets lost in the streets of Tokyo- it had a happy ending but I cried during most of the last half. I hadn’t cried in FOREVER! In fact, I had started worrying that my anxiety medications were stifling my ability to cry, so it was a bit of a release for me. I felt thankful to Studio Ghibli for showing me I can still cry!
Dustin took my picture on the rooftop with the robot from Castle in the Sky.
We visited the main gift shop, Mama Aiuto, which the bus tour guide had told us is both a reference to characters from Porco Rosso as well as a cheeky moniker that pokes fun at how kids will plead “Please, Mama, Help!!!” when they see the exciting goodies inside. The shop was cram packed. I bought a Koro stuffie to ease my heart (I was still sniffling from the film) and I couldn’t help but pick up a bunch of other little things- postcards, pins, bookmarks, and plushies to remember this special place by.
We departed on a very cramped yellow Ghibli bus back to the station and on to the Ryokan. I’m very exhausted now, both from a very stimulating day and from the last few late nights, so I am just catching up on journal writing and plan to have a bath, relax, and get a good night’s sleep!
This is day 19 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 19, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 19, October 19th, 2017
This morning we squished all of our stuff into our suitcases (the expandable duffle-bags we’d brought in our carry-on were too awkward and bulky to carry in stations and on trains, so we invested in some hard roller luggage) and we lugged our way to the station in the pouring rain. It looks like the weather will be rainy for the rest of our visit, and Okinawa is currently at risk of being hit with a super-typhoon 😦
With roller luggage it wasn’t too bad getting through stations. Then we taxied from the station to Sawanoya Ryokan. We arrived very early, so we stored our bags with the kind staff and went out in search for food ❤ I had a place in mind- Hantei.
Hantei are known for their kushiage, and after eating there, we know why. Dusty and I both agreed that it was one of our best meals in Japan. Light, deep-fried foods with crisp outer layer. Mmm!!! I told the staff their kushiage is saiko (the highest) and they were very happy- they don’t need to know it is the ONLY kushiage i’ve ever had! XD
Next we headed to Nakano Broadway together, a nerd paradise we’d been planning to see but hadn’t gotten to yet. It was like a 4 story labrinthe of cramped stores where some gems were hidden. We got some (crazy cheap, probably bootleg?) figurines, and I found a store (a lashinbang) with a great deal on drama CDs!
After Nakano Dusty was all shopped out, but I still had energy to explore, so I headed to another cafe I was curious about: Theme Cafe #9: Queen Dolce Danso Cafe. At Queen Dolce, the staff are Danso girls who crossplay as handsome Ikemen! Another fun, fascinating, only-in-japan experience.
Here is a video about Queen Dolce by @suppinjapan for anyone who is wondering what sort of place this might be!
I used a coin locker at Akiba station to store my shopping bags and headed toward the cafe. The streets of Akiba felt completely different in the darkness of night- not scary or anything like that, but different all the same. The rain pounded down and girls from maid cafes stood on the sidewalks in their dresses and raincoats looking rather miserable and cold, but still smiling at passersby and doing their best to promote their cafes.
I walked on, and I have never had more stares in my direction than that afternoon- it was chilly and rainy but I’d forgotten my sweater at the ryokan and was wearing a shirt with open shoulders. People kept doing double-takes and saying things to their companions like “Ah! Gaijin!… Samui!” (Ah! Cold, foreigner!?) and cradling their elbows. I wished I could reassure them “I’m from Canada, this is nothing! Really, i’m fine!” but I didn’t want to cause a scene…
After some issues with google maps again, I found the cafe- once more, this place was tucked away on the third floor of a nondescript hotel/office building, so it was obvious to anyone interested that I didn’t just stumble upon the place- I’d sought it out for sure!
At first my venture into the cafe was suuuuuuper awkward. I had been planning on having a simple meal at the cafe as it had been a long time since I’d eaten at Hantei, but as it was late afternoon the Danso cafe had stopped serving food. So, I ended up sipping cocktails and munching on cheese pretzels as I sat at my lonely table. The staff weren’t comfortable with English so we weren’t able to communicate very well, so at first I was feeling a bit uncomfortable and thinking WHY DO I GO ALONE TO THESE CAFES AHHHHH…
Eventually a spot opened up at the bar counter and I sat down beside a girl who spoke English quite well and made a new friend 🙂 we shared pictures of our dogs and our dolls, and discussed kpop, travelling, all kinds of stuff.
Eventually, with my new friend helping translate between us, I was able to communicate with the staff more and we had fun joking about Canada, Japan, and communication problems with the other bar patrons. So, it ended up being fun 🙂
Each staff member has their own signature cocktail at Queen Dolce, so when you order it you get a laminated photo of that Danso Butler. They also offer instant photos in fun poses (such as KABE DON) so I got some pictures with them to keep a memory of this unique experience!
I got back to the ryokan and had a calming soak with Dustin in one of the big tubs. Not an onsen technically, but relaxing in its own way- not so hot as to be overwhelming (so you can soak longer) and deep. It also has a window that can be opened to let out steam and let in fresh, cool air, giving a view of a small pond, plants, and fish swimming lazily around. The small bath has an owl statue staring in at you, while the large one has a frog staring away.
This ryokan is very charming and the owner is a sweet old man- I bought the book he wrote about his experiences running a ryokan with his family that has actively welcomed foreign visitors for many years, and I’m really interested in reading it. I can only imagine the shenanigans and cultural lessons learned on both sides, as even in these short three weeks I’ve experienced so much immersive culture shock, happiness, embarrassment, and more feelings than I can describe. Japan is incredible.
This is day 18 of revisiting my journal from our trip to Japan last year! If you’d like to start at the beginning, here is day 1.
So, day 18, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 18, October 18th, 2017
Dusty and I each took off for some solo activities today. First I headed to Shibuya to check out the famous Shibuya Scramble and Shibuya 109. The scramble was a big wave of people all crossing at once, although it was similar to some of the scrambles in Ikebukuro- just bigger! I saw some people doing a Mario Kart race.
Shibuya 109 was a seemingly never-ending tower of fast fashion- it was overwhelming, and although I rode the escalators all the way to the top and did a walkaround of every floor, I didn’t buy one thing.
I also went to Akiba again, roaming and exploring. I ate a delicious crepe from Crazy Crepes and got some more ball-jointed doll supplies at Rajio Kaikan.
Next came the highlight of my day- Theme Cafe #8: the Vampire Cafe in Ginza. Ginza is not an area that I would spend much time normally- it is full of expensive boutique shops that are intimidating- it’s hard to find a casual restaurant or a place to have a leisurely browse. However, the Vampire Cafe was one of the places that I REALLY wanted to visit, so I entered Ginza, feeling sort of like Tsukimi from Princess Jellyfish- a meek geeky girl entering the land of The Stylish.
The Vampire Cafe was a b!t<h to find. I’m glad I left early, as I was wandering around for about an hour trying to find it- it’s on the 7th floor of a hotel building, and the tall buildings in Ginza were throwing off my GPS, I think.
I arrived and was greeted and seated by two vampiric men in heavy eyeliner and hooded clothes. The place is decorated to the nines- blood cell pattern on the hallway floors, candles and coffins, skulls, satin, and vampire kitsch.
I got a little booth to myself (Maika kindly helped me make a reservation but I doubt I would have needed it anyway) and my booth had a blood-red curtain that made my spot feel cosy and private. I was provided with a drink menu in the shape of a coffin featuring cocktails such as Dracula, Nosferatu, Carmilla and Necromancer. I ordered the latter.
The menu for food offered such delicacies as Van Helsing’s Dead Body (a meat dish), and several other strange meals. My waiter brought me a complimentary fried-lizard appetizer. (It wasn’t a real lizard… I think…)
I ordered a “squid ink” pasta calamari dish that came with DEATH written on the plate in chocolate (?) powder and a long scythe. A crispy skull chip (?) also adorned my plate.
I had special drinks and desserts as well, such as Pumpkin Juice and Jack’s Pumpkin Head.
The waiters spoke in theatrically low voices. I heard them chuckling about me (“something something gaijin something hahaha”). Yes, the awkward shy gaijin came alone. I HAVE NO SHAME! XD
So, i’ve been there for about an hour by this point, and i’m feeling a tad left down that Vampire Rose, the face of the establishment, hasn’t appeared. Oh well, I thought, it was fun anyway. But then I heard a couple of girls a few tables over squeeing about something. And then I saw his unmistakable lavishly dressed silhouette.
I worked up the courage to ask my waiter if Vampire Rose’s CD was for sale (he is a visual kei artist, and the lead singer in a vampire heavy metal band!) which it was. So he said “chotto matte” (hang on a sec) and left me for several minutes of anticipation. And as i’d surmised, it was Vampire Rose who came to give me the CD.
My blood-red curtain was thrown back instantly in a flash. I was caught off guard. He said something in Japanese that I didn’t catch. I said “good evening”. He said more things (in the deep, theatrical voice) to which I nodded and kept saying “hai. Hai.” (yes, yes) despite having no clue what I was responding to. He seemed to realize I was flustered and from then on he had a smirk plastered on his face o.o
I paid for the CD and asked if he would please sign it. He got a silver marker and wrote my name, his signature, and the date.
Then I plucked up the courage to ask “shashin wa… daijobu?” (a picture… is it alright?), since I knew that the cafe staff often took pictures with visitors. He said yes and when I stood up he placed his hand on the small of my back and steered me to the middle of the cafe.
I stood awkwardly beside him as a staff member took my phone for a photo. I was wondering what to do with myself for the photo (how does one pose for a photo with a vampire?) when suddenly Vampire Rose’s hand took a vice-grip on the back of my neck. It was… amazing XD the vampire fangirl in me sang out silently and I felt the blood rushing to my cheeks. He held on until the photo was taken.
As the picture was being taken I heard some girls exclaim “kawaii!”- I think at my fangirlishness over Vampire Rose. I can’t help it!~ I thanked the staff and floated back to my table to grab my bags.
So finally I am about to leave and I ask Rose where the bathroom is. He walks me a few steps and then points at a cluster of concave skulls in the middle of the crowded resturaunt and meets my eyes. I look at him like… huh!? And he smiles “kidding!” pointing me to the (real) restroom down the hall. I felt his smirk on my back as I escorted myself out.
When I finally got back to our hotel in Ikebukuro some time later, I was buzzing with excitement as I told Dustin all about the Vampire Cafe. I sat on the edge of the bed, fangirling shamelessly to my husband, when I took off my shoes.
“Huh” I remarked- “the dye on my shoes must have rubbed off on my (white) socks?” Dustin looked over at my socks, saturated red.
“Wait. My shoes are blue”.
I walked so much today that, by the time I reached the vampire cafe, my feet were literally BLEEDING ALL OVER MY SOCKS.