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.
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 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 14 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 14, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 14, October 14th, 2017
Goodbye Kyoto. Today we head to Kinosaki. We hailed a taxi to Kyoto station where we ate some yummy ramen and saw some school bands playing (they were very good!)
The shinkansen to Kinosaki was nearly 2 hours long, with gorgeous views the entire way. Mountains, fields, cute little towns with gardens everywhere, paths leading up steep hills of intense greenery.
When we arrived in the town station, a woman asked if we had a reservation at one of the ryokan. She pointed us in the direction of our ryokan, the Mikunia.
We checked in and were shown our room by a kind young man. We had a mixup over yukata (summer kimono to wear around the inn and town). I later found out he was telling me I could choose a coloured Yukata downstairs if I wanted an alternate colour to the standard grey yukata provided, but at the time I thought he was simply asking what colour I preferred, so I said “blue or pink would be great, thank you” in my best Japanese.
He brought me two lovely and elaborate yukata and said “one for today, one for tomorrow?” with a grin. Soon after though, the maids came in and were fretting over my yukata selections (not sure why, maybe the colours or patterns didn’t match the season?) and they took the blue one away, to which he began apologizing to me and I was like “oh, it’s ok! It’s ok!”
The maids were also concerned about Dustin’s yukata size (he’s a big guy) and we were trying to explain that he had bought a personal yukata in Kyoto and brought it with him. Then later, when I tried on my pretty pink yukata, a maid appeared and I showed her that my yukata was much too long for me. I didn’t realize that it was a different kind of yukata than the ones we wore in Takaragawa- this one was a fancier type, using two obi (sashes) to hold it up and customize the length.
Once we figured out all of the yukata confusion, we had a stroll around the gorgeous town of Kinosaki- river with koi fish, bridges and trees, little shops, and footbaths.
We were given a kaiseki shabu shabu meal in our room (SO DELICIOUS), after which the table was cleared and moved aside, and our futon set up on the tatami.
We arrived a bit late so our onsen reservation for private soak was the last slot of the day (11pm) and I had to nap first as I was exhausted- but the wait was worth it. Dustin and I had the little onsen to ourselves and enjoyed soaking in the hot water together. The steam and heat prepares you for a good night’s sleep.
This is day 9 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 9, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 9, October 9th, 2017
Wow, this place is so lovely I can’t believe i’m here. This morning we woke up and had a delicious breakfast in the Gekko room. I tried things that I have no idea what they were, and some were so delicious! I especially enjoyed the crispy fish that were grilled for us. One was split down the middle so that it looked like one large, flat fish, but Dustin pointed out it was just grilled that way.
I’m extremely glad we decided to make this a 3 week trip, as it’s going by incredibly fast. I don’t miss home yet (usually I do… I mean, of course I miss Tegan and Butters, though!) but I do miss Ikebukuro! I was really starting to feel comfortable there, getting to know the streets, the train station, the “We Road”- so I am glad we are going back there for a couple nights when we return to Tokyo.
We still have plenty left to see and do- Ghibli Museum, Shibuya, Nakano Broadway, Sawanoya Ryokan, Ueno Park, etc… and yet I am already dreading leaving Japan because I know I will miss it a lot! There is a special feeling in Japan that I’ve never felt anywhere else. I enjoy experiencing uniquely Japanese things, and practicing my Japanese with locals.
I will definitely, definitely want to come back to Japan again. (Every year? Please?!)
So right now I am sitting at a large granite table next to a giant suspension bridge that connects our ryokan to the rotenburo (outdoor onsen area). The Tone river is rushing loudly underneath me. To my right is a lovely path that winds down the riverbank and connects to the different onsen baths. Two are mixed and one is women only. This morning I took a dip in the women’s bath. It was very relaxing but I couldn’t handle it for very long- the other women were also getting out after their soak remarking “atsui desu ne!”(hot, isn’t it?!)
I need to practice the art of relaxing. In the last year or so I feel like I’ve been working on being happy in the moment, in the now, and I am doing better with that. But still, sometimes I struggle with just enjoying peacefully doing nothing in particular- the kind of full relaxation a ryokan invites. Dustin definitely struggles with this also.
This afternoon I decided to open the big window in our room to let in the air and the sound of the river. The little beetley-bugs that had been resting on the outside of the window rushed in on me in a sudden ambush on my hair and Yukata. The bugs are cute but they startled me and I was squealing! I was able to gather them up and shoo them back outside with a handtowel…
Dustin and I went down to the indoor onsen again today. I had a good soak. On my way back up the elevator a man and woman got on next to me- the man was saying “samui, ahh, samui” and clutching his arms (“cold, aah, cold…”). Having just come from the steaming onsen, I chimed in when he met my eyes and said, fanning myself, “Samui? Atsui desu! (“Cold? I’m hot!”) and they laughed with me at my little joke. When the doors opened at their floor he walked off smiling and saying in English in a funny voice “I’m cooolllddd!!!”
There is a cute little gift shop here that has specialty chocolates and foods, and lots of unique handicrafts made by local artisans. A kind woman works there, and I bought a few souvenirs and gifts today- some cloth coasters, a kokeshi doll, some chocolates, and a Yukata. I asked the woman if she thought a green or pink obi (sash) would look better with the green yukata I picked, which had subtle pink flowers on it. She suggested pink looked cute, so I got the pink. I said “these chocolates look so delicious!” in Japanese, and she complimented me “Nihongo wa amari jouzu desu ne!” (your Japanese is very good!) to which I responded with the polite denial approach “made, made” (more to go, more to go!)- even though I know she was being kind and my Japanese is very basic, it really made my day. I’d been studying my books and trying so hard to learn. A simple “good evening” “that was delicious” or “thank you very much” in Japanese is so appreciated here, so I try to keep these phrases in mind.
After I bought my purchases the woman said in Japanese “hold on a second…” and grabbed a box of sesame oil chocolates I had been eyeing. She put it in my bag and said “a gift for you!” It was so sweet of her! I was flabbergasted and thanked her profusely.
I’m not a very spiritual person or anything like that, but something about that little shop and that woman reminded me of Nanny McKim, who was very interested in Japanese culture and had so many Japanese handicrafts and dolls in her house. I know what Mom would say- “Nanny wanted you to have those chocolates”. And, coincidence or not, the sesame oil chocolates the woman gave me ended up being my favourite ones. ❤
This is day 8 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 8, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 8, October 8th, 2017
This morning Dustin and I bittersweetly said goodbye to our home base in Ikebukuro (for now) and headed for the Shinkansen that would take us to Gunma! We ate some delicious ramen and parfaits at the station and reserved our tickets for the bullet train. We were a tad confused- Dustin asked a security guard where our platform was and he gave Dustin a wry smile, saying “You can do it! Fighto, fighto!” with a pat on the arm while pointing us in the right direction.
We did go to the right platform but we boarded the wrong train! It took off so quick that we just stood there worrying about what to do. A Japanese couple took pity on us- a young woman approached me and told us where to get off to catch our correct train! ❤ I thanked them profusely (the train staff did eventually come to talk to us, but the friendly woman saved us a lot of anxiety!)
Finally we made it to Gunma. I bought a few Gunma-chan (Gunma’s mascot) souvenirs and soon we were on our shuttle to Takaragawa Osenkaku Ryokan.
The bus ride to the onsen ryokan was breathtakingly gorgeous. The most beautiful lush trees and mountainous skylines i’ve ever seen. A well lived-in, country feeling. Narrow, winding roads.
The ryokan itself is astounding. Resting upon a river valley, it has amazing views, indoor and outdoor onsen baths, and a well-cared for living area with shining wooden floors, shogi screens, glowing lamps, tatami floors, everything so lovely.
We had a delicious kaiseki dinner of all kinds of Japanese foods. We are (so far) the only westerners here from what we can see, and we could tell people were curious about us coming way out here! What a special experience.
Video and pictures are understandably not allowed in the onsen, but this promotional video from the Takaragawa website shows how amazing this place is year-round:
We visited the segregated indoor onsen tonight- so peaceful. So hot. So steamy and
relaxing. Ah, I can’t wait to eat more good food tomorrow and bathe some more! 🙂 zzZZzzZZ