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 day 10 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 10, here we go!
From Shauna’s Journal
Day 10, October 10th, 2017
This morning I got up at 6AM and went for one last dip in the rotenburo. I thought few people would be up so early, but there were quite a lot actually. When I returned I was locked out of our room for quite a few minutes, standing in the hallway in my yukata, tapping incessantly on the door. I thought Dustin had left for the onsen, or was deep asleep not hearing me, and I was getting more and more peeved (trying to knock loud enough that he would hear me but not so loud as to disturb other people sleeping)- it turns out he was having a nice leisurely shower, oblivious to my struggle T-T
I got a few more pictures of gorgeous Takaragawa before we returned our key and checked out. I told the staff how beautiful I thought Takaragawa was, and they gave us a free keepsake DVD. We took a shuttle bus through the winding roads back to Jomo Kogen station.
Now we are enroute to Kyoto ❤ I was getting a bit hangry from hunger and being hot and tired lugging around our bags again, but now I’m fed, aboard a comfy shinkansen, and much more at ease. We got ekiben (train bento from the station) and these fancy sweet cakes from Tokyo Banana!
Shinkansen (bullet trains) are great. They rocket you to your destination, they are efficient and on time, the seats can be rotated to face the way the train is heading, and it fits more people than an airplane while being more spacious and comfortable. Even the bathrooms are nice!
When we reached Kyoto we took a taxi to what will be our home for the next 4 nights: M’s Inn Higashiyama. I had paid in advance for the entire duration at M’s Inn, and this was the booking that caused me the most anxiety… after I booked it I realized that it has a very modern check-in system where there are no staff during most hours- you use a tablet to check yourself in with an emailed code, and your inn room also has a code for entry! I was worried that if we encountered an issue with codes or language barriers there would be no staff to help, but everything went smoothly!
M’s Inn has a deceptively small, simple, traditional looking exterior, but inside it is a spacious new building with many rooms and modern art by Junko Funada throughout. Our room is a blend of modern and traditional, with bed or futon option, a tatami & shogi screen area, a washer and dryer in one, little kitchen, toilet & sink room, and a shower/bath room. This place was a bit on the expensive side, but we feel it was worth it. Dustin is smitten with this little place.
Out one window we have a view of a tiny rooftop garden belonging to a neighbor. Out the other we have a view of a street where you can see many pedestrians coming and going, as well as a beautiful shrine! We spotted a woman posing for pictures in a lovely pink Kimono.
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