Friday, October 7, 2016

Japan - Day 12 - Tokyo

When Brian and I moved to Southern California right after our honeymoon. As we settled into our new geography, including Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. I think we only went to each once or twice, but it's a fun memory of the early days. It seemed fun, and fitting, to end our 15th anniversary trip with a visit to Disney Tokyo. We chose the DisneySea park, as it was rumored to be one of the most unique parks in the chain and it is also celebrating it's 15th anniversary.
This photo of us on the Indiana Jones ride cracks me up as it portrays our personalities in general. (I realize it's tiny, so I'll describe it to you.) Brian is contentedly sitting in the upper left corner as he watches the rolling ball of "death" come at us, right as the Jeep quickly drops underneath it, to which I scream my head off to. I like us and how we approach life differently. :)
As you might imagine, the food in the park is unique. The best snack I found were these "little green men" mochi filled with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry creams. Yum!
After spending most of the day waiting in lines, walking the park and riding rides, we headed back to our hotel. We got ready for dinner at the Palace Hotel Tokyo. We had a cocktail in one of the fancy lounges, overlooking the Imperial Palace (although it was in the dark so couldn't be seen), and then had a scrumptious sushi meal at Kanesaka. (Un)fortunately, photos weren't allowed in the restaurant, so we enjoyed our meal with no documentation (which of course was sad for me but probably enjoyed by Brian).

It was a wonderful trip, full of unique and interesting places, foods and people. Thanks for following along our adventures and I'll be back real soon!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Japan - Day 11 - Magome

After a traditional Japanese breakfast, we packed our bags and dropped them off at the visitor's center. For roughly $20, we got to go on a lovely hike without our luggage (worth every penny!). We were treated to the perfect day for a hike, despite rumors the day before of rain.
The town we were leaving, nestled in the trees below the trail.
Apparently there are bears in these woods, so bells were stationed all along the trail, along with a sign asking you to ring loudly. I was happy to comply!
About halfway up the trail there was a stop for hikers. A man served us tea and candies next to a great smelling campfire. They even had free wifi!
One of two waterfalls along the trail.
When we were getting some water for the hike, I spotted this bottle of "Pocari Sweat" (which I had to buy). I waited until most of the hike was over to try it and it was delicious - like a lemon-lime Gatorade.
The end of the trail was as pretty as the beginning.
We strolled around town and had a quick lunch of sandwiches and iced coffee. Our bags were dropped off at the other visitor's center in Magome and we headed for the bus, a local train, a bullet train, a subway and finally the last stop on our trip. More on that tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Japan - Day 10 - Tsumago

We found a place right around the corner from our hotel in Osaka for breakfast called Morning Glass Coffee. They had just opened this location (their first being in Honolulu, HI) and were very excited to have Americans come for a meal. We stayed in the business district so most people stopping by so far were not on vacation like we were. They asked us lots of questions and were very friendly. I had a yummy iced vanilla latte and a breakfast burrito.
We walked around a little bit and then headed to the train station, bound for Tsumago, an ancient town in the mountains. Before we left the station, we stopped at a little sushi place for some delicious lunch. This was my hand-picked spread and Brian had the 10-piece Chef's special.
The town was so cute and lots of little shops were open when we got there.
My favorite part about walking around the town was the beautiful flowers people were growing. Lots of houses had fresh bouquets of them hanging on their doors as well.
This little well house stood on the side of the narrow road.
We stayed in a 200+ year old ryokan that is now being run by the 9th generation owner. We had a lovely dinner, minus the scary salted fish (those teeth!), and slept on the traditional Japanese mats. The walls were literally paper thin, but luckily there was only one other guest staying there. It was a fun experience and nice to get out of the big cities.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Japan - Day 9 - Osaka

Next to the ferry terminal on our way back to Uno, we found the last sculpture we wanted to see. Related to the pumpkin in my last post, this one is even bigger and you can get inside!
The bullet trains have been great transport between our city adventures. We bought a two-week JR Rail pass, which is the thing to do if you're a tourist (must be purchased ahead of time, outside the country). Most of the subways we take within the city require a different pass, but it's all pretty easy to figure out and way less expensive than taxis, or renting a car.
After our morning of a ferry and four trains, we made it to Osaka. We dropped our bags and headed straight for the Osaka Aquarium. I would say that unless you are traveling with kids, or just really love chaos, the aquarium isn't worth $50. I did like the jellyfish exhibit though, not sure I'd seen all the kinds they had before.

As we were leaving, we sat down to figure out a place to go for lunch. A hoard of school kids were racing around looking for foreigners to practice their English with. Brian was their target, he probably talked to eight of them. These girls were the best and giggled at every answer he gave.
We stopped at a place for udon noodles, since we hadn't tried them yet. I forget the name of the place, but the noodles were great. Their system for ordering was a bit complicated - a box with numbers that you put money into, with no pictures. The English menu, with pictures, had no Japanese, so it made it tricky to get help with matching up the items. In the end, I had the tofu tempura udon and Brian had the prawn tempura.
Despite the rain, we only had one day in Osaka, so we walked over to Osaka Castle. The park surrounding it, like every other castle/palace we've visited, was huge. The inside, all eight floors of it, is a museum depicting life and the evolution of the castle and the complex. The building is a reconstruction of what it used to be - as it had burned down at one point. I was hoping to see the actual castle, like it had looked, but alas, it was all displays.
We walked around a bit more, checked into our hotel and went in search of some dinner. We landed at Brooklyn Parlor, mostly because I was in the mood for some chocolate cake (bottom right). I also had a yummy pink grapefruit mojito and the avocado fritto.
And then it was time for some karaoke! Brian picked a place called the Drunken Clam (named after the bar in Family Guy). This is him singing "One Week" by the Barenaked Ladies. I sang "Black Horse and a Cherry Tree" (my go-to karaoke song), "22" by T-Swift and a duet with an Australian guy to "Gonna Make You Sweat" by C+C Music Factory. In all, a pretty hilarious evening.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Japan - Day 8 - Naoshima

After a yummy breakfast, complete with fresh croissants and apricot preserves, we headed out to see all the outdoor sculptures. The one pictured at the top is made up of rocks from around the world with an American-made hot tub in the middle. For an hour each Saturday and Sunday, you can pay roughly $10 to soak in an aromatherapy bath and be part of the living exhibit. Unfortunately, we had other plans during the time, or I would have participated.

Along the beach, I found a ton of sea glass, which I never seem to find, so I scooped it up to bring home. We also saw the beautiful crane on the bottom right as he searched out some breakfast. Cranes symbolize longevity and good luck, appropriate for our anniversary trip.
Yayoi Kusama's Yellow Pumpkin is iconic on the island.
Just in case the pop art experience didn't wow you before, here's my jumping bean version. 
The "Art House Project" is a collection of six formerly vacant houses that were built more than 400 years ago and have now been renovated into works of art. The house at the top left was a former home and office for a dentist. It is now home to walls painted all shades of blue and a life-size white plastic Statue of Liberty.

As you walk through the Honmura district neighborhood, you walk past little shops and businesses, along with little pieces of artwork fit into the surroundings - an insect made out of a can, a girl woven out of yarn and nails on a wall and this little cat under a light on a fencepost sign.
As we walked through the narrow streets, you couldn't help but notice how amazing some people's yards were. Jealous!
Since we've been walking a ton and carrying our Tortuga backpacks around, we treated ourselves to some massages at the Benesse House Spa. I had a traditional shiatsu massage and Brian had a deep tissue massage. Afterwards, we agreed that they were the best massages we'd ever had - which is saying a lot, at least for me (hi, Leslie!). 
We had our last meal in Naoshima at the French restaurant at our hotel. It was SO good - we think the head chef was formerly at a Michelin-starred restaurant. From the mini cheese puffs to the butternut squash soup with truffled cream to the fresh focaccia bread with olive oil to the homemade vanilla thyme ice cream - it was all worth writing home about, hence the mention here.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Japan - Day 7 - Naoshima

After leaving Kyoto, and taking four different trains, we arrived at Uno Port to take the ferry over to Naoshima Island. We had an hour between modes of transportation, giving us just enough time for a light lunch at the Uno Port Inn. They had free wi-fi, local craft beers, breakfast served all day (I had this yummy egg sandwich) and delicious coffee.
We took a shuttle to our hotel, the Benesse House Museum. This was the view from our room. (Far nicer than the random air conditioning units or parking lot views I usually get!)
After checking in, and enjoying a welcome mimosa on the terrace (my kind of place!), we went on a short, guided gallery tour. The docent explained that the architect (Ando) designed the buildings to incorporate nature within and throughout. No photos were allowed of the art inside, but you could take pictures outside. I love this piece, "The Secret of the Sky," which is made of marble and is modeled from human palms facing upward. You can sit on them and look up to the sky above. Each stone is roughly 10 feet across and smooth to the touch.
The museum has two restaurants - one Japanese and the other French. We tried the Japanese one tonight. The food was as mysterious as our meal in Hakone, but most of it was good. After dinner we took the self-operated monorail/funicular (turquoise box at bottom right) up to another part of the hotel called the Oval for a nightcap.
The oval - rain was softly falling into the oval pool from the sky through the oval above.

Many of the works of art throughout the museum were made on site by artists that stayed at the hotel when it first opened in 1992. Some were able to pick the location and setting for their installations. This creates a very seamless experience for the visitor, as you feel like things were meant to go where they are found, instead of feeling like you're visiting specific exhibits.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Japan - Day 6 - Kyoto

Finding a shrine in Japan is easy, but finding one, and a moment like this that includes no one but yourself is rare. The Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine was beautiful. The grounds were well-cared for and although there were a lot of people there, it was still possible to find a zen moment. This Thousand Torii walkway was my favorite part, 
The entrance to the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine.
Afterwards, we headed to the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum -- had we called ahead a day early, we could have had a tour of the sake distillery too. Having recently watched The Birth of Sake, the museum was particularly interesting to see. All the tools and the steps in the process were laid out to see and the visit ended with a sake tasting. Brian liked the blue bottle (above) of sake not only for it's anniversary recipe/flavor but also for the built in cup that was made to be used on a train (and not spill).

We then headed to Cafe Bibliotic Hello! for lunch. Brian picked it for the name but the food was also good. I had a delicious homemade ginger ale, a smoked salmon sandwich, butternut squash soup and this mint chocolate cupcake.
We then headed to Kyoto Imperial Palace for a long walk, the place is HUGE! There are so many buildings, which are sadly not open to the public, but there was a nice self-guided tour you could take around the complex of the former ruling palace for the Emperor of Japan. Brian captured this awesome shot of one of gardens (mine just weren't as good).
We had dinner at Donguri Shijokarasuma, which was a little underground place, and also part of a larger chain of restaurants. We tried the Japanese pancake, okinomiyaki, and a Japanese liquor called chu-hi that is served with some kind of fruit juice. I had the lime. Afterwards, Brian wanted to check out an Irish pub, so we headed to Man in the Moon. The pub was cute and small, although I am still having a hard time with all the smoking - it feels like the 80's! I tried the Kirin cider, which was pretty good, and we walked back to the hotel in the rain.