Fujisan

There was an earthquake this morning at around 4:30. Not a big one and probably wouldn’t have woken me up, not like some of the other ones we have had.

You know how I know about it? I installed this app that alerts you to coming earthquakes… the problem is… the alert comes to your phone and I swear to you its as loud an emergency PA system. Not to mention that it’s in Japanese. So to say I was startled, concerned, freaked out is quite the understatement. I saw my life flash before my eyes and panicked thinking I would die being so confused about everything because there was no English. Alas, hardly anything shook, it wasn’t a big deal and I have since disabled that feature but that didn’t stop me from being awake since 4:45.

Before heading to the outer fish market at Tsukiji this morning, I thought I’d share some about my Mt. Fuji hike last weekend.

We started the hike in the middle of the night at the 5th station (at about 7k feet) with the plans to climb to the summit (at 12+k feet) overnight. It’s quite the traditional route to leave in the evening and travel up the mountain to arrive at the summit at sunrise.

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It was the highest I had ever been before and it was breathtaking to say the least. Watching the sun slowly rise and then shine in all it’s glory was remarkable. What was equally remarkable was that we didn’t have a single drop of rain on the way up or back. Clear starry starry skies on the way up, and sunny blue skies on the way down.

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All in all, I think I was prepared for a hike that was going to be much harder than it turned out to be. Maybe that was because it was dark, maybe it was because I was just excited to be climbing Fuji, maybe it’s because you climb the mountain fairly slowly due to the altitude, or maybe I’m in better shape than I thought (doubt it).

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At the end, we were going to walk around the crater but decided it was cold, we hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours, and it was best we just start our descent home.

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While I recommend you hike Mt. Fuji if you can and you do so at sunrise, I don’t think I’d ever recommend doing it twice. The descent is steep continuous switchbacks going down, down, down in thick lava rock gravel, that you can only imagine in your hiking nightmares. Oh my knees. They still ache just thinking about it. Actually, I think they still physically ache. But for this… I’d have achy knees any day.

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Classical Music, Odaiba, Science, and Pancakes! (yes, more pancakes)

Less than one month from today, I will be back on US soil. I think it will be a little bittersweet leaving Tokyo but mostly sweet and filled with good things… from Trader Joes.

The next two weeks are going to go by in a flash as one of my besties is coming to town! I am so excited and it will be nice to be out and about seeing all the Tokyo sites for probably the last time. On top of that, a week from Saturday… we will be climbing Mt. Fuji!! I am praying and hoping for good weather, but either way, I think we will have a great time.

This past weekened, I started Saturday off with a little miscellaneous shopping and then headed to Korakuen where I met up with a coworker and his wife to watch the Sony Concert Band (one of the many bands/orchestras supported by the Sony Foundation). It was a free concert and it was amazing. Classical music is relaxing yet energizing all at the same time. The most popular of the songs was the theme to a Japanese video game “Monster Hunter” (I admit I’d never heard of it) and 1812 Overture.

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Sunday, I ventured to Odaiba to see the Rainbow Bridge (I want to go back to see it at night). There is also a Statue of Liberty Replica given by France to Japan, it was so cute!

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Odaiba is also home to the Museum of Emerging Science, which I thought was awesome. There were so many great exhibits… although some of them required a little too much reading and not quite enough hands on for me.

The highlight of this museum is the large globe made of tiny LED screens. It also projects a demonstration comparing the world to Japan. One of the funniest, yet accurate, facts of all of them was robberies. Using circles to demonstrate, it showed what would be about the size of a basketball (scaled down for my example as compared to the size of the globe) as the world average and Japan was probably the size of a pea, one single solitary pea. Perfectly shows, based upon facts and data, that Japan is such a safe country.

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Oh and I ate pancakes. Ricotta pancakes with banana and honey butter. I sure did.

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Adventures in Japanese Cuisine

Because I have the uncanny inability to sleep in on the weekend (it’s Saturday here) and I’ve been up since 5:30, I thought I’d finally share some of my favorite meals from my time in Japan so far.

The food has been so good and what I like most besides the general deliciousness and variety is that the portions are normal sized. So even if something is rich and indulgent, you aren’t given too much of it, unlike the gluttony present in the US. However, there isn’t an overwhelming presence of fruits and vegetables. Oh and did I mention… fruit here is SO expensive. I think I actually had a heart palpitation when I saw 6-8 strawberries for 500 yen, that’s nearly $5!!

The flavors of Japanese cuisine are simple but delicious. One of my favorite meals has been this udon which has a thin piece of fried tofu on top.

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Okonomiyaki is a specialty of the Kansai region of Japan (Kyoto, Osaka, etc.) and was by far my favorite meal in Kyoto. It is a savory pancake-like dish filled with vegetables, seafood, etc. and served on a hot skillet.

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Unagi is barbequed eel served on rice. It was so delicious, but what isn’t delicious served with BBQ sauce.

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What I have been most surprised by is that fact that some of my favorite food here isn’t Japanese. There is an Indian restaurant that I have been to nearly every Thursday for the vegetarian curry special with the most delicious nan bread.

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There is a pancake craze in Japan. With breakfast food being my favorite, I have enjoyed this thoroughly. I swear, these are pancakes.

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Oh and these crepes. The best 450 yen you will ever spend.

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In terms of beverages, I am obsessed with Chu-hi (pronounced chew-hi) which is a low alcohol content soda-type drink and the most delicious refreshing thing, ever.

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There is so much more: The best sushi you will have in your life. Soba noodles. Tempura. Green Tea/ Matcha everything. The list of delicious goes on and on.

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That being said, I have a list of foods that I can’t wait to eat when I get home including black bean burgers, baked oatmeal, watermelon, general fruits and vegetables. And I am most looking forward to getting back into a full size kitchen and trying to recreate some of my favorite meals from my trip.

It’s time for some breakfast now!

Cup Noodles and Hydrangeas

This past weekend was filled with Cup Noodles and Hydrangeas… as the title clearly suggests.
Saturday I went with two co-workers to Yokohama to visit the Cup Noodles museum.

I really enjoyed Yokohama. It was about a 50 minute train ride from Tokyo. Once you are there it feels much more “residential”. Everything is a little more spread out and roomy and the view from the bay isn’t too shabby either.
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Instant Ramen was invented in Japan in 1958 by a guy named Momofuko Ando, a cute old man. He spent months in his tiny shed trying to find a way to enjoy delicious ramen witout taking so much time. In preparation of the trip, I had Cup Noodles for dinner a few nights beforehand. I am completely serious when I say, I forgot how delicious it is! I have since had Cup Noodles for dinner on more than one occasion. I can’t get enough. And if you’re concerned about my salt intake, don’t worry – the trick is not to drink all the broth.

One of the best parts about the museum is the My Cup Noodles Factory  where you get to decorate your own bowl and choose your flavors. It was so much fun. I felt like a kid in a candy store.

This photo is all of the finished soups before being packaged and shrink wrapped. I chose kimchi (!), corn, green beans, and fish cakes with a seafood base.

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After they seal it, you get to put it in this weird blow-up packaging that you can then wear as a necklace. I’ve never felt so cool…

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On Sunday afternoon after church, I met up with a different co-worker to go to the Hakusan Shrine to catch the last day of the hydrangea festival. It was a warm one with the sun shining but the flowers were beautiful!

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There were so many varieties that I had never seen. There was also a jazz band playing in the garden and had there been a place to sit, I would have plopped down and just enjoyed the music the rest of the day.

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Time has been going by so fast and I now have less than 5 weeks left before I arrive back in Seattle and only 4 weeks until I leave Japan for Hong Kong.

Kyoto

I realized when I went to write this post, it’s been over 3 weeks since my last post! Today also marks 8 weeks in Japan! My how time flies!

My mom was in town the last week and a half of May and we were out and about the whole time, non-stop. I had the best time with her. We went to Kyoto, Hakone, and explored Tokyo too.

Kyoto was fantastic, we walked SO much and saw SO much but had a wonderful time and made sure we ate well to make up for all of our walking. It has been my favorite food so far. We also discovered this most amazing cream cheese custard filled cream puff from the Family Mart, like a 7 eleven. It was so good we made a stop both nights of our stay to pick one (or two) up.

We stayed at the Kyoto Hana Hotel and I would definitely recommend it to anyone going to Kyoto. It was such a nice stay, impeccably clean rooms, fancy foot massager in our room (!), and a great location.

For our biggest sightseeing day in the Higashiyama district, we followed the walking itineraries on this super helpful website. I definitely recommend poking around the site if you have plans to visit Kyoto.

Here are a few of my favorite shots from Kyoto.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple looking out onto Kyoto.

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Aquaduct at Nanzen-ji Temple that was actually still a functioning aquaduct.

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Overlooking Ginkaku-ji (the silver temple). Although not actually silver, the view of the city from the gardens was great and zen sand formations were pretty awesome. _DSC0953

This may be surprising… but this is The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji). It is covered in gold foil and by far the most popular attraction in Kyoto. _DSC0962

Second in popularity to the Golden Pavilion is the Fushimi Inari Shrine that is known for its rows and rows of bright orange Torii (shrine gates). They continue on and on up the mountainside. The women in their Geisha clothing make this photo look really authentic. _DSC0973

Although not nearly as popular (read: less people), my favorite place was the Sho-ren-in Temple. The outside is surrounded by these outrageous camphor trees. The inside is a serene garden and also a series of buildings with amazing painted walls and screens and other historic items from when the it was used as a retreat for Buddhist teachers. DSCN0923

Today, I am heading to Yokohama with a few coworkers and we are going to go to the Cup Noodle museum and will get the chance to make our own cup noodle! Sunday, I’m visiting a different church where a friend that I met while doing BSF over here sings in the choir and then heading to the Hydrangea festival in Bunkyo. I’ll try to get a post together to share the weekend happenings.

Here’s your sign.

Here are some of the photo worthy signs I’ve seen around Tokyo thus far. I imagine in the next two months, there will be a few more gems along the way.

On the Metro

Getting around Tokyo has been one of the easiest obstacles to overcome during my rotation thus far. The stations have also provided a multitude of entertainment thanks to advertisements posted throughout. The metro system has a campaign out about riding the subway including safety, courtesy, etc. They aren’t in English but thanks to the graphics, it’s pretty easy to tell what exactly it’s talking about. Here are just a few of my favorites:

“You’ve got to leave the cake behind.” If the doors are closing, evaluate the risks. Is it worth the injury to save an easily replaceable item you may have left? This one was made with people like me in mind because that looks like an awfully good piece of cake to just leave on the platform.

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We all know the sound of roosters is annoying, frustrating, and frankly rude. “Please mind your noise level while riding the metro.” The bunnies and the rest of us would appreciate it.

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At the Zoo

Did you know that the crows here are BEASTS? I’m talking, at least two times the size of the crows in the US. It’s creepy and I don’t like it one bit. Their caw is also much deeper and often sounds like a person making a weird noise. It’s creepy and I don’t like it one bit. That’s probably what necessitated these warning signs at the zoo.

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An exhibit was under construction and that poor little bear felt sorry about it. I’ll ‘excuse your mess during construction’ any day with a sad yet cute looking bear like that.

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Just Around

Smoking is extremely popular in Japan. There is even a ‘smoking room’ in my office! Naturally, the smoke cloud is a happy smiling girl with a thumbs up. It’s so cute, I almost want to start smoking but not while walking, of course…. just kidding.

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And the last one… it’s not really a sign. It’s an English translation except I don’t even know what it means or what it’s trying to mean. The Japanese language doesn’t have pronouns, or plurals, or articles so translation can be a little rough sometimes but also provides comic relief every once in a while.

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Have Monday very good!

xoxo

One Month Wrap-Up!

I can’t believe that I’ve been here 4 weeks already, it’s crazy! Time is going by so fast.

Last night, we had a going away party a co-worker who is going back to the UK. The night ended with epic karaoke. The first song I sang was with a Japanese co-worker, “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. Such a classic.

BUT can I just tell you… there really isn’t ANYTHING better than watching 2 Japanese guys belt out “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction. They were so into it. Jumping up and down at the chorus, etc.. One of the best moments of my trip so far.

That was followed up by another lesser known 1D song that was selected by someone on accident. I may or may not have known all the words… by heart.


Today I went to the Ueno Zoo for 2 reasons: 1) Giant Pandas and 2) Giant Pandas. Actually, I do really enjoy going to the zoo. Just so happens it’s another beautiful day here so it was a great way to be out in the sunshine. While the Ueno Zoo is pretty much right smack dab in the middle of Tokyo (read: open land is limited), it felt quite spacious. Although, there were a few habitats that I thought could have used more space.

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Of course, the pandas are extremely popular at the zoo. It’s quite rare to have pandas anywhere. I guess that’s an obvious statement since they are a threatened species. Zoos around the world are working to conserve the giant panda. Who wouldn’t, they were just stinkin’ adorable!

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This image is the visual portrayal of contentedness. I feel like this also embodies what I feel like when I get home and get to change out of my professional clothes. Ahhhhhhhh. _DSC0770

There were a few other animals that I hadn’t really seen before including a stork and some other interesting birds.

Sadly, one of my favorite animals, the tapir, wasn’t out. I’ve grown to love the tapir from my visits to the Denver Zoo (shout out to Becky and Brent!) and the fact that they have the cutest.babies.ever. But even though there was no tapir today, there were appropriate warnings of both llama and tapir ‘abilities.’ I’m going to have a post one of these days of all the signage here, it’s pure genius.

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Whelp, with that…. hope you have a fantastic weekend!

xoxo

Mt. Takao

Saturday, I got up early and spent a few minutes chatting with my Dad and sister before heading to catch the train for Mt. Takao. I hadn’t heard about Takao until the managing partner at the office recommended I check it out after I had mentioned I love hiking and was planning to hike Fuji in July.

Takao is about an hour outside of Tokyo and just a quick train ride away. There are quite a few trails to get to the top of Mt. Takao, which reaches 599 meters, and then a number of trails continue on and around Takao. I opted to extend the hike to go to Mt. Shiroyama which goes a little higher, up to 670 meters (about 2200 ft). There were a few times up the hill that were a little slow going but the Japanese are generally polite to move out of your way to let you pass and after I got past the main Mt. Takao peak, the crowds tapered off, but neither trail ever felt overwhelmingly crowded.

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It was a crystal clear, 70 and sunny day but 100%, undoubtedly, the highlight of my hike was that because of the gorgeous weather, Mt. Fuji was clearly visible. As I crested the last little hill, I audibly awed over the sight of it. So breathtaking and majestic. Oh, my heart was happy.

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And then I thought, hmmmm, that is ALOT of snow to melt in 2 months when official climbing season kicks off on July 1st. However, I know we’ve got some warm weather ahead and it’ll be good to go by the time Cale and I head there to climb on July 5-6.

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From the top of each point, you could also see a view of the massive expanse that is the Tokyo metropolitan area. It just continues on and on and on.

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I’ve also come to the realization that I’m developing a minor obsession with all these tree roots, I’m my mother’s daughter. She’d take a picture of every rock, flower, flora, fauna given the chance.

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On the way back, I stopped at a shop near the train and picked up a few fresh steamed buns. One was filled with vegetables and SO delicious. The perfect post hike snack.

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If you ever make it Tokyo and have an extra day to spend and the weather is clear, I’d highly highly recommend taking some time for Mt. Takao. Great hike and great sights!

P.S. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MOM! I can’t wait for our adventures in just a few weeks! I love you more than words can express. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Meiji-Jingu, Exploring Tokyo during Golden Week

I should note, this should really be before the Kamakura post, chronologically speaking. I should have thought about that more, especially for purposes of this being a supplementary travel journal. 

Just a quick post and a few pictures from last Monday at Meiji-Jingu. There was a light fog-like mist that really created a very ethereal feeling. Once you enter the park from Harajuku, which is bustling with people, it becomes very peaceful. You’d never expect the droves of people a hundred or so yards away.

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I was much more impressed with the gardens and grounds than the structure of Meiji Jingu itself, although it is beautiful nonetheless. Meiji Jingu was built for the spirits of Emporer Meiji and Empress Shoken and April 2014 marked 100 years since the Empress died. The Empress was and still is greatly loved by the people of Japan and all over the world. She did a great deal of work with the Red Cross, among other philanthropic activities.

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I found out, thanks to informative signs at the shrine, that the tablets to write your prayers and gratitude are called Ema. I found this gem of an Ema at Meiji-jingu.

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If only Jimmy knew that he’d need a heck of a lot more than a prayer and 500 yen to have 12 dogs. And that he probably wouldn’t want to hear his 12 dogs talking because it’d just be about how stupid and easily manipulated humans are…. I digress…

After Meiji-jingu, I took some time to explore the shopping district of Ginza. I bought a pair of sweatpants (like a pair I had seen on pinterest and loved) and pajama pants. If you know me, you know that sounds about right. They weren’t selling cozy/hospital socks or else, undoubtedly, I would have nagged a pair of those too.

All in all, I’d say it was a successful extended weekend.

Kamakura

Kamakura was my Tuesday adventure and has been my favorite spot so far. I spent a long day there (14 miles long) and it had all of my favorite things. Cute little shops, hiking, good food, and some sights.

The way the city and sights are laid out, you can go on two different hiking trails and see the best sights while taking a pit stop between hikes to head down the main drag to see the shops, eat, etc. I should back up, the city is laid out that way, but that’s not necessarily how I explored it. I had some navigational issues and had to cut out one of the trails due to my poor map reading skills. The kind people of Japan saved the day again and directed me on the correct course.

The first trail, Diabutsu, leads to the Big Buddha of Kamakura, the main attraction in the city. The trail was really well marked and it’s so interesting to experience a different terrain. Along the trail, I found the exposed tree roots, oftentimes used as steps, to be pretty fascinating.

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The Big Buddha was equally impressive. They burn incense at most of the shrines/temples and the Diabutsu had the best smelling incense in my journey so far. It just smelled so cozy and welcoming… that must be the 15 years of the Pacific Northwest in me.  _DSC0684

Towards the end of the day, I went to Kencho-ji temple and entered just a few minutes before closing, due to said navigation issues. The woman at the gate was kind enough to let me in (along with a few other people coming in after me) and said (in English) I could let myself out the side gate. It couldn’t have worked out better. It was me and about 20 other people in the large expanse of the grounds. It was the definition of peaceful. I could have just roamed around and sat there all day if my feet hadn’t been beckoning me home.

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I’m not sure what they do here in Japan, but I swear they give all their plants ‘roids or something. I have never seen so many beautiful flowers with such vibrant colors and sweet fragrances. I have started restraining myself from photographing every plant/flower I see, but it is so hard because they are so gorgeous that they don’t seem real!

Peonies, like woah. I. can’t. get. enough.

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I don’t know what this is, kind of looks like ranunculus. I do know that I want one… for the yard I don’t have.

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I also got a few things for myself while roaming around, including the cutest lucky cat. You had to know I would be buying myself one. Nanny will also be ecstatic that I found some of our “ice-cream” spoons at a steal of 150 yen a piece!