Friday, March 17, 2017

Public Transit in Japan

Hello all,

So it occurred to me the other day that as one embarks on the adventure that is traveling Japan, often the questions of what's cheap, what's fast, and what's worth it come up. So here I wanted to go over all of them and weight the pros and cons so that everyone can get a good idea of how they can best travel Japan.


(Photo Courtesy of SFGate)

Cost: Majorly expensive. From Narita Airport (成田空港) to Tokyo (東京) (about a 1 hour drive with no traffic), a taxi can run over $300 USD (compare to a similarly timed trip in Washington, DC which runs about $50).

Speed: Depends on location. In heavily populated areas, the speed is decent depending on the time of day (aka, not rush hour). Similarly,

Convenience: Very good. If you don't know how to get somewhere, most cab drivers can get you there with pictures, written addresses, or maps in the case that you don't speak Japanese.

Comfort: Cabs have automatic doors which open on command and are very clean.

Worth it?: If you're going a short distance and are traveling with 4 people or more (and if you have the budget for it).

  • Do your research before hand on where to go. It will normally eliminate your need and reliance on taxis significantly.

(Photo Courtesy of Japan Times)

Cost: Cheap. Can be rented by the hour or by the day.

Speed: Decent if you're staying in local areas.

Convenience: Not bad if you're going through local areas or if you're in areas where trains do not stop in many places. It's faster than a bus and if you're going less than 5 stations away, it's still a pretty decent method of travel. Anymore than that and a local train may be a better option. For example, Kyoto (京都) is a great area for renting out a bicycle. Also, if you have small children, you can get bicycles with children's seats on the back. The downside to bicycles is that you can't carry much on them and you should know the rules of the road, which can be tricky.

Comfort: Depends on you and your inclination towards physical activity and where exactly it is you are planing on going. Consider the terrain - is it flat or hilly; will there be a lot of people, what's the weather like, etc.

Worth it?: Unless you're staying in one small area, not really.

  • Ideally, one should peddle on the roads, not the sidewalks. Some places make this easy, others make it difficult. Additionally, knowing where to park your bicycle is also important to avoid it being confiscated by local authorities. A good way to park properly is to look for areas that are of little hindrance to others or are specifically designated for bicyclists.
  • Some lodging places have bicycles that can be rented for free or at little charge. So if you're interested, be sure to ask at the front desk.
  • Most rental shops will want to see some form of id when renting out a bicycle, so be sure to bring one!
  • Not all rental shops allow bicycles to be rented overnight, so be sure to check how long you can have the bicycle rented out for.
  • You can register a bicycle in the case of theft, though this is a rare occurrence.
  • Make sure you know where the bicycle locks are and how to use them.
  • Helmets are optional and not always provided at rental shops. If you want a helmet, you might want to bring your own!
Local Trains:
(The Yamanote Line. Photo Courtesy of TheDailyParker)

Cost: Very affordable. More expensive than trains in other Asian countries, BUT still much cheaper than trains in America.

Speed: Local trains arrive relatively quickly. Rapid trains are great if you can catch them, just be aware of what stations they do and do not stop at.

Convenience: Always on time. The only times I've ever experienced a train being late was due to something being on the tracks (which is quickly resolved). All information is normally displayed in both Japanese and English and trains generally stop at all major areas of the cities and prefectures they run in. Buses can be found close to train stations as well. The trains themselves often run within 5 to 10 minutes of one another, so even if you miss your train, another one is likely right on the way. Phone apps also give great direction for the fastest ways to get to and from various stations at the present time with a variety of routes and price options. Tokyo has one of the best local train systems in the world. With so many lines and stops, it's easy to get from one place to another via the local train.

Comfort: Decent. If you get a seat, you're fine. Some areas are reserved for those with disabilities, the elderly, those with children, and pregnant/nursing women. During rush hour though, expect to stand and be a little squished (ladies, bring flats if you can). They also have women only cars during certain hours of the day on certain train lines. If you're in Tokyo, the trains are generally extremely clean. Other cities' trains are also kept in good shape.

Worth it?: Most definitely.

  • Grab a JR Pass card to reduce the cost of your fares and to get to the platforms quickly
  • Don't eat on the trains. Drinking water is okay, but anything that could spill and be sticky isn't a great idea.
  • If you need to talk, speak in hushed tones, particularly in Tokyo.
  • Politely line up on the platforms and wait your turn to board. The trains will not leave without you. :)
  • Some cities, like Tokyo, will have several train companies running various lines through out the city. Thus, if you get a rail pass, make sure it will apply to all of the local train lines.
  • Google Maps often utilize the train schedules for great accuracy. Other apps like Hyperdia are also worth looking at and downloading for directions.
  • While not common, some groping exists on trains. This is why women only cars exist. Still, you may not be able to avoid a general car if the women only cars are full. In order to minimize risk of harassment, stand against a wall or door, back to the wall/door, with your hands in front of you.  In the case that you do face harassment, yell the words "Hanashite!" (放して) meaning "Let go!" or "Hentai!" (変態) meaning "Pervert!". As being linked to that kind of image is obviously not desirable, yelling either of the above should succeed in warding off any predator. At the next stop, get off and find a station attendant ("Eki-in" / 駅員) for assistance. Standing near middle-school aged boys is also recommended as they are more likely to intervene on your behalf than others as they are not as prone to worry about public appearance as some might be. Again, this is not common. I went two years there without experiencing any of the sort even once. Still, always good to be prepared!

(Photo Courtesy of Japan Times)

Cost: Cheap

Speed: Rather slow. Probably a little slower than a local train, yet will likely have more stops in areas not accessible by train.

Convenience: Decent. Really depends on where you're going and where your starting location is.

Comfort: Depends. Each bus is different. Local buses are made for short rides, so comfort isn't high and they can get packed near bustling city centers. Charter buses are much more comfortable, some including wi-fi, power outlets, and reclining seats.

Worth it?: If you have the time and don't mind long drives, yes. If you're traveling somewhere not close to a train station, need to get there relatively quickly, and it's on route, yes.

  • You can use your JR train pass for many local buses. 
  • Reservations in advance are recommended for charter buses.
  • Overnight charter buses are cheaper than day charter buses. If you can sleep in the car, you might consider this an option for a long trip.
Bullet Trains (Shinkansen / 新幹線):

(Japan's Bullet Train pulling out of the station)

Cost: On the pricier side. Still better than a taxi and faster.

Speed: Superman level. Seriously. While some Shinkansen trains (新幹線 meaning "new main line")  like the Kodamo (こだも meaning "Echo") are made for speeds of 175 mph, most trains, like the Hikari (ひかり meaning "Light"), Sakura (さくら meaning "Cherry Blossom") , Nozomi (のぞみ meaning "Dream", "Wish", "Hope", or "Desire"), and Mizuho (みずほ), operate at 185 mph. Their top trains, the Maglevs, have breached speeds of 375 mph, however, these trains are still in preliminary stages with as of now, only one line in production, the Chuo Shinkansen line (中央新幹線 meaning "Center new main line"), running between Tokyo and Nagoya (名古屋). Still, at 185 mph, who can beat that?

Convenience: Excellent in the case of longer trips. All announcements are made in Japanese and English and the trains are always on time. There are places to store larger luggage pieces.

Comfort: You'll feel like royalty. Okay, maybe not really, but you'll certainly be comfortable. Seats are great to sit on, cars are always clean (you may be lucky and witness the cars being cleaned in under 7 minutes prior to boarding), and you can barely feel trains departing and arriving. Perhaps the only downside is that some cars have 'smoking rooms' which supposedly block out the smell of smoke. They don't. Try to avoid these cars for the best comfort.

Worth it?: Really depends on...
1. How much time you have and 
2. How far you're traveling. 
If you don't have a lot of time and are traveling a decent way, it's worth it. If you're traveling a shorter distance (one that can be reached via local trains), I would only take it if you're short on time. If you're traveling a longer distance, but the train would take longer than a plane to travel to your final destination, then no, it's probably not worth it.

  • Purchase a reserved seat, especially during rush hour.
  • Trains don't have places to buy food. Buy a Bento (弁当 meaning "lunch box") to bring with you. Unlike local trains, eating on bullet trains is okay! Just don't leave a mess.
  • If you're going to be traveling a lot through out Japan and via local trains, it is worth purchasing a JR Rail Pass which is only available for tourists. It's a little pricey at first, but it applies to most JR trains, both local and bullet. Check out this website for details: JR Pass


(Photo Courtesy of Pinterest)

Cost: About the same as a Bullet Train, though likely a little cheaper.

Speed: The planes are fast. Getting to, getting on, and getting off them, not so much. Airports are run well, but like all airports, getting through them takes time.

Convenience: Not super. Most airports are out of the way and not near city centers. Big cities like Sapporo (札幌), Tokyo, and Osaka (大崎) will have trains departing out of the airports, however other cities may require bus rides to and from the airport. In short, do your research before hand. Also, like mentioned earlier, it takes forever to get in and out of the airports themselves. The planes are fast. The airports are not.

Comfort: Depends on what airline and what class ticket you purchase. Most of the time, flights within the country are short (under 2 hours), so even if you can't grab an aisle seat, you won't be stuck in a small space for too long if you're flying economy. Cheaper airlines typically use older planes, but they still fly decently, you just may see some age on the interiors of the planes' decor.

Worth it?: If you're traveling to and from cities, have the time, and are looking to save some money, then yes. If you want to reduce travel time, this likely isn't your best option.


  • Check out airlines like Peach and JetStar Japan for more local flights at cheaper prices. Airlines like All Nippon Airways (ANA) and Japan Airlines bump up the price in comparison as their planes are generally newer and more comfortable (all links in English). However, this makes the Bullet Train the cheaper option.

In conclusion, the best methods of transit are the ones that will suit your needs at the right price. Make plans in advance for how to get to and from various places. Consider time, money, comfort, and speed when making your plans. In regards to time, err on the side of caution. Particularly if you have a lot to do or a lot that you want to see, time is valuable. You may also consider 'the experience factor' as well. Bullet Trains are some of the world's greatest modern wonders, while riding the Yamanote (山手線) is just part of the brilliance that is Tokyo (and it's just about in every J-drama/anime that takes place in said Metropolis).

Hopefully, with the information above, you will have a much easier time making travel decisions.

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Meiji Shinto Shrine with the Sisters

Hello everyone,

I hope this week has been treating you well. Today I wanted to tell you all about an experience I had about three years ago, just because it is such a good memory. I was very fortunate in this memory to be able to spend the day with two lovely Sister Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on their free day in early spring of 2014.

While living in Japan, I often went to church at a Japanese-speaking ward or group. The sister missionaries however, were both from the States so we spoke together often in English. Sister Missionaries get one free day to get whatever they need to do done as well as take in sites if they are accompanied by a member. As we were super close to Tokyo, the two Sisters asked if I would join them on their day off to visit the Meiji Shinto Shrine in Harajuku (原宿) so that they could experience more of the Japanese Culture and surrounding areas.

While I'll explain more fully about Harajuku in another post, the Meiji Shinto Shrine or "Meiji Jingu" (明治神宮) is the largest Shinto Shrine in Tokyo and was formally dedicated in 1920. Unfortunately, the original building was lost to air raids during World War II, but the Japanese have since reconstructed the Shrine, which has become one of the primary attractions of Tokyo due to its size and Emperor Meiji's significance in history.

The Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, the Empress Shoken, both of whom are buried near Kyoto and the former of which was responsible for the end of the Edo Period. With the end of the Edo Period, the Meiji Restoration took place and Japan's doors were once again opened to outsiders. The building was built for the purpose of enshrining their souls and is still in use today. Many ceremonies and events such as weddings, baby blessings, funerals, Hatsumode (First Year's Prayers and Shrine Visits)(初詣), and the Dezuiri (when the Grand Sumo Champion enters the ceremony ring of the shrine occurs) (手数入り).  And despite all of this, the place remains a calm in a sea of hustle and bustle. Needless to say, it's worth checking out.

I met the Sisters outside of the entrance to the Meiji Shrine. After taking some pictures at the impressively tall torii gates (鳥居), we began our walk down the path to the main building of the shrine. One of the cool things to see was the Imperial Family's crest on the torii gates, which is unique only to Imperial Shrines. On the walk, we passed by loads of Sake (酒) barrels (Sake is rice wine). I took a picture for the two sisters in front of the barrels, who were then stopped by a foreign tourist passing by, who asked if they should be taking pictures in front of alcohol. Surprised that the man recognized who they were, it led to an interesting conversation about what the Sisters were doing at the Shrine (it turned out that the gentleman knew who they were and was pulling their leg). It was a delightfully fun experience.

So that begs the question, why were there so many Sake barrels? At the beginning of the year, sake companies each donate a barrel of sake to notable shrines in the hopes of receiving good luck, prosperity, and fortune in the coming years. If you were to look closely, brands like Kirin beer even had given barrels. Quiet a site!

We then proceeded to the main area, where before going in we stopped at the purification trough where we washed our left hand, then our right, then drank (and/or spit) from the right, and then washed our right hands again out of respect (we would want the same respect to be shown at our holy places too!). We took a photo outside the main building before going in and passed by a small shop where amulets and charms could be purchased on our way. These have always been interesting to me as you could buy any from protection against evil and luck in romance to good luck in passing an exam or traffic safety. There are a whole bunch!

Inside, the center of the Shrine was mostly bare, with the exception of Ema (a place where wishes could be written on wooden blocks) (絵馬), Omikuji (fortune telling slips) (御神籤), and two trees supporting a large Shimenawa (標縄) meant to mark a sacred place.  Up at the main structure where the offering hall was, people went up and tossed coins in, after which they would pray.

After walking around a bit inside the main area, the three of us departed, ending our journey into the shrine. It had been a relatively short visit, but it meant a lot to me being able to appreciate a peaceful place in the heart of Japan's capital with the Sisters. It made me feel that much more connected to Japan than I had before for some reason and thus it remains a very good memory to me.

More than once I've visited this Shrine and it is always a nice experience. It is enjoyable because it is one of the best places to have a chance to gain exposure to Japanese Heritage and Culture as well as gain a higher respect and understanding of the Japanese and part of their Identity. I highly recommend taking time out of your schedule to visit this Shrine if you get to visit Tokyo in the future. It's a good break from the noise of the city to enjoy the peace and serenity of Japan.

Till I write you again,

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Kawaii Monster Cafe

Hello lovelies!

Another entry here! This time about one of my last adventures in Japan (for now). This one I actually have to thank my friend Sara for as this was all her idea! We decided to meet up in Harajuku on one of the last weekends that I was going to be in the land of the rising sun (I miss you Japan!). That day though, she surprised me by taking me to the "Kawaii Monster Cafe". I am a little embarrassed to admit, but I hadn't heard of it before this experience. If you walk down Omotsusando from the Harajuku station and turn left, a little past Laforet and before the LINE store on the righthand side, you'll find a building with an escalator. Up a couple flights of stairs from there and boom! You're at the entrance to the "Kawaii Monster Cafe".

(The Monster Girls)

Reservations are not needed, but you might want to get there early if you are planning on going during a rush. If you go during an off day (aka, not a weekend day) during an off time (aka, not during the dinner rush), you should be fine going in and not worrying about getting a table. (I say this assuming that the place's popularity hasn't risen astronomically since I went, though I'm sure it will become more popular over time).

(Strawberry Smoothie)

When you get to the entrance, you can choose from 5 areas, the Sweets Go Round, the Mushroom Disco, the Milk Stand, the Bar Experiment, and the Mel-Tea Room. We choose to go to the Mel-Tea Room, which was adorable! Decorated in chocolates, teacups, and the like, we were instantly in love with the place. We were greeted and served by the Monster Girls, who were decked in trendy and cute monster-inspired attire. We asked if their wigs were heavy and they actually let us feel. They had to be at least a few pounds, much heavier than the wigs I've worn. Talk about dedication!

(Non-Druggy Cocktail (Experiment))

But by this time, boy were we hungry. We started out with drinks. Sara got the Non-Druggy Cocktail (Experiment) (Non-alcoholic) which she got to mix together herself, while I got a fruity strawberry smoothie (Non-alcoholic). Talk about yum!

(Popcorn Shrimp and Dip!)

We added an appetizer, popcorn shrimp, before we got our main dishes. Sara got rainbow spaghetti while I had rainbow spaghetti in Fettuccini Alfredo sauce. Sara's dish also included a variety of dipping sauces as well that made the dish look like a paint palette. To my knowledge, the menu tends to change, so every time you can experience something new!

(Rainbow Spaghetti)

(Fettuccine Alfredo Rainbow Spaghetti)

Totally a super enjoyable lunch out. The atmosphere was very light and fun, a great spot for young adults to go for something new or even a little relaxing. After we finished, we got to have our pictures taken with the Monster Girls, went over to the gift store, and proceeded to enjoy a day out in Harajuku (whoot for shopping!).

(Myself with the Monster Girls)

So if you're looking for a fun place to have lunch at in Harajuku, check it out! It's a great place for young women and teens especially. You'll be sure to have a great time. For more information, check out their website here: Kawaii Monster Cafe (which is in English! ^_^ ).

Till next time,

Thursday, September 15, 2016

TMR in Ibaraki 2015

Hey everyone!

I hope you're all doing well! I'm playing a bit of catch up as of lately, so today I'd like to share with you my experience in Ibaraki seeing T.M. Revolution live!

Let me preface this entry with a bit of information about T.M. Revolution and my past knowledge/experiences with T.M. Revolution. T.M. Revolution, or TMR for short, is a stage name for Takanori Nishikawa (西川貴教) that stands for "Takanori Makes Revolution". TMR has been active since 1989 and is well known overseas for singing opening and closing songs for a variety of Anime, including, but not limited to, Gundam (ガンダム), D. Gray Man (ディー.グレイマン), and Soul Eater (ソウルイーター). He has also performed with the group abingdon school boys and has teamed up with famous singer, Nana Mizuki (水樹奈々), for two singles. While he has done a variety of things over the years, it is also notable that he is a Cultural Ambassador for his home prefecture, Shiga (滋賀), where he now annually puts together the Inazuma Rock Fes (イナズマロックフェス).

I have seen T.M. Revolution live before in the States, but this was my first time seeing him live in Japan. Furthermore, I was actually lucky enough to attend a panel Q and A with him in Baltimore, Maryland at Otakon 2013, which was very interesting as he talked about his inspirations, interests, and things that he wanted to do for his fans. I had heard many of his songs in passing and had a couple favorites by him that would remain on my current playlists.

(Tickets to see TMR!)

Thus when I got the chance to see him up in Ibaraki 茨城県(which is just north of Tokyo), I was very happy to be able to see him live again. The location was out  at the Yuki Civic Cultural Center (結城市民文化センター), close to the Yuki Station (結城駅) on the Mito line (水戸線) on the 7th of June. It took me about an hour and several train switches to get up there, but when I got there, I was honestly a little surprised as the area didn't seem very crowded in comparison to most places that I had been. I had a friend that lived up in Ibaraki who told me that Ibaraki was much more rural than Saitama or Tokyo, but it didn't really hit me until I got there. It was a nice change though in comparison to the busy and crowded area in the cities that I was used to.

(A poster for this concert tour at the train station in the staircase going out)

I wondered if I was in the right place until I saw two girls dressed in TMR attire heading away from the platform and down the route I was following off of my GPS. After only about 10 minutes of walking, I came to the concert hall. Like most concert halls I had been to, this one did seem to have a goods line open early as most attendees had already gotten their goods and were now currently waiting for the upcoming concert's doors to open. I got there about 30 minutes prior to the show starting, so I missed the big rush.

(The entrance to the concert hall)

Seats were assigned at this location and there was no number system like 'pit' styled concerts that I had been to previously. While part of that was a bit of a bummer (I would have liked to be a bit closer), it was kind of nice too since everything was assigned and you didn't have to worry about your seat being taken or not being able to see. Everyone had a great view of the stage, which was much closer than I would have thought (and I was in one of the back rows). One of the nice things about my seat was that it was on an aisle though, which helped me with the view and made up for the seat being farther back.

Another nice thing about the seats being assigned was that I could easily go up to the goods desks and not worry about losing my seat or place in the theatre. New CD, Towel, and Pamphlet FTW y'all (along with a free poster too!). I choose to get 天 (read "ten"), which translates to "Heaven". I've listened to it many times since and it doesn't disappoint.

(My goods score!)

Speaking of living up to expectations, TMR did not let any of us down. I suppose this was my first 'full-fledged' experience at a TMR concert so to speak. The level of involvement from the audience was what made this experience different. People really let loose, head banging, jumping up and down, fist pumping, the once cool theatre quickly became hot with body heat and TMR just kept ramping it up as the concert went on.

(Inside of the concert hall before the concert began)

Even a full two hours in, lights were still pulsing and TMR had ripped his shirt off twice during the performance (not that I blamed him, it really was hot and it made for a dramatic effect). During those 2 hours some of the songs that he played were: "Flags", "Heaven Only Knows ~Get the Power~", "Summer Blizzard", "Salvage", "Resonance", and "Preserved Roses". All were awesome and the performance was pretty well paced. The only thing was at the end, there were kind of two encores, but I didn't know the second one was coming (I don't think any of us did). Otherwise though it was a smooth performance and very enjoyable.

TMR himself was great at pleasing the crowd, enduring through the physically draining two hours, and putting a lot of emotion and soul into each song. Whether it was fast or slow, softer or heavy rock, TMR, at the risk of sounding cliche, gave it his all and left us all feeling satisfied and pumped. He may be known for his shorter stature, but he lives up to tall expectations and makes others' pale in comparison.

Upon leaving the theatre, I was sweating thoroughly, despite maybe not being as involved as some of the others in attendance. I walked back in the crowds of people to the station and waited, probably 30 minutes for a train (I missed it by like 30 seconds the first time!), all the while texting friends. The cool air was a bit muggy and it didn't really help relieve my sweating, but it was enough and cooler outside than in (go figure, right?). I finally managed to catch a train though (also good because my phone battery was on its last bars) and made my way home.

(I saw this while standing in line to get inside; so cool!!)

Overall, I had a lot of fun at this concert. I wish I could have gone with friends as I think it would have been more fun, but I liked the music and since buying the CD, I often find myself coming across one of the songs from it on my playlists. TM Revolution is quite good. ;)

So bottom line, if you get the chance to see TMR live in Japan, do it. You will not be disappointed.

For more information on TM Revolution, you can check out his following sites:

You can also find out more about the Inazuma Rock Fes here:

Till my next post,

Sunday, September 4, 2016

My First Onsen Trip

Hello everyone!

So this happened wayyyyy back when I first got to Japan, but I wanted to share my first experience at an Onsen with you all! Onsen (温泉) literally means Warm Spring or Fountain. At Onsen, people bathe in hot water that comes from underground springs heated by the earth. It is a part of Japanese culture that continues to be enjoyed even today in the big cities. It can be done in both private and in public, though to bath in public is more common. So today I wanted to share what it's like, what you do/don't do, and how to make the most out of your own Onsen experience.

(Myself outside of the Odedo Onsen Monogatari)

My first experience was when my friend Ikumi took me to the Oedo Onsen Monogatari (大江戸温泉物語). Oedo was the respectful name of Tokyo during the Edo period of Japan when Tokyo became the capital. Monogatari literally means 'Story'. So at this particular Onsen, hosts attempt to let guests experience a piece of old Tokyo (with messages, omiyage/souvenirs, and yummy sweets of course).

(Puppets told a story above the entry way inside similar to how they were created in the Edo Period)

We got up early in the morning to take the train to the onsen which was located on the man-made island of Odaiba (お台場). Odaiba is full of fun and entertaining things to do with a shopping mall, several museums, the Fuji TV building, and a theme park to boot (Oh, and a giant robot that moves, no big deal). But today our sites were set on the onsen. Getting off at ---, we proceeded down the elevator and walked over to the Onsen. Yeah!!

 (The Entrance Outside)

This onsen is a bit like a get away resort, for both young and old and everywhere in between. I was surprised as I learned that they regularly have themed events/seasons and this time their theme was "Tiger & Bunny: The Rising" an anime movie out in theaters at the time. As a series I recognized, it just got me more pumped (and slightly embarrassed in front of Ikumi) to go into the hot springs!

(The line to get inside the onsen)

When you go into any onsen, you take off your shoes at the door and often you will find little lockers off to the side. Put your shoes inside, grab the key and take it with you when you check in (just don't forget your locker number!) We did this and lined up to check in. At this onsen, they gave us bracelets with locks inside them as well as a barcode. We would use these to access the lockers in the first locker room and the barcode was there so that we wouldn't have to carry cash around. If you wanted to buy something, you had them scan the barcode and like that, it was added to your final bill (reasons to be watchful of how much you spend: it could add up quick without you even realizing it!).

After receiving these bracelets, we went to the side where we were able to select Yukata (浴衣), cotton robes similar to the style of a Kimono (着物) as well as an Obi (帯), a sash or belt for the Yukata. We went inside and left most of our belongs in the women's locker room, save for our phones. We then changed into the Yukata.

(One of the clever Promos showing two male characters in Yukata)

Inside there they had signs in several languages showing us how to put on a Yukata. Most important of all was which side of the Yukata went under the other. In Japan, if you do it the wrong way, it is reminiscent of how the Dead are prepared! The correct way is to place the left side (your left) over the right side (your right). Women and men can wear undergarments with Yukata too if that makes them more comfortable. While there are other things that one can do to create a nicer finish for a Yukata because this was a resort, no one particularly took a lot of time to make them look super nice aside from that. Once we took care of that and tied our Obi into bows, it was time to go off and explore!

 (Part of the main area; they really got into the T&B theme!)

Upon exiting the locker room, we found ourselves inside a large hall filled with food shops, games, and snack shops. We looked around, taking in everything that there was to see and do before deciding to go to the Onsen itself. Onsen in Japan are separated by gender, with no possibility of seeing the other. This Onsen was a public onsen and thus once you got into the onsen locker room, everyone takes off everything, puts it in their lockers (you put your keys and phone if you have one inside and take the new locker key into the onsen on your wrist), and goes into the onsen.

(Sorry, but once you entered the onsen area itself, no photos are allowed for obvious reasons, so just text for a bit!) 

Having never done this before, I found it reallyyyyyyyyyyy awkward at first. I remember holding one of two towels that I received in front of me hiding myself from others as we walked from the lockers into the actual onsen area. Before going in, at this onsen there was a small little house like structure with buckets and water used for washing one's self off before entering the pool. It was at this point that I sucked it up, removed the towel and washed my body quickly before grabbing the towel again. While if you wish, you can go around, sit down at one of the sinks and wash yourself with soap, you can also go into the onsen straight after this. You are asked to wear a hair tie if you have long hair, but aside from that and your key bracelet, nothing else is to go in the water, including your towel.

So finally it came down to getting in the water with nothing on in front of everyone. Removing the towel, I quickly entered the water, which did a good job at hiding most of my body. Many onsen have minerals in the water, making it less clear to see through. But my sheer embarrassment was soon replaced by a thrilling relaxation that came from entering the onsen. Pure bliss.

As we jumped from various onsen to onsen, I became less self-conscious about myself and started to appreciate the nature of the onsen. At the onsen, no one really pays any heed to what others look like and if I did see someone, I just thought 'huh, I guess I'm not the only one who doesn't look like a supermodel' and it felt good to realize that. Everyone has this part or that part and everyone is there to bathe and relax. The only thing that surprised me was when I saw a little boy in the women's area with his mother, but I was informed that when children are that little, it is very common for them to bathe with their parents in Japan and not to worry at all.

The Oedo Onsen Monogatari had several onsen, both inside and out. Outside, walls went up high to hide the bathers, so we could calmly relax in one of the busiest cities in the world. Talk about irony, right? I learned to keep the small towel on my head so that heat wouldn't escape my body, which in turn kept me from getting light headed. I also found sometimes raising my feet out of the water to be helpful in preventing myself from feeling overheated (some of these pools were over 42 degrees Celsius!) After going to the majority of the onsen, we went into a sauna room to blow off some steam (literally) and rest. It was a good end to the onsen.

At this point, our stomachs started to growl, so we left the onsen and returned to the onsen lockers to redress and enter the common area again. We went through a bunch of stands till we found one that looked (and smelled) delicious! I ordered Melon Soda and Takoyaki / たこ焼き (Octopus Dumplings). It was absolutely wonderful!!! The only draw back to some of the eating locations was that smoking was allowed inside, but this is very common in Japan. My mind was taken off of it by the fun Tiger and Bunny decorations and themed items that were surrounding the area.

(Another dish they were serving inside)

Most games were rather expensive to play, but we did find a scavenger hunt for Tiger and Bunny and proceeded to do that after finishing our meal. We ended up finding all of the locations, gathering all the stamps needed, and turned in our passbooks to earn ourselves Tiger and Bunny bags and fans, which we placed in our (normal locker room) lockers. The last thing we indulged in was walking through the wading area (across rocks that hurt my feet and weren't so nice) and then sat in a pool where little fish ate away the dead skin cells off of our feet! It tickled, but it was so fun! And my feet felt wonderful afterwards! Highly recommend this if you get the chance to go.

As the day was coming to a close, we soon got ready to leave by going to the normal locker rooms and changing into our street clothes. We did our hair and make up again (we had taken it off before) and exited to the lobby where we handed them our key bracelets, which they scanned and rang up for us. We paid and then returned home from a very relaxing day. It was a wonderfully light hearted pleasure and I was so glad that Ikumi was willing to take me for my first onsen trip (you're awesome Ikumi!!). :)

(On the way out near the entrance)

I have been to this onsen several times now and one other. In particular, I feel like if you are visiting Tokyo, this one is convenient, fun, and very family friendly. The onsen itself is pumped out of the earth (it doesn't naturally flow out), but it is enjoyable none the less. The other thing this onsen has going for it is that it is affordable considering everything that you get to do and see. Other onsen can be pretty cheap, but might not pull out a lot of stops. Ones that do go all out tend to be a little overpriced I sometimes feel.

(Me in a Yukata while there)

This onsen was also wonderfully helpful to those who's native language isn't Japanese and it is pretty easy to get by and understand what to do and what is going on with helpful signs showing the way. Sometimes I felt like it was a little too much like a theme park, but it was cute and fun to experience and didn't detract too much from the onsen itself. So if you're looking to experience a piece of old Tokyo and go to an onsen while on vacation, check it out! You can find more information about it here.

Thanks for reading and till next time,

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Top Places - Mt. Fuji

Description: The tallest Mountain in Japan measuring at 3776 M tall, Mt. Fuji is actually an active volcano that provides one of the most scenic views in all of Japan. No need to worry about eruptions or lava flows though. Instead you can enjoy one of the many views around the mountain, such as those from Hakone Park, Lake Ashi, and Lake Kawaguchiko. Nearby attractions include Fuji Q Highland (an amusement park, especially worth the visit around Halloween), Shibazakura (a field of beautiful pink Moss Flowers), and the many Onsen (Ofuro) in the area.

Climbing Mt. Fuji: Mt. Fuji is closed to climbers most of the year, due to heavy snow. It is open from mid-July to early-September. It is possible to ride in a car/bus up to the 5th station and climb the rest of Mt. Fuji in a day. Prepare properly as weather can be unpredictable. Furthermore, Altitude sickness is common. For a real site, do the night climb to see Mt. Fuji at sunrise.

When to see Mt. Fuji: Winter makes for the best time to see Mt. Fuji as there is less humidity in the air. During the other seasons, humidity causes much cloudiness, reducing the likelihood that Mt. Fuji will be visible.

Recommended to: Anyone!

Rating: 5 Stars (not 5 during reduced visibility though)

Climbers' Website (English):

Japan: Running Through Time

"Japan: Running Through Time"

Taken on my trip to Kyoto, Japan (京都日本) at Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社).

I choose this title first because I felt like the little girl in the photo, who was playing at the shrine, kept running around in a seemingly different world built over the years without knowing it. 

The second reason though comes from this photo's background. This photo was lost to me for a year and through some miracle, I found a copy of it again. It had been one of my favorites from Kyoto, so when I found it, it felt like it was just returning from a journey, apologizing for not calling.

This is the third photo in my "Kyoto Series". For the first and second, follow the links here: Japan: Kin and Japan: A Little Moment .

I hope you like it!