Anyone taken a vacation to Japan? Any advice?

Bodhisattva

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Aug 22, 2001
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Day 7 ...

This was our last day in Kyoto. The city is amazing and is home to more than 2000 o_O temples and shrines. We wish we had more time for this beautiful city.

We visited Nishiki Market – several blocks of alleys serving all manner of foods, desserts, and beverages – in the early morning and waited as the market opened up and came to life. We watched the bakers and fishmongers and all variety of chefs create their delicious foods. The display and aroma of the endless feast made it hard to choose. So, we had sample-sized ports of just about everything. Meats on skewers, sushi, oysters, dumplings, octopus, bread, pastries … we ate like happy pigs! Perhaps the best breakfast ever. Nishiki Market is popular with tourists and the locals.

We then visited the shrine at the end of the market called Nishit Tenmangu Shrine. Like other temples and shrines, there is a water fountain at the entrance so visitors can cleanse themselves prior to entering. There is a metal cow statue next to the fountain. We can tell a lot of the faithful have been touching the cow's nose for “good luck” because the statue looks like it has just been polished.

From the "which one of these is not like the other" department, there is a Wendy’s just outside the shrine. That's just wrong on many levels. Of note, Wendy's in Japan serves spaghetti. That may not be wrong, but it certainly isn't right! :cool:

Next, we visited Nanzenji Temple. It is famous for Zen gardens and its aqueduct system, which is still active and serves the local area. Originally, it was the Emperor Kameyama’s retirement home and later became a Zen temple. We went through a giant gate (sanmon) to enter the temple. We were lucky because we are allowed to go up to the gate’s balcony to get a nice view of the temple complex.

There are several large Zen gardens inside the complex. The raked gravel represents a flowing river, and several rocks resemble a lioness and her cubs getting ready to cross it. It was quite relaxing to experience it as a tourist among tourists. I can only imagine how mentally restoring this place was as a private residence.

On to Tokyo in the morning ...
 
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Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
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Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Day 8 ...

We took the bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo, making the trip in two hours instead of eight. Very nice way to travel. Again, the Japanese are dormouse-quite on public transportation, and the ride was as smooth as can be. The weather was clear, and as we approached Tokyo, we could see Mount Fuji from our seats. Nice bonus!

We met our friend Cam (English translation = Orange) at the station in Tokyo. Cam is from Vietnam and has lived in Tokyo for a few years. She lived at my MIL’s house while going to college in Saigon. She has stayed in touch with my MIL, and, by extension, Lan for several years. Cam and her Japanese boyfriend, Shunpei, graciously offered to play tour guides for us this weekend. Shunpei joined up a little later in the day. In the meantime, Cam took us to the Tsukiji Fish Market for lunch. I love watching and participating in the hustle and bustle of market activity.

After the fish market, we take the subway to Akihabara Electric Town. Here, we can see the comic book characters roaming the streets. Huge electric billboards are everywhere. The shops are filled of rows and rows of toys, shelves and shelves of figurines. Like everything else, it seems, every geeky collector's impulse can be satisfied. So cute and fun!

We then met up with Shunpei. He and Cam takes us to our Airbnb near the Tokyo Skytree. And then it is dinner time, which I am really looking forward to. Almost all of our meals thus far have been sampling delicious options from market stalls or street vendors. As a “thank you” to Cam and Shunpei, and because I really wanted to see what all the fuss was about, I decided to crush my budget and take everyone out to a Japanese steakhouse for a variety of carnivore offerings, including Kobe steak. I definitely did not want to go to a place on the tourist path, so I asked Shunpei to take us to one of the best restaurants in Tokyo. The tab ending up being nearly $600, but OMG, it was the most delicious collection of steaks ever! Just pure melt-in-your mouth awesomeness! Throw in some sides and some beer with the great companionship … what a great night!

Before we go back to our Airbnb, our friends took us to Shibuya Station. There we took our picture with the statue of Hachiko. This dog is famous for his loyalty and devotion. After his owner passed away, the dog still made a daily trek to the train station to wait for his owner. IIRC, Hachiko did this for about nine years until he died. Several movies have been made about this loyal pet. Any country that loves dogs that much is all right by me.

A short walk from the station is one of the busiest intersections in the world: the Shibuya Scramble. It has become a fun place for people to gather, enjoy the bright lights of the area, listen to the street music, and cross back and forth and diagonally at the intersection. So simple and silly and fun. I mean, who can’t smile when you see a Japanese dude in a panda outfit singing Ed Sheeran songs?

I love Tokyo!
 
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Bodhisattva

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Aug 22, 2001
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Day 9 ...

On the second (and last full) day in Tokyo, we played dress up. We met our friends at a kimono rental store, and we changed into Japanese traditional dress. I wore my “samurai” robes only briefly – just long enough get a few pictures with the girls. This part of the day was all for Lan, Lily, and Cam, and they had a blast in their kimonos as the five of us walked to the Asakusa temple and shrine. It is a popular thing among the tourists and locals – to wear traditional dress when exploring Japanese history. It’s a beautiful site. As like every other day, we ate street food, took a ton of photos, and were just generally happy and goofy.

After lunch, we went to a public bath house, which is a popular place for relaxation in Japan. One side of the bath house is for men; the other side is for women. I didn’t go into this trip intending to be one among 50 swinging dongs in a bathtub, but when in Tokyo … There are a variety of baths – scalding hot, a jacuzzi, ice cold, and several with various minerals or herbs. There is also a sauna. I just followed Shunpei’s lead as we rotated from station to station. My body felt totally beat up by the extreme temperatures and the water-cannon-jacuzzi, but it works. Total relaxation set in shortly.

For our final dinner in Tokyo, we went to a non-touristy sushi restaurant. Again, I had Shunpei pick a great place, and I treated my friends to another “thank you” meal. While waiting for our food, I made my way to the bar to order some beers and saki. I struck up a brief conversation with a Russian named Vladimir. (Totally on the nose, right?) :unsure: He asked me if I was married to a Japanese girl. I told him my Asian of choice is Vietnamese. Vlad then said (in a thick accent), “I love Asian women. So much better than Russian women. But, sometimes, for no reason, they go crazy! Do you know why?” :D I told him I was still trying to figure that out. In fact, I would make a direct inquiry shortly, as the adult beverages were ready. I walked back to our table and asked Lan (for my new Russian friend) why she sometimes goes crazy for no reason. Lan gave me that all-to-often “you're not funny, stop being stupid” look and punched me in the shoulder. I looked over at Vlad, who was watching, and just shrugged and said, “I don’t know why. It just happens.” Not sure if he heard me, but I think he understands. :cool:

Back to the food. Delicious! As expected and made even better with the company of the evening. Like the night before, communicating across three languages turned out to be hilarious. Lan and Lily speak Vietnamese and English. Cam in a native Vietnamese speaker and has become fluent in Japanese. Shunpei only speaks Japanese. I speak English and increasingly rusty Spanish, which was absolutely no help on this trip. Throw in some alcohol, and there’s some cheap entertainment. :)

We were sad to see the evening come to an end.


Day 10 ...

The next morning, we packed up, did some last-minute souvenir shopping, got some lunch, and took the train to Narita airport, which is about an hour ride. This day we were to hit the only serious snags on the way home. Our flight got canceled, so Lan rebooked while on the train. Instead of connecting in Houston, our flight would leave a couple of hours later and connect in Denver. Then at the airport, our flight to Denver was delayed another couple of hours. We finally made it back to Orlando, but instead of arriving around 7:30 p.m., in time to get dinner before the two-hour drive back to Ponte Vedra Beach, we arrived after midnight. It was almost 3:00 a.m. by the time we got home. Needless to say, the jetlag our first day back was off the charts.

We can’t wait to go back. Lan is looking into to taking her mom and sister to Japan in Fall 2025. Hopefully, everyone’s schedule will sync up. With other trips penciled in over the next two years, it will be a little while before I’ll get back to Japan. But I definitely can’t wait for a return trip. Maybe we’ll focus on the rural areas and/or the mountains next time. Maybe Cam and Shunpei will get married, and we'll be able to attend the wedding. They are a beautiful couple. :love:
 

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
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Second day in Kyoto ...

Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavillion):




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Arashiyama Bamboo Forest:

Very popular and couldn't get a pic without a lot of fellow tourists. Oh, well.

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Not sure if these young women are maikos (geishas in training), or they are just in costume as part of the tourist experience. Probably the later. The geishas and maikos are mostly in the Gion District of Kyoto.

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And, of course, food!

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Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
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287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Third day in Kyoto ...

Chion-in Temple (with the massive Sanmon Gate):

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Shoren-in Temple:

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The lake was full of monster koi. There's no frame of reference, but this guy was over two feet long. And he had a lot of buddies.

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Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
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Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
In spite of all the awesome local food, Lily and I started jonesing for a burger. We felt it was ok to have a burger, as long as it was a Japanese version. This loophole means we cannot be labeled "bad Americans."

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple:

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Extremely quaint Gion District:

What has to be the world's smallest bar. Can accommodate three customers (no bar stools).

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Gion is where one can see authentic geishas.

In Gion, it is forbidden to bother the young women or even take pictures of them, so we did neither. However, there's no shortage of jackasses who want that selfie and then start to berate the young women when they ask to be left alone. It's apparently become so bad that tourists are now banned from parts of Gion. The hyper-modest and private Japanese are starting to tire of all the tourists. As with many things, it only takes a few to ruin it for everyone.
 

Bodhisattva

Hall of Fame
Aug 22, 2001
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2,394
287
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
Fourth (and final) day in Kyoto ....

Nishiki Market is popular with the locals and tourists and is several covered square blocks of alleys serving all manner of foods and beverages. We got there early to watch the place come alive with the activities of fishmongers, bakers, and all manner of chefs get started on their daily creations. A feast as far as the eye could see! We had sample portions of just about everything - meats on skewers, sushi, oysters, dumplings, octopus, roasted nuts, pastries. We were the happiest of pigs!

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And then there's this blasphemy at the far end of the market:

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