Monday, July 13, 2015

Carly's Japan Recommendations ~ updated in 2015!


Carly, the Sensei of Travel?

2015 NOTE: This post originally appeared in my blog in June 2011. I made a few updates in 2015 after a year of living in Mejiro, Tokyo. Ok, here it is:

It's down to the wire here; in less than a week, I will be leaving Japan. As a travel bug-bitten Japan enthusiast on a shoestring budget, I've learned a lot this year about how to make the most of my time and my money in Japan. So, if you're ever considering a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, you're in luck, because I've condensed my findings into two itineraries, which I'll post here. The first is a basic "week of Japan's highlights" which I drafted for my singing buddy Max earlier this year. It hits all of what I consider "must-sees" and "must-do's." The second is designed for people who have a little more time (and a little less money) to spend only in Kyoto.

ENJOY!

Travel Recommendations for Japan: A Week of Japan's Highlights

First, try to buy a JR Pass (http://www.japanrailpass.net/eng/en003.html). This pass (available for 7 days, 14 days, and 21 days) is a HUGE money-saver if you plan on going anywhere beyond the Tokyo area--which you should! But it takes a little of preparatory work (only available outside of the country and then you “cash in” your voucher for it once you land. It’s a little complicated, but it’s worth the trouble (hundreds of dollars over).

Day 1: Land at Narita Airport; Take Narita express to Ikebukuro (there are some direct trains; some via Shinjuku) or take the “Airport Limousine” bus directly from Narita to your hotel (Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo, Ikebukuro).  There is a bus information desk right by the baggage claim. 
HOTEL: (A) Hotel Metropolitan Tokyo in Ikebukuro is a nice, Western-style hotel, and I can recommend Ikebukuro as a wonderfully central location for Tokyo tourism (http://www.jrhotelgroup.com/eng/hotel/eng111.htm); a bit more budget-friendly option would be (B) Tokyu Stay Ikebukuro in the same neighborhood (https://www.tokyustay.co.jp/e/hotel/IKE/); For the more adventurous, I might recommend the Asakusa Capsule Hotel (3000 yen pp) http://www.asakusacapsule.jp/english/ -- with the side note that my brother hated the capsule hotel. It can be miserable if (like him) you enjoy a cushy lifestyle and/or do not speak a word of Japanese… but come on, it’s a CAPSULE HOTEL!
Tourism: Stave off jet lag by walking around the Ikebukuro area (such as the shops of Sunshine City), and maybe even singing some Karaoke or visiting the 10-storey Junkudo bookstore.  Another magical place to spend a Tokyo evening is the Asakusa area, where you can walk around SENSO­JI TEMPLE and the shops nearby.

Day 2: Jet lag will wake you up early, so this is a great day to see the Tsukiji fish market as it bustles in the early morning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsukiji_fish_market)
Explore the Akihabara electronics district (also a great place for vintage video arcade games—just wander around. My younger brothers loved “Super Potato” (http://otakumode.com/sp/visit_japan/akihabara/at003);
Yasukuni Jinja (shrine that causes lots of controversy when politicians visit it) and the war museum next-door
HOTEL: Same as Day #1

Day 3: Exploring Tokyo
Shopping in the Ginza area (famous shopping district, like 5th Avenue)--definitely go to Matsuya (it's as famous as the NYC Macy's)
Walking around the Imperial Palace grounds
Entertainment: consider a kabuki show at the Higashi Ginza Kabuki-za theatre
Evening Shinkansen (3 hour bullet train) to KYOTO – Don’t forget to buy “train snacks” before you board. Typical ones include crackers like “Pretz,” dried squid or beef jerky, a bento box of sushi/various local offerings, Asahi or Kirin beer, and Pocky for dessert). You will see all of these delish offerings for sale around the boarding platform.
HOTEL: Kyoto is a great place to try a ryokan (a traditional Japanese style inn where you sleep on the floor and wear yukata as you walk around). When my dad visited, we stayed at Nishiyama Ryokan, which was centrally located and sumptuous but quite expensive (http://www.ryokan-kyoto.com/). Another option would be just try to shoot for something close to a subway stop; Sanjo area is most convenient

Day 4: Exploring Kyoto
Rent a bike from a shop or a hostel and ride around, exploring various temples and shrines; A day bus pas is another convenient option.
Some of the best are: Kinkakuji (Silver Pavilion--sooo gorgeous), Ryoan-ji, Heian Shrine, Ninna-ji, Fushimi Inari Shrine -- oh, also, at Heian shrine, sometimes you can experience the tea ceremony in the tea house in the inner garden. I'm not sure how often this happens, but it's a super traditional Japanese experience.
Most shrines and temples are either free to enter or charge fees of around 400 or 500 yen per person. The main attraction is the scenery, so bring your camera and just explore and enjoy the peacefulness
Philosopher's Walk and the Ginkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)
Nijo Castle (enter and walk around, see old architecture)
Old Imperial Palace grounds
Gion (old geisha area)-- walk around, consider a performance
Sanjo for night life – buy some Chu-hai or beer from a convenience store, and sip it down by the river as you listen to the youngsters play guitar.

Day 5: Kyoto Environs
Arashiyama is the mountain district just outside of Kyoto. It's a gorgeous place for a day spent leisurely hiking and enjoying nature, if you have the time. I'm crazy about the Sagano Romantic Train through the mountains here (http://www.topsightseeing.com/japan/kyoto/attractions/romantictrainride.htm)
*Any free time to kill in Kyoto (if it's a pretty day): picnic by the Kamo River, especially at Sanjo or Demachi Yanagi stations
*Or do some of the unfinished stuff from Day 4

Day 6: A Brief Glance at Kansai (region including Kyoto and the western part of Honshu)
Use your JR pass to visit Kobe, Osaka, and/or Nara. These cities are all close together and all have lots to offer to a tourist.
in KOBE: eat beef, walk by the seaside park
in OSAKA: consider Spa World (a bath park) http://www.spaworld.co.jp/english/service.html, also consider the bunraku (traditional puppet) show--sounds lame but is quite a sight to see and is famous in Osaka
in NARA: (7th century capital)--see the old temple and the giant Buddha at Todai-ji, feed the deer
Possible hotel: Nakata Bed and Breakfast (Nara) 奈良県奈良市寺町1-1 --- 0742-24-0860 (7600 yen per room per night) -- sleep on futon in a tatami mat room

Day 7: Use the last day of your JR Pass to take the Shinkansen back to Narita airport.
If you have time, consider stopping first at Shin-Yokohama, and then taking the JR local line to Ishikawa-cho and see the biggest Chinatown in Japan. This is where I used to live. If you keep walking north toward the sea, you can see some beautiful parks by the Yokohama port, which became a main port after Commodore Perry told Japan that they had to open up to trade back in 1853.

IF you are only going to be in the Tokyo area and are unable to travel farther afield, great day trips from Tokyo include: Yokohama, Nikko, and Kamakura. The latter 2 offer beautiful historic scenery and temples/shrines, and the former has a great Chinatown (mentioned above in Day 7) as well as a huge ferris wheel, an easy-to-access baseball stadium (go, Baystars!), and gorgeous parks by the ocean port. 

2015 UPDATE: Other great places to see in Tokyo include: Ueno Park (lots of great museums, beautiful park, and I love the Shitamachi museum); Ryogoku near the sumo stadium (completely worth the ticket price if you are around for a tourney; http://www.sumo.or.jp/en/); and walking around the old campuses like Waseda and Tokyo at Hongo campus. Tokyo also has some lovely gardens -- my favorites are Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden, Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden, and Rikugi-en... well, basically every garden seen here in the 2014 Fall Leaves Stamp Rally (http://www.metro.tokyo.jp/INET/EVENT/2014/09/21o9i500.htm).  My new favorite day trip from Tokyo is Karuizawa, a resort area in Nagano prefecture but just an hour from Ueno station by Shinkansen. Just go directly to the information center when you get to the station and do the red-line walk in the English brochure they give out free at the info booth.  

If you have the time or inclination to explore even beyond Tokyo and Kansai, great bets would be: Hokkaido (the northern island), Okinawa (by plane), Hiroshima (atomic museum and park), Nagasaki (only port city open to trade with “the West” for two hundred years until the mid-1800s), Kanazawa (old castle city on the Sea of Japan), or Takamatsu on Shikoku (udon capital, also has a gorgeous park called Ritsu-rin).  Other options among my favorites would be: climbing Mt. Fuji (for the extremely fit and courageous), walking some of the temples of the 88 Temple Shikoku route, and the magical land of Tokyo Disney ("Land" is better than "Sea").

Must-eat/drink items: MAIN: okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake); udon (noodles); soba (buckwheat noodles); sushi (Kappa Sushi in Kyoto between Sanjo and Gion Shijo stations, on the west side of the river, is cheap and good); takoyaki (fried octopus in round balls, usu. sold as street food); curry rice (CoCo Curry is always good); onigiri (rice balls, buy at any convenience store; I like salmon or tuna-mayo); pickles ("tsukemono")
TREATS: green tea ice cream, shaved ice with beans on top (kakigori), crepe (popular street food); something delish from any Japanese bakery; mochi ball (white ball with red bean paste inside, available by any convenience store check-out counter)
DRINKS: chu-hai (soda-like beer everyone loves and drinks as they sit by the river); sake (duh. try "Nihon-shu" or "Maru"); umeshu (plum sake); green tea

Good Japanese experiences: seeing shrines and temples, entertainment: kabuki/bunraku/geisha dance in Gion, Kyoto; staying in a capsule hotel; staying in a traditional Japanese hotel (ryokan); bathing in an onsen (but you have to get nekky with random people); seeing a baseball game; buy drinks from vending machine; buy treats at a convenience store (Family Mart is best); make puricula (photo stickers in arcade photo booth); go out drinking when the salarymen are out; stop in for an hour or so of karaoke!


NOW, KYOTO-SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS:

KILLING TIME IN KYOTO FOR FREE (OR, AT LEAST, FOR VERY LITTLE MONEY)

This post provides a suggested itinerary for people who have a lot of free time in Kyoto (students, researchers, backpackers...) and want to see the city on the cheap.

SUNDAY: MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. Start out at Kawaramachi station. Cross the river and spend the morning walking through the streets of Gion, the old Geisha district. Slowly make your way northward through the streets, stopping to enjoy treats (a warm tofu manju for 200 yen is a warming breakfast). Admire the kabuki theatres you pass along the way. Stroll through Maruyama Park. Continue north, walking up Higashi-Oji Road, until you reach the Biwa canal. Walk along the canal, headed eastward, and then, when you hit Shirakawa Road, turn left to walk north. Turn left when you reach Marutamachi Road, and stop into the Miyako Messe (www.miyakomesse.jp) to see the FREE “Maiko, Kyoto Traditional Dance” and short lecture on customs, held every Sunday from 2-3:30 p.m. The shop in the basement is great to get an idea of crafts available for purchase in Kyoto, but the prices are so high that it’s better to use it more for inspiration than for actual purchases. Spend the late afternoon exploring Heian Shrine, just north of the Miyako Messe. Admission is free, unless you want to go into the garden for 400 yen (which is worth it if you’re there in a pretty season).

MONDAY: EMPEROR / SHOGUN FOR A DAY. Begin at Imadegawa station. Walk into the Imperial Palace complex just east of the station, and spend a good amount of time traversing the complex’s various gardens as you head southward through it. Exit from the southwestern corner (by Marutamachi station) and walk west on Marutamachi Road until you reach Horikawa Road, where you’ll take a left to head south to Nijo castle. Nijo castle does have an entry fee of around 600 yen, but I think it’s worth it, because you get to see the interior lifestyle of the rich and shogun-ish from the Edo period.

TUESDAY: KAMO KAMO KAMO. Be a true Kyotoite and spend this leisurely day along the Kamo River. Make sure the weather’s nice. Begin on the northern side of Shimogamo Shrine, where it’s free to walk along and admire the shrine buildings and wooded surroundings of this World Heritage Site. Work your way south until you arrive at the “V” where the two sides of the river join to form the Kamo river. Grab lunch at Falafel Garden (on the right, just 2 blocks down the little road immediately south of Demachi-yanagi station) where you can get lunch for as little as 350 yen. Take it to go, and picnic by the river for the rest of the afternoon, listening to conversations and musicians around you as you enjoy some Chu-hi purchased from the Family Mart or 7-11 nearby.

WEDNESDAY: PHILOSOPHICAL KYOTO. There isn’t a ton to see at Kyoto University, but it’s nice to be able to claim that you’ve seen the campus, and it’s always electrifying to be near a stellar university. Bookstores abound near the campus--as do cheap eateries. Begin at Demachiyanagi station and walk east on Imadegawa Road until you hit campus on your right. By the way, there are countless used bike stores along this road, so if you’re in the market for some cheap wheels, this is your best bet. After breezing through campus, continue on Imadegawa. You will eventually pass over Shirakawa Road, where you should begin to see signs for Ginkaku-ji (Silver Temple). The entry fee is 500 yen (worth it), but if you’d prefer to save that money, there is plenty to see along the “Philosopher’s Path” that rambles perpendicularly to the entry road to the Temple. This is especially lively in cherry blossom season, although Ginkakuji in autumn splendor was one of the most breathtaking sights of my year here.

THURSDAY: KYOTO THE NATURAL. Begin at Kitayama Station, where, just to the west, you will enter the Kyoto Botanical Garden. It’s only 200 yen (observatory extra, but not necessary), and the grounds are peaceful and charming. After the morning here, make your way east along Kitayama Road, stopping in to sample a treat from one of the many bakeries along the way. Inobun, a four-story store just to the east corner of Kitoyama station (across from McDonald’s; www.inobun.com) is a fun place to get a feel for Japanese gifts. I bought most of the presents for my family here; it’s not touristy--just so Japanese. It’s a great place for stationery, precious accessories for babies, bento boxes, tea-related gifts, book covers, and jewelry. Keep going east on Kitayama until you reach Takaragaike Road (2 stoplights east of Inobun). Take a left up this road, and follow it to Takaragaike, where you will spend the afternoon paddling in a “lucky boat” (or watching others do it of 1000 yen sounds too steep), walking alongside the water, and taking pictures of the fun animals here.

FRIDAY: KYOTO THE MODERN. Begin at Kyoto Station. Spend the morning at the station itself, going up all of the steps, stopping in the shops, and taking in the architectural impressiveness of the Station itself. Caffe Veloce next to the main post office in front of the station is the cheapest coffee shop in Kyoto. After coffee, take the subway to Karasuma Oike station for the International Manga Museum-- a big hit with my whole family (http://www.kyotomm.jp/english/). Then, take the subway to Shijo, and spend the late afternoon enjoying the shopping district here, especially the thrift store “Chicago” (with a full 2nd floor of discount kimono and yukata), the cheap eatery Yak and Yeti (www.yakandyeti.co.jp), and the arcades where you can make puricula (tiny photo booth pictures--very Japanese). 

SATURDAY: it’s the end of your week, so why not spend a little money? Choose from one of the three options below which, although they cost a little money, are all Kyoto musts:

(EXPENSIVE OPTION 1): ARASHIYAMA. Take the JR to Saga-Arashiyama Station. Exit and walk a few steps to Trokko Saga Station, where you are able to catch the Romantic Train Sagano Line, round-trip, through the beautiful mountains. This is a must for fall! When you get back to Saga, have a bowl of curry rice for a few yen at one of the shops among the main drag, and spend the day exploring the bamboo forest, Tenryuji Temple, and all of the fun shops and treat stores in the area.

(EXPENSIVE OPTION 2): FUSHIMI INARI AND UJI. The JR Nara line takes you down to Fushimi Inari, the shrine with all of the red torii gates lined up. Wear your hiking shoes! It’s totally free once you get here, but save a couple hundred yen for soft serve at the top of the mountain! After Fushimi Inari, make your way to the KEIHAN Fushimi Inari station, and then take the Keihan line to Uji, a city south of Kyoto. In Uji, spend your afternoon at the Tale of Genji Museum and at the architectural gem that is Byodo-in, the Phoenix Hall. This provides a nice little respite from Kyoto.

(EXPENSIVE OPTION 3): THE NORTHWESTERN MOUNTAIN TEMPLES. Rent a bike or put your hiking shoes on, because this stretch of temples is a long one (but totally worth the effort). Bus 59 also connects these three temples. Begin at Takaoguchi station, and as you progress north-easterly along Kinukake Road, stop into: Ninna-ji (World Heritage Site, beautiful grounds), Ryoan-ji (World Heritage Site, famous for its zen rock garden), and Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple, World Heritage Site).

OTHER TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY:

GETTING AROUND: Transportation in Kyoto is expensive, so if you think you’ll ride the subway more than two times in a single day, buy a 600-yen “DAY FREE PASS” from the worker at the subway operator window at the ticket gates of any subway station. Bus passes are also available from the driver as you exit the bus (500 yen for one day). Bike rentals are also a good idea. I saw a sign the other day for 500 yen rental for a whole day at the bike rental shop at Demachiyanagi station.

GETTING IN FOR FREE: The Kimono Passport Program (www.kimono-passport.jp) is an unreal deal, but the information is all in Japanese, so foreigners don’t really have the chance to take full advantage of it. Let me help you. This program offers discounts and, during the autumn months, free entry to many tourist sites like temples and museums. All you need to do is to pick up a kimono passport booklet from a distribution office (an easy one to find is the Information desk at the Keihan Sanjo station--just ask for “KIMONO PASSU-POH-TO ONEGAISHIMASU” from the worker inside the office). Then, get yourself a kimono (as mentioned above, the second floor of Harajuku Chicago has many cheap options, www.chicago.co.jp). Then, just wear your kimono as you go sightseeing, and flash the passport at the entry desk of the temples and museums you visit. Deals and discounts differ from year to year, but you’re guaranteed to save money, plus you get to keep the kimono.

EATING ON THE CHEAP: My favorite spots for yummy but cheap food are Coco Curry, Kappa Sushi, Yak and Yeti, Caffe Veloce, nigiri and bento from Family Mart, baked potatoes from Lawson 100, plus any street food available. Also, try Ohana (small coffee shop with good breakfast and lunch sets; take Exit 1, the east exit, from Matsugasaki station. Take a right at the first light, and Ohana is on your left--a green building, at number 9-2).

LIVING ON THE CHEAP: Go to the International Community Center near the corner of Shirakawa and Nijo as soon as you arrive to check the bulletin board for cheap items for sale, cheap lessons, and (free) language exchange opportunities. Other options to outfit yourself are RECYCLE SHOPS. My favorites... I don’t know their names or addresses, but I know the general areas: (1) From Imadegawa station, get to Imadegawa Road and walk west along it. After about 5 blocks, you’ll see a Family Mart on your left. Soon after that, on the left, is a yellow awning. This is the recycle shop; it’s great for cheap kimono, accessories, and “nice,” traditional household items. (2) Where Kita-Oji dead ends into Shirakawa Road, there is a recycle shop on the southeast corner of the “T” formed by the roads. It has a bunch of clothes and really cheap necessities. I just got a thermos there for 200 yen. (3) From Kita-Oji, take a left onto Shirakawa Road and walk for several blocks until you see a bunch of washing machines out on the sidewalk. This is a great recycle store for appliances like refrigerators and washers. (4) In the covered marketplace area just north of Shugakuin station, there is a small recycle shop with gift items and some clothes. (5) Green e Books (www.greenebooks.net) is at the northeastern corner of Marutamachi and Horikawa Roads. It has shelves and shelves of second-hand novels, non-fiction, magazines, and guide books--all in English! Don’t expect much if you bring your own books here to sell at end of your stay, though. I was just offered 50 yen (about 60 cents) TOTAL for my copies of _Gone with the Wind_, _Catch 22_, a Japan guide book, a book of David Sedaris essays, and hardbook copy of Ha Jin’s _War Trash_.


Happy travels ~~ !

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday, July 1, 3:10 p.m.

This will be my final blog post.

It's hard to believe that my 14 months in Asia are over; it's now the 1st of July, and I am home, home, home! I never thought I'd be much of a blogger, but looking back, I'm so glad that I kept up with my posts. It's almost as good a record as "Scrappy," which many of you who knew me in high school remember was quite the leviathan of documentation. It is my hope that people may continue to stumble across this blog in the future when they are looking for various Asia-related travel recommendations and such. And for those of you who follwed me throughout the year, thank you so much! It was always a delight to realize that people back home were keeping tabs on me and enjoying my adventures along with me!!

I'll begin this post with an update of the conclusion of my journey, and I'll finish with three lists I'd been keeping throughout my year in Japan.

I got to the airport in Seoul right on time on Thursday morning. The flight was pretty brutal (kicky child behind me, plus I registered vegetarian, but they got confused, so they just brought me lettuce from first class as my meals). The Korean Air movie situation was really good, though, and I watched such greats as "Fiddler on the Roof."

The best view of my screen, though, was the Sky Map those last few minutes:

^ 18 km to destination?!?!!!!!

I was grinning from ear to ear for about the last 4 hours of my flight ^

First glimpse of beautiful Virginia in a year and a half ^

Mama greeted me in the arrivals area, and we had quite the joyous reunion. It caused a big scene! We, of course, had our usual troubles figuring out the terrible parking/traffic situation at Dulles, but when we finally set off in Mama's car, this cooler was waiting for me:

Chocolate soy milk, Diet Coke, and grapes!

Plus a jumbo pack of my favorite gum, plus a 7-11 coffee ^

As I had been envisioning ALL year, we went to the Fredricksburg Cracker Barrel for some country cooking and some trip tale-telling.


Mama then dropped me off at Dad's office, where he had this sign waiting for me in the lobby of his office building:

^ Extra-adorable, because it's a real, vinyl sign that Dad had ordered and gotten delivered to the office in preparation for my return!

After a couple of Makers and Diet Cokes at the Commonwealth Club with Dad, and then a reunion with Ellen and the Boys at Carytown Burgers and Fries, I went back to Mamas, where she fixed me a lemonade spritzer with pomegranate ice cubes. We enjoyed it in her garden, which is in full bloom.


My room was all ready for me:


... and BOY, did I sleep well!!!

All year long, whenever I wanted to "think about something" to kill time as I walked to school, rode the train, or jogged, I chose to imagine my homecoming. So, the events of yesterday were like the actualization of a dream I'd rehearsed in my mind for fourteen months. You know, I'd always thought of myself as cosmopolitan--a real globe trotter and citizen of the world. This past year, though, I really learned that I'm not the type to be "at home" all over the globe after all. Asia will always be my adoptive "homeland," but there's really nothing like the motherland: my Virgina.

And now, I'll close with three lists I'd composed over my year in Japan: what I'll miss about Japan, what I won't miss about Japan, and what I can't wait for about being back in America.

The "will miss" list is awfully long, but the "can't wait for" list is just a little bit longer :)

So, that's it! Thanks for reading, thanks for all your kind thoughts and prayers this past year, and I can't wait to see you all in person to tell you more about my year in the homeland.

I WILL MISS:



1.
Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin, so delish that I eat it everyday)
2.
Konnyaku (zero calorie gelatin snack)
3. Kyoto in the
autumn
4. Matsugasaki in the
snow
5. Celebrating New Year’s Day with a
hatsumode shrine visit
6.
“Extreme” snack foods -- such as soba noodles on a sub roll; cheesecake wrapped in a crepe; treats I made for Wilson...
7.
Japanese dogs dressed in adorable outfits; if you see a dog here that is NOT dressed up in an outfit, that dog is literally in the minority.
8.
Sekihan (red rice)
9. Funny stories of
interacting with Japanese people (especially stories Garrett tells of the hilarious example sentences his students create; example: for a unit on giving directions, Student A: Where are you from? Student B: I am an alien. Student A: Oh! Are you E.T.? Student B: No, but I know him. He is very famous in my hometown.)
10. Exploring Yokohama every Saturday with my “
Yokohama Walks” book
11.
Lunch with Chis Boba-gu by the vending machines at Pacifico
12. Friday afternoons
window shopping by myself at Queen’s Tower and Landmark Plaza, killing time until the evening’s festivities begin with my IUC buddies
13.
Nomihodai with friends
14. Chatting with random
salarymen
15.
Chris Boba-gu’s cooking
16.
Karaoke (especially if it involves Speedo-san)
17. Seeing
Aoki-sensei
18. Flat-rate
izakayas and kaiten sushi restaurants
19.
J-fashion
20.
Schoolchildren en route to/from their lessons
21. Public
parks
22.
Old ladies on mopeds
23. Running along
Takaragaike
24. Japanese
convenience stores
25.
Tokyo Disney
26. Handkerchiefs and
hand towels for sale at the Daimaru and other fancy department stores
27.
Nabe with friends
28. My neighbor
Emma Ruth
29.
Train trips and the amazing JR network
30. The Kyoto
Shinkansen arrivals area (where I used to meet up with Garrett when I’d visit him in Kyoto, back when we lived apart)
31.
Bentō
32.
soft cream
33.
Gooz
34.
cartoon mascots for everything
35. Watching the NHK drama
Ohisama on television at 8 every morning... I feel like I’m spending 15 minutes each morning with Ari-sensei
36.
Ukon no Chikara - the Japanese hangover preventer drink
37.
Rōten (treat stalls at events)
38.
Umeshu (plum wine)
39.
Royal Host drink bar
40.
Caffe Veloce
41. Being called “
Kaori
42.
Kakigōri, my favorite food of all time
43.
Festivals
44.
Wearing kimono like it’s my job
45.
morning setto
46.
Sushi from the Kyoto Coop
47. Japanese
stationery stores
48. CoCo Curry (and basically all
Japanese curry-rice)
49. Making
purikura photos
50.
Engrish
51. Japanese
bakeries and pastry shops
52.
Genkan (entryway where everyone takes off their shoes before entering the house, thereby saving your floors from scratches and dirt)
53. stores dedicated to selling
adorable socks
54.
parasols
55. Japanese
sweet potatoes (the purple kind)
56.
tatami mat floors

I WILL NOT MISS:



1.
Japanese gum (flavor lasts for ~10 seconds, and then you feel nasty all over)
2.
ENDAKA: the Japanese yen towering over the American dollar
3.
exercise classes (Yoga in Japanese was good listening comprehension practice, but I’ll never forget the disgusted stares I used to get when I left the gym SWEATY rather than flawlessly RE-made up with blush, a perfect hairstyle, and mascara like everyone else)
4.
mayonnaise sneaking its way into just about every food item
5. early
last trains of the day
6. Cisco
Webex... especially my miserable Friday rekishi class
7.
drunk people on trains... I am always afraid they are going to vom on me
8. Getting talked about and stared at, as if I am not a person but a
zoo animal (as I was stretching the other day at the lake after my run, I looked up across the benches, about 15 yards away, to see an old man peering through his bird-watching binoculars at ME rather than at birds. I stared right back at him, but he did not back down. He just kept the binoculars up and started talking to his old man buddy next to him about me)
9. The
Rainy Season: in June, the forecast every. single. day. is rain, rain, rain.
10. living on a
fault line
11. sleeping on
futon
12. the
crick in my neck I get from sleeping on futon (all I do nowadays is yank down a little on my hair as I tilt my head to one side, and the crack is audible from 5 feet away. Ask Garrett.)
13. extremes in heat and cold
without central air and/or heat
14.
sitting on the floor all the time
15.
cashiers who point out the price or hold up calculators to show me the price of the sale, because they assume I can’t understand Japanese
16. watching t.v. on
sketchy online t.v. sites with a billion pop-ups
17. the Japanese
trash collection system... Before moving to Kyoto, I used to bring my sortables to the class building because I was so confused about the collection system in my own area
18. Japanese
bike etiquette (or lack thereof)

I CAN’T WAIT FOR:



1. seeing the “Welcome” sign at Dulles when my
plane lands. It’s gonna be hard to refrain from kisses the immigration agent in utter joy.
2. the
grapes Mama is going to have waiting for me when she picks me up
3.
Cracker Barrel (where we in my family ALWAYS go after picking someone up from the airport; you sit down, and the picker-upper asks the picked-up, “Well, how was your trip?” And then the picked-up lights in telling the story of the trip. This Cracker Barrel session is going to last a while, I think.)
4. American
coffee
5. the
FARM with my Brown family
6. my
Dad’s farm stories
7. my
cousins
8.
ICED TEA
9. selecting my
courses at U of C for autumn quarter
10.
Central A.C.
11. going to
Costco
12. visiting my
Dran in Franklin--this time with Garrett! (this includes mahjongg, Frosty Freeze, Amish country, tours of the Archives and of Dran’s various closets...)
13. seeing my brother’s friends and spending time with the
Virginia Southern Society... I NEED some Old Granddad and a Stoke event in my life.
14. Baby
Anne Ryland (I will be an AUNT in a matter of weeks!)
15. the
Young Richmond Couples Association (not an actual organization, but in my mind, its members are the Raggis, the Browns, the Chadwicks, the Marchettis, the Currys, the McKnights, and basically anyone right around my age who is an adorable couple in Richmond).
16. being in the same
time zone (or just a few hours’ difference) as my friends and family
17. Big Gulps of Diet Coke from
7-11
18. American
sporting events (Flying Squirrels, Freeman games, tailgating at UVA...)
19.
Mahjongg for the Merry
20.
Cookouts
21.
anything cooked by my Mom
22.
Slurpees
23.
Ukrop’s (as I will always call it)
24. being able to find all the
ingredients for a recipe
25. all things
VIRGINIAN
26.
working for a salary (Since I turned 14, I have ALWAYS had a part-time job, even if it was just for a couple of hours a week during the school year. It has been painful not to be able to have a little side job here).
27. talking for hours with the
Gibb girls (dinner with Miss Pat, Ash, and Bec is already on the calendar!)
28. going to the
GYM (it has been 13 months)
29. buying
magazines
30. reading the morning
newspaper
31.
Martha Stewart
32. my
clothes (the clothes I brought to Japan were destined for Goodwill as of May 2010, but then I decided to take them to Japan and then just get rid of them here instead; that way, I wouldn’t have a bunch of luggage to bring home. Bad idea. It just meant that I wore clothes I was tired of--or that were worn out--everyday for a whole year).
33. going to the
movie theatre
34.
weddings
35. my
sewing machine
36. Charlottesville (esp.
Arch’s)
37.
Belles concerts
38.
bookstores
39. watching the snow fall outside my
bay window in Chicago
40.
MY CHICAGO KITCHEN AND ITS OVEN
41. seasonal displays at
CVS
42.
riding around Richmond with my Mom
43. Miss Jane, my
Honda
44.
church services in English
45. sitting on a
couch
46. sleeping on a
bed
47.
road trips (and pit stops)
48.
HGTV
49.
wine
50.
access to my high school scrapbooks, yearbooks, and old home videos (TALENT SHOW 1996, ANYONE?)
51. being able to watch
American sporting events on t.v.
52. my brother’s
vegetable garden
53. receiving people’s family
Christmas cards
54. attending every possible
reunion invitation I receive (bachelorette parties, weddings, showers, Belles concerts, you name it: I can’t wait for it.)
55.
Target
56.
Maker’s Mark
57. American
sweet potatoes (the orange kind)



Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday, June 30, 5:45 a.m.

Seoul Train

I've done some traveling this year. Just think of the cities I've seen in the last 14 months: the global capitals of Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Bangkok; the bustling metropolises of Guangzhou, Osaka, and Yokohama; the historical and cultural gems, Xian, Kyoto, Kamakura, Kanazawa, Nara, and Honolulu; and the charming escapes (well, that's a stretch in some cases) of Amanohashidate, Beidaihe, Qufu, Arashiyama, and Ayutthaya.

I'm closing in on the end of a 23-hour layover, and with it, I add one more city to my list: Seoul.

First views of Seoul: Myeong-dong, the fun area near my hotel ^

When I booked my return ticket a couple of months ago, the cheapest option was a Korean Air ticket which let me choose from among a layover of 4 hours, 14 hours, 16 hours, or 23 hours. I had been wanting to see Korea all year long, so I opted for the 23-hour layover.

Even though it comes at the end of a harrowing week of travels and itineraries and nearly-missed connections and just about EVERY form of transportation possible (local train, subway, bullet train, airplane, bus, water taxi, bicycle, and tuk-tuk), I am so thrilled that I was able to spend a day in Seoul.

It was pouring rain all day, but even so, I found myself smiling the whole time I walked around the city. I'd planned out an entire itinerary, but it all went to pot when I found out that I had to carry my 2 gigantic bags with me from Gimpo Airport (where I landed from Tokyo) to Incheon Airport (where I leave for Dulles). Carting those behemoths around with me in downtown Seoul would have been more than just miserable; it would literally have been impossible. So, I had to spend a good part of my afternoon in Seoul carting them on the bus all the way to Incheon airport. Fortunately, the attendants at Tokyo felt so bad that I would have to do this that they bumped me up to business class for the first leg of my flight :) YEAH!

After I got the baggage stored away in the overnight storage at Incheon, I took the railway into the city, and I whittled down my itinerary to just a couple of areas within walking distance (but Carly walking distance, so I'm covering some good ground) of my hotel.

Church near my hotel -- went in and heard a little Korean choir music! It looked like a formal Catholic church on the outside, but they were rocking out inside. ^

The hotel is awesome, by the way: Seoul Green Residence. It's like a hostel gone baller. I have my own room and bathroom (with shower), plus internet, plus a mini-fridge, plus breakfast in the morning. It's clearly designed for backpackers or the young and hearty, though, because it's bare bones. Great location, though, right in the heart of Myeong-dong!

I explored the area around the hotel, and then I started heading up toward Insadong market. I must have been staring pretty quizzically at my map on the walk there, because a friendly American stopped me and asked if he could help me find something. I told him that I was really just wandering around trying to get a feel for Seoul for the day, and, since he's been living here for 6 YEARS, he was able to give me some good recommendations!


My new buddy recommended the "underground bookstores," which were really great. This foreign-language book section has a selection almost as vast as a US bookstore! ^

Setting up a little self-pic at a park... little exposure problem, but you get the idea ^

Later on, I had kimchee for dinner, and then I went down to the Namdaemun Market where I got some omiyage (treat souvenirs) for my family.


Kimchee and tofu

Delicious! But eating without Garrett is just not the same. ^

^ Outside of the restaurant where I had lunch ~ in some random, old, curvy street. There were messages written all over the booths inside, and about 90% were in Korean, so I took that as a good sign, like when you see Mexican diners at a Mexican place, so you know it must be legit.

Walked by a bunch of calligraphy stores ^
Cool temple... but what were all the riot police doing!? I have no idea. I got outta there but fast. ^


I really wish that I had more time here in Seoul, because I REALLY like it! People are so friendly (old ladies smiling and talking to me for no reason, really nice and un-pushy shopkeepers, chill people on the street as opposed to annoying, snobby girls dressed to the 9s in brand-mono...) The food is tasty, too!

I hope I get to come back to Seoul soon and see much more of this city.


But for now, it's off to the airport!







Sunday, June 26, 2011

Monday, June 27, 11:58 p.m.


THAILAND!



Garrett and I first bonded over our love of travel, and when we decided to get married, we thought it would be great to try to take a trip once a year to celebrate each anniversary in a new and exciting place. Last year, thanks to Chicago in Beijing, we couldn't even be together to celebrate our first anniversary, so we thought we'd make up for it by doing the SECOND anniversary in a big way. We certainly did! Ladies and gentlemen, I present you: NAR-NARS GO TO THAILAND: THE 2ND ANNIVERSARY TOUR...!

On FRIDAY, JUNE 24, we made it to Thailand, but I'll start with the couple of days that led up to the accomplishment of that feat. Wow, it’s hard to believe how quickly my final two (three?) days Japan passed.

On Tuesday night, Garrett got us a little strawberry shortcake from a fancy bakery on Kitayama, and he also surprised me with some champagne! We exchanged our anniversary gifts and got excited about the big Thailand trip.


Wednesday was packing, packing, packing for me, and on Thursday, we left on an evening Shinkansen!

Bye-bye, Gar's apartment^

Waiting for the Shinkansen^

Last Shinkansen bento for a long time :(

We got into Tokyo pretty late, and since we needed to go “budget route” for our lodging, we faced a decision: capsule hotel or love hotel? (Love hotels are available for either full-night stays or “rests,” so that should give you an idea of the kind of places they are...) In the end, we decided to opt for the love hotel as a final “Japanese experience” for us; I know it sounds so seedy, and I hesitated at first even to post about it on my blog, but they are reeeally popular all OVER Japan and, I think, definitely worth a stay if you are looking for a cheap place to crash for the night.

It was pretty confusing to check in; it is completely automated (presumably, so that you do not have to kill the mood by conversing with some tired reception desk attendant), and the door actually LOCKED behind us. You can’t leave until you pay the automated machine in each room. Scary! Especially if you are claustrophobic like I am!

We had several laughs, though, at the decor... and at some of the items for sale inside the room. Yikes.

How long until Gar makes me take this pic down...?

ANYWAY, we woke up at 5:20 and got outta town on one of the earliest Sky Access trains to Narita. Our first flight took us from Tokyo to Taipei, and then we connected to our flight to Bangkok.

On Friday, we exhausted plenty of energy navigating the public transportation, but two high spots of the evening were:

(1) Garrett going in for measurements at Raja’s, a famous tailor who makes hand-made shirts and suits for ambassadors and famous people. He is probably the nicest guy in the world, too. He was so friendly right when we walked in. He got Garrett a beer and me a gin and tonic, and within moments, the measurement session was like a garden party at UVA. Fratty type boys trying on pink oxfords only enhanced that atmosphere, and it was quite the social evening there in Raja’s. We’ll pick up his 4 brand new, tailored shirts on Monday.


(2) Our first Thai dinner: feeling not so hungry, I ordered a “medium” size seafood soup, and I was greeted with a gigantic bowl of prawns, squid, and oysters inside a VERY SPICY coconut curry broth. Garrett’s choices were equally spicy, and they had us sweating within moments. Delicious, though! After dinner, we walked around the Arab quarter, Soi Arab.

Gar picks fabrics for custom shirts^

Dinner one: a tourist trap, yes, but yummy^


...and spicy^

Soi Arab at night^

SATURDAY, JUNE 25 was another VERY full day.

We got up at 7:15 and started our day out with the hotel’s breakfast: a bounty of fruits, veggies, and a couple of random dishes you might see on a Thai restaurant dinner menu.

Gar greets breakfast at our hotel^

Ready to start our first full day^

Today was a day of NAPATRA recommendations. As soon as I let my friend Napatra (from UVA--she’s Thai) know that Garrett and I had booked a trip to Bangkok, she responded with some detailed recommendations for our time here. Our itinerary, carefully plotted by Gar, is basically 100% Napatra-approved. Khawp kuhn kah, Napatraaaa!


One of the election posters... can't figure out why they are so mad^

Sign on the subway^

We took the Skytrain to the most northerly stop, Mo Chit, to go to the Chatachuk Market, a sprawling quilt--the size of several football stadiums--composed of tiny patches of stalls and stores specializing in jewelry, clothes, food, spices, souvenirs, fabrics, and even pets! We spent the morning weaving in and out of the aisles, trying delicious treats and buying little goodies.


At the marketplace^

Gar and some potential pets^

Getting our treat on: Thai tea-flavored popsicle^

More treats: Bluth banana^

Lunch at the marketplace^

Lady fixing our lunch in big vats^

After the market, we took the Skytrain again--this time to the stop at Saphan Taksin, where we transferred to the orange flag line of the Chao Phraya Express Boat, which is basically a transit network that, rather than operating underground like a subway, goes up and down the river through the Chao Phraya River that cuts through Bangkok. We got off at Tha Chang and saw Wat Pho.

Riding the water taxi^


View of Wat Arun from the ferry^

Dragonfruit juice greets us at the pier^

Garrett at a very pungent corner of Thailand: the dried fish and squid stand area^

We got a kick out of seeing this monk get his Slurpee fix^

Garrett at Wat Pho^


Getting my Thai on^

Garrett called this little area of Wat Pho "The Hall of 1,000 High-Fives" ^


The Reclining Buddha^

Gar and some new buds -- schoolkids wanting to interview him^


We were pretty disappointed to hear that the Grand Palace (which is right by Wat Pho) had closed for the afternoon due to some ceremonies, but we made the most of the rest of our afternoon by climbing to the top of Wat Arun (just across the river from Wat Pho).


View from up top^

Yeah, I think I can make it with THESE calves!

It was really steep, and many tourists around us were freaking out and trying to climb in odd ways (our favorite poses were rather reminiscent of the summer swimming pool game "spider") ^

Up top, people sign messages^


I did a special one for my Dran, the inspiration for my world travels^

Drinks back at Arun Residence (“The Deck”) with a KILLER view at sunset was the perfect chance to relax after a day full of walking.


at Arun Residence^

Our amazing view from the deck at Arun Residence ^



Night water taxi back to the Skytrain ^

For dinner, we went to Cabbages and Condoms (at Soi 12, Sukhumvit), a restaurant with a mission: its website describes C&C as “conceptualized in part to promote better understanding and acceptance of family planning and to generate income to support various development activities of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA).” The food was well-priced and tasty, and the ambiance was unforgettable! When I saw the name of the place, I expected something kind of raunchy, but it had an air of class with sass like a Susannah Hornsby Great Gatsby party: strings of lights in the languid tree branches, waiters in bow ties, and smiles all around us. We highly recommend it!








Then, we taxied home and fell asleep within about 30 seconds of our heads hitting the pillow.

I was so busted by the end of the next day, SUNDAY, JUNE 26. We really, really roughed it. We got up and left our hotel with the aim of catching a mini-bus from the Victory Monument station to Ayutthaya, a small city about an hour and a half away from Bangkok which was the capital of Siam for several centuries, until the Burmese so badly obliterated it in the 1700s that the king decided to move the entire capital to Bangkok. According to the research Garrett did when preparing our itinerary, Ayutthaya was the largest city in the world by the year 1700--at 1 million inhabitants. What remains there today are a few remains of the old city’s temples and palaces.

We asked at the front desk about the best way to get to Victory Monument, and they suggested that we take the city bus, number 92. It was our first--and last--experience on the city bus. I kept picturing my air-conditioner-addicted, easily carsick, 6’5” brother as we rode along the bumpy bus to the city center; that would NOT have worked. Garrett and I tried to be “troopers,” but we were pretty dizzy and stressed when we finally made it to Victory Monument (about an hour and a gallon of sweat later).

Two interesting things noted while on the Bangkok bus: (1) there is no money machine. There is an attendant who walks around collecting money from each passenger who has just boarded. She puts it in her little metal tube and then gives you a little ticket. She must have excellent balance and a very long fuse to be stuck on those crowded buses all day. (2) There are about 2 chair stores per block in Bangkok. Why are there so many chair stores?!?! We passed about 70 on the bus ride this morning!


Bangkok city bus #92^

Bus Nars^

Garrett took this picture to assist anyone who is planning on catching mini-buses to Ayutthaya in the future, so that you don't have to wander around confusedly like we did^

Garrett found the mini-buses, a line of white mini-vans, right below the overpass at the Monument. We got in and proceeded to take another bumpy, cramped ride--this time for nearly 2 hours (because of traffic). At least this time was in A.C., and I had a fresh Diet Coke in hand.

When we got to Ayutthaya, the driver told us to get out right at the edge, probably because he has some agreement with the tuk-tuk drivers and “guides” who stand there on the outskirts of the city, hoping that they can snap up the confused tourists before they realize what’s up. Garrett pretended to be interested, but really he was just using the time they spent giving us their spiel to orient ourselves on their maps.


Diet Coke-ing in Ayutthaya^




Visitor's Center looked kinda Commie^

We found our way to the Visitor’s Center, saw their display up on the second floor, and rented bikes for 50 baht at the Tourist Police next door.

We spent the rest of the afternoon riding around, stopping into some various ruins areas, eating a delish lunch (of GENUINE pad thai), and taking photos.




It was remarkable to see how open everything was; we literally climbed up the ruins! It reminds me of hearing about how people used to be able to hug the stones of Stonehenge. It was fun for us, but I kind of hope that, for the sake of preservation, this UNESCO World Heritage site won’t long persist in such a carefree sort of “visitors-take-all” existence.

I wasn’t really wild about the town, but I must say that today, we truly saw the THAI SMILES for which this country is so famous. Everyone we met was helpful, friendly, and nice. When we couldn’t find the restaurant, one lady at a drink stand even sent her son (?) off on his motorbike to show us the way.


Lunch time^












Later on, we kept passing treat stands with colorful bags and large crowds. We wondered what it was, so we went up curiously to one stand, and a friendly girl who knew English told us about the treat. The next thing we knew, the proprietor had rolled us up some to try! Garrett described it best as “deflated cotton candy rolled up in a crepe.” That’s basically exactly what it was. We decided to buy a bag as a thank-you to the lady, but instead, she just gave us another one fresh to try. Garrett tried to pay her, but she just kept saying “free! free!” I looked up how to say “delicious” in the phrase book list I made before our trip, and they all got a kick out of us trying to speak Thai. It was such a fun little episode.

YES! TREAT!

"Deflated cotton candy" -- I need to find out the real name^

Awesome ladies giving us the hook up^

Tuk-Tuk: a Thai form of transportation^


Our view from the tuk-tuk = another form of transportation ^

We mini-bussed back in an even MORE cramped van, and then we took the Sky Train to a shop Garrett had found which sells a different kind of cuisine: Southern Thai. It was spicy, but I have to be honest; I didn’t taste much of a difference from the other things we’ve been sampling. Ugh, that’s probably like some foreigner coming to American and declaring that she doesn’t understand why sweet potatoes and biscuits are supposedly “so different” from bagels and lox. So, I guess it’s a food culture difference more so than a spice difference, maybe.

Looking back on today, there was so much that travelers who are used to “cushy” lifestyles just could not have done. Ayutthaya is not for the weak of constitution. It was very trying to get to, and even more challenging to navigate. I think it’s worth it if you have the extra time to take a little side trip, but plan, plan, plan before you go!


Gar is not happy with hitting his head on the ceiling at every bump in the road^


Shopping at Victory Monument after we get back into Bangkok^


Southern Thai meal^


More treats^

This is what the Southern Thai food place looked like ^

MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2011: I woke up earlier than Garrett so that I could put in a little time at the hotel “gym” -- which consisted of 2 broken treadmills, an elliptical that is designed for you to hit your knees on every rotation, a stationary bike, and some free weights.

We started out the morning with a trip to the Grand Palace; I kept picturing Yul Brenner strutting around.
More water taxi^
It started raining^

And then they told me that I needed to rent long pants, but instead, I just sagged my capris down around my hips like I was Dick Van Dyke doing the penguin dance in "Mary Poppins" ^







Lunch consisted of street food from the area by the ferry station. Sticky rice with mango was a highlight of the trip!


REAL THAI TEA^

We really hit up this food market^


Favorite treat of the trip = mango and sticky rice ^


We split up after the palace--I to Siam to shop and get a haircut... Gar to get his fitting done at Raja’s.

We met back up later in the afternoon for a tour of the Jim Thompson House, a Thai-inspired mansion designed by the American architect-slash-military man who retired to Thailand after falling in love with its culture in the 1950s.

New haircut + admiring awesome plant at the Jim Thompson house ^



We had pre-dinner drinks (aka. Coke Zero at McDonald’s) and then a leisurely dinner in the Siam area...

Thai Ronald McDonald^

Maybe these people know what I'm taking about with the Santa love ^

At our anniversary dinner^

...and we followed that up with a movie (“Conspirators” at a retro-looking cinema in Siam Square). Cool cultural experience of the day = right before the movie began, the screen showed a notice that we should now "stand to honor His Majesty," so everyone stood up as the anthem played and photos of the King flashed up on the screen.


The movie theatre ^


We are now back in Japan--Gar on the night bus back to Kyoto and I getting ready to turn in for a few hours of shut-eye at my favorite capsule hotel in Asakusa. We had a great time in Thailand and a wonderful second anniversary, and so I’ll leave you (and Thailand) with a giant “I LOVE GARRETT” and a copy of the card I made for him for our anniversary.

Look closely. I spelled out "Happy 2 Years" with my body at various places and times throughout this year. ^