JAPAN

In our 17 days in Japan, we covered over 2/3 of the entire country! This was mainly due to the fact we were timing out our Northern Japan visit to catch the cherry blossoms. While we do enjoy visiting popular areas when we travel, we like to spend more time exploring left when the crowd goes to the right. Our best experiences have come when we stumble across something while exploring!

Lost with my love will focus on our trips itineraries to give you an idea of how we experienced an area. There certainly is no right or wrong way to travel!

It begins!

Boise Idaho, to Tokyo via Seattle. We planned our first day to include an overnight to help with the Jet lag before we headed up to Northern Japan on a quick one hour Japan air flight to Aomori, in Northern Japan. Japan air was very impressive by the way. A step up from most airlines. Once we arrived at Aomori airport, we had a 45-minute bus ride to our hotel near Hirosaki castle. This was our first taste of rural Japan. This part in Northern Japan reminded us a lot of our years living in Vermont. Snow still covered parts of the side of the roads, and apple trees stretched for miles. We checked into the Art hotel in Hirosaki. The room was a bit smaller then we were used to, but very clean and cozy. Time to learn how to use these famous sci-fi toilets we had read so much about! Pretty self-explanatory really. Lorie really loved the heated seat!

Hirosaki castle

This was the place we were most excited about to see during this portion of our trip. The cherry blossom festival was just getting underway the day we arrived (April 21, 2019). We decided to take the 30-minute walk to get there rather than take a bus or cab. We always enjoy seeing how the locals live in every area we visit, and what better way to do that then on foot. I really enjoyed seeing the different architecture styles, and even just reading or trying to read the signage on the storefronts. Upon arriving at the castle we were quite pleased that the crowds were quite small, most likely due to our early arrival. Time to take some photos! Squid on a stick anyone?

No worries there are plenty of other food options at the festival! I enjoyed a chicken skewer and Lorie had a stuffed veggie cabbage roll. The grounds of #hirosakicastle were simply immaculate and beautifully groomed. The cherry trees were at about 75% bloom. Nighttime is when the festival and the crowd sizes really begin to shine. After taking a lot of photos we wanted to get away from the crowds a bit, so we ventured off into some darker areas where no one else was. Often times when we travel we are rewarded with secret gems that we stumble upon, and this time was no different I'm happy to say. Below is the treasure we found shining down from the heavens above!

In this photo on the bottom left, you can see people on the other side. From that angle, you do not see this incredible heart formed naturally by the branches of the tree. As we were walking in the opposite direction Lorie glanced back and noticed this view. It was absolutely surreal! After spending two full days here we took a 2-hour train ride down to Morioka Japan. Here we found that the blossoms were even a bit more behind due to it's higher elevation, but did manage to capture this one photo of an alone standing tree, below.

 

The highlight of our Morioka side trip was the sights of all the families setting up these huge picnics under the soon to be full bloom cherry trees. We are talking about full-blown buffets here. They were stretched out for as far as the eye could see, with every food you can imagine. We went back to our hotel at Hirosaki and visited the festival for one last night before heading to Tokyo for a few days the following morning.

Tokyo - Part 1

Our second time in Tokyo really since we spent our first night and part of a day here. But this time we had three days to spend. The weather forecast was for rain every day of these three, but that was certainly not going to deter us from doing what we had planned!  While in Tokyo most tourists will get to know well the train line Yamanote. Covered under the JR rail pass (See our post covering this), this line loops around all of metro Tokyo with the stations positioned well to get you to ... or very close to a lot of the hotspots around town. Typical rush hour times here will pretty much match up with your own home times. You will be standing most likely and being crunched by the throngs of people piling in at every stop! While you do feel cramped, the rides are generally short and Lorie and I always manage to make anything fun anyway. It is kind of eerie how quiet everyone is on the trains. You will rarely hear any talking. Talking on a cell phone is completely taboo on transit systems in Japan, but many do text and use social media quietly. I had to snap this photo above of this little school girl being guarded by her mother within the crowd. Her eyes were locked onto us until we got off.

Vampire Cafe & Kawaii Monster Cafe

Tokyo is known is for some of the most bizarre theme dining in the world, and we checked out two of them during our trip. They were an absolute blast! The ambiance of the Vampire cafe was spot on, as we well as the themed food and actors. But the monster cafe we found even more enjoyable! The colors were just off the charts! So much fun, with incredible energy inside!

Nezu shrine & Rikugien gardens

Both of these places are fairly well known, and we would have preferred visiting them on sunny days for photo ops, but you have to deal with the weather with what your dealt! Our visits were well worth dodging the raindrops. Springtime in Japan was like no place else we had ever seen on planet earth, we're talking an entirely different level. Serene, immaculately clean, meticulously manicured, incredibly bright vibrant colors. What I just described really is the entire country as a whole, not just their shrines and gardens. Saying we were impressed still does not capture how the entire country feels being here.

Off to Kyoto

Being quite familiar with the train system, we were off on a bullet train to visit Kyoto. Lorie was especially looking forward to visiting the snow monkey park nearby and it was worth the 45-minute climb to the top! Seeing them in their natural habitat roaming freely was very inspiring to see. Not to mention a lot of fun watching them. They would walk right at our feet as if we were not there. As if there was no intrusion into their area at all. We stayed nearby the Nijo train station at a remarkable little 10 room hotel - Kyoto Kamanza. A former residential residence turned into an incredibly quaint little hotel, with amazing 5-star service! The room was classic Japan with bamboo everywhere, with wonderful amenities for such a small place.

 

The staff was so accommodating and helpful with a few questions we had. An area called Pontchoto park and the world-famous Nishiki market was about a 2-mile walk from our hotel so we checked them out on our second day in Kyoto. The walkway at Pontchoto is very quaint along a riverbank, with a lot of street food and vendors. Nishiki market was jam-packed since Golden week had started in Japan, we could barely move. There were literally 1000's of vendors there mostly food. Fascinating seeing the variety of cuisine offered here, with many bizarre items sprinkled in. We dined at a very rare Vegan restaurant find in Japan, which was incredible.

Fushimi Inari shrine was next on our list along with the bamboo jungle. As previously mentioned since we were there during golden week, these two places were incredibly busy. So as we like to do ... time to blaze a trail. If you wanted to take a photo in either of these locations good luck, because you would literally have 100's if not 1000's ( no kidding!) of people within your photo frame. So wander away we did to search for our hidden gems pictured below.

The actual "attraction - "bamboo forest" which everyone goes to in Kyoto is not even half the size or beauty of this "secret" spot that we found about 300 feet up the mountainside. It was the most spectacular bamboo spot we had seen in all of Japan. Contact us if your travels are going to be near Kyoto, and we will describe how to get up here!

 

Before we left Kyoto we wanted to be sure to see Nijo castle, since we were staying a mere 5-minute walk away from it. It was raining quite hard, yet the line to get in was at least 300 deep so we decided to venture off a bit to see what we could discover. Shinsen-en garden is what we stumbled upon. This tiny little pond and garden area that we spotted down an alleyway! It was really insane; we were the only ones there. And we understood why we were just very lucky to spot it ourselves. There were a few restaurants on one side of the pond, but they were closed.

The actual "attraction - "bamboo forest" which everyone goes to in Kyoto is not even half the size or beauty of this "secret" spot that we found about 300 feet up the mountainside. It was the most spectacular bamboo spot we had seen in all of Japan. Contact us if your travels are going to be near Kyoto, and we will describe how to get up here!

 

Before we left Kyoto we wanted to be sure to see Nijo castle, since we were staying a mere 5-minute walk away from it. It was raining quite hard, yet the line to get in was at least 300 deep so we decided to venture off a bit to see what we could discover. Shinsen-en garden is what we stumbled upon. This tiny little pond and garden area that we spotted down an alleyway! It was really insane; we were the only ones there. And we understood why we were just very lucky to spot it ourselves. There were a few restaurants on one side of the pond, but they were closed. Pretty sure by now you have picked up on the flower theme of our trip! We just could not help ourselves. We have spent Springtime in many cities, in many states, and several different countries, but never have we seen the magnificent beauty that seemed to be represented in Japan at every turn.

Tokyo - Part 2

Another bullet train back to Tokyo for our remaining two days before coming home. Just over two hours seemed to be breeze by. We then checked into our next hotel, Pullman Tokyo, a short walk from the Tamachi station, just a bit south of Tokyo station. Rain was again in the forecast for our last two days,  but that would not deter us from the last few spots on our list. The first one was made for a rainy day - a visit to Team lab.  "This massive body Immersive space consists of a collection of installations in which the entire body becomes immersed in the art, and the boundary between the viewer and the work becomes ambiguous." It was a lot of fun going through the rooms here! This place is truly something that has to be seen in person to really get the intended experience. However, there are some really good online videos to give you a better idea. Just google Team lab Tokyo. 

Our last big stop was Ashikaga flower park. This place was recently put on CNN's top 10 places to visit before you die! We were highly anticipating visiting here before we left the states. This vast flower park is a must-see!! We came here for the wisteria trees, and our timing was for full bloom. They were majestic. There were a lot of other flower species in this park, and all of them were simply beautiful. The location of this park makes a day trip from Tokyo viable, about 2 hours and a few train transfers North of Tokyo. It was like a magical fairy tale!

 

The people of Japan

Japan, for the most part, is shrouded in mystery of stereotypes like no place else on earth. From toilets that talk to you, obscure vending machines and the overall shyness of the eccentric people of Japan. So what is Japan really like? Like no place else on earth. In a really good way. For me, one of the greatest examples of this is on their crowded rush-hour trains. They abide by the rules, social codes, etiquette even if it is bothersome. It is just their way. Stereotypical? Sure, but in an extremely positive way. We can all learn this very valuable lesson from them. We had read before we came here that if you lose your wallet in Japan that the likelihood of it not being stolen but instead returned to the nearest police station is at a crazy high percentage. This is just simply Japan in a nutshell.

 

Incredibly though this beautiful way about them is not tied to any particular situation or people for that matter. It is just integrally what being Japanese means. Really this would only be visible via interaction with someone from a different county. Japanese dealing with other Japanese this is just common practice. How special is that!? However, they do not really go out of their way to interact with one another it seems. They are very shy and would rather not interact with anyone unless it was necessary.

 

One of our best memories in Japan has to do with this photo below. It was a showery afternoon at Rikugien gardens, and we walking around enjoying the magical scenery taking some photos, and we noticed this elderly Japanese man appearing in the background of a lot of our photos. We realized that he was following us around. This was not a small area we're talking about here, so an effort was being made on his part to stay with us. We were so amused by this, especially because we started to look for him as we made our way around the park. This went on for almost an hour! Unusual behavior from someone from Japan is what made it so refreshing. We approached to say "Konichiwa", and asked him to take a photo with Lorie so we can remember him. He gave us the biggest smile and quickly got into the pose. We parted from our time with him mutually giving one another a very deep ninety-degree bow. And we parted Japan feeling like we had just visited our new favorite place on planet earth.

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