Even after three semesters of Japanese classes, my Japanese is epic fail.
I forgot so much of it.. My vocab is extremely limited and I forgot how to conjugate all my verbs!! I didn’t realize how bad my Japanese is now until I got there and could barely communicate with people except to ask basic shizz like “Where is _______?” and ordering food.
My speed itinerary of six cities in seven days: I flew into Osaka. Took a bus to Takarazuka where I stayed with a friend at her grandmother’s home. We took a train to Kyoto, spent two days in Kyoto, took an overnight bus to Tokyo, overnight bus back to Kyoto, express train to Nara, back to Takarazuka, train to Himeji the following morning, and then final stop, Osaka where we mad pigged out in the city, did some speed sight-seeing, and then, met a bunch of random people at an izakaya where I got to practice my Japanese talk. Good times. :) Most amazing trip I’ve had so far. I’ve never been on such a time crunch.
Subways! Trains! Buses! Shinkansen (bullet train)! Getting around here is amazing because public transportation will take you everywhere. We found an overnight bus back and forth from Kyoto and Tokyo but I wouldn’t recommend it. I’m only 5’7″ and let’s say the seats were not spaced out accordingly for people with legs longer than a middle schooler. Subways can be a little confusing because there are several different companies so if you buy a day pass, make sure you’re buying the pass for the correct lines with the stations that you want to go to. And keep in mind that Kyoto/Kansai region and Tokyo are not that close together. It’ll either take an overnight bus (7 hours) or the bullet train (3 hours).
Each region was so different… Kyoto had an ethereal, spiritual quality to it. The city was quiet and peaceful in a way that’s hard to describe. No traffic noise, no people screaming, no hawkers pawning things off to you, and so much nature surrounding the temples. It made such a stark contrast to Hong Kong. Then, there was Tokyo. A visceral, intense barrage of noise, lights, costumed people, and a hustling crammed crowd everywhere we went. Osaka had a hipster vibe to it – young foodies out and about in the city. People touting their restaurants and being constantly overwhelmed by the choices of food wherever we went. Japan is an amazing country and I already can’t wait to go back.
We just missed cherry blossom season because we went during the last week of April – this winter has been uncustomarily cold everywhere in Asia and Japan was no different. I lived out of my Ugg boots and got drenched in rain everywhere. We were only blessed with three days of amazing weather in Kyoto and Nara. Check the forecast, bring an umbrella, and just pray for sunshine.
Layerable clothing! Springtime is unpredictable. We had a few days of sunshine where I was walking around in sandals and a light pullover. But the other days I lived in my sweater and boots. Bring a diverse variety of clothes.
Food & Beverage:
What can I say about this? Just look at the photos below. Japan might be the country of original foodies – people here have no problem lining up for hours to eat the best takoyaki (octopus balls) or for some amazing ramen (and every region has a different kind). There is an incredible variety of noodles, rice dishes, sushi, of course, and fried street foods that will blow your mind. Definitely try the rice cakes in Kyoto.
Some young people speak English and most signs at all tourist locations and subways will have an English translation.
Konnichiwa = hello!
Onegai shimasu = please
Hai = yes
Ee-yeh = no
Arigato gozaimasu = thank you!
Mizu = water
Biiru = beer
XXXX wa dokoni arimasuka? = Where is XXX?
Tokyo is expensive. We traveled a bit on a budget and it was difficult – expect to spend at least $8-10 per meal, probably more if you want beverages or if you are planning on eating sushi. Budgeting at least $20 a day for transportation will probably be reasonable if you factor in taking subways most of the time and the occasional taxi-cab.
Incredibly safe! But be smart. I personally never worried once while I was there about pickpockets, walking around at night, etc. Japan is wonderful for travel if you are a female. Traveling alone? Stay in a capsule hotel! They’re wonderfully novel and much cleaner than a hostel. Although I doubt hostels in Japan could be dirty. The entire country is probably cleaner than my house.
My favorite country that I’ve traveled while abroad. No competition.
So our first stop was Takarazuka – a quiet little city in the Kansai region.
And the first thing I said was, “What’s for dinner?”
Horumon yaki is fatty fried cow intestine sauteed with onions and in a sweet soy sauce topped with scallions. Okay, so it sounds kind of gross, but its soooooooo good. I swear, being Asian and having gone to China,etc., I don’t think anything is weird anymore. It’s chewy, crispy, and wonderfully savory.
We were mainly in the Kansai region so of course we had to have okonomiyaki, which is a savory Japanese pancake batter type of thing covered in sauce, fish flakes, its all eggy and doughy and crispy and pan-fried with ground up daikon and yumm all over it. This is a regional specialty so I definitely recommend trying it.
My personal favorite: takoyaki with CHEESE. Fried octopus balls with CHEESE. Yes, you heard me, that is a bowl full of CHEESE. I die. This was one of my favorite things.
We did a quick hot springs trip which was sufficiently awkward because if you’ve never been to an Asian hot springs before… You get nekkid. As in completely bare as the day you were born birthday suit NAKED. My friend and I had trouble making eye contact for a few hours after that….
But no time for that because we were off to Kyoto the next morning!
Kyoto is the historical capital of Japan. If you’re interested in Japanese temples and a view of a more traditional Japan, Kyoto is the place to be. I personally loved Kyoto the most out of all the cities in Japan. It was my favorite.
In Kyoto, we just had a simple lunch down the street from Kiyomizudera. I got tamago togi soba which is a hot soba in broth covered in cooked scrambled egg, scallions, and seafood. There are plenty of these simple little restaurants in the area where you can get an amazing hot fresh meal.
After temple-hopping all day, we stayed at a ryokan in Kyoto. A ryokan is like a traditional Japanese hotel where you sleep on tatami mats and futons. They give you a yukata to sleep in, too, which was surprisingly comfortable. A traditional breakfast and dinner are usually provided at ryokans. They range from the more simple cheaper ones to extravagant ryokans that serve sushi, etc. We were on a budget so we stayed at a lower cost ryokan that was still incredible. We had rice with yakiniku, miso shiro, braised fish, cooked egg in broth, little Japanese side dishes and some dessert.
Breakfast the next day was a hearty meal of three kinds of tofu.
Japan has all sorts of cute little desserts! And fake plastic food is everywhere here! Look at this cake. Doesn’t it look delicious and real?
Cute, ey? All the cakes in Japan are so cute!
It rained our second day in Kyoto. POURED! Look at these beautiful clouds above Ninamaru Palace though.
We had a full day of the palace and Kinkaku Temple and then booked it to catch our bus to Tokyo.
Good morning Tokyo! We got off the bus bleary-eyed and exhausted and were welcomed by some intense rain. My poor Uggs.
We got there early enough to see the famous Tsukuji Fish Market. Tuna. EVERYWHERE. I could barely contain my saliva.
Had some ramen near Roppongi. We had a lot of ramen. It was pretty good. Super fatty. Surprisingly though… Nothing beats Daikokuya back home. I miss their fried rice.
Onigiri rice set for breakfast! Mmmmmmm. I love onigiri. I love sticky rice. I love seaweed and soup and sauce and pickles. I love it all.
When we were in Himeji, we had tea at the garden teahouse at Kokoen. Pretty nice. The ladies were very proper when they were serving us. I love the mochi cakes or rice cakes or daifuku or whatever it is that they sell all over the Kansai region. Free samples everywhere! Delicious. So soft and chewy. I could eat boxes and boxes of it.
This tamago-sen place was right next to our capsule hotel (you bet your ass we stayed in a capsule). It’s a fried egg, mine was filled with mochi and cheese, on top of teriyaki sauce and little crispy things on top of a shrimp cracker/cake covered in mayo. Yeah. Heart ATTACK but so good.
Goo. Some good goo. Fugu. I risked my life eating poisonous blowfish sashimi.
Not. I actually didn’t get that tingle that I was expecting from the poison? Maybe it wasn’t real goo. Darn that foogoo.
More ramen. I think something I appreciate about all the ramen shops in Japan is that the noodles are always perfect consistency. Not too mushy not overcooked, just eggy and chewy and goooooooooooooooood.
I miss Japan so much…. The food, the sightseeing, the people (very interesting…), hearing the language, everything! Wish I could go and stay there for a semester but that would definitely kill my bank account, slaughter it and rip it to shreds. Sadsadsad.
Being in Japan for one week really put everything else in turbo mode. I came back and my flight to Korea got pulled up by a couple weeks, and now, I only have about a little over a week left in Hong Kong. I still have two final exams standing in my way… Blerg. I didn’t realize how little time I had left. Half of me wants to put time in a standstill and stay here longer but the other half of me is eager to packpackpack and hurry on home (90% of the reason why I want to leave Hong Kong would be the 35 mosquito bites on my legs.)
9 days left until Korea.
27 days left until Los Angeles.
49 days left until EY.
Today, I told my students at LTP that I was leaving next week, and it made me really really sad… I wish I could spend more time with them and get to know them better. I wish I could watch them pass their exams coming up in June. I wish I could see them move into Form7 and get into university and graduate. I wish I could see them everyday sometimes!! The time spent with them was so short but very precious to me. Really going to miss my Form6 students.