The Land of the Rising Sun: Adventures in Japan

21 Jun

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I know a few people who have been to Japan and all of them have told me that it will be unlike anywhere else that I have been. I believed them but I didn’t BELIEVE them believe them. But they were right. Japan has raised the travel bar more than any other trip. I have been home for almost a week now (!!) and I miss it terribly.

The route was Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka and back to Tokyo. We bought Japan Rail passes which I highly recommend to anyone planning on leaving Tokyo. Even if you are just going to Kyoto it will pay for itself. And it can be used on the train lines within Tokyo. Win Win! (Important note: The passes have to be bought BEFORE you get to Japan!) Okay let’s go!

Tokyo:

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Tokyo is BIG. Like really big. Like Endless City Big. It’s the stuff of science fiction novels. This is the view from the top of the Tokyo Tower. Those building just keep on going. The night shots were also incredible. This is from the Mori Tower (and it includes the Tokyo Tower!)

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We did the Shibuya Crossing (you’ve seen it in movies, trust me)

Right across from where we shot this video was an amazing Mural called the Myth of Tomorrow by Taro Okamoto. It depicts the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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And we saw the statue of Hachiko, the most loyal doggo in the world

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And of course there were the temples and the shrines and pagodas!

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One of my favorite shrines was this little one for Basho, the great haiku poet, situated where they believe his house was when he set out on his journey north.

 

And of course the crown jewel, the thing I had dreamed about seeing since I was a kid hanging out in the basement of my house, looking through National Geographic: Fuji-san

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Even though we were there during the rainy season we were blessed with a clear day. It was one of the most incredible things I have seen on this planet.

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You can catch the reflection of Fuji-san in the rice field. Amazing!

From Tokyo we headed to Kyoto

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The Bamboo Grove is the only place on the whole trip where it rained and it only lasted a few minutes and honestly it made everything look even more beautiful.

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These are women who rented kimonos but I did for a brief second spot an actual Geisha in Kyoto and she was so beautiful she stole my breath. I didn’t take a picture (cause I’m not a jerk) but she was wearing the traditional dress and make up like this

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Kyoto was just utterly beautiful

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From Kyoto we went to Hiroshima

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This was LITERALLY the view from the hotel. I will miss those mountains till I die.

The Hiroshima Memorial Park was a beautiful, heartbreaking space dedicated to the possibility of peace. Sadly, in this day and age, it seems farther away than ever. This is the A-Bomb Dome (Formerly the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall). It was very close to the Hypocenter (where the bomb was detonated) and everyone inside was killed instantly. The building stands today as it did after the bomb dropped.IMG_1527

Also in the peace park is this monument built for Sadako Sasaki, one of the bomb victims who survived the initial bombing but was caught in the black rain and developed radiation poisoning. She started a campaign to fold 1,000 origami cranes as a symbol of peace and a tribute to the innocent victims of nuclear war. Those cases behind the sculpture are filled with hundreds and hundreds of cranes. People still send them in to this day to be added.

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On a very nondescript street not far from the A-bomb dome is plaque on the wall marking the Hypocenter – the actual site of the bombing. We also toured the Peace Memorial Museum which was incredibly difficult to walk through reading story after story about people who lost their children or their parents, about the chaos and pain of that day, and the years that followed of slow torturous death. Towards the end there is a ruined melted baby’s tricycle which gutted me.

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This was up towards the Hiroshima castle, a beautiful shrine that we were lucky enough to catch right at sunset.

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Near to Hiroshima is the island of Miyajima. It’s about an hour on the train down the coast and then a ten minute boat ride but to be honest you might as well have traveled to a magical land. IMG_1570

Miyjima is famous for the Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate

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Okay I took a lot of pictures of this Tori.

In addition there is the Itsukishima Shrine built in 593

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It is right in the bay so when the high tide comes in, the shrine itself also seems to be floating.

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And of course the most famous residents of Miyajima: the deer!

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They are 100% native to the island and roam around the way squirrels do at home. Though I did learn it’s best to keep moving if you have some food with you. They are not shy about their love of fried chicken.

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From Hiroshima we went to Osaka for ONE SINGLE DAY which was mostly spent at the Dontonbori, which is like the Times Square of Food!

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This is Taro. He’s a super weird clown who plays the drum. A small version of him will be hanging on my Christmas tree this year! (Take that Eggbert!)

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Then we headed Osaka back to Tokyo. With one day left we took a train trip down to Kamakura to see the Great Buddha!

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There were these adorable little school groups of children at the Big Buddha practicing their English and they interviewed me about what I liked the best in Japan and then we took pictures together and it was so cute I died and came back to life.

And of course, the Pacific Ocean. In 2010 I went to Venice Beach in California and touched the Pacific Ocean for the first time. In 2019, I touched the other side!

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And of course, along the way we ATE…and ate….and ate…..

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That’s Butadon and it’s pork belly and heavenly and I miss it so much I could cry

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GYOZAS! Dumplings rule

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Okay this I didn’t eat cause that’s a whole octupus (with a quail egg in it’s head) and me and the creatures of the sea leave each other alone.

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SOY DONUTS WITH CARAMEL SAUCE! *drools*

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Japanese fried chicken (Karaage) is a thing and it’s delicious

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This is okonomiyaki (sometimes called Japanese pizza but it’s made with cabbage and fried noodles) and this was one of my favorite foods! IMG_1746

And of course all the RAMEN. This one was in Osaka at the Dontonburi and it had a whole pork rib in it! IMG_1676

And all the soft cream! This one was Matcha flavored but I also had Ramune (which is a soda flavor), green tea and grape and Jay had sweet potato!

Jay also had Kobe beef. Here’s his reaction in 4 acts!

First bite:

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What’s this?

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Oh it’s good!

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Oh it’s sooooooooooooooooooooo good!

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Now that I’m back the question everyone is asking me is: What was your favorite part of Japan?

Seems hard to choose right? I mean, between the all the cities and temples and mountains and sea, how could I choose my favorite part.

But I can. Easily.

We took the train down to Miyajima and we sailed out to the island and took tons of pictures and toured the temples and scritched the little deer on their little deer noses and climbed all the way up to the pagodas and ate delicious Karaage, we settled in at a little cafe called Cafe Lente

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They have a little deck you can see there with a lovely view and we ordered some beers and rested our weary feet. Conversation lapsed as we watch the deer roam around and the waves lapping at O-Torri. I was thinking about how long I had been wanting to see this particular tori and how hard we worked to get here and I turned to Jay and I said, “I can’t believe we’re really here.” And he smiled at me and said “Considering where we were five years ago…”

And my breath caught and I realized I had forgotten.

I forgot that it was June 10th. I forgot that it was the five year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I had spent the whole day on this island and I just completely FORGOT the worst day of my life.

Japan let me forget, if just for a little while. Japan stopped me from counting time from the break in my life, from what I call The Cleaving. Japan let me relax and instead of thinking about what is going to happen next Japan insisted that instead I just lived.

Japan gave me that and I will always be thankful.

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“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot

The world forgetting by the world forgot

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.”

                                        – Alexander Pope

Peace, love, and starbursts,

Ally

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