Tag Archives: Japan

Hakone Open-Air Museum

24 Apr

Besides hot springs and water parks, the Hakone Open-Air Museum is a nice way to spend a couple of hours. The various pieces of art are unique, interactive, and fun. Composed of over a hundred sculptures by  modern and contemporary sculptors, exhibition halls including the Picasso Pavilion, and pieces that encourage play, it’s certainly not your run-of-the-mill museum!

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Don’t forget to check out the website for a printable coupon!hakone museum9

hakone museumOf course it wouldn’t be Hakone without a little dip in the perfectly toasty water!

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We read the sign AFTER- only kids under the age of 12 are allowed to climb inside. Oops!

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This was probably my favorite piece- here’s an article that highlights the artist behind this amazing work. 
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Japanese kids are such cutie-patooties! Speaking of which, check out this youtube channel of this Japanese kiddo- she tries various foods around the world that her mom makes.



28 Apr

After a 2.5 hour ride on the Shinkansen train, we arrived right in Kyoto station and then met up with our friend Kent, who flew in from SFO to join us.


View from the train


We then checked into our hotel, the Capsule Ryokan where we waited for our friend Kent to arrive from SFO. Our room was a mix of traditional Japanese elements and western conveniences. We slept on tatami mats but had a space age capsule shower with body jets and rain shower head. All in all, a good place to stay and I’d recommend it.


Kyoto is the old capital of Japan, and because of its historical significance was spared from allied bombing in World War II. Thus intermixed with modern buildings and shopping arcades, you’ll find old temples and shrines everywhere. There are over 1500 temples in Kyoto, so the average traveler is only able to visit a few of the most popular ones.

We visited the gold temple, Kinkaku-ji.




We visited the silver temple, Ginkaku-ji.


Maruyama Park- the place for hanami parties (cherry blossom viewing) in Kyoto. People brave the cold and rain in order to stake out spots where they can hang out with their friends and family!





More shrines and temples.




We also took a trip south via JRail to the Fushimi Inari shrine, which is famous for its thousands of orange torii gates.




We tried the town’s namesake, inari, for lunch. We’ve had many versions of inari ranging from expensive restaurants to takeaway, and this was my favorite version, as expected!

On another day, we hopped on the JRail to Arashiyama, a lovely town.
Bamboo forest






One of the main attractions here is the Monkey Park, where you can feed monkeys. It was fun!

The monkey park is situated up the mountain, so we were greeted with this view up top.


We has an amazing tofu set lunch, tofu prepared different ways. As a tofu fan, I very much enjoyed this.

Kyoto and the nearby town of Uji are known for green tea/matcha flavored products. We were all over that!




We all agreed: best green tea cookie ever, and probably in the top 3 of best cookie EVER.

Nearly every shrine or public market type place in Kyoto had samples of mochi and yatsuhashi (also known as hijiri).


More ramen via a machine. We discovered an area at Kyoto Station that had a concentration of 8 or so different ramen vendors, and we just picked the vendor with the biggest line.


Nishiki Market- Kyoto has many shopping arcades, mostly covered. You can find anything in these markets. Nishiki specifically is food related.


Inside a knife shop at Nishiki


Some More Glimpses from Tokyo

26 Apr

Here are some more highlights from Tokyo which didn’t quite make it in previous posts!


Asakusa Temple


20120425-161929.jpg Vendors at Asakusa: Grilled seafood on sticks // black sesame ice cream

We saw our first shiba inu there! So kawaii!! PS, this is the dog that we are getting when we come back.


Cherry blossoms at Ueno Park


Every Sunday, you can rent bicycles for free at the Imperial Palace. They close off a section of the roads so everyone can enjoy a car free ride. It was really so much fun. They have bikes of all sizes, including ones with baby carriers and even tandem bikes! I loved seeing families picking bikes together to go ride, and the Imperial Palace grounds is a lovely backdrop for such an activity.


We went to a couple of Toyota permanent show rooms in Ikebukukro and Odaiba. It was really fun!


20120427-083915.jpg Jerry’s next car // Jeannie’s next car

Tokyu Hands was one of my favorite chains in Japan. Think of Michaels, Joanns, Target, mini Home Depot, Ikea, etc all rolled into one! I was in heaven, we spent hours shopping at the various locations throughout Tokyo! Other chains I liked were Muji and Loft. Endless possibilities for shopping!


We ate at Ippudo twice, it’s a famous ramen chain. The chains aren’t consistent though, at the Yoyogi chain you order via machine, and Ikebukuro you order via the old fashioned way. There’s a location in NYC which I heard can have waits up to 2 hours! Hopefully Ippudo will make it to the west coast, it was so tasty! I love me a perfectly soft boiled egg.


Very simple tempura bowl and udon, also via machine. So efficient!


One of my favorite things about Japan were the department store food courts that were usually located in the basement levels. We tried many of them, and found that we liked the Tokyu Food Show the best, it’s located at Shibuya Station. The department stores at Ginza were a bit too fancy for our tastes. Here’s a mystifying problem we had across all food basements though- there was virtually no seating anywhere, no one seemed to eat any of their boughten food! We just couldn’t figure it out. So we would end up circling around inside the building, in search of a random bench to sit on. Once we ate our take out sushi at deserted stairwell in front of the washrooms. Classy, we know!







Jerry’s birthday dinner, we had really amazing wagyu beef cooked table side! So tasty!


Tsukiji Fish Market round 1:
So on our first day in Tokyo, we had originally planned on taking advantage of jet lag to catch the tuna fish auction at Tsukiji Fish Market. Our plan was foiled by the fact that trains don’t start running until 5am…and the first round of auctions starts at 5:25am. We knew that folks started lining up 1-2 hours prior, but we didn’t really want to pay 3000 yen for a taxi from Shinjuku! We ended up arriving around 5:50am and standing in line for Sushi Dai instead (picture in previous post), and we walked through the fish market when it opened at 9am for the public. Yes, the line at Sushi Dai was 3 hours, but it was worth it. All this happened within 12 or so hours of landing in Tokyo!



Tsukiji Fish Market round 2:
We switched hotels in Tokyo after coming back from Kyoto/Hakone and decided to stay in Ningyocho, not really a tourist area, but relatively close to Tsukiji. On the same morning as our 10:30am flight to Beijing, we woke up a little before 3am and walked to Tsukiji. Took us about a solid 40 minutes (it was actually a very nice walk, we were warm and comfortable!) and we arrived just in time to be second in line. Actually, we would have been first, but the couple that got there before us were jogging, they overtook us while we were about halfway there). In the next half hour more and more folks started lining up. If you’d like to go to the tuna auction we’d recommend you arrive no later than 2 hours before the start of the auction (there are two auctions, 5:25am and 5:50am, with only 60 people allowed in each). Also keep in mind the fish market closes on random Wednesdays and Sundays.


With only four hours to go before our flight to Beijing, we opted to eat at Sushi Daiwa, which is next door to Sushi Dai. No lines and we were in and out in less than half an hour! The quality at Sushi Dai is noticeably better than Sushi Daiwa (the cuts are better and so is the rice), but we aren’t haters, the “worst” sushi from Tsukiji is better than the sushi we get back in the states!


Ahh, we loved loved loved Japan. Would come back in a heartbeat!

Hakone Hot Springs

10 Apr

Hakone, about an hour on the Hikari train from Tokyo, is known for its abundance of hot springs. Many hotels/guesthouses have some sort of built in hot springs spa/bath, also known as an onsen. Here’s ours at our guesthouse!
Jerry is wearing a yakuta, a traditional Japanese robe. We have an outdoor as well as an indoor, but we prefer the outdoor one. The crisp and cold air combined with the very warm water makes for a wonderful and relaxing combination!

We also partook in activities at Hakone Kowakien Yunessun, which is basically an onsen theme park!

The space was huge! You get a wristband when you pay, and it works as your entrance ticket, charge card, and it activates your locker. Simply scan your wristband to enter, pay for food/towels, and to open/close your locker. Very nifty, those Japanese folks!

It was like Raging Waters, but with warm/hot water and less slides and more baths. Very kid friendly as well!

Hot springs themes included wine, green tea, sake, coffee etc. You could smell the green tea/sake and taste the coffee! There were also collagen, sakura (cherry blossoms) and Aegean/Roman themed baths, among others.

We also indulged in some fish therapy. You dunk your feet in a pool and the fish nibble at your skin. It’s very ticklish at first, but you get used to it. Each session was about 10 minutes, and we went twice.

Here is a pretty hilarious video of some of our experiences. You might have to view the video on a separate tab in your browser (just click on the video). We are still learning how to embed videos into posts, and might have some technical difficulties since we’re doing all this blogging from our iPhones and our iPad. Please let us know in the comments if you’re unable to view the video!

Jerry’s reaction slays me every time. And those kids are cute!

In addition, there is a naked side to the hot springs (no pictures obviously). Separate for men’s and women’s, the naked side requires you to shower in a traditional Japanese bath before entering the pools. What you do is strip your clothes, pass through the door, and find a sit-down shower stall. You sit on the stool, fill up the bucket with warm water, and then soap an scrub yourself as you normally would. Then throw the bucket of water on your head as many times as you need (or just use the shower head attachment in the wall). After showering, you’re free to enjoy the various baths, each of which has a differing temperature. In our experience, we found the naked side to be quite relaxing and not uncomfortable at all.

Overall, we had a very relaxing time in Hakone and we’d definitely come back!

Shibuya Crossing

9 Apr

Tokyo is full of hustle and bustle, and a great example of this is the Shibuya crossing. Tons of people crossing from all directions. It’s pretty amazing!

Here’s two clips we took, one while crossing ourselves, and another viewpoint from upstairs in the Shibuya station. Enjoy!

Yakitori Alley, Shinjuku

5 Apr

A few days ago when exploring Shinjuku we stumbled upon a small sidestreet that had a bunch of yakitori restaurants situated on a narrow pedestrian walkway. We decided to go back yesterday for dinner and eat with the locals.

We ate at Sasamoto, which is basically what you would consider a hole-in-the-wall place. No signage, no menu, no nothing. Just two cooks behind the counter and seating for twelve, all of whom were locals. It was a pork day yesterday– all the skewers were cuts of pork. Pork cheek, throat, belly, intestine, even pork testicle! Jeannie and I agree that this was the best yakitori meal we’ve ever had in our lives. Yum.





Yes that is Jer actually eating a pork testicle yakitori.


Akihabara Electronics

4 Apr

This district of Akiharbara is known for electronics. If you can think of it, they probably sell it. We spent a few hours in the largest store in the district- Yodobashi Camera- and it wasn’t enough. But lucky us, there is one in Kyoto, so we’ll be exploring that one as well.

For anyone who was been to the mecca of camera stores in the USA, B&H photo, Yodobashi puts that place to shame. The store is just a completely massive place that sells every single piece of camera equipment and more! Try walking through all the tv/audio, computer, high end watches, washing machines and refrigerators, games, stationary, beauty products, bicycles, and more! This place has it all. There’s even 2 floors with restaurants and a food court.

Unfortunately due to the poor exchange rate prices are relatively expensive. So Jeannie won’t be getting that new fridge after all. Bummer.






Yomiuri Giants

2 Apr

Baseball is big in Japan. Along with MLB, the local Japanese league started their season as well. We decided to buy some tickets to experience the atmosphere at a Yomiuri Giants game.

Japanese baseball fans are interesting. They have some really rabid hardcore fans in the right field bleachers who chant to the beat of the drums throughout the whole game. But during the opposition team’s batting, they are all respectfully quiet. There isn’t a whole lot of random noise and heckling found in American baseball games.

Some other different things:
The aisle vendors are only young women. The ones who hawk beer have a keg strapped to their back and dispense on the spot. A beer is $9.60 USD. The girls all run down to the bottom row of a section, bow, then announce that they have something for sale.

That right field cheering does. not. stop. Ever. They cheer hours after the game has ended.

There’s no 7th inning stretch.

After the game, they interview and highlight the 3 stars of the game (like hockey) and then the guys are driven a lap in golf carts where they throw t-shirts into the crowd.

The stadium is remarkably clean. No trash on the floors. A trash man actually comes down the aisles in the 8th inning to minimize cleanup.

Japanese baseball players like to use American music when they come up to bat.

Some of the fans watch the game on their phones simultaneously.

All in all, a great experience and unlike any other sporting event I’ve ever been to in my life.


By the way, the Giants beat the Swallows 4-2.

First Impressions: Tokyo

29 Mar

We arrived in Tokyo a couple days ago and I have to say that I love love love this place. Everything about Tokyo so far is eye opening, fun, tasty, clean, and so technologically advanced! Bidets are not as intimidating either, I have to admit. I feel like Dorothy when she left Kansas and got to Emerald City. Seriously, I’m on cloud nine right now. This is Jerry’s second time, and I think he’s almost as enamored as I am, it’s been 18 years since his last visit.


I think Tokyo is the cleanest city that I’ve ever been to. Love it!

The subway system hasn’t been that hard to figure out, especially since they use a very efficient numbering system. Also, the seats on the subway have seat warmers, super awesome!

The convenience stores (Lawson, 7-11, Family Mart) have really tasty food and it’s super cheap! They will warm up your food for you and there is even a section of warm bottled drinks. I had a hot milk tea this morning and it was so delicious.

You can buy baseball tickets using an automated vending machine at Lawson. We’re going to a Giants/Tigers game this weekend, can’t wait!

Nighttime is so much fun because everything is lit up and the atmosphere is just electric (haha, pun intended, I couldn’t help myself).

The intersections are just ginormous. Crossing the street is kind of fun. Dorky, I know!



Girls here must have high tolerance for the cold, because some of them wear really skimpy outfits haha. Even during the day!

We had to try the automated ordering machine. Jerry wanted udon with shrimp tempura but it wasn’t pictured so we had to match the characters, it was like a puzzle. Luckily I recognize some of the characters because they are also in Chinese.


Many people wear SARS masks. I asked an expat about this while we were in line for 2.5 hours at Sushi Dai (the only reason the expat was in line for sushi at a touristy location on a weekday morning was because she had an out of town guest with her). She said it was because there are very limited sick days in Japan, so the masks are a preventative measure.

Yep, a 2.5 hour wait. we are going back to the market for the fish auction, but I think we’ll try someplace else, even Sushi Dai was an amazing experience. It’s good to try new things…with shorter lines, ha!

I can’t wait to soak up more of Tokyo. That Shibuya crossing is gonna be something else!

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