Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Japan (Page 1 of 51)

Whirlwind

To say the last week has been a whirlwind is an understatement. We found out Saturday morning (10/27) Dave would need to report to his next command much sooner than expected. We were expecting to leave at the end of January. However, due to unforeseen circumstances we will be leaving Japan at the end of this month. Since finding out the news, we have cancelled events (including my Mom’s visit – I’m really bummed!), arranged the move and begun to say the many goodbyes.

The first goodbye and actually see you soon, was to our friends Lisa and Dave who were visiting. Our last full day together, before they went on their solo trip, was to Yokohama on Wednesday 10/24. On our way we made a brief stop to visit the Great Buddha of Kamakura and visit the beach.

Our tour around Yokohama included a stop at the Marina and a trip to the top floor of Landmark Tower.

After a day of sightseeing, we were able to meet up with Dave for drinks and then dinner at Sushi-Ro. The four of us made a serious stack of plates and beer glasses!

I took this picture Thursday morning at the train station before they left for Hiroshima and Kyoto.

They returned on Halloween. We spent the evening passing out over 300 pieces of candy. Believe it or not, we actually ran out of candy within the first hour of trick or treat time! Lisa and Dave repacked their bags and I took them to the airport Thursday 11/1.

It was a blast to have them visit and share Japan. It makes my heart happy to know we will only be an hour away very soon!

So, I guess the good news is – we will be back in Chicago, America at the end of the month. I anticipate the next two weeks will continue to be a whirlwind as we pack up our two shipments. Dave and I rescheduled our December trip to Thailand. We are giving ourselves a week of R&R after our household goods are shipped.

I appreciate you reading and following along with our journey and adventures around Japan. I’ve loved sharing Japan with you. I think my exploring Japan days are coming to a screeching halt as we prepare to move. Wabi-Sabi Sole has been a pleasurable and therapeutic part of my time in Japan. I’m grateful for so many friends and family who have shared an interest in our experiences. Again, thank you for reading.

Two Days in Tokyo

Lisa, Dave, and I packed an overnight night bag and headed to Tokyo on Monday. I made us reservations at the New Sanno so we could enjoy two full days in Tokyo. Our first stop was in Ebisu at Pizzeria da Michele.

This restaurant is definitely one of my favorites in Tokyo and I’m happy to share it with friends who are visiting and friends who live in Japan. My patronage to the restaurant has not gone unnoticed. In fact, our waitress recognized me! I’m sure they appreciate the stream of customers I bring in from all around the world!

After lunch we worked our way along the Yamanote Line. Our first stop was at the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. Unfortunately, I was a little too confident in my tour guide ability. Turns out, the Tokyo Metropolitan Building is closed on the 2nd and 4th Monday of the month. I gave my sincerest apologies and we continued on to Harajuku.

Followed by several crossings of the Shibuya scramble.

While in Shibuya, we stopped at KIRIN City for a beverage and appetizers. I have passed this KIRIN location so many times. I was happy to finally have the opportunity to stop.

After shopping through the seven-story Tokyu Hands, we worked our way over to Roppongi. Here we were able to visit the Tokyo City View. I was relieved the building was open. We were able to enjoy a beautiful night view of the city.

By this point, we were all feeling a little tired and ready to head back to the New Sanno. Dinner was delicious American cuisine from the bar at the New Sanno. Sometimes it’s good to get a little taste of home. As we were eating, we tried to count how many trains we caught throughout the day. It was an impossible task! Needless to say, we train hopped around the west side of the city! It was a packed day!

Tuesday morning we agreed to meet at 7:30 in the lobby of the hotel. We wanted to visit Senso-ji Shrine and Kappabashi (kitchen Town). It would take about an hour to get there from the New Sanno. In hindsight, we probably should have waited until 8:00 or 8:30. We ended up being right in the middle of rush hour. The trains were packed beyond imagination or comfort. At several stations, train pushers were helping people get on the trains. Dave took a selfie of us all jammed together.

As we got further out from city center, the trains were significantly less crowded. To our surprise, when we came out of the station near the Shrine, it had started raining! Dave bought us all umbrellas and off we went!

Many of the stores had not opened yet. It was fun to see the different murals painted on the doors as we walked through the shopping area.

We walked around Kappabashi until we were just too chilly and decided ramen would make the perfect lunch. Lisa picked Ippudo ramen. It was warm and tasty.

We began our journey home with a stop at Tokyo Station. I wanted to share with them the beautiful building and this gave us a chance to transfer their JR rail vouchers into train passes.

The JR rail pass allows visitors with a 90 visa to ride the Shinkansen for free! It is a good investment if you’re planning to make more than one trip on the Shinkansen. Lisa and Dave are spending a week traveling around Japan. With the JR rail pass, their train travel is paid for already! I’m incredibly jealous. Dave and I have a SOFA visa stamped in our passport allowing us to stay in Japan longer than 90 days and making us ineligible for the rail pass. I’ll look forward to hearing all about their trip when they return! But, first I’ll tell you about our Wednesday in Yokohama- tomorrow. 😉

Hakone Highlights

Before arriving in Japan, Lisa asked if a trip Hakone was worth it and possible. Taking the trip was definitely possible. Katie and I visited Hakone last November for fall foliage. As to if the day long trip was worth it, well, it definitely would be on a clear day because we could have a great view of Mt. Fuji. Viewing the weather forecast, we decided Sunday would be a great day to visit and it would give Dave a chance to join us. (He hasn’t visited Hakone either and it was on his list.) We left the house at 6:45 to begin our trip to Odawara. We arrived at 8:15 and we were first in line at the ticket office when they opened at 8:30.on the train from Zushi to Odawara, I gave Dave a lesson in how to properly open an onigiri.

We hopped on the first train of the day from Odawara to Hakone. This was already our fourth train of the day!

We followed the same counter-clockwise route around the Hakone area Katie and I did a year ago. The second train of the trip around Hakone was the incline railway.

The third section of the trip was the Ropeway. We couldn’t have asked for a better day! The sky was perfectly clear.

As we crested the top, we were able to see Mt. Fuji. The entire car exclaimed with joy!

We stopped for a lengthy break after the first Ropeway ride. We enjoyed views of Mt. Fuji, the sulfur mines, and lunch snacks (fried potatoes and bacon).

We continued along the Ropeway enjoying more beautiful views.

The final leg of the journey was a boat ride across Lake Ashi. It was breathtaking.

After docking in Hakone, we walked over to the Hakone Shrine.

Before boarding the bus back to the train, we stopped for a couple final pictures with Mt. Fuji. We couldn’t get over how clear it was and perfect temperature.

We worked our way back home on the trains. Along the way, we stopped in Ofuna for sushi conveyor dinner. This restaurant had the cute Shinkansen delivery method. We had a couple impressive stacks of plates by the end of dinner!

It was a fantastic day. We were so lucky to have beautiful weather. More importantly, we are so happy to have wonderful friends visiting. We love sharing Japan adventures.

Lisa and Dave

Our friends, Lisa and Dave, arrived late Friday night from Chicago. We decided to start with a low key day to help them walk off their jet lag. We spent Saturday in Kamakura – shopping and visiting the Hachiman-gu Shrine. First things first, we stopped at Barchie’s for lunch.

It was a beautiful afternoon. The weather is finally starting to feel like Autumn. It was a lovely day for a “white wedding.” We saw this wedding party as we walked toward Hachiman-gu Shrine.

I gave Lisa and Dave a quick tutorial on the appropriate way to cleanse before visiting a Shrine or Temple.

Can you spot the Americans?

View from the top of the Shrine.

After visiting the Shrine, I bought a bag of Ginko nuts for us to share. They have a very peculiar taste and texture. They are served warmed and salted. Then the shell of the nuts is cracked. The inside nut is actually chewy. They require a little getting used to, but I think delicious in the end.

We stopped for a few photos at the entrance of the Shrine.

We had fun catching up and sharing one of our favorite places in Japan. The sunny afternoon, walk, and good night sleep was hopefully enough to reset their circadian rhythm. We have big plans for the rest of their visit! Adventures await!

Family Day

On Monday, 10/15, I had the wonderful opportunity to greet my Uncle and Aunts and their friend during the Yokohama port visit of their cruise. Their ship docked at Osanbashi Pier in Yokohama. I took an early train up to meet them. Even on a cloudy day, it wasn’t hard to spot the ship!

After joining up, we set out for a one-day Julia Tour of Tokyo. Here is a picture of me with my Aunt Merrily, Aunt Eileen, and Uncle Jay. Throughout the day, we attempted to recall the last time we saw each other. It’s been at least 20 years since I saw my Aunt Merrily and probably closer to 30 since I saw my Uncle Jay and Aunt Eileen. Regardless of the time, it didn’t take long to quickly fall into step and reminisce of days past.

The cute blue elephants at the Yokohama pier were too cute to pass up a picture opportunity. Pictured here are my Aunts and Uncle and their friend, Nan, who was cruising with them.

Our first stop in Tokyo was the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. It provides a great birds eye view of Tokyo. The best part, it’s free! I joked that by taking them to the top of the building, I could show them ALL of Tokyo!

On one of our numerous train rides, Aunt Merrily asked me to take a picture of the Tokyo Subway map. It looks like a big bowl of colorful ramen.

After our trip to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, we took a break for lunch. A delicious bowl of ramen filled our bellies and fueled us for the rest of the afternoon. I know I’ve mentioned how much I love Japanese eggs. The ones in ramen are smoked. Oishi desu!

After lunch, we headed to Harajuku. We walked and shopped our way down Takeshita Street. It’s one of my favorites in Tokyo. As long as it’s not too crowded!!

During our shopping, we stopped for a break. We thought we were just getting flavored tea. To our surprise, it had little balls of tapioca at the bottom. Needless to say, the first sip was quite a surprise. We all had different strategies for enjoying the drink. It provided a humorous highlight to our tour. Sometimes you just don’t know. Now that I do, I might not stop there again.

After a little more shopping, we took the train one stop to Shibuya. First stop in Shibuya is always at the Hachiko Statue. Hachiko is remembered for his loyalty. He walked everyday with his person to Shibuya Station. One day his person never came back. He had died of a heart attack. Hachiko lived the rest of his life at Shibuya Station waiting for his person to return.

No trip to Tokyo is complete without walking through Shibuya Crossing several times.

We stopped for an afternoon coffee at Starbucks for a chance to watch the scramble. We were lucky to see an almost poo brown bus pass through.

By this point, it was time to return my family to the cruise ship. One last train ride!

It wasn’t without a little bit of humor at the end. Nan’s train card didn’t have sufficient funds to exit. Unfortunately, I had already exited. She had to request the assistance of the station master. We were laughing so hard when he popped out of the wall!!

It was a a great day filled with laughs and adventure. It was great to share one of my favorite cities with my family. Simultaneously, it was really fun to reconnect and reminisce. Hearing stories of their travels and retelling stories about my grandparents warmed my heart. It was such a grand and special day. I couldn’t have asked for more – well, maybe a little bit more time together!

Zushi Beach

We had a wonderful opportunity on Saturday to share Zushi with our friend Ashley. Ashley was our favorite bartender in Great Lakes. We frequented the base bar enough to develop a nice friendship. She is in Japan for her yearly trip to visit her family. Zushi Beach had their Zushi Candle Festival on Saturday. Ashley joined us to view the candles and for dinner.

We had a good laugh at the candle arrangements. It took us a minute to figure out which way to view the display. Once Dave convinced us we were looking at it upside down… We flipped around and laughed – at ourselves and the Japanese. The Japanese had jokes. They wrote, “We’ve moved Fuji” with the candles. It made us laugh. For a couple reasons. One, they made a candle outline of Mt. Fuji. Two, it was cloudy so we couldn’t see Mt. Fuji from the beach. It was like a Japanese magic trick/joke. Haha.

The candles and the blue lights on the water were so pretty.

We had fun playing with the settings on Ashley’s iPhone 8. Can you see our shadows on the water? Yet again, I’m reminded how much I’m ready/excited to upgrade my phone when we move back.

Before getting on the train, we stopped at our favorite chu-hai stand in Zushi. The tree next to the stand had been wrapped with sweaters? Not really sure the purpose. Maybe the locals thought it was chilly. Regardless, it was definitely kawaii!

It was so fun to see Ashley. Having the opportunity to see friends when we are so far away helps fill our happiness buckets.

Ashley and I have plans for a day in Tokyo on Tuesday. I can’t wait to enjoy my favorite city with a “local.” We also discussed where to find our favorite Japanese foods in Chicago. So many things to look forward to… in the meantime, I’ll work on eating as much maguro (tuna) as possible.

Osaka

Dave and I spent the long weekend visiting Osaka. We caught the Shinkansen from Shinagawa on Saturday. It was about a 2.5 hour trip from Tokyo.

Taking the Shinkansen is always my favorite part of trips around Japan. This time we even splurged and bought Green Car Tickets. The additional ¥4000 ($40.00) gave us more room and fancier seats. Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t cleared and we didn’t get a view of Mt. Fuji.

Osaka is a large port city in the Kansai region of Japan. It is the second largest city in Japan, after Tokyo. I think I’ve mentioned before how orderly everything is in Japan. Especially, the lines waiting for the trains and escalators. So far, everywhere we have traveled in Japan, it is expected that you stand on the left of the escalator so people in a hurry can pass you on the right. The first thing we noticed in Osaka, everyone stood on the right! Just when we thought we knew what to do… Fortunately, we caught on quickly.

Osaka is known for modern architecture, shopping, and street food. After checking into our hotel, we set out to explore the Dotonbori. Dotonbori is the area along the canal known for its restaurants and shops. Many had elaborate store front displays.

We walked and walked around the shopping area. There was so much to see! We stopped for sushi dinner. The tuna sashimi and avocado dish was delicious. I wasn’t going to share. But, I needed help dissecting the recipe. I ate most of it and then decided to share and order a second! It was so good!!

More street views of the city. The shopping area was expansive and filled with so many people. It was covered in many places making it great during bad weather. We could actually smell the Lush store before we saw the sign! Check out the Don Quixote store. It actually had a Ferris wheel!

We went back to the hotel in time to catch the Happy Hour at the rooftop lounge. It wasn’t the highest building in the city but it was still pretty to see the sparkling lights of the city.

Sunday morning we were up and moving before many people went to bed. Dotonbori was formerly known as a “pleasure district” of Osaka. We saw several groups each morning who clearly enjoyed an all night party!

Sunday morning we walked down to the Nambayasaka Shrine. The small Shrine has a very large lion head stage. It was on my list because it is so different than most Shrines.

The second Shrine we visited was the Namba Shrine. It was a small Shrine near our hotel.

It was apparent they were having a small festival. Later that same morning, as we were shopping, there was a small Mikoshi parade down the shopping street near the Shrine. The man carrying the lions came over to us and shook the lion’s head above our heads. I’m assuming for good luck!

We continued shopping and by noon we were ready for lunch. We decided since we were so close to Kobe, we should try Kobe beef ramen. I would give it a four out of five stars. It made my Japan ramen top 10 list. Maybe at number 6 or 7.

After a bit more shopping, we decided to work our way over to the Umeda Sky Building. The Umeda Sky Building is one of the most iconic buildings in Osaka. An escalator crosses the atrium between the two towers. It is the World’s highest outdoor escalator.

As we were walking back to the train station, we came across a meat and beer festival. We of course had to stop in and check it out. We bought tickets and purchased beer and meat! There were crowds around what we think were Japanese Pop Stars. But, we may have just made that up!

Another highlight walking back to the train station was the green bear fountain. I mean who doesn’t want a green bear sitting and spitting outside your office building…

For dinner Sunday night, we found a nice dive bar that offered burgers. There were about 10 places to sit in the bar/restaurant and only one person working. He had his burger making down to a science. They were delicious.

We enjoyed tasting our way around the city! Thank goodness we walked so much each day to help burn calories. Saturday we walked over 10 miles and Sunday we walked over 14 miles! Monday morning we walked around the shopping district one last time before catching the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.

Osaka was an interesting and exciting city. It had an intense party vibe. We enjoyed the chance to see and experience another area of Japan. Thanks for reading about our adventure!

Kinmokusei Blossoms

I have chased so many flowers while living in Japan. It’s been one of my favorite hobbies. The Kinmokusei is one last flower I must share with you. Visually, it isn’t showy like the Sakura, Hydrangeas, or Wisteria. In fact, it’s possible to walk past the flowering tree / shrub without even seeing it. However, you will definitely smell it. The fragrance of the Kinmokusei smells like a orange blossom. Or more like an orange blossom on steroids. I smelled it our first year by our house at the end of September / October and it wasn’t until last fall that I actually knew where the smell was coming from! Here is a large Kinmokusei tree near our house.

Do you see the tiny orange blossoms? Here’s where I admit how I’m a ding dong. The first year we were here, I thought the smell was coming from the trash can. I thought housing sprayed an air freshener into the trash can. I know. It sounds ridiculous. Every time we leave our house, we walked by both the tree and trash can. I never noticed the tree or the tiny flowers, only the trash can. (Shout out to Hooptie in the background. She’s still going strong (knock on wood)).

Last October, one of my English students brought a clipping to class to share. I was dumbfounded. That beautiful smell was coming from that tiny flower!! Look how small the blossoms are.

The blossoms haven’t quite opened. However, another typhoon is coming this weekend and I was worried the blossoms would be damaged. Plus, it’s such a beautiful day today. Perfect for appreciating flowers.

Now that I know the odor and the plant, I find myself looking for the tree or shrub whenever I smell it. I’ve noticed (smelled) them everywhere. On runs, walks, around the base, in Zushi, and in Tokyo!

Through my research I learned, the flower only blooms when the air quality is good. Also, it blooms from the end of September until the middle of October. The Japanese associate the scent with autumn. All of these facts, make me appreciate the flower even more. If only I could incorporate odor into my blog post! Happy Autumn!

Yebisu Beer Land

Dave and I have a trip to Osaka planned for next weekend. After doing my own research and working with the travel agency, I realized it would be cheaper for me to book the hotel and buy Shinkansen tickets myself. Buying Shinkansen tickets is super easy and can be done the day of travel. However, I wanted to take care of the details in advance. Plus, Katie needed to purchase Shinkansen tickets as well. We decided to head to Shinagawa to purchase tickets and investigate hotels we both might consider using over Veterans Day weekend. After completing our requirements, we were ready for lunch. We took the Yamanote Train Line to Yebisu Station. Dave and I have been to this location several times. Mainly for lunch at Pizzeria da Michele and also to see holiday lights. I decided to share my favorite pizza in Japan with Katie. Check out the guy over my shoulder laughing. I wish we could have understood the joke!

After lunch, we had plans to visit the Museum of Yebisu Beer. Or as we came to call it, Yebisu Beer Land.

The museum was free to enter and only charged ¥400 for a glass. The beer menu and the food menu was on a board as you approached the counter. You used the machine to change your yen into Yebisu coins. The coins could be used to purchase both food and beer.

I sampled the Yebisu Meister and Katie had a glass of the Perfect Yebisu. It was interesting to watch the bartender pour the glass. To get the perfect Japanese pour, there is a small nozzle on the side to add foam.

We also ordered a small snack plate. A little crunch as we sipped our beer. They all had interesting flavors. The dried peas were pretty tame. The large goldfish crackers were drizzled with honey. The fish jerky was surprisingly pretty good. They croutons were probably my least favorite. They had a strange smoke flavor.

After our refreshments, we were ready to complete the museum tour. Yebisu is one of the seven Lucky Gods of Japan. He is the God of luck and always portrayed with a fishing pole and holding a fish.

After our Yebisu Beer Land adventure, we started working our way home. We made a few stops along the at, enjoying the journey. It was a productive rainy day of trip planning, gathering research, and appreciating good pizza and beer!

Menkake March

This past weekend when Dave and I were in Kamakura, I saw a flier for a Menkake Procession being held at the Goryo Jinja Temple in Hase. Dave obviously had to work today and couldn’t join me. Fortunately, Katie was free and accompanied me on this interesting adventure. The parade wasn’t until 2:30pm. We decided to meet earlier and enjoy lunch by the beach. Katie suggested a cute little cafe called Cocomo that she has been interested in visiting. It was adorable!

The view was spectacular! We had a seat directly in front of the large open window that overlooked the beach. It reminded me of the Belvedere in Virginia Beach.

The food was delicious. I ordered the margherita pizza and Katie ordered the shrimp and avocado salad. We highly recommend both!

After lunch, we went to the Goryo Jinja Temple. We wanted to make sure we knew where to go and have time to see what was happening. Upon arrival, we found a huge crowd gathered around the traditional music being played. It was beautiful to listen to as we walked around the temple.

We decided to walk down to the beach and wait for the procession to begin. We were lucky to catch the Enoden train as it passed by the Temple.

It was a beautiful beach day! The day was full of faces. We passed a man making a face in the sand. Kawaii!

Once it was closer to the time of the procession, we walked back to the Temple. While we were waiting, I did a little research so we could better understand the significance of the Menkake Procession.

According to my research, the legend goes something like this. The samurai leader, Yoritomo Minamoto, impregnated a girl of a lower house. When the girl’s family would come to visit them, they wore masks to conceal their identities and poorer backgrounds. The Menkake Procession includes ten masked men. The masks they are wearing are over 200 years old. This is a special celebration and can only be observed in Kanagawa. As a result, the procession has been designated as a Intangible Cultural Asset by the Prefectural Government of Kanagawa. There was a good crowd viewing the procession and the street was very narrow.

With a little persistence, I was able to get a few good photos of the masked men.

Also part of the procession was a masked pregnant woman wearing a kimono. The crowd was encouraged to touch her belly. Her pregnancy is a symbol of good luck and good harvest. The mask in front is of Fukurokuju, one of the seven lucky Gods.

As with all Japanese parades, a Mikoshi was pulled. The Mikoshi is a Shrine for the God to be transported during the procession.

We enjoyed the afternoon. Especially, lunch and beach time. The procession was fun to observe. There are so many interesting and small events in Japan. I feel fortunate when I happen to find out about one in time to enjoy it!

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