Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Travel (Page 1 of 2)

Plan Your Work

We arrived at the Naval Base in Sasebo Sunday afternoon. We were able to check into our room at NGIS. This might be the fanciest Navy room I have ever stayed in. Not only is it HUGE, there is a doormat, leather furniture, full size fridge, dining room, beautiful backyard, and a massage chair! Seriously!?!

The view out the back door.

The massage chair.

After checking in, we headed out to see the area outside the base. Dave has been to Sasebo for work several times. He took me to one of his favorite restaurants. They actually use a net to catch the fish in the tank for you and serve it on the sushi platter.

I’m not sure there is a fresher way to enjoy sushi.

I was a bit of chicken and ordered my favorite and safe sushi choice. Maguro (tuna) and rice bowl.

After dinner, we stopped at a few local watering holes and then headed back to the room. I used Monday morning to work out our plan for sightseeing during the week. I stopped by IACE travel and was able to obtain a plethora of information for things to do around the area. The travel agent was very knowledgeable about the area and helped me put together a week full of adventures.

One noticeable difference between Sasebo and Yokosuka is the train schedule. I realize now we are very spoiled living in Yokosuka. We have trains running every 8-10 minutes from our closest station. Here, trains run hourly most of the time. This makes it a little bit more challenging when planning an excursion. I was a little frustrated this afternoon because I missed the 12:43 train. The next one wasn’t going to arrive for an hour. This wouldn’t give me enough time to get there and back before my rendezvous with Dave for dinner. Grrr. So, plan B. I decided to use my time this afternoon to plan my work for the next couple days so I could work my plan and not end up in the same predicament. I picked up some lunch and returned back to base, timing how long it would take to go from NGIS to the train station (at a leisurely pace). I ate my lunch on our patio with this amazing view.

Then, I had a massage in the chair. Once my appetite was satiated and I was completely relaxed from my massage, I set to work on my plan. I wrote down a few notes and train schedules for my intended adventures over the next couple of days. Now that I’m squared away I’ll be ready to hit the ground running tomorrow! Adventures await!

Waiting for Our Flight

Dave and I are flying to Nagasaki airport. We will spend the week of Thanksgiving in Sasebo. Dave has to work a few days at the beginning of the week. While he is working, I’ll be exploring. He is taking a few days leave at the end of the week so we can explore the area together. I’m excited to visit another part of Japan. Sasebo is located towards the southern end of the country. We are the blue dot and will be flying to the red flag.

It is a short flight, only 1 hour and 45 minutes. One small cup of coffee will make it fly by.

I’m looking forward to sharing the week of adventures with you! I’m thankful for all you for reading and following wabisabisole. Your support means everything. Happy Thanksgiving week!

Day Two – Tokyo Tourists

After an amazing day at Tokyo Disneysea and a good night sleep at a Disney Resort Hotel, I planned for us to take the long way home via Tokyo. Layla placed Pizza de Michele at the top of her “must go to” list during her visit. So, we went for lunch. 


The staff was so friendly and allowed us to take pictures while we waited for our pizza. They even let Layla help cook! 


It was delicious! Check out that pizza! 


One final shot of the kawaii jack-o-lantern pizza. 


Here’s more great news. I had train books ready for Nina and Noah when they arrived. We were able to start their stamp collecting as we explored Tokyo!! I was even able to get a few new ones! 


After lunch, we went to Shibuya Crossing. Here we saw the Hachiko Statue and crossed through the crossing three times! Yay, tourists! 


After collecting another station stamp and a couple Hello Kitty stamps, we headed to Harajuku. We stopped for the mandatory Takeshita tourist photo. Do you see the spelling mistake on the marquee? Wabi-sabi in real life! 

Our first stop in Harajuku was at Cafe Mocha, a fancy cat cafe. Nina and Noah put cat cafe high on their “must do” list. I’ve been wanting to visit this cat cafe because it looks pretty cool from the street. We planned to stay 20 minutes. It easily turned into a 30 minute visit. We just needed a little more time to give all 16 cats enough love. 

This cute kitty reminded Layla, Nina, and Noah of their cat Simba. Kawaii! 

Perhaps the furriest cat in Japan! 

Cat in a bowl. 


The cafe had two rooms connected by a hallway. It was decorated in an Alice in Wonderland theme. 

Cat ears were available if you felt felined… I mean inclined. We did. 


Treats were available for purchase so you could feed the cats. The cats went crazy for the lollipop! We asked when we were leaving what it was made of. They were frozen chicken broth lollipops! Who knew? 


My favorite kitty was Pumpkin. He was a real life Grumpy Cat. Although he did seem a little happy to lick the lollipop! 


We had to tear the kids out of the cat cafe. We reminded them there was still cotton candy to eat and a toy store to shop! 

After a quick stop for a pair of cat ears, we made our way to the cotton candy place – Totti Candy Factory. 


Let me make a promise to you. When you visit me with your kids, I will spoil them with a HUGE mountain of cotton candy. 

All I ask for in return is a cotton candy face plant photo! This was a highlight to my day!! Pure sugar happiness. 


We finished walking down Takeshita street (so much kawaii) and worked our way to Kiddy Land. 


Kiddy Land is a four story toy store in Harajuku. It has every imaginable Japanese and U.S. toy. From Star Wars to Hello Kitty. 


We shopped until we dropped. On Pusheen! 


By the time we made it home the train count was up to seven. Seven different trains in one day! Some were pretty crowded. Especially, during rush hour. Nonetheless, we were all smiles! 


I had a great time sharing the Tokyo experience with this crew. They were flexible, inquisitive, and excited! Once again, I want to give photo credit to Layla for helping me document our day. And props to Dave for having dinner ready for us when we finally got home at 8:00pm! 

Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine 

TripAdvisor listed the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine as “the #1 most popular Japanese site for foreign tourist” for three years in a row! We went to visit early Saturday morning and can understand why the site is so popular. In fact, it’s my new favorite Shrine. 


We arrived before 0800 because I read the Shrine will get very busy. Plus, in this part of Japan, it’s extra warm and steamy during the summer months. It was an easy two stop train ride from our hotel. 


We were so early, we caught a glimpse of the priests going to work! 


The Shrine is famous for the 1000 Torii. Torii are the famous red gates of the Shinto religion. 


The main buildings of the Shrine were beautiful and well maintained. 


The Shrine is dedicated to Inari. First and foremost, Inari is the god of rice. Second, the god of fertility and industry. Torii gates mark the entrance to sacred ground. Typically, they are made of wood or stone and painted. My research told me the color the Torii is painted is known as vermillion. Vermillion is a bright red made from the mineral, cinnabar. It is considered the color of life and eternity. The Torii at the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine have been donated by those who have been successful in business in honor and gratitude of Inari. The writing on the Torii identifies the donor. 


The extra large Torii such as the one in this picture cost the equivalent of $50,000. 


The number of Torii present was impressive. 


Besides the Torii, the Shrine had many different smaller shrines. 

This Shrine was dedicated to this tree. I couldn’t find information about the tree. But, I can appreciate showing the tree respect. 


Fox are considered messengers from God and act as guardians of the Inari Shrines. They are set in pairs at the main entrances of the Shrine. 


We only saw a small portion of this Shrine. It is possible to climb to the top of Mount Inari. It’s takes about two hours. 


We decided today was not that day! Look how sweaty I was after walking around for only 30 minutes!! 


I hope when you visit, we have time to go to Kyoto and visit Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Please, do us both a favor an don’t plan that trip during the summer!! It’s so HOT and muggy! 

America 

Happy Fourth of July! 

Speaking of America, I’m flying to San Francisco this evening for my 3-week summer camp. It all started with my brother asking me to join him and his family on a Northern California/Oregon road trip. From there, I orchestrated an amazing vacation optimizing my time, costly plane ticket, and excruciatingly long flight (11 hours). I have been planning this adventure since January and will spend time with friends and family who are all traveling to meet me. I’m truly appreciative of their efforts to see me. It’s an understatement to say I’m excited. 

Simultaneously, a huge shoutout to Dave for supporting me to enjoy this wonderful opportunity. 

Here is a quick list of places we will visit. 

Yosemite National Park

Napa/Sonoma 

Lassen National Park

Volcano National Park

Redwood National Park

Paso Robles

Big Sur 

There will be many other side stops during our journey. I will do my best to share adventures via wabisabisole along the way. I must also communicate the expectation that I want to maximize my time in the company of my friends and family and don’t want to spend too much time with my nose in my phone. Im looking forward to unplugging for a little bit. Plus, I will be limited on my data because most of the places won’t have wifi. 

In the meantime, enjoy your Independence Day celebration and happy summer! 

Shinkansen 

I must confess. I was completely giddy anticipating our Shinkansen trip. Riding the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) has been at the top of my Japan Bucket List. Our trip to Hiroshima was the perfect opportunity. 

We boarded the Shinkansen in Shinagawa. Here is the route to Hiroshima. 

Considering this is the Shinagawa Shinkansen station, it seemed empty! Our train was on track 23 – car 6. 


I took a video and several pictures while waiting for our train at 10:17am. I was only reprimanded once for not standing behind the yellow line! Oops! 

The video is of the train leaving. I thought it would show the speed better than the train arriving. 

​This is our train arriving. I used the burst setting on my phone. It was still blurry! 


Once on the train, I unpacked our snacks! We packed the needed provisions. A homemade rice ball, veggie sticks, and several chūhai. We settled in nicely for our almost 4-hour journey. 

Let me tell you a little bit more about the Shinkansen. My source was Wikipedia and the JR Train website. I summarized and made it reader friendly. 

Speed – the maximum is 200 mph. The average speed is between 150-185 mph. 

The Route – the Shinkansen tracks are their own separate system. They do not cross roads or go around obstacles. They go through or over any obstacle. Most of the time the tracks are slightly elevated above surrounding landscape. Curves are kept to a minimum. Because as we all know, the fastest way from point A to Point B is a straight line. 

The Tracks – the tracks are Standard Gauge (wider tracks – lower center of gravity) vice Narrow Gauge. Being an Austin, I’m not embarrassed to admit I know the difference. Also, the actual rails of the tracks are longer. This reduces the number of welds required and the effects of thermal expansion within the rails and therefore provides a smoother ride. 

The Trains – the trains are lighter and can accelerate or decelerate quickly. This reduces the amount of damage to the tracks. Also, the cars are air-sealed to ensure stable air pressure when entering tunnels at high speed.

Side note: I felt the speed the most when going through the tunnels. The combination of the speed and confinement created excessive pressure on my ears.

Environmental Impact – the average ride (per passenger) on the Shinkansen produces 16% of the CO2 produced by the same trip made by a vehicle. Considering the Shinkansen has 342 daily departures with 1,323 seats per train, that’s a much smaller carbon footprint than driving. 

Safety – Very. No fatalities from derailments or collisions. Deaths have occurred from people rushing the train and suicides.  

Taking the Shinkansen is a fantastic alternative to driving and much less hassle than flying. We were able to book a train, hotel, and tour package at a very reasonable price. I hope when you visit, we have the opportunity to visit another part of Japan via the Shinkansen. You won’t be disappointed!! 

Take A Break

Dina and I rented a car and drove to see the Fuji Flower Carpet on Thursday. Although I had already been a few days earlier, I was happy to visit again and hopefully sneak another peak at Mt. Fuji. We left at 5:30 am. It was about a 2.5-hour drive and we arrived right when the park opened at 8:00 am. Here was our route.


I must also briefly tell you about the drive. As we drove towards Mt. Fuji we started with a great view and then clouds slowly started to settle. Dina put it nicely, “I’m observing a changing weather pattern.” However, we drove through a REALLY long tunnel and on the other side, we drove out into the sunshine and cloudless skies! It was a Fuji miracle! We were SO happy!!

Our luck continued at the flower carpet because we definitely beat the crowds and traffic! It was worth going early. I won’t overload you with pictures- I’ll just share a few of the beauty. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to see Fuji twice!


Without the crowds, we were able to have a break time. Ahhhh, beautiful view, good coffee, and cream cheese filling. (I was expecting red bean paste!)


After we snapped a plethora of pictures, we decided to head out to Mount Minobu. Dina picked up a brochure showing Mt. Fuji, a Ropeway, and a pagoda. She quickly did a Google Map search and realized we were an hour away. So, off we went! Maybe my favorite part of the drive was seeing Lake Motosu. It was breathtaking. We pulled over to take a few pictures.


Later during the trip, Dina used Google Translate to attempt to find the name of the lake. Google Translate told her it was the lake on the back of the ¥1000 bill! Sure enough!


Dina’s excellent navigation skills, she will laugh at that statement, enabled us to easily find Minobusan with ease.


We enjoyed the Minobusan Ropeway ride and the view of Mt. Fuji from the top even though the clouds were starting to set in on it.

At the top were lots of trails and a temple. I look forward to returning in the fall with Dave and possibly catching a sunrise over Mt. Fuji!

By the time we came down the Ropeway, we were ready for lunch. We were fortunate to find a noodle restaurant around the corner.


As we were eating, I noticed a sign – fitting right into today’s theme!


The hearty lunch proved to be essential for the rest of the afternoon. According to the brochure, the pagoda was part of a Monastery.


Next to the pagoda were a lot of stairs. Going down. So down we went.


Once we reached the bottom, we read this sign.


As I mentioned, a lot of stairs. 287 in fact. We just walked down them. We would obviously need to go back up. “The Stairs provide you attaining joy of enlightenment.” Hmmm… I’m enlightened about the soreness in my quads today!


The monastery was very unique. It was hard to capture the magnitude and beauty of the buildings and grounds. I took a few pictures and hope they provide you with good highlights. I will definitely suggest we take a drive to Mt. Fuji and see Lake Motosu. If the fall foliage is peaking, we should also make a trip to Mt. Minobusan.


Here was our trip home.


We arrived shortly after 6:00 pm. A glass of wine and rehashing the journey with Dave over pizza was a nice way to wrap up an adventurous day!

Japanese Hotel

Thursday evening, Dave spontaneously suggested we take time to sightsee in Tokyo for the long weekend. The New Sanno was booked, of course, so I made us reservations for a room at the APA Hotel in Asakusa. Asakusa is on the east side of Tokyo. We have not really explored this area yet. We are the blue dot in the photo. 


I used several of the local Facebook pages to select the hotel. It came with good recommendations and the suggestion to bring your own pillows. Haha. Seriously, I wish we would have listened! They are flat! We were provided robes set with crane origami. 


The room is tiny and a great deal. About $85 a night! Besides a bed, window and full bath, it has two pairs of slippers for each of us, a fridge, a place to hang stuff, steam pot, humidifier and a TV. 

Check out all 118 square feet. 

Perfect fit!?! 


The only place for our carry on sized suitcase was in front of the door. Putting the suitcase in front of the door is a bit of a hazard. We therefore had a serious conversation about egress. Dave promised to get us both out in the event of an emergency. Safety is paramount. 

A place to hang stuff. 

Bed. Window. TV. 


The bathroom is adorable. The sink and shower faucet are controlled by the same spot! 


The toiletries were fully stocked. 


Ironically, the only oversized item is the soap, conditioner and shampoo! 


Honestly, it’s part of the Japanese experience. And it’s only for two nights. Tomorrow, I plan on taking Dave to at least seven temples (another Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimage) and possibly another two to see Ume Blossoms. In the afternoon, perhaps we can make it to the Tokyo Skytree. My tourist list is long as always! 

Sogo Yokohama

I went on a shopping trip today to the department store, Sogo, in Yokohama. My mission was to visit the Sanrio store for a Hello Kitty t-shirt to wear during the Tokyo Marathon. 

I didn’t find one. Turns out the Sanrio stores only stock kids stuff. However, I did find a whole new feature of Google Maps. 

Google Maps will show you the stores on each floor of a mall. Check out the first picture. It shows the B2 level or the second floor of the basement. It is at this level where you come out of the train station. The highlighted level on the side corresponds with the map layout. 


Next B1. 


As you scroll up the floor on the left side, the layout changes to match. Pretty amazing. Skipping ahead, level 2 & 3. 


When I first saw level 7, I got a little excited. It says LOFT. This was not the LOFT from the US. It was a cute store with a lot of Japan souvenirs. Just not cute clothes. 


Finally, on up to level 8 where the Sanrio was located. Lots of cute Hello Kitty toys and clothes for little kids. No t-shirt for me. I think I’m going to have to order from Amazon. 


With 10 levels plus a rooftop, this feature of Google Maps is essential! 

Google Maps proves yet again to be my favorite traveling partner for navigation! 

Laforet Grand Bazar

The first semester ended yesterday for Yokosuka DOD schools. Today and tomorrow are teacher work days. What is a better place to spend days off with kids than in Harajuku? Oh, wait… Kids? Hmmm… Fortunately, Dina agreed to share her sweet girls and we all ventured up together on the train!

Probably my favorite moment of the day was shortly after we took this picture.

 

I (jokingly) told the girls that our Kimono appointment was at noon. They both looked at me as I continued to tell them, I scheduled an appointment for all of us to have a kimono fitting and photo shoot.  The look Dina’s oldest daughter, a teenager, gave her was priceless! From there, the joke only escalated and morphed into an inconceivable Japanese kimono fairy tale. It was hilarious.

We walked down Takeshita street and worked our way to Dominique Ansel Bakery for lunch. On our way, we passed this spectacle. A HUGE group of balloons!

Not only was there a huge thing of balloons, there were a lot of Japanese standing in a long line and a cute little American girl wearing cat ears! Kawaii!

Turns out, the spectacle was actually a very well known sales event. According to my research, the Japanese flock to Harajuku for the semi-annual Grand Bazar sales. The sale includes a six-story complex (plus vendors on the street) with many different well-known Japanese brands. The event offers drastic discounts and amazing bargains if you are willing to stand the crowds.


Knowing we would not have much luck finding our size, we continued on our way to lunch. We thought the girls would enjoy seeing and drinking the blooming hot chocolate at Dominique Ansel Bakery. Plus, I wanted to try the lobster roll.



The lobster roll was good. The one I had at Luke’s was better.

After lunch, we spent about an hour and a half wandering around a five-story toy store called Kiddy Land. They had a wide variety of Japan characters and many American. Sadly, no Neko Atsume!

As we walked back towards Takeshita Street, we passed the Laforet Grand Bazar again. This time, the main character was on the street! Seriously. Soak in the number of balls this guy is wearing/carrying. Each time someone asked to have a picture taken with him, he asked, “which ball do you want?” So, bizarre.


Hopefully, the picture is not too grainy but, you really needed to see the details of the makeup on his face.

I laugh each time I look at this one! Her face, his face! Her height, his height! Too, funny. He was definitely not Japanese. However, I think I detected a slight Wisconsin accent.

When you visit, Harajuku is an absolute must! I can’t promise the Bazar but, I can promise the bizarre!

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