Tag Archives: Japan

Kyoto / Osaka / Yoshino Japan 2015

Our time in the Osaka / Kyoto / Yoshino area was quite rainy and cold but we’ve continued to have great experiences!

Kyoto is the religious / cultural center of Japan. There are many temples and shrines all over the city. We spent two days in Kyoto and saw just a handful, I think it’d take months to visit all. We visited on the weekend so the place was wall to wall tourists. Even though it was busy it was still very fun to see everyone enjoying the temples, the blossoms, and see all the people walking around in their traditional Japanese clothes.

We took a day trip out of Osaka to Yoshino to visit a forest of cherry trees. There’s something like 2,000 cherry trees in the small valley area. We were fortunate enough to have the weather break-up enough to see the valley lined with cherry trees in bloom. Even though it was cold and rainy it was amazing! Well worth the three hour train ride each way.

We went to a Geisha show / musical that was a rather interesting cultural experience. I didn’t really know what to expect and I left a bit flummoxed. The costumes were very pretty but we had no idea what was going on during the show since it was in Japanese. It was a lot like Chinese opera but it neither sucked nor did it hurt my ears. Overall, it was a pretty neat experience and I think I’d go again but I’m not sure.

We’ve found more helpful and kind people along the way. I have two great examples: first, as I mentioned, the weather hasn’t been great, so our host ended up getting us a gift of fancy jello (not kidding) as a condolence. I didn’t realize it until that moment but surprise jello is always great and welcomed! Second, it’s hard for us to find places in Japan because street names and addresses usually aren’t posted and a lot of the time Google Maps will have businesses in the wrong location so it’s the worst of both worlds. We depend a lot more our hosts to help us find addresses and routing. One of our camera lenses gave it up to the gods so I started looking online for a store we could visit near us but quickly gave up. I emailed our host and told her that we were looking for a specific lens and about how much it should cost. In very short order she found a store in her little city, she sent a message with the location resolvable in Google Maps, she had called the store and verified they had the lens in inventory, she shared the price and wanted to know if she should call them back to hold the lens for us. Talk about service!

Traveling around Japan and being a tourist in Japan is probably the greatest thing ever. It’s quiet everywhere so we can sightsee in peace even when there are large crowds, people are incredibly courteous so people aren’t cutting in line or barging around the place, everything is on time, there are no scammers, prices are exactly as advertised with no bait&switch, things are very good values, locals are incredibly tolerant of tourist doing stupid things (as we know from the stupid things we’ve done), and when we need help there’s always plenty of people to help us. It is spectacular. We love it. We are sad we are leaving in about three days

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.


Himeji and Hiroshima Japan 2015

Japan is crazy awesome.

After Tokyo we headed to Himeji to see a recently re-opened castle and cherry blossoms. We were very lucky because we ended up getting great weather, saw some awesome cherry blossoms, and we were able to tour the castle without having to wait the 2-4hrs that everyone else did. The coolest thing that happened had nothing to do with those things; we ended up having an awesome experience with a local Japanese man when we went out for supper. This man was called by the restaurant owner to come talk to us because he knew English. So, he arrives, strikes up a conversation and by the time the night was over he had paid for our meal, brought us to his home to meet his dog, I drank all of his beer, he gave me a bottle of sake and a book about samurai. He was super friendly; he said he was very happy to meet us and was happy to speak English with us. Very cool experience.

The Himeji Castle was just re-opened after five years of restoration work. Combine this with cherry blossoms and it turns out everyone and their uncle was visiting the castle. We bought tickets and quickly realized it was 2-4hr wait to get into the castle so we decided to skip the castle and walk around the grounds. At 3:56PM we were pretty much alone, everyone had left, so we made a dash for the castle to find that there was no line and we were the last people to be admitted before 4PM. We didn’t have to wait and we took our time. The staff let us stick around until 5PM when they told us “sorry, castle is closed”.

Hanami, or eating / drinking while watching cherry blossoms, is a really big deal. Everywhere we go there are groups of people having hanami. We attempted our first hanami, bought a bunch of food and found a beautiful garden to enjoy our lunch. We were wondering why no one else was having hanami and thought it was great we had the place to ourselves. Near the end of our lunch a security guard came RUNNING and told us we could not be eating in the garden. It turns out, eating and picnicking in that garden was strictly forbidden. It may not seem like a big deal but this would be equivalent to eating in a Smithsonian garden.

Hiroshima was neat. The atomic blast dome and the peace park were all really interesting. We spent a lot of time walking around and found many streets, rivers, and water features lined with cherry blossoms, it was beautiful! There’s a very large underground shopping center in Hiroshima so it was easy to get around. In general, the infrastructure in Japan has been absolutely amazing. The trains and subway run on time, there’s mass transit to everywhere we need to go, and most everything is very walkable.

We are in the Kyoto / Osaka area now and we’ve been enjoying it. Unfortunately, we’ve had quite a bit of rainy weather so there’s been fewer outdoor activities :(. That said, the cherry blossoms are just as beautiful in the rain and our experiences here have been just as awesome as the rest of the country!

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Tokyo 2015

Tokyo, holy crap, Tokyo. Whatever expectations we had of Tokyo and Japan before we arrive were completely shattered. No guide had prepared us for our experiences so far, let alone the first half hour in the country. We’ve been in Tokyo for about five days and will be traveling around the country for the next 15 to see the cherry blossoms bloom. Yes, we did travel a quarter of the way around the world to see cherry blossoms. Last year, we were lucky enough to see the cherry blossoms in Washington DC and we wanted to see the grandest cherry blossom bloom in the world ever since.

We noticed immediately that Japan is completely different than anything we’ve experienced before. It started with the eerie quiet soon after we left the airplane. Japan is an incredibly quiet place; Jacquelyn and I find ourselves whispering most of the time simply because it is so quiet everywhere – subways, streets, stores, our apartment, everywhere. The places that are normally loud elsewhere in the world are stunningly quiet. The place we are renting has neighbors surrounding us on all sides but one yet I haven’t heard a peep. It’s so quiet I’m not sure anyone lives next to our apartment.

The next thing we noticed was that Japanese people are incredible helpful in a surprisingly assertive way. About 30seconds after looking at a subway map a woman assertively asked us where we were going. Luckily, we were going the same way so she helped us along. Then, shortly after getting off the subway we realized we were lost so we took out the map and looked around. Another 30seconds later a random person assertively asked us where we were going and if she could help. It was shocking, it was super helpful, and it was awesome. We’ve never had this type of experience anywhere in the world.

The next thing we noticed is the Japanese people are incredibly considerate and kind. I actually pay attention to where I walk because people will stop to let me pass even if I am the one crossing their path and disrupting their walk. This is very different than pretty much everywhere in Asia where I used my size to plow through crowds of people because no one gets out of the way. Japan is very photography friendly – put a camera up and people will find a way to walk behind the camera, duck, or just wait. It’s crazy.

There’s formalities for everything. For example, money isn’t handed to a cashier but the customer puts the money on a tray for the cashier to pick up. There’s also a process for saying thanks, bowing, accepting thanks, and I have no clue how it works. We were walking around a park and I saw an elderly man fall (his shoe broke and he took a tumble) so I spent some time helping him up and getting him back to his handlers so he could be wheeled out of the park. Later, his wife found me and said a whole lot of Japanese to me ending in “arigato”, which is thanks, and bowed. Not knowing what to do, I said “arigato” and bowed back. She then repeated what she said and bowed again. Once again, not knowing what to do, I said “arigato” and bowed. This repeated FIVE TIMES before I figured out that this poor lady was trapped so long as I kept saying arigato and bowing back. I’m not a fast learner.

The cherry blossoms are stellar. They are all over the city and we’ve been to quite a few parks and even visited a park which lights them up at night. It’s beautiful. We’re very fortunate we arrived in time to see the cherry blossoms. We are really looking forward to seeing the cherry blossoms bloom as we travel across the country!

We are about 1/3rd of the way through our visit in Japan. We’re hoping the rest of the trip is going to be just as amazing as the first part.

I put photos into two albums: one that’s a short 12 photo summary of Tokyo. The other is all the photos from Tokyo which includes a TON of cherry blossom photos. Unless you really like cherry blossom photos, I’d skip it.

Enjoy the photos!

Chris W.

Small album below:

Large album below: