Tag Archive for japan

Japan Rail Pass – A MUST HAVE If You’re Going To Japan!

If you’re going to Japan and plan to do any traveling within the country you have to get a Japan Rail Pass. It pays for itself on your first trip from Tokyo to Kyoto and back. It gives you so much freedom to roam around the country. We got the 1st class pass, which meant we go to sit in the 1st class car when there was one. Very clean, very comfortable, plenty of room, friendly attendants with beer and snacks. A great way to get from the airport to your destination city.

You can see that my boyfriend’s pass is pretty much all beat up from carrying it around in his pocket for 2 weeks. Mine is in pristine condition of course. It’s the same size as a passport so I just carried it in my passport case. Keep it in your pocket at all times. You never know when you find a JR train that will take you where you want to go. Sure, sometimes it’s the Suica subway card, but the JR rail pass will get you to tons of places as well.

Not to mention it’s so convenient! No lines, no waiting, you just flash your pass to the attendant at the gate, they press a button, the gate swing open and on your way to your destination. You feel like a rock star.

You can’t get the Japan Rail Pass in Japan, it has to be purchased in the United States from a travel agent. Any local travel agent will hook you up with one. We picked a travel agent in Little Tokyo and they gave us lots of very useful maps and things, even though we didn’t book our trip through them… just the Rail Pass.

I think our pass cost about $600-$700 American dollars. We took the Japan Rail to Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo and the airport. Not to mention we used it for countless local trains and trips around town when possible. Saved us a fortune.

Don’t skimp out, you’ll waste a ton of money if you don’t get the Japan Rail Pass.

Modesty & Toilets In Japan

So get this… the people of Japan are very modest… so modest that they don’t like anyone else to hear them pee… so in restrooms there is often a button you can press that makes an artificial toilet flushing sound – to mask the sound of your pee hitting the water in the toilet. It’s considered to be very embarrassing.

Not only that but the toilet seats are almost all heated… on a cold winter day, you go into a mall or a convenience store and use the restroom and it’s nicely heated. Heated toilet seats my friends, and it doesn’t end there… the toilets are often bidets. So you get a nice little ass shower after you go #2, and then you press another button and your ass gets a blow dry. It’s all very luxurious and civilized. It’s funny because it seems to be either that, or a hole in the floor. One extreme or the other.

On another evening we were walking home from a restaurant and it hit me… I had to GO now. The only bathroom I could find was the Japanese style. My friend who has lived in Japan for 2 years hasn’t gone #2 in a Japanese style bathroom and I was there about a week before it hit me… I had to use it. I was sure I’d get something on my pant leg or somewhere that it wasn’t supposed to be. You literally squat over a hole in the ground. It’s so completely not what I’m use to but I did it. I pulled it off like a pro. No mess or nothing. I felt very Japanese when I was done.

So if you’re in Japan don’t be afraid to give the ol Japanese toilet/hole in the ground a try. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

Opening Day Of The Grand Sumo Tournament In Japan

Well we did it guys. Today was our last day in Japan and we spent it at the opening day of the Grand Sumo tournament here in Tokyo.

Sumo is amazing and I’d be writing all night if I went into detail so perhaps at another time. Or google it. I’ll just tell you about my experience. We literally watched hundreds of bouts here today.

The day starts with the lower ranking wrestlers at about 10 am and the place is pretty much empty as you can see in this pic.

Then builds throughout the day to the big boys…Everyone lines up to watch the heavy hitters enter the arena…

When they enter the ring it’s a whole big ceremony as you can see in this video.

The Prime Minster of Japan was there today so now I can say that I watched Sumo in Tokyo with the Prime Minister of Japan.

It’s funny, they have advertisements during the matches, while the wrestlers are warming up young men walk around with banners advertising everything from tea to Mc Donalds. Literally Mc Donalds. You can see an advertisement in this video along with one hell of a Sumo upset. The big dude on the far side of the ring, his name is Baruto and he is clearly expected to win… he out ranks the smaller dude… you can also see all the posturing that goes on. The wrestlers get into position and then break and go back to their corners, throwing more salt into the ring… getting the crowd excited and trying to psych out their opponents.

The Japanese people, who are usually so quiet and reserved lose their shit of Sumo, shouting, yelling and even throwing their seat cushions in the ring when they don’t like a call by the refs. It’s so fun to watch. If you’re ever in Japan you absolutely have to go to a Sumo tournament. I’d even say to plan your trip around one of them since they are only about 6 tournaments a year.

There are lots of snack bars with traditional Japanese snacks, and by that I mean fish and other things that aren’t fish but taste like fish… but they also have an American snack bar with everything from french fries, to cheese burgers to Coke.

I did a lot of knitting between bouts.

After Sumo we went to a sports bar that showed American Football to see the Jets kick the Colts ass. It was a day of sports. Tomorrow when I wake up we’ll have an American breakfast here in the hotel and then back to the states.

Thanks Japan, it’s been grand.

Hiking In Izu Kogen, Japan… Stepping Lightly In My Birkenstocks

Traveling in Japan I can’t help but notice how lightly the Japanese people step… almost like they are floating. Americans stomp around like the Jolly Green Giant but the Japanese people step so lightly so as not to disturb the ground or anything around them… so as not to leave even a foot print… Sometimes those light little steps can lead you to the most magical of places. Our guide Hideto took us on a walking tour in Izu Kogen, Japan and we walked along a pine needle covered dirt path that lead to a beautiful view of the ocean. It was truly amazing… (I know this video might seem boring but watch it to the end and you’ll get a surprise treat.)

Notice how Hideto sweetly clears the path for us as he walks, moving pine needles, sticks and rocks so that we won’t trip along the path.

And one last quick video of the view from the hike…

Here’s my shopping tip/plug if you are going to Japan.

If you are going to Japan and you need a travel shoe, I recommend the Birkenstock. I got a pair of red Birkenstocks and they have carried me through Japan, from the big city to hiking trails… great for walking and easy to kick off as is so often required in many Japanese establishments. It’s winter here and they’ve been perfectly warm. I feel like these shoes were invented for Japanese travel.

I have been walking 5 – 7 miles a day and not one blister or sore foot. My legs get tired but my feet keep on moving.

I also think they look sharp. The red ones rock but they come in lots of colors.

They are the only shoe I have needed on this trip. I wear them to dinner, sight seeing, hiking… you name it. They are the only shoe you will need in Japan. These worn out, beaten up red Birkenstocks have seen things that many people only dream of. Now, when I look at my Birkenstocks I think of Japan and my many memories of the trip. Domo arigato gozaimas, Birkenstocks!

Hanahubuki Onsen In Izu Kogen, Japan

Sorry I’ve been out of contact for the past few days but we have been in an Onsen in Izu Kogen on the East coast of Japan – it’s basically the Carmel of Japan – looks the exact same – beautiful. It’s got everything you could ask for except internet access – I mean it has internet access but I don’t have the right cable to plug into the wall so I’m shit outta luck.

Boy did we need this – two weeks in Japan, lots of walking, city streets, subways, trains, taxis, walking miles and miles each day and this couldn’t have come at a better time – just as we all thought we might collapse from exhaustion we have come to a place where time stands still. Pure relaxation… a perfect way to end a trip to Japan… fill your soul with beauty and relaxation before the long voyage back to the states.

The Onsen is called Hanahubuki (or Hanafubuki – things are spelled many ways here) which means “cherry blossom shower” and sadly I don’t possess the writing skills to convey it’s beauty to you – there are cherry blossom trees everywhere but it’s winter so they are just bare sticks of trees. Sometimes you see a blossom or two. The clouds come, the rain falls, the clouds move on, the sun comes out – it’s winter now, I can’t imagine the how beautiful this place must be in the spring, summer or fall.

A lovely woman named Keiko Muraki is taking very good care of us. She’s a beautiful woman with a small waist who speaks English excellently and we appreciate it. She’s humble and sweet, polite, and extremely beautiful like many of the Japanese people we have encountered here.

The Onsen has Japanese style rooms – a mat floor, and people come and put out our beds which are futons that live in the closet during the day, after dinner we come to our rooms and the futons are all laid out for us – we go to breakfast and when we get back they have magically moved back into the closet to wait for us to get tired.

The room is huge and has it’s own private bathroom with everything but a bath or a shower because there are lots of hot spring baths here with their own showers and beauty rooms with brushes, tooth brushes, Q tips, shampoo, conditioner, face wash – everything a girl needs to stay pretty and feel relaxed. If you’ve never been to an Onsen the basic rule is that you clean thoroughly before you go into the bath. Not like our filthy Jacuzzi’s in America, the water is crystal clear and they want to keep it that way and I thank them for it.

The cool thing about this Onsen is that the baths are private – when you lock the door a lantern on the path lights up to let others know that this hot spring is occupied which is good for me because in a public Onsen I might not be allowed because of my tattoos.

Tattoos are worn by the Yakuza, which is the Japanese mob – and to avoid fights they just don’t let people with tattoos into the bath houses – but here, the baths are private… so you can go in any way you like… you don’t have to fake modesty or follow tradition (other than cleaning up before you go in the tub)

Some are indoor baths, some are out door, all have beautiful private gardens for you to stare at and ponder while you soak and relax and meditate or whatever you want to do in there.

There are lots of red rabbits everywhere – not live ones of course – but statues and paintings – symbolic of humans or being human or humanity is what we were told by Keiko, our lovely hostess.

Our meals are provided here and they are wonderfully Japanese – 8 – 10 courses of fresh fish, fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits we’ve never seen before, starches, egg things, tempura… my dinner is probably swimming in the ocean right now, and will soon be caught and brought up from the shore to the Onsen for dinner. It’s all the fresh catch of the day – they explain all the foods to you and show you pictures of the strange fish you are eating which is super cool.

Last night we ate a strange fish that looks like an eel but provides a firm white meat when cooked. If there’s one thing you want to do in Japan it’s eat weird food that you don’t get to eat back home and Hanahubuki provides strange and mysterious fish fresh from the ocean presented like little works of art on a plate, you almost don’t want to eat it, the plates are beautiful, the food is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the rooms are beautiful, the gardens, paths… all beauty, beauty, beauty and relaxation.

Luckily I can get an American (or they call it European style) breakfast of toast and eggs… I find that my palate isn’t as adventurous in the morning and it’s nice to have foods that I’m familiar with, coffee, juice, potato, scrambled eggs, bacon… a great way to start the day.

They asked us if we wanted to take a walking tour, and if you come here DO IT! It’s really short 90-minute mild hike through a beautiful forest that leads to the ocean. Wear sneakers. Our guide Hideto, who apologized for his English, actually spoke it very well and told us of the trees and plants – often picking up some leaves or breaking bark off a tree and crushing it up in his hands and then telling us to smell it – always some wonderful natural smell – like something you’d smell at a spa. He pointed out mushrooms that he likes to eat, and poisonous plants and even pointed out a tiny poisonous caterpillar to us that he somehow spotted walking along the fence.

Hideto was great, he cleared rocks from the path for us so that we would not trip, and picked up any trash that he saw along the path and put it in his pocket. The Japanese are very clean – it makes me wish that we were cleaner back home in the States. There is barely any trash anywhere in Japan – not in the big cities and not in the small towns, not in the subway stations – nowhere. It’s a very clean country.

So if you’re going to Japan and you want to hit an Onsen I highly recommend the Hanahubuki in Izu Kogen – It’s super sexy, a great place for couples and they treat you very well… an excellent way to rejuvenate before heading back home.

Here’s a few extra pics to give you a feel…

Joe, Beth & Mather posing in their robes

We stayed in rooms 301 & 302

More fun with robes

Mather and Joe barter to buy me at the local market

Gifts & Snacks available in the club house

More things you can buy

One of the many outdoor baths

Playin cards and having beer before another soak

One last soak before heading back to Tokyo!

Ryoma Koyto – Samurai Bar

Last night we had the most fun we have had in Japan so far.

Walking up the street after dinner we hear some men talking in English about powdered green tea. We had gone to a tea ceremony earlier in the evening so I chime in, “Powdered green tea is awesome!” Tea – bringing people together even on the streets of Japan. We got to talking with the men. A man from the US, two Koreans and a Japanese man. The Japanese man’s name we later found out was Hero. He was an amazing man. He offered to take us all to a Samurai Bar and we went with him.

He took us to this small bar, seats about 13 people, karaoke and our hosts dressed as Samurai and Geisha – the bar is called Ryoma Kyoto – I’m not kidding, YOU HAVE TO GO TO THIS BAR. If you nothing else in Kyoto, go to this bar. The hosts are so kind and cool – they look amazing. They charged us about 3,000 yen each and gave us all that we could drink. Beer, whiskey, wine… you name it.

Here is their business card:

Nothing that I could write about this night would do it justice so I’ll just show you some video!

Nara, Japan – Deer And A Big Ass Buddha

We used our Japan rail pass to go to Nara today to visit the temple. The city of Nara is full of deer, I believe they are sacred. They are very friendly and beautiful and come right up to you and you can pet them or feed them little crackers that they sell…

This one seemed to have a bit of cataracts, but it looked so cool I had to get a pic.

Now and then you can see one eating a map that they rip out of the hands of unsuspecting tourists. It was really cool to hang out with the deer.

Then we visited the temple… there’s always a temple to see. This temple Todai-Ji Temple was special in that I believe it has the largest Buddha in Japan. It’s about the size of a small apartment building…

It was very cool. We had ramen, which we’ve had a lot of, and then took the JR (Japan Rail) back to Kyoto where we are staying. It was a beautiful and relaxing day. If you’re in the area I really recommend you come and spend some time with the deer of Nara. It’s so cool to see how friendly they are. They’re like dogs.

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