Thursday, February 16, 2017

National Geographic's Top 10 list

As we prepared for our trip, here was another site we studied. We covered 6 out of 10 items on National Geographic's list.

1.  Visit Kyoto’s Ancient Sites  The most iconic remnant of the city’s imperial past is the outrageously gilded Kinkakuji.

Yes, we went to Kyoto and found this temple and stood and took pictures of it for an hour. It was beautiful! And yes, this is our actual photo, not the website photo. We couldn't have taken a bad picture if we tried. The temple and the grounds and the water were stunning. 

2.  Overnight in a Temple  Nope, not on our to-to list. 

3.  Gallery Hop on "Art Island"
Picturesque Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea is a standout on Japan’s contemporary art scene.

Yes, we did this! The 3 pictures above piqued our interest on the website and were inspiring enough to get us to this island. It was (sort of) on our way to Hiroshima. Not really on our way, but in the same general geographical area of Japan. We took a bullet train, a regular train, a ferry, a city bus and a hike. Worth it! Here our own pictures to prove that we were there. And these art installations were so random that it was fascinating. This gourd is huge and it just sits out on a random pier. 

4. Ski Niseko
This small ski resort town in Hokkaido boasts the finest powder in the country.
Well, we didn't go skiing. It wasn't on our travel agenda. But we were in the area, and we did see a LOT of snow on the Island of Hokkaido and we watched some skiing demonstrations.  Close enough?

5. Experience Traditional Accommodation
The gentle scent of tatami, the understated elegance of the interiors, the meticulous service, the outdoor hot spring baths, the multi-course meal of local seasonal produce, the calming silence—all combine to make a night at a traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan, an unforgettable experience.
Yes, we stayed in a traditional Resort. Except for sleeping on the floor, it was amazing! Every detail was beautiful and the dining hall experience was unforgettable. We were even given traditional Japanese footwear to wear when we were out and about in the resort, as our outdoor shoes were unacceptable once we entered the hotel room. The food was definitely traditional. I wish I had taken pictures of the beauty of the dining options overall, but instead I found myself taking pictures of the quite different than American food options. Different, but delicious. 

6. Soak in a Natural Hot Spring
There is something quintessentially Japanese about getting naked for a soak with strangers. In fact, the Japanese have been using communal onsen, or natural hot spring waters, to relax and heal for centuries. 

There was a communal hot springs bath in the resort we stayed in. They are definitely beautiful but we opted out. While planning this trip, we read the word 'Onsen' quite often regarding the hotels. We thought it meant resort. The word is often associated with an Inn or Resort near a hot springs, so we kept using the word, thinking we were talking about our hotel. We were actually talking about the communal bathing option AT the resort. So, . . . . no. No thanks. As we walked by the entrance (segregated areas) we did realize they were used by many people and all ages, though they were all seemingly Japanese. The experience didn't seem to freak anyone else out except us (the Americans). 

7. Explore Tokyo’s Old East Side
Sensoji, a Buddhist temple in Asakusa, is about as touristy as it gets in Tokyo.
Yes, we visited. Asakusa. And yes, it was about as touristy as it gets. 

8. Hike the Northern Alps
No. Would have been cool to do, but we were traveling during the winter. 

9. Tour Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Museum
Dedicated to victims of the atomic bombing of August 6, 1945, the Peace Memorial Park and Museum are poignant and moving monuments to the horrors of nuclear weapons.
Hiroshima was much too far for us to travel on our schedule, but thanks to the bullet train that zipped us across the country so fast, we were able to pull it off. I'm so glad we did. 

10. Sample the "B-Grade Gourmet
Japan is known for fine cuisine like sushi, tempura, and kaiseki, but its low-cost culinary underbelly (“B-grade gourmet,” as the Japanese call it) is just as mouth watering. The king of the B, ramen noodles, are ubiquitous, filling, and something of a national obsession
YES!! Our favorite bowl of ramen noodles was at a non-descript cafe on a cold night, right outside the train station in Muroran. Probably our favorite meal our whole trip!! I wish I would have taken a picture. It would still make out mouths water. Obviously it is nothing like American Ramen noodles. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Top 10 lists -- Japan

I have looked back into this blog and I'm finding there are several draft posts that I started and didn't get back to. Since this is kind of our family history, I'm going to re-visit some of these even though they are terribly out of chronological order. This month I am remembering our trip to Japan 2 years ago because facebook keeps showing me some "memories from 2 years ago". So I'll start with Japan.

Some of our trip planning came from several articles like "Top things to do in Tokyo", "Must see things in Tokyo" "Off the beaten path places to visit in Japan". Our first week we were visiting some places Dave lived as a missionary 30 plus years earlier on the northern island of Hokkaido, so most things were obvious places we wanted to visit. And we went in February specifically to go to the Famous Sapporo Yuki-matsuri (Snow Festival). There were some events and places he was aware of as a missionary, but a missionary's life or budget doesn't have many options for festivals. It was fun to do some things he knew about and wanted to do when he was there years ago.

Then we went south to Tokyo and that was where we relied on some research. According to the Huffington Post, we were able to do 8 of their 10  "Top things to do in Japan".
(We passed on #3 and #8)

1. Sleep on the floor.  We didn't mean to, or plan to sleep on the floor. We made reservations at a resort. It did actually have the option of a western style room or a traditional room. Unfortunately the photos on the website showed a western style bed in both options so we opted for a Japanese style room. Joke was on us. Where is the bed, you might ask? It was folded up in the closet. You can see it in the background of the photo. Yes, we actually slept on mats on the floor. 

2. Eat fish for breakfast.  This photo is also from the same resort. It was one of the most visually stunning displays of food offered in the dining hall. However, the options were quite unlike what we normally would expect for breakfast. We tried to be adventurous eaters for dinner, but it didn't quite settle well with me first thing in the morning. The 2nd picture shown here is where we often stopped in for some orange juice and a biscuit in the mornings.

3. Take a communal bath.  Again, at the same resort we stayed in the first couple days of our trip, the website described hot pools (we had to 'Google translate' to read the websites, not always a reliable translation) (Dave speaks Japanese well, but doesn't read Japanese kanji) and I envisioned this type of a pool shown in the photo below, under the stars with snow drifting down into natural hot springs. Nope! It was just a community bath and shower area. Beautiful pools and saunas, yes, but we just weren't ready to bathe with the community. We opted out. (btw-- they were all segregated)

4. Sit on a warm toilet. Oh my heck, the toilets were a treat! We were traveling in winter, and all the toilet seats were warmed, and had all kinds of bells and whistles and buttons with instructions provided.

However, I did walk into a couple of bathroom stalls to this. A country of contrasts, I tell you!

5. Ride a bullet train.  Apparently it doesn't take much to entertain me, because I was fascinated to just watch these come and go into the train station. They'd zoom in, open the doors for exactly 60 seconds, and zoom off again. We zipped across the country from Tokyo to Hiroshima at 200 miles an hour! It was very smooth inside, a wonderful ride!

6. People watch in the shopping district. People watching was fascinating!

7. Shop for toys. There are stores that are 6 and 7 stories tall with different categories of toys on every floor. We had a mission to find some Pokemon cards for a young friend at home, so we enjoyed searching through the toys. 

8. Love hotel. ummm, no. We skipped this item on the list.

9. Gaze upon Tokyo. Although we didn't go to the Park Hyatt Hotel on the suggested list, we did go up into the Metropolitan Government Building, and on another day, we went up to the top of the Tokyo Tower and watched the sunset. We also went up to a viewing area in Sapporo, and in Hakodate. We enjoyed seeing all the cities from high above.

10. Zen out, visit temples. We definitely visited temples. This gold one was beautiful. You couldn't take a bad picture. All our photos were post card perfect.
 We took a picture of ourselves in front of it. In actuality, that was the challenge of visiting this temple. You can see in the next photo how crazy thick the crowds were.

And here is another temple. It was HUGE! If you look closely at this picture, you can see Dave standing in front of the doors in a red jacket -- a teeny tiny speck of red in the photo. (I was so glad for that red jacket. I could spot him anywhere!)

It's fun to visit places you've seen advertised and described when you were sitting at your computer on the other side of the earth. It's also fun to see things on TV or in movies afterwards and recognize them and say "I know where that is!" Season 26 of my favorite show "The Amazing Race" featured Tokyo and the Shinkansen Bullet Train just days after we returned from Tokyo!