13 Sep

Temple Hopping and Simple Beauty in Kyoto

We have spent a blissful week in Kyoto roaming from temple to temple, wandering the meandering back streets on our bikes, and trying as many different foods as we can.

I have learned a few things although not at all what I expected:

  • I expected to learn about Japanese history. Instead I learned that, although I appreciate the depth of history here I am not interested in studying it. At some point old is just old, and really old is really old. As a Canadian old is in the 200 year range, here we’re talking centuries and centuries – it gets a little lost on me.
  • I expected to learn about Buddhism and Shintoism and their relation to each other. Instead I learned that I truly am an atheist and I don’t understand monotheistic Christianity so how would I ever understand the non-theistic Buddhism or the animistic every-rock-tree-and-animal-is-a-spirit Shintoism?
  • I expected to try lots of different foods, to take fabulous photos of our meals, and be able to report about how fabulous it all is. We have, indeed, tried lots of different foods but I learned that I suck at food photography and lack the poetic description that would accompany the amazing photos I can’t take. This, I suppose, is why I am not a food blogger.
  • I expected to see beauty here, and there is plenty, although I have learned that most of the cities are concrete block jungles. The beauty is hidden away in the details of the old, traditional homes and buildings, in small private gardens, and behind temple walls. It’s not hard to find though.

It is a place best told about in pictures.

Kyoto Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

Kyoto Arashiyama

Arashiyama District

Ponto-cho Dori Kyoto

Ponto-cho Dori Near Gion

Kyoto Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Kyoto Koto-in Temple

Koto-in Temple

Kyoto Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple

Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple

Kyoto

I don’t remember where this was!

Kyoto Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion)

Kyoto Arashiyama Garden

Arashiyama District Garden

Kyoto Honen-In Temple

Honen-In Temple

Kyoto Nanzenji Temple

Nanzenji Temple

Kyoto Honen-In Temple

Honen-In Temple Grounds

Kyoto Geiko (Geisha)

The ultimate in grace and beauty, we glimpse a Geiko (Geisha) in Gion.

 

10 Sep

Getting Comfortable in Kyoto

Kamo Cottage, KyotoIt’s a delicate balance when looking for a place to stay when travelling. Cost vs convenience. In the middle of the action vs out of the way and quiet. Hostel vs hotel.

For us, lately, we have been drawn to apartments.

I remember when I first realized that renting short term apartment was an option for travellers. What?! We can rent an apartment? In a regular neighbourhood? Where there are regular restaurants, grocery stores, and pubs? Where we can pretend like we live here? Sold! Ever since then, as we learn to travel slower, we look to add apartments to the mix of accommodations.

Just like when looking for any accommodation, there is a set of criteria we use to help us find an apartment:

  • We like to have a sitting area. It can be an studio apartment but should at least have a table that we can sit at.
  • We may not actually cook but we want the option to make a meal if we want to so it should have a kitchen. We usually eat breakfast ‘at home’ in the morning so like to be able to make coffee and have a fridge to keep milk and beer cold.
  • It should have shops and restaurants nearby. We don’t want to have to go into town to grab a bite – we want to eat in the neighbourhood.
  • It should be near public transportation. We like being out in regular neighbourhoods but still want to be able to get to the sights. Bus, train, or subway should be within a 15 minute walk.
  • It should have wifi internet connection.

In Kyoto we found Kamo Cottage(I will write a more detailed post later about how we find apartments and guesthouses.)

Nestled on the banks of the Kamo-gawa river this little cottage is at the back of Mike and Yuko’s family home. A small, studio space with a loft for sleeping, it has everything we need to enjoy our week in Kyoto.

There is a small kitchen area with a fridge to keep my milk and beer cold.

Kamo Cottage, Kyoto

A comfy couch and coffee table to enjoy the morning.

Kamo Cottage, KyotoAnd the loft sleeping space is plenty comfortable.

Kamo Cottage, KyotoUsing the bikes that come with the apartment was our favorite way to get around. We meandered through endless neighbourhood streets making our way to all the temples and shrines and then stopped at local izakayas for dinner on our way home. It’s true that, outside of the real tourist areas, there is not much English spoken but a smile and an adventurous spirit got us by every time.

Kamo Cottage, KyotoWe were lucky this time also as Mike is a fellow traveler who arrived in Japan many years ago and never left. He told us of his secret spots in Kyoto (the ramen shop was amazing!) and provided insight into Japanese culture and tradition.

Once again getting an apartment proved well worth it and, since we are looking for a new home, we truly did pretend like we lived here.

08 Sep

A Cooking Experience In Kyoto

It seems that, so far, our time in Japan has been spent exploring and enjoying endless temples and shrines or seeking out and eating some of the best food in the world. We exist mostly in a relaxed, zen state with full bellies. Perfection.

Food in Kyoto is an art form. Tremendous attention is paid to seasonal ingredients, preparation, and presentation. We joined Emi from Uzuki Cooking School to learn more about Japanese cuisine and to create some of the regional dishes ourselves.

The space is small, and intimate, and perfect. We have taken classes in other places and often end up in a commercial looking space with 12 or more other participants. Here it’s just us and Emi in her small, perfectly arranged kitchen.

Emi has thoughtfully constructed an Early Autumn Bento Boxed Meal menu for us that would be perfect for taking to the park for a picnic once the heat of summer finally dies down and the fall colours touch the maple trees in the area.

Bento BoxWe start with a glass of ruby coloured shiso juice and get a sense of how the evening will unfold as Emi explains about its ingredients and preparation; red shiso leaves are boiled with sugar and rice wine vinegar to produce the syrup which is then combined with ice and water for serving. It is light, slightly sweet, and a perfect beginning to our lesson.

Arranged on the table, and around the kitchen, are the vegetables, utensils and implements we will use to create our bento boxes. Eggplant, shitake mushrooms, green beans, wasabi and figs share space with soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar, and ‘cooking’ sake. The fish and beef are being kept cool in the refrigerator.

Uzuki Cooking SchoolThere are the bento boxes we will place our finished dishes (a beautiful, red, lacquered version and a more rustic bamboo version), chopsticks, various small plates and dishes, and a selection of graters and rasps.

Uzuki Cooking SchoolWe quickly get started and move as gracefully as possible under Emi’s careful direction. There are marinades to be made, mushrooms to be stuffed, beef to be rolled, salads to be prepared, and eggs to be transformed into fluffy, rolled omelettes.

Emi works to make sure that we each have something to do and that everything that needs to be done is attended to. She stops regularly to explain about an ingredient, or a preparation, or the history of a dish often referring to a glossary of terms she has provided us or to a Japanese food dictionary to ensure that we understand.

Uzuki Cooking SchoolIt’s a fabulous evening of learning, conversation, and food that results in a great bento box meal shared with Emi’s home made ume-shu, a Japanese apricot/plum wine that she tells us many Japanese wives prepare, each thinking theirs to be the best. Emi’s was delicious; light and fruity without being too sweet. The perfect ending to a great evening.

Uzuki Cooking SchoolHere are the dishes that we prepared:

Grilled Fish With Sansho

We used buri; a firm fish with a fabulous pinky, red flesh. Sansho berries are look like green peppercorns but have an earthy, citrusy flavour and a numbing, tingly, effect on the tongue. Marinated in soy, mirin, sake and sugar and then grilled, the fish ends up caramelized and tasty.

Uzuki Cooking SchoolBeef Roll With Gobo, Green Beans, and Carrots

Despite all the press that Kobe beef gets, Japanese don’t normally sit down to a steak dinner. These beef rolls are a perfect way to enjoy steak without having to haul out the barbeque. Blanched carrots, green beans and gobo (burdock root) are rolled in super-thin sheets of beef and then quickly pan seared with a sauce of soy, mirin and sugar. Cut into pieces they resemble beef sushi rolls.

Fried Eggplant With Shiromiso and Akamiso Sauce

Deep fried eggplant is the perfect delivery system for the quiet flavours of miso. Shiro, or white, miso is a specialty of the Kyoto region; it has a delicate, smooth, flavor. Aka, or dark, miso has a stronger, saltier flavour with malty undertones.

Dashimaki

Dashimaki is the special Kyoto version of tamagoyaki, the eggroll we’ve all seen in sushi places. Eggs are combined with dashi stock, mirin and light soy sauce and then cooked into a rolled omelette. This was my favorite part; using a special pan we simultaneously created and rolled the omelette. It ends up fluffy and almost smoky flavoured from the dashi.

Uzuki Cooking School

Deep Fried Stuffed Shitake Mushrooms

Stuffed with a mixture of finely chopped prawns and ginger, the shitake mushrooms are then deep fried. The resulting sweet, gingery bites are squeezed with yuzu (similar to a small lime) before serving.

Simmered Yuba

When I was a kid my mum would make rice pudding in the oven; we would all fight over the chewy, sweet, milky skin that would form on top. Yuba is the skin that is formed on the top of simmering soymilk. I don’t know if Japanese kids fight over it like we did – I doubt it as yuba seems to be a much more refined part of Japanese cuisine. Here it is rolled up and simmered in a dashi broth.

Autumn Salad With Creamy Sesame Sauce

Fresh figs and mitsuba (almost like flat leaf parsley) are served with a dressing made of sesame paste, dashi broth, mirin and soy. A light, refreshing, salad to accompany the bento.

If you are in the Kyoto area, and are at all interested in the local cuisine, you should definitely connect up with Emi. She can work with you to fit any dietary restrictions or preferences and will give you a window into the amazing world of Japanese food. You can reach her at KyotoUzuki.com

Thank you Emi for such a wonderful evening; it was a pleasure to be a guest in your home.

Uzuki Cooking School

02 Sep

Tokyo Feels Like An Old Friend

Walking the narrow streets and alleyways near our tiny Tokyo apartment I am filled with a sense of comfort and familiarity.

The air is warm and humid even at this late hour. The smoke from yakitori stands beckons me, filling my nose with the aroma of chicken and pork. As the doors to izakayas and sushi joints are drawn open I can hear the call of those behind the counter welcoming the new guests or wishing those leaving a good evening.

Tokyo Street Scene

I cannot understand a word that is said. And I love it.

We are outside of the hustle and bustle of downtown Tokyo; 20 minutes down a local train line where we can feel the ebb and flow of a real neighbourhood. In the morning school girls make their way to the high school down the street as salary men and office girls head the other way toward the train station. In the evening the flow is reversed and those yakitori stands, izakayas and sushi joints fill with men and women grabbing a quick meal on their way home.

Tokyo's Nishi-Ogikubo Train Station

I love the closeness of the streets; it feels cocooning and welcoming. I love that the mix of pedestrians, bicycles, cars, scooters, buses and trucks all organically weave together on the narrow roadways. I love that, although we are clearly different, the formality and politeness of Japan dictates that we are not stared at but, should we need help, someone will help us immediately.

Tokyo's Nishi-Ogikubo Neighborhood

It is quiet. Thirty six million people live in Tokyo – that is the entire population of Canada – and yet Jason and I can walk down the street and have a quiet conversation. And yet it is not quiet. We had an evening in an izakaya where raucous laughter spilled out into the alley and we were drawn in by the possibility of a good time – we were not disappointed.

Tokyo's Nishi-Ogikubo NeighborhoodThe food is familiar, and yet different. We enjoy a lot of Asian and Japanese food at home but here we are not sure of how it all works. There are particular places to go for particular types of food and we haven’t figured it all out yet. For now we stumble about, probably breaking as many rules as we are following, happy to take it as it comes.

Tokyo Ramen ShopTokyo feels like an old friend. I am loving being back in Asia.

29 Aug

Travel To Japan: What Does It Cost (Part One)

During our RTW trip we tracked every sole, peso, riel, lira, euro, dinar, rupee, baht, kip, dong, ringgit and rupiah mostly out of necessity as we were on a backpacker budget and needed to know exactly what we had spent and exactly what we had left – even if it took us forever to figure out the conversion!

This time, as we travel to Japan, we’re going to track every yen because yes, we still have a budget. Granted, it is not a backpacker budget this time, but it is a budget all the same.

I also want to make our budget public because, once again, finding information about how much it costs to travel in a place is difficult to come by. It is getting better; there is more information out there about what people are spending but it always helps to contribute to the knowledge pool. So, just like last time, we’ll be posting our budget spreadsheet when we get home.

Sometimes coming up with a tracking spreadsheet can be daunting. I like to keep it simple then I’m more apt to actually use it rather than being overwhelmed by it. Here what we’ll be tracking:

  • Date – this will give us a sense of per day costs although many items are amortized over the entire trip (flight costs for example).
  • Type – there are five categories; accommodation, transportation, attractions, food&drink, and miscellaneous.
  • JPY Cost – if we pay for an item in Japanese Yen then we’ll show that cost in this column.
  • CDN Cost – here we’ve taken an average conversion of 77 JPY per CDN dollar – the conversion will vary but this should serve our purposes. Some items we have already paid for with our credit card and were charged straight to CDN dollar so there is no JPY noted.
  • Comments – here is where we’ll detail what the item actually is. This will help us further break down the categories and remind us exactly what we paid for.

We’ll keep a notebook with us and just quickly jot down our expenses as they happen and enter it into the spreadsheet when we get a chance. It’s really not that onerous at all. Here’s a screen shot of how simple the spreadsheet really is:

Japan Budget Spreadsheet

Notice something? Yep, we’ve spent just over $7000 and we haven’t left yet!! Japan is going to be expensive.

Wait a minute though – a lot of those expenses are in-country expenses, meaning we have paid them up front so we won’t have to pay once we’re there. It includes flights and train tickets (gulp…that was expensive…but I’ll give a full report as to whether the JR Rail passes were worth it. I hear they are more than worth it so we’ll see.) as well as tickets to the Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo. SUMO, people!!

It also means that 20 nights of accommodation are already paid for. We’ll only have to pay up for about a weeks worth while we’re there. Granted, some of those nights are some of the most expensive nights there. Staying in ryokans and temples is hard on the wallet but should be priceless in terms of experience.

This is most definitely NOT a backpacker budget but we weren’t planning on a backpacker trip this time. This is why we dropped Japan from our RTW itinerary…so we could come home, save, and go when we could afford to do it how we want to.

Stay tuned to see how much the whole trip costs us!

**Click Here to see Travel To Japan: What Does It Cost (Part Two)**

 

27 Jun

Practicing Ramen Slurping

I open the door spilling warm, steamy air out into the street. It’s an unseasonably cold, wet and miserable day in springtime Calgary; I step inside and let the warmth embrace me.

“Irashaimase”, comes the gentle call from chefs and waitstaff alike. Welcome.

Taking a seat at the bar where I can see the chefs in action, I order an Asahi beer and settle in with the menu.

It’s gotta be ramen. That’s why I’ve come – to practice my slurping. Unlike here in Canada, in Japan it’s considered polite to slurp while eating noodles. It’s going to take some practice to break the ‘good manners’ my parents taught me as a girl.

I order a tonkotsu ramen; I like the richness of the pork broth compared to the saltier, soy-based shoyu ramen.

Sssslllluuuurrrrpppppp!! I can hear tables behind me getting started on their noodles. Good, it’s not just a cultural myth that it’s polite; I’m not going to make an ass out of myself as I feared I might.

Before long a steaming hot bowl of soup is placed in front of me, the noodles hidden by the pork chashu and baby corn (who knew?) on top.

Japanese Ramen SoupHaving spent so long in Asia I am unfazed by the chopsticks but…the slurping…could I do it? Intentionally make noise while I eat?

I reach in, pull up a small mound of noodles and…slurp. Just a little. Did anyone notice? Am I being rude? Nope – all I see as I look around are other noodle-lovers slurping their way through their own lunch.

I pull up a larger noodle mound….ssslllluuuuurrrppppp!!! This is kind of fun and I’m being polite!

Slurping Japanese RamenSllluuurrrpp, sssllluuurrrpppp, ssllluurrrpppp…all through lunch right to the bottom of the bowl.

I think I did pretty good but I’ll be back at least once or twice before our trip so I don’t get out of practice.

Do you slurp while eating noodles? Could you?

24 May

Japan Itinerary (Redux)

Japan ItineraryPhoto Credit:  halcyonsnow

Ok, I really mean it this time!

Turns out it is three years, almost to the day, that I posted our original Japan itinerary intended as the last country of our RTW trip. We abandoned Japan back then (and rightly so) as our backpacker budget was already stretched thin and we found that we adored SE Asia; it’s cheap accommodation, fabulous food and great weather drawing us to stay, if not forever, then at least as long as absolutely possible.

We always said, though, that our next big trip would be to Japan. Abandoned once, but never forgotten.

After determining what we wanted to get out of our trip we set to finding those places that would give us culture and history but also a good dose of urban activity. I think we’ve done a good job; staying put for days at a time and then moving through smaller centers to get a feel for rural Japan also.

Through some grace of good luck there happens to be a direct flight from Calgary to Tokyo three times a week – that makes Tokyo the first stop. We’ll spend three nights getting our bearings, eating the first sushi and generally getting lost I’m sure. I’d prefer an apartment over a hotel but the short stay might limit that option.

Seven nights in Kyoto follow. I’ve been told that a week is barely long enough to explore the cultural center of Japan. We will definitely get an apartment for this week an spend our time wandering the city, chasing Geiko, and visiting as many temples as possible.

Nara is usually a day trip from Kyoto but after a week and a half of city dwelling we want to start on a more relaxing path. A visit to the Great Buddha in the company of the famous deer of Nara should put us on the path to enlightenment…no? A small guesthouse here will be our home for two nights.

I have been intrigued lately by the idea of meditation retreats; silent ones in particular. I like the idea of quiet contemplation at this point when I seem to have all kinds of ideas jumbling around in my head. I somehow think that things would become clearer if only I were silent long enough to hear myself. I’m probably not ready to commit to a multi-day retreat yet (nor would it be likely I could convince Jason it’s a good idea!) but I do like the idea of staying in temple in the Koya-san region just south of Nara. Here, we can stay in a temple and take part in the morning ceremonies with the monks. It’ll give me a taste of a retreat without the long term commitment…perfect for me!

I believe that when you visit a place you should visit the good and the bad. I couldn’t visit Germany without remembering the Holocaust and visiting a concentration camp, or spend time in Peru without learning about the Shining Path; I think it’s a travellers responsibility to acknowledge all facets of a place so a visit to Hiroshima is necessary. It’s not all doom and gloom though – we’ll also visit Miyajima and the ‘Floating Temple’ and visit the town of Saijo just outside of Hiroshima to sample sake from the many breweries in the area. Four nights seems like a long time here but we plan on taking our time, especially with the sake.

A day of traveling through the mountains will take us to Takayama, a small city that boasts of traditional buildings, morning markets, sake breweries and stunning mountain scenery. Time to slow it down again here and just take it as it comes.

From here it gets even slower as we make a one night stop in Magome before hiking the ancient trail to Tsumago the next day. I want to stay in a traditional ryokan in the mountains and this place sounds just about perfect. Nestled in the mountains on the once populous route from Tokyo to Kyoto these towns are steeped in history and should offer some quiet distraction as we head back to Tokyo after this.

Five days remain and Tokyo remains barely scratched. We’ll find an apartment and explore all that Tokyo has to offer. From back alley izakayas and yakitori stands to upscale sushi; the Tsukiji fish market, the Imperial Palace and Harajuku; day trips out to Hakone and quiet days sampling beer an sake. After almost four weeks in Japan we’ll really be ready to tackle one of the biggest, and densest cities in the world!

I think it’s a good mix of rural and urban, food and culture and, although it moves a little quicker than I originally intended, it slows down often enough to let us settle in a little bit.

Do you have any Japan itinerary advice? Think there is somewhere we are missing? Something we absolutely have to do or see? Let me know in the comments, or on our Facebook page!

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Have you checked out the Japan boards on my Pinterest account? I’ve found it to be one of the best travel planning tools ever!!

 

17 May

Five Ways To Use Pinterest When Trip Planning

Japan Board On Pinterest

I, like most people, started using Pinterest to look at pretty pictures and procrastinate from whatever I was supposed to be doing.

I am the queen of procrastination! Supposed to be cleaning the house? Look at all these beautiful decor pins! Supposed to be making dinner? Look at all these yummy food pins! Supposed to be writing a blog post? Look at all the amazing travel pins! Supposed to be going for a run? Oh…don’t look at the fitness pins because it makes me think that I’ll never look like that…may as well stay in and have another brownie. Did I tell you about that fabulous brownie recipe pin I saw?

I have, however, found it to be very useful as I plan our upcoming trip to Japan. Here are five ways to use Pinterest when trip planning:

  1. Pure Inspiration. In the beginning I searched Pinterest for any pins with reference to Japan. I was hoping to find websites and blogs that write about Japan so that I could get some personal stories of where people went, what they did and maybe even some secret hide-aways.
  2. Find Interests. Then I began pinning sites that had anything of interest to me. I didn’t sort them at all (other than pinning them to my Japan board); I was just looking to see what types of things were catching my eye. In this way I learned what parts of Japan that interested me. I could easily see that I am interested in landscapes (gardens, nature, mountains), food (all kinds of food pins!), sake, culture, and temples. It was this process that helped determine our final itinerary – find the things your interested in doing and then figure out where you can go to meet those interests.
  3. Track Accommodation Finds. I started a Japan Accommodation board. As I searched using various methods (Lonely Planet, Agoda, travel blogs, and more Pinterest) I weeded out hotels, ryokans, hostels and inns I was interested in staying in and pinned them to this board. If I included a price in the description it flagged the price for me too so I can see at a glance how one place stacks up over another.
  4. Keep Track of ‘Want To Do’s’. I haven’t yet but will soon soon start a board for each destination of our trip. On these boards I will keep track of things I want to do, or places I want to see, at each of the destinations. We may not do all of them but I can pin them as I come across them and not have to wonder where I saw that great idea.
  5. Use As A Trip Journal. In much the same way as the ‘Want To Do’ board, I will start a board for each destination detailing what we actually did in a certain place. Hotels, restaurants, sake breweries, gardens, and temples will all be recorded with details and a small review. This way I will have all the information I need to write about a place without having to search for it all again.

I love the visual nature of Pinterest. It’s much better than simply bookmarking as it reminds me of exactly why I bookmarked that page just by looking at it.

And now I have reason to be wiling away the hours searching through pins – it’s not procrastination, it’s trip planning!

You can follow me on Pinterest at: Pinterest.com/gillianduffy I’m trying to find a way to have a board that other people (like you!) could pin to also. I would love to have a ‘Japan Tips’ board for people to add to as a way of sharing a tip with me. Does anyone know how to do that?

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Why not try Wimdu, to help you plan and book your perfect accommodation. Search for search unique apartments at Wimdu and find something to make your trip that little bit special.

19 Apr

Creating An Itinerary For Japan

I opened the guidebook excited that I had set aside the rainy afternoon to plan out the itinerary for our upcoming trip to Japan.

I closed it about 10 minutes later completely overwhelmed. I had no idea where to start. I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for years and, reading the book, it all sounded so amazing that I wanted to do it all.

Yes! Let’s hike Mt Fuji. Yes! We should head to the north and visit a remote onsen. Yes! We’ll stay in a capsule hotel in the heart of Tokyo. Yes! Walking along an ancient pilgrimage route sounds perfectly zen-like. Yes! We can pay tribute to the victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Yes! We’ll visit temple after temple after temple in Kyoto. Yes! We’ll gorge on sushi and ramen and okonomiyaki until we burst. Yes! Let’s head to the south and see the beaches there. Yes! We’ll stay in a temple and wake to the chanting of monks. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Ahhh, but we’ve done that before. Run from place to place feeling like we need to experience EVERYTHING and staying only a day or two in a place before moving on.

This trip is to be a study in traveling slower. Less places, more experiences. More settling in and getting to know a place, less running around wondering if this temple or castle is really that much different than the twelve other ones we saw last week.

It’s about remembering what worked and what didn’t in the past and using those lessons to guide our planning this time. It’s about distilling that great must-do list into a concise list of experiences and focusing the planning on those experiences rather than on places. It means understanding how we want to feel on this trip and passing up on the ‘shiny things’ that don’t contribute to that feeling.

Easier said than done.

I want to feel that I’m learning. That I’m starting to understand how things work; how to order sake, whether to slurp or not, temple etiquette, how to open those sliding paper doors.

I want to feel that I’m taking my time. That I’m giving a place it’s due, not just rushing through.

I want to feel that I’m not missing out on anything. It’s the missing out feeling that drives me to travel too quickly. I want to prove to myself that slow travel is more rewarding.

I want to really experience food and drink. I think we are too timid sometimes and I don’t want to be scared by what looks weird in Japan. I want to try all the different kinds and styles of tofu and understand how they are different. I want to visit sake breweries and taste the difference in region and style. I want to slurp noodles in back alley ramen shops, drink in izakayas, and eat yakatori by the stickful afterwards. Of course I want sushi but also okonomiyaki, tempura and bubble tea. I want to spend the money on a Kobe steak and enjoy a multi course meal at a ryokan. This will be the highlight of every day in Japan.

I want to experience culture and history but I don’t want to roam around in museums. I find them overwhelming. I prefer to take small scale city or site tours and have a guide weave history and culture into the stories they tell of a place. I want to visit temples, take in some Kabuki theater, and stay in a traditional Japanese inn.

I want to have urban experiences – I love cities and the thought of Tokyo and all it’s districts and people is exciting. But I also love the outdoors and want to do some hiking and see what rural Japan is like.

I want to feel quiet. I know that might be difficult in a country of 127 million people but I want that zen feeling of content. I think that will come from traveling slowly, listening to how we’re feeling and ensuring that everything we choose fits the criteria.

An itinerary is emerging.

Photo Credit: BilabialBoxer

30 Jan

Monday Moment: Japan

Lonely Planet Japan

This week isn’t about looking back but about looking forward.

OneGiantStep is going to Japan!!

Japan was to be the final country in our RTW trip but, as we headed into South East Asia, we knew that our budget was just not going to stretch far enough for us to really do it justice. Japan is expensive; there is no way around it and we wanted to be able to enjoy it and not worry too much about what it was costing. We decided to drop it but agreed that Japan would be the first place we visit post RTW.

It’s time! Besides saving money for our Responsibly Irresponsible plan, we have also been saving for a Japan trip. In fact, it’s mostly ‘found’ money; coins we collect from our pockets every evening, some mileage expense money we get from our jobs, birthday money, a little bit from OneGiantStep…any ‘extra’ money that comes our way has been curried away into the OneGiantStep Goes To Japan fund. Yes, it’s actually named that at the bank.

I am beyond excited. I’ve been poring over guidebooks, staying up late reading blog posts, and bookmarking and ‘pinning‘ everything I can find. The plan is for September; so there’s some time but just the thought of traveling again makes me dizzy!

Have you been to Japan? I’m looking for recommendations…what did you do that worked? What didn’t work? Any must-sees? Or don’t-bothers? I’m all ears!!