JAPAN! What a cool, strange, and magical place. We were absolutely enthralled by this country. We saw so many cool things, ate so much delicious food and explored some incredible places. But first? Let’s start from the beginning.
We knew traveling from Dallas, Texas to Tokyo, Japan was going to make for a long and tiring day. This couldn’t be more of an understatement. Our flight left from Love Field in Dallas but of course, as mentioned in the previous post, Texas has some crazy ass weather. Thanks to more thunderstorms – we had to spend an additional 2.5 hours on the tarmac to wait for the storms to clear. But eventually we took off and made our way to San Francisco. We boarded our plane in San Francisco and after sitting at the gate for 45 minutes they announced there was an issue with one of their computers and there would be a bit of a delay. Yeesh. Anyway – we tacked on an additional 4 hours of sitting on the plane to our 15 hours of flight time. Needless to say – we were ecstatic and exhausted when we finally touched down in Tokyo.
Japan, Tokyo specifically, was always a place I had dreamed of visiting. Luckily for us, my aunt (Bente) her husband (Tom) are currently living a bit south of Tokyo in a town called Yokosuka. Tom works on the naval base that is located there. We knew Japan was a bit on the expensive side, as far as cost of living goes, so we were extremely grateful to have a free place to stay.
Our first full day was spent walking around the city of Yokosuka. It’s located about 45 miles south of Tokyo on the west side of Tokyo Bay. It really has everything you need in a city. Giant shopping centers, streets lined with shops and bars, great food and an awesome train system. One thing we immediately noticed was all the vending machines! There’s literally a vending machine (or 5) on every corner!
We poked around town, ate some delicious sushi at the sushi-go-round and went grocery shopping. Even the grocery store was fascinating! We didn’t know what 90% of the things were in the store but it was super fun to browse and just be in awe of the entire place.
On our second day my aunt took us to a town a little north of Yokosuka called Yokohama. Our mission for the day was to navigate the train system and then make our way to the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum! Yep – an entire museum dedicated to the deliciousness that is ramen noodles. As to be expected, this place was incredible. The entire museum is decorated and themed like the street-scape of 1958 Japan – the year the first instant ramen was invented.
As you walk around, you get to learn about the history of ramen and there’s 9 mini “restaurants” that offer a different type. The ramens ranged from miso, tonkotsu, salt and soy types of broth and also thick, thin or wrinkled noodles. Each little restaurant has a machine outside that you order your ramen from before you go inside. You pick which type of ramen you want (again, each restaurant specialized in one specific kind) and it spits out a ticket that you hand to the hostess. Minutes later? You’re chowin’ down on some delicious and authentic noodles! Luckily they offer half orders so we were able to try 2 of the restaurants. Trust me – if we weren’t so full from those two we would have tried all nine!
After leaving the ramen museum we got back on the train and headed to the Chinatown that is located in Yokohama. We had been to many Chinatowns before (Portland, Victoria, Vancouver to name a few) but never had we seen one quite like this. I’m sure being in such close proximity to the actual country of China helped, but wow – we were truly blown away by the intricate details of the archways and all the colors that were so vivid and beautiful!
The next day we had another adventure planned. This time we were going to head a bit further northwest to a town/area called Kamakura. It’s a smaller city than Yokosuka and Yokohama but what made this area so special were the temples and the Grand Buddha.
The temple was called the Hasedura Temple and to say it’s “beautiful” or “gorgeous” would not do it justice. The grounds were covered in zen gardens and hydrangeas. There were statues completely adorned in gold. It was serene and magical. I was even able to light a stick of incense to send good thoughts and prayers to our loved ones. There was also a cave you could walk through that was lined with tiny little statues. So awesome.
Afterwards we walked up the street to the grounds of the Great Buddha. It’s one of those places where you turn the corner and are absolutely blown away. We were greeted by this gigantic and spiritual presence of a huge copper statue of Buddha. Our jaws just dropped. This statue was built in 1252 and has survived multiple tsunamis and earthquakes. It was truly other-wordly.
Finally we wrapped up the day by heading into the actual heart of Kamakura. Walking around – you realize just how many people are in Japan. Wow. It was insanely busy – constantly testing our patience but it was well worth it. We were able to enjoy some yummy soba noodles for lunch as well.
The next day was of course packed with yet another adventure. There’s so much to explore in just this tiny little area of Japan! It was quite overwhelming. I feel like we’d have to stay there for years just to see and grasp all that this country had to offer.
We headed west again to the island of Enoshima. Yet again – the sheer beauty of this place is something that really can’t be described in words – you just have to see it. But I’ll try my best. You walk across a bridge from the mainland and you’re immediately surrounded by cafes offering fresh seafood and yakisoba. I wanted to eat everything. From there, you make your way to the top of the mountain/center of the island. We opted to take the escalators all the way up and then walk down. Enoshima is full of greenery, flowers and Japanese shrines.
Once you’re at the very top – there’s a sky tower that offers perfectly picturesque panoramas of Japan. Supposedly you can see Mount Fuji on a clear day. We weren’t so lucky. It was still gorgeous, though. Absolutely worth the trek.
Finally our last day in Japan arrived. It was time to hop on the train and visit TOKYO! I couldn’t have been more excited. Everything we had done so far was absolutely incredible but this was the moment I had been waiting for. We were so excited to see Shibuya Square (the huge Times Square type of place with the mega-crosswalks that span side to side and diagonal.) and the gigantic-ness that is Tokyo.
Our first stop in Tokyo was the Harajuku District. I’m a giant Gwen Stefani fan and she’s mentioned this district in many of her songs. It’s supposedly the fashion mecca of Tokyo where people don themselves in crazy styles with crazy hair and even crazier clothes. It felt like we were in a theme park! The main shopping street of Harajuku is called Takeshita Street. It’s colorful and packed with people and shops offering anything from tutus to flower head crowns. I was in complete awe.
We got off the train at Shibuya and walked outside. Right then is when sensory overload completely took over. The masses of people, the lights, the sounds – and the square! It was insane! It was just like everything we’d seen in movies but times ten. Watching the sea of people cross the street in Shibuya was incredible.
Strangely – Kile has a cousin that is currently living in Tokyo with his wife so we decided we’d meet up with them for some lunch. Kile had never met his cousin before so it was a really random once-in-a-lifetime experience to hang out with family in such a strange and foreign country.
His name is Matteo and his wife’s name is Clarissa – they are both from Italy and have been living in Tokyo for the past 2.5 years for work. We enjoyed a delicious and authentic Japanese lunch (thank God they both spoke Japanese – otherwise there’s no way we could have ordered) and exchanged stories of travels and our perceptions of different cultures. It’s always so fun to meet and hang out with new friends so far from home.
Finally our trip was drawing to an end. I could probably write an entire other blog post about the strange things we noticed and the intricacies of the culture. It’s truly one of most unique places on the planet.
We were treated to homemade food from Bente’s friends. We were spoiled to no end. And we loved everything Japan had to offer. There’s no doubt that we’ll be back someday. There’s so much we didn’t see. Japan is truly like no other place on the planet. We are so happy we were able to experience as much as we did.
SUCH a huge thank you to Tom and Bente for being amazing and generous hosts. We love you so very much!