Every year, around the end of April, we take a trip out of the country. We started this with our Elopement to Ireland two years ago, and continued it with Paris, France, last year and Japan this year. The last two years, we moved right at the time we got back from our little holiday, so I was never able to sit down, edit pictures, and blog about our trips. (ehhhh. I should probably do that even though it's been so long.)
To view the images in this blog, tap or click on them to bring up the full view! Putting them all individually would make this blog post even longer than it already is. (;
For our trip this year, we flew to Tokyo, Japan. I'm absolutely terrible at event/trip planning and it's a talent of Jonathon's, (he gets it from his mother) so he picked out our hotel and planned some of the things we were to do. I'll be linking a lot of places that we went to or ate. I am a vegetarian, so I know many of you will be interested in what I ate while I was there. I learned to say, "I'm a vegetarian, no fish, beef, pork, chicken."
For lodging, stayed in Asakusa, a district in Taitō, Tokyo, Japan at the Richmond Hotel Premier Asakusa International. Right near the heart of Tokyo and just a short walk to two train stations.
The hotel was located on the 5th floor of a little shopping center and was conveniently located between a 7-Eleven and a Don Quixote, not to mention all the shops and many food spots.
The staff was welcoming and spoke English. Our room was on the 12th floor, very tiny, but very comfortable. We had a beautiful view overlooking the city and a shower with the best water pressure on earth. Our room also came with a Handy Phone which allowed us to have free internet and international calling during our entire stay. This was such a great amenity and saved us some $$ since we didn't need to use our international cell plan.
As soon as we got to our hotel, we showered and went to explore Asakusa for a little bit before dinner and much needed sleep. We wandered around all the little shops and stopped to eat Taiyaki, which is a fish shaped snack filled with red bean paste (and we got a sweet potato one.) Super yummy! We walked around more, I was too tired to snap many photos, so there aren't many from the evening we arrived. We went to dinner and then went to bed!
The next morning, we got up and were ready by around 6:30am. Went to look for things to eat and see, and realized nothing opened until 10/11! Crazy. The streets were quiet and everything was closed. We decided to go get our train tickets for the day and head to Harajuku. I'll get more into train passes later on.
We arrived at Harajuku and went wandering! Harajuku was about a half hour train ride from where our hotel was. Not a bad trip and the trains were super easy to deal with. Much easier than Paris, but some of the railways were owned by private companies which meant buying separate tickets if you didn't get the tourist 3 day pass at a specific location.
Since most of the shops were closed, we walked up and down the streets, taking in the sights. We popped into Daiso, a famous 100-yen shop, to look at the goods and waste a little time. After Daiso, we went to the Purikura station in front of it and had some fun with the machine. I didn't realize the images they gave you were so small, so I'm glad I snapped a few photos of the computer screen. ;P
After we became our anime dream selves, we headed to LaForet. It was raining for most of the morning, so we were surprised so many people were still queued up outside EVERYWHERE. Who lines up an hour before a mall opens? Seems so crazy to me.
Once LaForet opened, we went to browse all the shops. I LOVED seeing all the Lolita fashion and wished I was 1. cute enough to wear it and 2. had that much throwaway money. Everything in LaForet was insanely priced, but a lot of it was our style. We wanted more minimalist streetwear clothing while we were there, but weren't feeling the prices at LaForet.
Unfortunately, most of these shops have a no photography policy, so I wasn't able to take photos while we were in there. ):
Our next stop was Hedgehog Cafe HARRY in Harajuku! We got there shortly after opening and didn't have much of a wait. This place was awesome. The animals were so lively and interactive and the price was good. You got a 30 min time slot for 1400 yen a person with a few hedgehogs and a free beverage while you were visiting.
The workers were super friendly and spoke to us about the animals and their care. They even have a nap time area for the hedgehogs so they can get some rest and stay stress free.
After the hedgehog cafe, we were starving, but not quite ready for lunch that minute. We found a place nearby that had really cheap gyozas (Harajuku Gyoza Lou), so we stopped by for a quick snack. Jonathon got the 6 gyoza special (just 290 yen) and I had Japanese cucumbers with miso paste. After our bellies were a little less angry, we went to Kiddy Land-- a 5 floor store filled with toys, dolls, Hello Kitty, Snoopy..etc SO cute. We went in here to browse and I might have gotten a little too excited to see Gudetama, my favourite Sanrio Character. I got a huge, soft, squishy plushie and we left to do a little bit more walking and then lunch!
Lunch was the Harajuku Kawaii Monster Cafe. We went to the day/cafe version since it was noon and it's a completely different atmosphere. The cost is 500 yen a person and you have to each order a beverage. This place was sooo cool. Definitely felt like a fun fantasy world-- "Like a party thrown by monsters in your closet."
Lunch wasn't bad, but not as good for the price. We were here for the atmosphere though, not amazing food. Our beverages were super sweet. Mine was a carbonated fruit soda that tasted like gummy bears and my rainbow pasta was like a garlicy pasta with a little spice. Jonathon had a teriyaki bowl. We walked around the cafe and took some pictures and had fun time with all the lights and music.
After lunch, we took a train to Shibuya since it was pretty close to Harajuku. We walked to see Shibuya crossing and as much as I hate to admit, it wasn't as cool as everyone always makes it out to be. It's just a really busy intersection. It was rather comical to see EVERYONE vlogging or taking photos while they were trying to walk.
We went to the second floor of the Starbucks at one of the streets to get a better view in a less busy area.
We spent a lot of time in Asakusa throughout the trip. It was such a quaint little area full of food, shopping, and sight seeing with less crowds than other areas. Tokyo is very industrial and somehow manages to make street snapshots look so nice.
Every time we walked back to our hotel, we passed an owl cafe. There were adorable girls outside in animal kigurumis and they would have owls on their shoulders or other animals hanging out with them. The birds looked happy to just be hanging out, so we decided to go in.
Once in, you walk in to this tiny area upstairs that had the worse "zoo" smell. You can't see anything except some fake trees and the cashier area. We pay for the visit and walk through a little half door/fence and my heart just sank. There were two otters crying in a cage with NO water. I'm not sure if they were crying because the humans give them treats, but it still made my heart sink.
We'd paid about 30 dollars to get in, so we decided to just continue and hope it got better. It was a small room with a ton of owls chained to a post. The girls at the entrance were sooo deceiving. I snapped photos of all the beautiful birds and made sure not to get the chains in there. I honestly didn't want to have to look back at that. I may or may not have been crying a bit at this point.
You were allowed to pet the owls, they just had rules. No touching the face, use the back of your hand...etc. Jonathon and I pet and spoke to all the birds to give them a little affection.
They had a few lizards, turtle, and birds in cages too, and those also weren't in a habitat that I would consider great.
We'd looked up the Hedgehog cafe and it had glowing reviews. I deeply regret not researching this one. I think it was just called "Owl Cafe Asakusa"
Anyways, sorry about the sob story. Definitely don't be an idiot like me who gets caught up by the cute animals at the door and research the animal cafe you are going to.
I want to hug all these birds haha.
In the evenings, we wandered around Asakusa. I find that Tokyo is so much more beautiful at night because atmosphere all the lanterns and coloured lights make. I was also on a mission to find street cats to hug, but I only found one over here and he was a fat cat, quite happy to be by a restaurant.
Asakusa is the home to Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple that is one of Tokyo's most significant. It is next to a beautiful 5 story pagoda, the Shinto Shrine, and Asakusa Shrine, and it is surrounded by shops for trinkets and noms.
We dropped by on one of our evening walks so we could see it lit up against the dark sky. We walked up to the O-mikuji stalls to donate 100 yen and receive an o-mikuji, a fortune written on strips of paper. You donate your money and gently shake a box that contains a bunch of sticks with lettering on it. You match up that letter/phrase to a drawer and pull your fortune from it! We got a good fortune. When the prediction is bad, it is a custom to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a wall of metal wires alongside other bad fortunes in the temple/shrine grounds.
Finding breakfast in Tokyo is hard! It seemed that everything was sweets/ice cream or fish/soup/salad. By the end of our journey, I was dying to have a good American or Irish breakfast haha.
While looking for breakfast spots, We found this amazing melonpan shop a street or two down from our hotel. Asakusa Kagetsudo Honten. It was open before 11, which was amazing haha.
Melonpan is a Japanese sweet bread that is a bread dough covered with a thin layer of crisp cookie dough. So yummy. It melts in your mouth. I got the ice cream stuffed one (great, healthy breakfast, right?) and Jonathon got the plain one. We tried both but I definitely liked the ice cream one, because ice cream..duh.
We actually ended up coming here a couple of times, but the first time, one of the shop people welcomed us and asked where from. They get so excited when we say USA. "Someone from USA came to my shop!" is the reaction. He asked to take our photo and yelled "Kawaii!!" the whole time. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming.
Right next to the melonpan shop, there is Asakusa Kingyo--which is a goldfish themed shop. You can buy cute goldfish accessories or scoop your own goldfish! Goldfish scooping is a game where you try to catch goldfish from a tank using a tool called poi. You can take the challenge as many times as you like until the poi rips. We didn't partake, but the shop was cute.
Also, we saw lots of cute pigeons.
After our "pre breakfast" melonpan, we went back to the shrine grounds to look around during the daytime. We stopped by Yogodo Hall. This hal is for enshrining Buddha cooperating with Kannon.
Legend has it that two fishermen caught a statue of Bodhisattva Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, in their net in the Sumida river. Realizing the importance of the statue, the head of their village made a shrine dedicated to Kannon in his own house, where he displayed the statue. A few years later, the statue was enshrined in what became the Sensoji Temple. Priest Shokai Shonin decided that the statue should be hidden from people, which is still in effect today.
150 year years later, a monk named Ennin created a replica of the original statue so that people could worship it... this move is one of the reasons this area is so developed now. In 1994, a dedicated hall was build to honor him and that hall is the Yogodo Hall.
Beside this hall, there is a pond full of koi fish and contains the oldest stone bridge, which was made in 1618. It is blocked off so you cannot walk on it (for good reason,) but you can see it from the path.
We spent a little while at the shrine grounds before we went off to get real breakfast.
Brunch was at a little spot called Suke6 Diner. The atmosphere was very "LA" and it was one of the only places I saw egg and avocado toast on the menu. I had avocado toast with a poached egg and Jonathon had bagels and lox with smashed potatoes. Yummy and I was so happy to have egg and avocado haha. I love ice creams but not for breakfast.
We walked around by the Diner, which is right by the Sumida river. Across the Sumida is the Asahi Beer Hall, a building that looks like a giant glass of beer with the "Asahi Flame" (which just looked like gold poop). The Asahi Beer Hall is referred to as "poo building." (*I apparently didn't get any pics of this, so these two images are from online. Credit at the end of this blog)
We didn't go in, we just wandered past it to see the city.
Next stop, Akihabara. The weeabo district of Tokyo lol. Akihabara is basically the otaku center and a shopping area for video games, anime, manga, computer goods..etc Lots of figures decorate the shopping windows and there are maid cafes everywhere.
We spend a lot of time here wandering around and shopping (for Monster Hunter goodies, figures..etc)
A lot of these places didn't allow photography ): but I took as many pics as I could. Sometimes I snuck a few with my phone. I wasn't too worried about being disrespectful since they weren't sacred areas/shrines..etc
There are lots of Sega stores in Akihabara. We walked in to every one that we saw, but the one we spend the most time in was Sega Akihabara 1st. The 6th floor had a ton of VR games and even an open area where you can play a VR shooter game. I know people joke about Asians, mainly Japanese being the best at video games, but holy hell these guys were good. We stood back and watched many play some of these games with expert skill and some of them had the fastest hand movements I've ever seen. Quite phenomenal.
The streets of Akihabara are covered with gachapon, capsule vending machines. You put money in, twist, and out comes a little toy, plushie, figure..etc. I did one of these and got a cat umbrella toy that I hooked to my backpack.
The MOST IMPORTANT part of our Akihabara visit: Cat Cafe Mocha. This area was like a giant living room filled with cats. I was SO happy. The animals were so kawaii and super friendly. I think I managed to pet every single one of the cats that they had there that day. I don't remember the price, but it was cheap. The cheapest animal cafe we went to on the trip. Maybe 2 yen for 10 min? Something like that. We stayed a lot longer than 10 min.
I loved the treehouse cages for the cats to hang out in. It was definitely a really cool area. You could tell that the workers loved cats. They snuggled with them, clipped their toes, and cleaned ears while we were there. All the animals seemed very happy.
We spent a lot of time wandering the shops, and by nightfall we were famished. For dinner, Jonathon found a spot for okonomiyaki, which is essentially a delicious dinner pancake. Delicious Japanese comfort food. They were vegetarian friendly and we both left with very fully bellies.
The name of the place was Asakusa Okonomiyaki Sometaro and it was a fun and delicious experience. You walk in, remove your shoes, and walk across the old, wood floor and tatami mats to your very own teppan which you will be using to cook your own dinner! ( with help/ supervision, of course. I sure didn't know what I was doing)
I had okonomiyaki with lots of cabbage/veggies. I cooked mine first with oil instead of lard and Jonathon had a dish with noodles, using lard and some help from the staff (;
The teppan kept the area warm, but we were by an open window so we had a cool breeze throughout the entire meal. It was such a lovely experience.
If you cant tell, I really enjoyed the streets in the evening. Everything looked so pretty once the skies got dark.
We walked a lot around Asakusa in the evenings.
Next day! I think? We did so much in so many different places, I might be getting mixed up, but whatever. I'm just going in order of the images I shot ;P
We got up early like normal and went to the Meiji shrine in Shibuya, right next to Harajuku (Meiji-Jingumae.)
Right when you walk up to the area, you come across a massive Torii, a traditional Japanese gate commonly found at a Shinto Shrine entrance.
This particular Torii was crafted Japanese cypress and is one of the largest in Japan. The tree that was use to create this gate was over 1500 years old!
It was surrounded by greenery (100,000 trees, as a matter of fact) and such a beautiful piece to welcome you to the shrine. There is about a 10 minute, very tranquil, walk from the entrance to the Shrine. We didn't enter the shrine grounds but we walked all the way through the woods and stopped to look at the greenery and the really beautiful painted Sake Barrels.
These colorful barrels are referred to as kazaridaru. These barrels are a beautiful, decorative display giving honor to the gods.
We spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Meiji-Jingumae. We didn't bring too many outfits for this trip--mostly streetwear--because we were planning on buying clothing while we were in Japan. What we found is that clothing here is ridiculously overpriced. We went to a lot of the second hand shops in Harajuki and there were plain Walmart Hanes tees being sold individually for ¥9000 (about 82 American dollars.)
When we were in LaForet, I found so many outfits I wanted to buy, but I think I would have spent 1,000 American dollars on just three pieces..and I am not about that life haha.
For our next meal, we chose Matsubara An. It is located on the fourth floor of a shopping area (near Nike) on the main Harajuku Shopping Street. Matsubara-an’s calling card is its teuchi soba-hand created buckwheat noodles.
We were seated with a beautiful view of the keyaki trees and the boulevard below. They were vegetarian friendly, but you are limited to cold soba dishes since the hot dishes contain fish broth.
The staff was very friendly, of course, and we had an endless supply of buckwheat tea, which is nutty and delicious and I think I drank 6 cups of it.
I let the staff know I was a vegetarian and could not eat fish, chicken, pork, beef..etc and she helped me with what options I had. I ended up choosing a cold soba dish and tempura vegetables (tempura Japanese sweet potato is my fave)
The noodles were so amazing. You can definitely taste the difference from their handcrafted noodles to your basic, cheap soba noodle. Jonathon had this specialty duck noodle dish and he said it was probably the best thing he has ever eaten. Period. He said the broth was absolutely incredible and he actually finished everything, including the broth (he's not much of a broth guy, so he definitely liked it ha)
We let our feet relax for a bit while we enjoyed lots of tea, noodles, and the street view, and then we went back to exploring the streets of Harajuku. We went in some really incredibly strange shops that I was dying to take photos of, but wasn't allowed. If I had unlimited funds, I would have come back with some badass, albeit weird outfits. (I actually did come back with one for the Kat Von D party I went to a few days after we came home)
After some window shopping, we stopped for some coffee at a little cafe called Reissue. Reissue is famous for their latte art! They draw incredibly detailed images on coffee and even do jiggly 3D art. I really wanted a bunch of 3D cats, but they didn't have decaf coffee (I don't drink caffeine) so I just went with a nice gingerale instead. (Each visitor has to buy a beverage, so I had to get something.) The coffee does cost about $10 if you want a design on it, but do it, it's worth it haha.
Jonathon decided he wanted a photo of Theodore or Lizard on his coffee, and then chose to use the photo of Lizard where I gave her a top hat.
It was AMAZING. The girl did such a good job on the design, Jonathon didn't want to drink it.
We spent the rest of the evening walking around and then traveled to a Tokyo Harley store to purchase a gift for my father. After that purchase, we went back to the hotel to snack on 7-Eleven treats and rest for our long travel the next day.
On our way to Kyoto
We purchased a 7 day JR pass and went to spend the day in Kyoto! It's a little less than a 3 hour ride from Tokyo to Kyoto. The ride was smooth and the scenery was nice, so it wasn't a bad journey.
Once we made it to Kyoto, we were famished and ready for the upcoming walking. We stopped at a small restaurant on the busy street where we both had some soba noodles and buckwheat tea. A big step down from the previous meal's soba, but it was still delicious, because we were starving. After that lunch, we grabbed some street vendor ice cream and then headed to Fushimi Inari-taisha.
This is one of the locations you definitely need to get to as soon as it opens, but since we weren't staying in Kyoto, we got there early afternoon. It was slammed. In fact, all of Kyoto was slammed--didn't really bother me in a "social anxiety" kind of way lot a lot of crowds can do, it was honestly more irritating than anything.
The Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine was really cool. It is famous for it's thousands of vermilion torii gates which follow a network of trails behind the main shrine grounds.
This is the most important of several thousand of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Inari's messengers are thought to be Fox, so you can find many fox statues throughout the shrine grounds
At the very back of the shrine ground, you find the entrance* to the tori gate covered trail which starts with Senbon Torii, aka "thousands of torii gates." The hike to the mountain summit and back takes about 2.5 hours, but you can turn around whenever you please.
We walked up past the first opening and found another area at the top of a steep hill.
To the side of the main building in this little area, there was a pedestal with a rock. The sign tells you to make a wish, close your eyes and make a wish and decide if your rock will be heavy or light. If the rock is what you wish it to be, your wish will come true. I snapped a photo of Jonathon doing this. I wished the rock to be heavy, since I figured it was, and I was right ;P
We did not go to the summit, as we had a lot more hiking/walking to do, but we did stay here a couple of hours.
Next on our list was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. We actually came here twice since the first time was so packed and crowded, but I will add images from both trips in this little spot.
This is one of those things that you just cannot capture in a photograph. Standing in the midst of this bamboo grove was a crazy feeling. We did manage to capture a few quiet moments, and it was otherworldly.
We walked all the way to the end and found ourselves in front of the water next to the Arashiyama Mountains.
There were many people riding in boats along the river and we took in the view as we headed to our next destination, the Iwatayama Monkey Park.
We crossed the rivers via the Togetsukyō bridge and made our way to the Monkey Park.
The Iwatayama Monkey Park has over 170 macaque monkeys live in this reservation atop Mt. Arashiyama.
It was ¥550 yen to enter and it's about a 20 min walk from base to top.
You have to hike up a steep, but paved and covered forest trail to get to the reservation. For my out of shape, asthmatic ass in humid 80 degree heat, it was a tough hike. I was beet red and puffing like the big, bad wolf by the time we made it to the top, but it was worth it!
Once we arrived to the top, there were monkeys everywhere! You get to walk and sit around them, and if you go into the special indoor area, you can even feed them! For a very low price, too. Only ¥50 for a decent sized bag of food. We got a bag of sliced bananas and a bag of peanuts
The monkeys are not in cages, or fenced in. There are signs that tell you what to do and not do, so you don't aggravate the monkeys, but they were very well behaved and obviously used to humans.
At the top of the mountain, you also get this beautiful, wide-angled view of the city that is just breathtaking.
We spent some time in the feeding area getting close to the monkeys and handing them treats. It was such an amazing experience. Especially seeing the babies up close!
After enjoying our time at the reservation (and let me cool down from the hike,) we headed back down the mountain to shop around Kyoto and enjoy some Peach fanta and lemon soaked Kyuri Asa-zuke (Japanese pickled cucumber on a stick.)
Time for dinner. We were sooo hungry after all of that hiking. Jonathon found a place a few train stops away that had vegetarian gyoza! I was so excited to be able to actually eat some gyoza while in Japan.
There are two Gyoza Chaochao locations. The one that the gps takes you to does not have the vegetarian options, but they have a second locations about a 15 min walk away. The first location had a fairly long wait, but thankfully we didn't have to wait to be seated at the second location. The staff was friendly and SO energetic. They were excited to have us there and I was excited to devour some gyoza.
We ended up ordering and then ordering again when we finished the first serving. We were hungry, the price was good, and wanted to try everything. We had a very happy bellies when we were done.
After we ate, we got back to the JR line and rode the nearly 3 hours back to our hotel, we made it right before the trains closed for the evening. We got some snacks at the glorious Japan 7-Eleven and Don Quixote and crashed from exhaustion. Another busy week ahead!
That was our first week in Japan. I'm sorry it's SO much text, but I apparently don't know how to keep things short. I hope you enjoyed the images and I'll try to get part II out soon, but it'll be just as long as this one, so it may be a little bit.
If you'd like to check out more from this, I have two instagram highlights set up on my profile that you can click on and watch!
Thank you for reading. (: