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I’m sitting here at Chapman University, the start of my second and last year of graduate school. There’s a lot going through my mind, such as where I’ll be this time next year, job applications for after graduation, where will I find work, will I ever be able to pay off my horrendous student loans? You know, the daily usual. Haha.

But while I sit and code some homework in the lunch area, I hear some distinct music playing in the background. Today, Pablo Caminero and the O.F.N.I. Trio were playing some live jazz music in the courtyard, stopping here as part of their tour.

Sitting here, listening to some live jazz music, I guess I just felt the need to get something off my chest. Life moves fast, the world moves fast. In a blink of an eye, a whole year of school, internships, and so many personal events have passed before my eyes. I’ve also seen how fast the lives of my friends have moved as well. Some getting married or having a child by the end of this year.

I guess I just wanted to say, no matter how fast life moves, don’t forget to take time to stop and listen to the music. I know it sounds cliche, and I’m sure we’ve all heard it before, but it’s nice to be reminded of these things every once in a while. Life will always move fast, but if you take some time to just appreciate where you are, you may come out realizing something new.

 

Also, I feel none of my friends really appreciate this aspect, so I felt like talking about my feelings about this through this blog. So many of my friends are traveling, and when I tried giving suggestions on places to go or things to do, people don’t usually take my advice. I guess it’s cause everyone has their own preference and there’s nothing wrong with that.

When hiking in Bryce Canyon with friends, all I wanted to do was lay down, at night time, staring at the stars. When you use your hands to block out the trees from your peripheral to just look the starts and night sky, the view is gorgeous and will take you away. Paired with your favorite space/galactic music, in my case soundtracks from Doctor Who, and you just feel out of this world. It was breathtaking and I wish I had been able to enjoy it more, or had at least one of my friends enjoying it with me. However, they wanted to leave and go elsewhere, and I had no choice but to go. I don’t hate my friends for that, I just understand that for traveling, our interests may not exactly align.

I realize that I do things like this very often. In Japan while everyone took selfies of themselves with the life size Gundam in Odaiba, I started in awe of it and could not take my eyes off of seeing something I loved so much come to life. I sat down in a corner of El Dorado park in San Francisco enjoying a nice cup of tea, a new comic book, and enjoying the fantastic view of the city and the people. I walked through New York City enjoying the architectures and vibes that each district gave and loved spending down time meeting one of my best friends, who worked in the city, in a park surrounded by skyscrapers as tall as the eye can see. I’ve been able to find so many hole in the walls and encountered so many things by random chance from my aimless wandering. (While wondering Brooklyn Park, I found the Captain America Statue when a film crew was shooting and got the chance to be in the background for the history channel’s Superheroes Decoded special that aired around April 2017.)

I don’t mean to brag at the things I’ve experienced. Far from it, I just want to share how many positive experiences I had when I allowed myself the freedom to wonder and take in where I am. I suppose I also wished I had people in my life who were as interested in this aspect of traveling as I am. It often feels I have a different view of the world and I sometimes wished I had someone to appreciate that with me. But I digress. I have been very fortunate in my life and it is my hopes that I may be able to pass on some of the things I’ve learned for other people to enjoy. Maybe somebody will come across this blog post, put up with my rambling, and be able to take some of my experience to heart.

Life can be filled with its own rewards when you’re not always so concentrated on getting from one place to the next.

Happy traveling everyone. And wherever you go, remember to enjoy the music!

 

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Last Sunday, Game of Thrones aired its season 6 finale.

There is much to talk about in that episode, and so many theories/confirmation of theories. None of which I am going to talk about, because lets be honest. Everyone and their grandmas’ are talking about it already. So rather than this post be something just like the countless other, I decided to talk about something different.

Though he was only in the episode for as small segment, when Sam arrived in Oldtown and into the Hightower, we are greeted with a huge CGI library, filled with walls full of books. So many books that it puts Beasts’ gift to Belle from Beauty and the Beast to shame.

beast-shame

 

Anyway, if you look at the roof decorations, you see this.

Sam_in_tower_library

 

Which should remind you of this…

game_of_thrones_contact-0-1080-0-0

The hanging decor from the top of the library in Hitower is the same Sun/spherical thing from the Intro song. And that leads me to believe that at the end of the series, the entire story of Game of Thrones is being told to us by someone. Most likely, Maester Sam (assuming he doesn’t die before becoming a maester)
It even makes sense as when we see all of the cities, kingdoms and castles pop up like it’s from a pop up book. Almost as if somebody is either reciting the events of the series, or at least documenting everything in the Library. It also plays into the title of the series, a Song of Ice and Fire, which would tie into that somebody is reciting the tale.

feb-27-b.jpg

 

So not really a spoiler, just something interesting that I caught when watching the episode, and then I went to a book store and saw the pop up book and thought to myself “Hey, this reminds me of the intro, what if the entire series is being told to us in the Library and that is why we see the spherical decor from the Library, and the pop up kingdoms as if they were from a book.”

 

 

So my last post was all dedicated to transportation. I originally wanted to condense everything into one post, but the transportation took so much room I decided to space it out to make things easier to read for viewers. So if you are looking for tips regarding the train systems, buses, and subways, please refer to my other post.

This post will focus on tips for spending every day in Japan.

Yen, Tipping, and paying for stuff. 

Yen and Credit Cards

So first off, I do recommend that you exchange some of your money to yen in your home country before your trip. This will help make sure you get a descent exchange rate for your money. You can do this at your local bank, just be sure you have an account with them, or at a currency exchange center. If you exchange at a bank, depending on your bank, it may take a little bit to come in, so be sure to do it early. Often currency exchange places will have the money on site, but will charge a higher rate than banks will. So if you waited too late, then you may have to just put up with that.
When exchanging, some places will ask if you want your money to be in large bills, small bills, or a mix of both. I got a mix of both because I didn’t know what to expect, but I discovered that I would have preferred small bills instead. This is because a lot of street foods, vendors, and ticket machines don’t cost a lot, and so I used my small bills more than the large. And would have felt bad if I used a 5000 yen bill to buy a 500 yen food item.
Also even though Japan is big on technology, there are still quite a few places that only takes cash. What I found the most convenient for me is if I was somewhere that takes card, I use my card and saved my cash for the places that only takes cash.

If you find yourself needing more cash, the best thing to do is to go at any 711 ATMs (yes those exist over there) and use that to withdraw cash from your debit/credit card. This will give you the best “bang for your buck” deal in terms of exchange rate.

Yen coins go from 1, 5, 10, 50, 100 and 500 coins. Through your trip, you will probably find that you may end up carrying a lot of coins unless you’re very conscious of spending your coins. This is the reason why Japan has a bunch of those small coin purses. They’re a neat thing to have so if you like to get one of those, they will definitely come in handy for your trip. If not, bring maybe a small plastic bag or a change purse from your home country. Just trust me on this, it will definitely be convenient.

For credit cards, most of the places in Japan already use the chip readers. They also will not accept your card unless you sign the bank of your card first. (In the States, I have never encountered any places that makes sure you signed)
Be sure that the card you use does not charge you a foreign purchase fee. For me, I got myself a travel credit card at my bank. I would suggest to do that, or some banks won’t charge for foreign purchase either such as Charles Schwab. Just check with your bank before you leave just to be sure.

 

Tipping 

The Japanese people believe that the price they put on something includes everything, the product and the service. They feel that anything extra is a “hidden fee” and would be insulting if they took extra money from you. In other words, if you go eat at a restaurant, and they change you $1000 yen for something, you are expected to only pay the $1000 yen. Tipping them means that you’re telling the workers that you did not enjoy your experience and are giving them extra money to do better next time. I know it’s a reverse psychology than in Western Culture that sees tipping as a sign of good service, but for Japan, that is not the case. So even if you get amazing service (which you most likely will as Japanese people are amazing in the service department), do not tip your waiters/waitresses. Just be thankful to them for their hard work. Now sadly, taxes does exit in Japan too. Not everywhere will charge tax, but some will.

 

Bathrooms

MUST READ

This one is a very useful tip for all foreign travelers to Japan. If you need to use the restroom, make sure you use it at the train stations. One of the biggest reasons is because some of the public restrooms of Japan is the squat style toilets, which if you don’t know what that is, think of it as a hole in the ground and you have to take your pants off, squat down and do your business like that. If you’re not a fan of that, then best to use the restrooms in the train stations as most will have the western style toilets. And not just any kind, all of the toilets I’ve encountered were the new technological style toilets with heated seats and water bidet sprayers. One thing to keep in mind, they do not have the tissue paper seat covers. You can choose to try to ignore the fact, or use toilet paper to cover the seats. Also most restrooms will only have a sink. No paper towels or air blowers to dry your hands, and no soap. So it is best if you either carry dry soap, or hand sanitizes with you, and a handkerchief to dry your hands.
Also not all restaurants or eating establishments have public restrooms, so be sure that if you feel even the slightest urge to use the restroom at the train stations, use it because it may be a while before you can use one again.

Language Barrier

Though there are a good number of establishments and people in Japan that knows some English, you will find yourself more often then not encountering people who don’t know your language at all. However don’t feel discouraged as the Japanese are very friendly to tourists. A lot of restaurants will have English menus or at least pictures, so if anything you can always point to a picture and put up your fingers as to how many orders of that item you want.
Even so, if you can, try learning a few phrases to help you get by. I will put a few of them down here to help you out.
I’ll space out the words to help with pronounciation, keep in mind the letter “i” by itself makes the i sound such as in the word ichy, and not like the the i sound in iPod.
Japanese – English
Kon-ban-wa – Good Morning
Kon-i-chi-wa – Good Afternoon
A-ri-ga-to  – Thank You
A-ri-ga-to  Go-zai-ma-su – Thank you very much
Hai – Yes
I-ku-ra  De-su-ka – How much?
America-jin  De-su – I’m America. (This one helped me out when people kept thinking I was Japanese )

It’s helpful if you can at least count to 10 in Japanese, though I only really used the numbers 1 and 2. But not bad to know.
Ichi – 1     Roku – 6
Ni – 2       Nana – 7
San – 3    Hachi 0 8
Yon – 4   Kyu – 9
Go – 5      Ju – 10

Alternatively, you can also just use your fingers. It’s the universal language.

Manners

This one I want to stress a little bit because this, I feel, is the most important in terms of being respectful to the Japanese and its culture.
Like I mentioned in my previous post about the trains, make sure that you wait in line to enter the trains, and wait for people to exit before entering. Also silence your phone and do not talk on your phone while on the trains. Also if you are talking to someone next to you, just keep your voice to a minimum.
The Japanese believe in being mindful to others and being courteous. Just make sure that your actions are courteous to other people.
When you’re going up the  escalators, if you want to just stand, move to your left so others can pass you on your right if they prefer to walk or are in a hurry. Do not block the escalators. When going on the stairs, particularly when it’s busy, stay on the corresponding side so that there’s room for people to go up and down safely. If anything, just follow the trend of the crowd and you will be fine.

When ordering food, Japanese restaurants rarely, if ever, do substitutions. If you feel you absolutely need something altered, do no more than 1 change. Anymore, and they’ll wonder why would you even want to order a certain dish if you just want to change it. The safer bet is to just accept all food items as is, and if you don’t like something of a certain dish, just order something else unless you’d like to come off as a snooty tourist.

Some museums will not allow pictures. And I so quite a few tourists breaking that. There are usually workers around who will ask you to delete the photo, or stop you if they see you. But still, please be respectful. It is also considered rude to take photos or videos of people without their permission. Of course this doesn’t mean you can’t take a picture of yourself in front of a castle because there are people in the background. This more applies to people trying to make videos of their trip and deliberately focusing on the people. If you must, at least try to make it look like you’re trying to take footage of the buildings or something in the background. Some of the people will either try to block their face, or look at you funny. They won’t do anything rash like yell at you or try to take your camera away.

My closing statement on this is that the Japanese are very respectful and mindful people, and it is all ingrained into them. They will keep in mind that you are a tourists and try to be respectful in that some of their customs are different than what you are used to. However, having been treated so well by the Japanese, I feel that the best way to be thankful back is to be respectful of their customs. So please, just be mindful of how your actions could affect other people, and just be courteous.

 

Sakura Trees (Cherry Blossoms)

I believe the seasons where the cherry blossoms bloom is between somewhere in February until Mid April. The blooming trickles downwards from North Japan to South, meaning the northern part of Japan will bloom first and work it’s way downwards. Just something to keep in mind if you are trying to plan your trip around seeing the blossoms, like I did.

 

Japanese Holidays

From what I have seen, there is a lot of traveling around Japan, so it may be a good idea to look at Japanese Holidays while planing your trip. One such example is Golden Week, which I believe takes place at the end of April, where a majority of Japanese workers all get a week off of work. So if you travel during this time, places and attractions may get really busy, but there are also food festivals and public events during these holidays as well. So there are trade offs for traveling around both occasions. I visited and left Japan just before Golden Week, for example, and slightly regretted not being able to see some live shows and festivals that were being planned for Golden Week. However, I was happy to not be in Japan to face the crowd that would have came from that either, so for me, I preferred not being in Japan for that. That is just me, plan your trip to your taste and interests.

 

Littering

One of the best things about Japan is its cleanliness. The people do not litter or spit gum onto the floors, and believe in keeping their country clean. They believe that you take your trash home with you to throw away, not leave it for someone else to deal with. There are not a lot of public trash cans for you to throw your trash away. Because there are a lot of drink vending machines on the streets, you will see a lot of recycling bins, but nothing for general trash. So if you have trash, hold it with you until you reach a train station or where you’re staying. Train stations will have trash cans. It is also rude for you to litter and if caught you can get fined. So please be respectful of this and do not litter.

 

Safety

Japan is one of the safest places in the world, and has one of the fewest crime rates as well. So safe, that you will often see young children riding the trains or on the streets by themselves. So you don’t have to worry too much about getting mugged, or worry about carrying a lot of cash with you. Although I wouldn’t recommend flashing your money around for the world to see, and still be a bit cautious around shady areas. But for the most part, you are safe in the country.

 

Business hours of operations

If you are in the States at least, if a business says that it closes at 10pm, they will not start trying to kick people out until 10pm exactly. In Japan though, they’ll start trying to kick people out at around 9:30. I assume it’s a courteous thing, but either way, keep that in mind when planning your trip if you plan on going somewhere in the evening time.

 

Walking around

This one is for the ladies out there. Especially if you are planning a long day of walking around and exploring Japan, please do not think you can last in healed shoes. Trust me, even if you think your tennis shoes clashes with your outfit, your feet will thank you at the end of the day. If you like, invest in buying sole comforters. They will definitely help your feet and legs deal with the intense amount of walking you will do. Also be prepared for blisters.

 

Disneyland

This may seem strange to put in a section about Disneyland, but I felt I had to mention this. You can not dress up like a Disney character if you go to the Disneyland in California or Disneyworld in Florida. However, I did spotted someone dressed just like Belle at the Tokyo Disneyland. So I do think you are allowed to dress similar to a Disney character there. There are even days devoted solely to cosplay and dressing up, such as on Halloween. Japan culture is very big on cartoons, anime, and dressing up so I think that’s why dressing up isn’t seen so much as a taboo there.

 

Here is a link to a YouTube video that I liked. The Channel is called Rachel and Jun, and it follows a couple living in Japan and their adventures through the country. I found a lot of their videos informative, and also great for getting some ideas for your trip. They’ve explored a lot of locations that are not popular tourist attractions as well. I am definitely, going to go to some of the locations they’ve explored on my next trip to Japan. So check out the video, check out their channel, and if you like them support them. I swear they did not sponsored me to say this. If you comment on their videos saying “Andy sent us” they will have no idea who you’re talking about. I just like their videos and want to share it with readers everywhere.

 

There were a lot of things I wished I knew ahead of time when I was first planing my trip to Japan. I didn’t go to a travel agency because I wanted to customize my trip to my liking, and also because I didn’t want to spend the extra money. Of course you are able to scour the internet for blogs that can help you plan what locations to visit (including mine) but I want this post to specifically be about the different tips, suggestions, and need to know for anyone planning their first trip to Japan. Some of this information I found from the internet, and most I had to figure out while in Japan. I want to provide something that consolidated as many helpful tips as possible. This post in particular will cover public transportation. i.e Plans, Trains and Automobiles.

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Flights: Honestly, this and hotels will probably the most expensive thing you purchase for the trip. I booked my flight around 4-5 months before my trip, and people have told me it is best to book at least 6 months in advance to get the best prices. The trip can take anywhere from 12-16+ hours depending on if you have any layovers.

Hotels: Hotels may get a bit expensive, but I would suggest that unless you plan on renting a car over there, in which you  need to get a temporary international driver’s license, try to stay anywhere close to a train station. It doesn’t have to be a major train station such as Tokyo Station or Kyoto Station, but one that can get to it in a short amount of time would be easiest. It would make traveling around a lot easier.Usually

There are many types of hotels ranging from Western Style hotels with western beds and accommodations, Japanese style where you sleep on a folded mattress that you unroll onto the floor, or a bathhouse style hotel. In my honest opinion, the floor mattresses were not that bad, but if you have back problems, then maybe you should look for a hotel that has a bed. For my trip, I used the website Airbnb to book my places to stay. If you are unfamiliar with Airbnb, people post up rooms for travelers to come rent. The rooms can range from spare rooms in people’s houses, guest houses, to small hotels/motels. Best of all the rooms range from all prices so you can find any type of room that fits your budget.

I was fortunate enough to stay at small hotels and a bed-and-breakfast guesthouse on a small beach through AirBnb. I found that I paid great rates for all of my stays. However I did also had a friend who specifically tried to find places with western beds, but felt they were too hard, the locations were too sketchy, and some of the places he stayed at had no internet access. Though he paid a very cheap price for the places he stayed at. So depending on your budget, you can end up staying at nice, or not so nice places. Just be sure to read the reviews of the AirBnb locations, and look at the pictures so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Although if you are already spending the money for a trip to the country, I would personally suggest that you might as well spend a bit more for a nicer place to stay at. A personal motto of mine is “I’m didn’t go on vacation to save money.”

Traveling around Japan

Traveling can get tricky, but here’s a few helpful pointers that can make your trip to a foreign country a bit easier.

If you have TMobile as your phone provider, you are able to use Data in Japan no problem, and google maps works as well. I have found it a great life saver for me, and surprisingly, even in remote rural areas of Japan, I was able to get great reception and coverage.

For all of these modes of transportation, depending on the time of day that you take it, things can get very crowded. Think packed like sardines in a can. Just be mindful if people are trying to exit and for people trying to squeeze in. What I found amazing about the Japanese and the trains is that everyone will line up in front of the doors and wait for people to exit the trains before entering. I know that isn’t the case with other places such as the subways in New York where entering and exiting feels like a free for all. So even if you are used to crowding around an entrance way, please be mindful of the Japanese culture and follow their lead.

The busiest times for the trains that I have experienced were between the hours of 7-9am, and around 5-7pm. Pretty much the morning rush hour and the even rush hours. So I do recommend that if you are planning on a day outing somewhere, going as early as possible, say around 7:30 is good just so you don’t have to worry about the crowd. Otherwise, just having a quiet morning and enjoy breakfast, then head out around 9:30-10am. That will allow time for the crowd to die down a bit. Although even if you did, there is usually a particular stop where most of the working Japanese people exit, so you would only need to put up with the crowd until that stop. Note, this will all depend on where you are staying and which direction you are traveling. For example, when I stayed at the Tokyo Bay and wanted to travel to Tokyo Station, I found that my train was really crowded until we reached the Kobe station, 3-4 stops away from Tokyo Station. After that, things were fine. Also take note that this time schedule is for the weekdays. The weekends are a bit of a hit or miss depending on the direction you’re traveling to. I would still suggest that the earlier you head out, the better.

Also please turn your phones to silent, or use earphones. The Japanese people believe that your phone making noises, or talking on your phone while around other people is rude, and there will be signs everywhere requesting that you turn your phone on silent. People also generally don’t talk too much, or at least not loudly to each other on the trains, buses, or subways either.

A lot of the customs in the public transportation is to be mindful of others and the people around you. As long as you keep that in mind, then you will be fine. Although if you end up breaking one of these rules, the people may look at you funny, but will often understand that you are a foreigner and come from a different country with different traditions. And of course, you will see some people not always following some of these customs, which are usually from the younger kids to drunk adults late at night. Although the lining up at the train stations wand waiting for people to exit, everyone does. No one breaks those rules, so I would suggest  you don’t either.

Trains:

The main mode of transportation in Japan, and Japans railway system is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Very punctual and on time, and covers so many areas of Japan that it is possible to get to almost anywhere in Japan using only the railway systems. There are multiple trains running throughout the day, and some of them only stop at particular stations and not at every stop. So be sure to know which line you need to take to reach your destination. The trains operate at around 5am in the morning until around 1am at night. So if you want to hang out late, be sure to not stay out later than that otherwise you’d have to take a taxi or walk back to your room.

JR Railway Pass

What is recommended for people who are staying in Japan for a long period of time, lets say a week or more, is to get something called a JR Pass. JR is one of the few railway companies that owns a majority of the railway lines in Japan. The pass is only sold to foreigners, but you have to purchase one from a Japanese travel agency. The price will vary depending on how many days your pass is good for, either 7, 14 or 21 days long. What the pass offers is access to any JR line trains without paying any additional fees.  You can also purchase the pass to be good to a certain area of Japan, such as North, West or South. So if you’re planning on only staying in a certain area, that may save you some money. I purchased a pass that was good for all of Japan since I was traveling to multiple areas. The Pass does not cover every rail line, and doesn’t cover metros, so those you will still have to pay separately. If you are someone who has traveled to Japan often, then I’m sure you are able to calculate whether it is cheaper to just pay per use of the railways vs the pass, however if it is your first time, I recommend the pass for it’s convenience and also to give you one less thing to worry about.

How the JR pass works is when you purchase your pass at the agency, they will give you a voucher for the pass in which you bring with you to Japan. I recommend doing this when you first arrive at your airport, look for a JR store, present your voucher and passport, and the clerk will give you your pass that is good for however many days you purchased it for from the time that you redeemed your voucher. Now, whenever you enter/exit a train station, look for the window with a personnel. This is usually on the far left, or right side of the exit/entry stalls. Show them just your pass and they’ll let you through. There is no need to show your passport either.
You are able to find train times using a website called http://www.hyperdia.com/en/
that can help you navigate which station to take and exit to reach your destination.
If you have TMobile for your phone services, you can use your google maps to figure this out as well.

Pre-paid Cards

Another option for the passes is to get a prepaid card. There are a few types of pre-paid ic cards such as Suica where you can load it with money so that when you enter/leave a train station, you can just bring the card up to the scanner, which charges your card, and then you can enter/leave the station. Although you have to pay a 500 yen fee to get the card, which you can get at any of their corresponding machines that you can find at most major stations, it is a very fast and convenient way to pay for your train tickets.

Ticket Machines

If you prefer not to get either the pass or ic card, you can also pay for your ticket at each station. There will be a map of your location and all stations nearby. All you need to do is look for the station you want to head to and there will be a price listed of how much your ticket will cost. You just need to go to a ticket machine, some will have English options, select the ticket price you are purchasing, insert your money (it takes both coin yens and bills) and a ticket will pop out. You do not buy the tickets by selecting the station you are exiting, all you just need the correct amount. When entering the station, you look for a stall that has a small ticket reader, insert your ticket and your ticket will pop out from the other side of the stall, usually with a hole punch to indicate that your ticket is validated. When leaving, your repeat the same process only this time, your ticket will not be given back. Pay attention to the stalls. Some of them have both a ticket inserter and a IC card reader, but some will only be good for the IC cards. It may seem intimidating or confusing at first, but it is actually pretty easy once you try it a few times. If you have any questions or complications, look for the personnel window and someone there can help you. From my experience, most of them know a little English.
Some train stations will have multiple types of ticket machines, often color coded. All this means is that some of the machines are for particular train lines with correct prices for that particular line. So you will have to make sure you are purchasing the correct machine for your line.

Here are a few websites for some references if you would like to know more about the JR passes and IC cards.

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2359_003.html

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2359.html

Be sure you are boarding the right train on the right platform. Websites such as Hyperdia or Google Maps work wonders because they tell you which platform to board and it’s destination, so use that to double check that you are on the right train. There are some trains that will skip some exits and only stop at popular exits, so if you end up on the wrong train, you could still reach your destination, but it might take you longer to do so because your train had more stops.

High Speed Bullet Trains/Shinkasens

One of the best things about the JR Pass is that it also includes the bullet trains. This will help you get to locations such as from Tokyo to Kyoto, Kyoto to Hiroshima, and so fourth. Making long travels last as little as 2-3 hours. Trust me, it’s a lot shorter than the regular trains.

There are 2 types of train carts for the bullet trains: Reserved and Non-Reserved carts. Reserved means that you bought your train ticket at the station and it will specifically tell you which cart and seat you are in, as well as what particular time your train is leaving. If you own a JR Pass, you don’t have to pay for this, you just have to wait in line to purchase the ticket, show your pass and tell the worker which train and time you want. If you don’t purchase this, then you just have to make sure you are entering one of the carts that says “non-reserved”. Often it will end up being the first few or last few train carts. All this means is that the seats are first come first served. You can find out which carts are unreserved by looking at the electronic platform sign, which will tell you which train is at which location and which carts are non-reserved. Also, sometimes on the floor, near each train carts exit/entrance, will be painted signs indicating if that cart is a reserved or non-reserved cart. You can also ask a conductor or personnel for which carts are non-reserved as well.

Wide View Nanki – if you find yourself traveling to south of Japan, towards Owase, Kii-Katsuura region, most likely you will be taking this train down there. Because this train uses part of a railway that isn’t owned by JR, those who ride the trains with the JR Pass do have to pay an additional fee of around 800 yen to use it. The easy part is you just have to board the train and sit. When a conductor walks around to check everyone’s tickets, show him your pass, and you can pay either with a credit card or yen.

Subways:

Subways operate just like the train stations in terms of purchasing tickets and entering the stations.The tricky part will be knowing where to exit, as most subway stations are linked to multiple platforms that exit to different streets. Often there is a map that shows you which exit is located at which location that is categorized by letters ranging A-Z. So if you see for example that you need to exit off a particular street that is in the A section, just walk and look on the roof for sights of the letter A, and you’ll find your way.

Color Coded Lines and Stations. 

One of the best things about Japan’s train and subway lines are that most of them are color coded. Meaning, when you look at maps, each line is given a specific color such as red, purple, yellow, green, blue, ect. Google maps shows the same thing as well, so this makes finding your right train/subway very easy and convenient.

Buses: 

Some of the buses operates differently from each other. For some, you enter the bus from the bus stop,  there will be an electronic guide that tells you how much you need to pay to exit at a particular stop, or when you reach your stop, it will tell you how much you need to pay according to which bus stop you entered from.
If you use google maps, it can tell you this fee as well.
When you are approaching your stop, there is a button you can press to signal to the driver that you want to get off at the next exit.
You usually have to pay with exact change, so I would recommend having the bus fees ready ahead of time, or there’s a change machine that can break down your yen bills.
Some of the buses, you pay when you enter the bus, letting the driver know which exit you want to take and pay the driver before entering. There was one bus I took where I paid the driver at the end of the trip.
Be sure to double check to make sure you are taking the correct bus. I took a wrong bus on my trip once; my bus was supposed to arrive at 1pm, but this bus came at around 12:50. I thought my bus just came a bit early, but it turns out it was a different bus all together. From what I have seen, Japansese transportation prides themselves on their punctuality, so it is usually rare for something to arrive early or late. So be sure to double check you are taking the correct line.

Automobiles: 

I personally did not use any taxis on my trip. I was able to get to everywhere I needed using only buses and trains. Mainly trains and then walking to my destination. Although I am not sure of the average rate for the taxis, you do see a lot of them around train stations, so they will be easy to find. I did read somewhere that some taxis can take credit cards as payment, but I will say make sure you have cash too just in case. Similar to restaurants, you do not need to tip the taxi driver. It is unnecessary, and also not wanted either.

To drive in Japan, from what I red online, you will first need to obtain a foreign drivers license. For that you have to get either at your DMV or some DMV style location in your home country, then you can rent a car in Japan to drive around. You can not rent one otherwise. I would recommend googling this, I am not too familiar with this process, but as I stated before, I was able to get around using only trains, buses, and walking so I didn’t do a lot of research into driving.

 

Nagano

After Kyoto, my next stop was to stay in an Onsen (Japanese hot spring) hotel called Koishiya in Yudanaka, which is in the Nagano prefecture.

This area is most famous for its bathhouses, hot springs, and it’s location is near areas to go skiing and to see snow monkeys. The town itself is small, and not much is in the town in terms of a night life. However, the architecture is of traditional style, and the look of a more feudalistic/classical Japan vibe that the city gave off was too much to pass up on. Also most of the hotels in the area gives their guests yukatas and wooden sandles to walk around in. A great place to come, relax, and slow down. While in Kyoto, I found myself always moving, and this was the first time since my trip began where I was finally able to stop, take a deep breath, and truly the fact that I’m in another country.

If you are familiar with Asian bathhouses, then these bathhouses and onsens will not be new. If you’re not, then this may be an uncomfortable experience as you do get naked to go into the bathing areas. They are gender separated though, and it’s ok if you don’t feel comfortable doing something like this. However I will say that from my experience, the  culture there doesn’t have a shame or humiliation feeling about being naked in that way. In fact, some of the locals living in the area don’t have showers in their homes and so goes to these bath houses to wash themselves. Everyone minds their own business and no one stares/glares at you because to them it’s nothing new.  I would say give it a try at least once in your life. You may find that it’s not as bad as you may have thought.

The Snow Monkeys were cute to see. The walk up to Snow Monkey park was a bit of a trek, but it was still an enjoyable walk. Again I’m just amazed at how clean the path was and Japan’s custom to to not liter. A good time to see these monkeys are in the Winter time as there will be snow, and they will all bathe themselves in the pond/hotsprings. Do dress warm as the weather tends to be on the colder side.

I also spent some of my day in the Nagano area itself, visiting Zenko-ji temple and looking at some of the shops nearby. Nagano is famous for it’s apples, and if you find yourself in the area during the Summer seasons, look out for apple festivals. This is also the only location where you can find apple flavored kit kats.

Overall I loved my stay in the Nagano prefecture and I enjoyed the downtime that I was able to get here. I only stayed 2 nights myself and felt that that was all that was needed. Since my trip was only about 2 weeks in length, I did not wanted to stay too many days here otherwise I would feel that I didn’t see enough or do enough on my trip. One night wouldn’t have been enough to enjoy the area, but 2 nights was perfect.

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Tokyo

Tokyo was a beast of it’s own to behold. There was so much to do and to see in the city itself that one could easily make a week long trip staying in just Tokyo itself and still feel that there’s a lot more to do and to see. This city pretty much has everything to accommodate everyone’s interest. What made me really fall in love with the city though, was for all the anime themed attractions. As a fan of anime, and Japanese animation, I couldn’t help but to feel really at home here.

Disneyland

Starting off this list of things in Tokyo is the Tokyo Disneyland. While smaller in size to America’s Disneyland, the amusement park was still very nice to see, housing a lot of similar rides as to it’s American counterpart. One of the few differences was Japan’s love for Stitch and Monsters Inc. Not only were there more merchandises of these two franchises, but Japan’s Tiki Room sings songs from the Lilo and Stitch soundtrack, and their Monsters Inc ride was more interactive. People on the ride had flashlights that they use to shine on the monster’s helmets to get them to do things and move. They also had the country bears, which was removed from the US Disneyland many years ago. Great to see, once you get over the fact of seeing western country bears singing and speaking in Japanese. And best of all, it was a lot cheaper to get into the park than in America. The Disney castle here is based off of Cinderella’s castle. I did not know this beforehand, but the castles in the Disneylands around the world are all based of different castles. i.e. Disneyland California is based of Sleaping Beauty’s castle.

There is also the Disney Tokyo Sea amusement park, which is their version of America’s California Adventure in terms of being another park sitting next to Disneyland. The theme of Tokyo Sea was more aquatic themed rides, a huge emphasis on Duffy the Bear, and also has the Tower of Terror and Indiana Jones rides.

A definite must for any Disneyfans. The only downside is that once you leave the train station that takes you to the area, you have to take the Disney Monorail to get to the park itself, which is separate from the train pass that you may have. Although it’s inexpensive anyways. I stayed at the Hilton in Tokyo Bay, so I ended up purchasing a 4 day pass for the Monorail since I needed to take the monorail constantly to get to and from my hotel anyways.

J World and Pokemon Center Tokyo 

Located right next to each other, the J World is a mini amusement park all themed around the comic books found in Shonen Jump. (Dragonball, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach to name a few)
Japan loves the anime One Piece, which I love as well, so this place was perfect to feed my anime nerdy needs. You have the option of paying to get into the park or going in for free, but any rides/mini games you have to pay separately. If you want to go just to see the place and maybe buy some souvenirs or eat at the anime themed restaurants there, then there’s no need to pay. However, if you want to try some of the mini games, then pay the admission fee for it will definitely be worth it.

There is also a cheaper ticket if you come into the park in the evening, after 6pm I believe. However, one thing I discovered about Japan is that even if a store says it is closed at 10pm, pretty much 9:30 is when people start leaving and the workers may try to hurry you up to leave. It’s different than here in the States where if a business closes at 10, they essentially will stay open right until the last minute and don’t rush anyone out until closing time itself. I suppose it is a courtesy aspect of the Japanese people.

The Pokemon Center in Tokyo, for some reason, I thought would be bigger. It was a descent size, but I would say it didn’t feel too much larger than the Pokemon Center in Osaka. Some of the Pokemon centers do sell different products than others, and I thought that the Tokyo one would be the largest and house pretty much everything. I bought myself a mini snorlax plushie I found back in Hiroshima Pokemon Center, which I didn’t see here at the Tokyo one. So my suggestion is that if you see a product from one of the centers you like, best to get it there than think “oh another location will have it” because there is a chance that it will not.

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Ikebukuro 

This is located near the J World so I decided to walk over to this area. It was only about a 15-20 min walk. There are a few anime malls in the area you can check out as well, though I would say I prefer Akihabara for it’s atmosphere to do anime shopping.

One thing you should stop by here near the Ikebukuro train station is the KitKat Chocolatory store. It took me a little while to find it, but if you find yourself at the station and seeing a lot of make up stores, then you are on the right track. You just have to find an escalator to go one floor down, to where you can see a lot of food being sold. The KitKat Chocolatory is on that floor and this is where you can go buy more high end flavors of KitKats such as Passion Fruit Chili, Maple Strawberry, and Butter to name a few. They make great gifts for people. I myself bought two sets of multi flavored Kit Kats for a friend and for my coworkers. As strange as this may sound, my favorite flavor is Butter. It’s a white chocolate KitKat but testes richer and was suprisingly delicious.

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Akihabara

Often called the Electric City. Filled with lots of department stores, multiple stories tall, selling anything from beauty products, suitcases, and clothes to anime figurines and models. There are also a lot of maid cafes here with ladies dressed up in maid outfits advertising for you to eat at their location. It is up to you if you want to go for that or not. There are also a lot of arcade machine games to win anime figurines or plushies that are open fairly late. This town is big on the anime and collectibles community as there are tons of shops specializing in trading card shop, figurines, plastic models, and anime collectibles. And this is all within a block away from the train station. Those who are a fan of Gundams can eat or purchase gundam related products, minus the models, at the Gundam Cafe located just outside the station.

Studio Ghibli Museum

I will describe how to get tickets to Studio Ghibli in another post, but for now I will say that visiting the museum was magical. A definite must if you are a fan of Hayo Miazaki and his work. Upon entering, you are given a 3 picture film reel from one of his films as your “ticket” into the museum. The entire place is themed around his work. There is a giant Totoro Standing in front of the museum, a giant robot from Castle in the Sky located on the rooftops, lots of pictures and decor relating to his films as well as a theater area where you can view six animated shorts that Miazaki created for the museum. You can not see any of these elsewhere, and they are randomly chosen on the day you visit as well. The short I got to see was of 6 sumo wrestling mice. Very kawaii.
There is a gift shop here as well, selling many Ghibili related products such as plushies, cards with ghibli artwork, pins, stationaries, models, and much more. Though it may get crowded at times. There is also a restaurant and to go eating area just outside the museum to eat as well. I decided to get a beer there that the label was designed by Miazaki’s son. A great novelty gift to take home with me to remember my visit there, even though I wasn’t the hugest fan of the beer. It was too hoppy for my taste.

You are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum though. So please be respectful of their wishes. You can take as many pictures as you want of the outside of the Museum though.

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Odaiba

If you watch anime at all, this is where you can find the Odaba TV Station and giant Ferris Wheel is. This is also where you can find the mini amusement park Gundam Front, which is all themed around Gundams. And also where you can see the giant, lifesized Gundam. If you are a fan of the franchise, definitely stop by here and enjoy the view. You can also find a lot of Japan exclusive Gundam models here as well for it’s retail price. Trying to purchase them outside of Japan usuall means there’s a price increase of anywhere from $40-80 since you can only find it in Japan. To get here, you do have to take a different train station, which is fairly pricey in comparison to the other train stations. But definitely worth the money for true fans. There’s also a One Piece themed restaurant on the 7th floor of the TV station based on the character Sanji’s first restaurant the Baratie. Unfortunately for me, they were closed for a private party so I wasn’t able to try the place out.

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Kobe Beef at Kaiseki 511

My final night in Tokyo and in Japan and I decided to spoil myself by eating Kobe Beef, something that you can only authentically get here in Japan. The Kobe beef in the States is apparently just called Wagu, which is just Kobe Beef style beef, but is not the authentic thing. From what my waitress told me, there is a lot of marbling, fat, and tenderness to the meat, so it is very hard to export the beef. Though it was pricey, it was definitely worth my money as not only was the beef so tender, so well cooked, and was essentially butter in my mouth, but there was so much flavor and depth to the meat. Because of the price tag, I may not eat here the next time I go to Japan, and I do know you can buy kobe beef foods from street vendors and other food shops as well for a fairer price. If that is something that fits your budget better, or if you’re only slightly interested in trying Kobe Beef, then that should be fine. However, if you want to try something that you really can not get anywhere else, and try food that will truly lift your taste buds, then I would recommend going to a fine dining restaurant to get the Kobe Beef. Even though my meal was on the pricey side, around $200 since I wanted to get the larger steak portion, I know that if this dish was in America, I’d be paying $500 for the dish. Overall, I am very happy with the price I pay for food in Japan. I never once felt that I was being over charged for anything, plus the service I receive is always amazing. I may not have been the richest guy to walk into the restaurant, but I never once felt that they treated me any differently than their richer customers, and was given exceptional service from beginning to the end of my meal.

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Don’t worry, it was a 4-5 course meal, so don’t think I paid $200 for just the steak.

 

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And that pretty much sums up my trip to Japan. I had an incredible experience and was able to explore so much of Japan. From cultural to the modern, countryside to city, and from sushi to kobe beef, I loved every single minute I was there and can not wait for the day that I return. There were a lot about my trip that I did not posted up, mainly because I didn’t want to write too much. Hopefully my posts will help people get ideas for their own trip and if anybody ever has any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment or just send me an email and I’d be glad to help. I also think the site links to my facebook, so you can always shoot me a message there too. Just put Japan in the message so I know. Happy Traveling!

 

From April 8th – April 22nd, I was fortunate enough to take a 2 week trip to Japan and I have to say it is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. Granted, I haven’t don’t much overseas traveling in my life, but hopefully this will be a start of something new with my life.

As much as I want to talk about my love for the country, I do want to try to make this post informative and descriptive without being too over zealous about my feelings nor too long in length. The goal of this post is to inform, and hopefully give people some insight and ideas should they plan their own trip to Japan. Without further ado, lets get started.


 

I specifically chose to the date to travel so that I could go to Japan when the Cherry Blossoms, or Sakura trees, were in bloom. They bloom around March – April time, and if you are only able to travel once to Japan, going during this season is a great time. Not only are the trees planted in so many areas in Japan, but it truly makes the view of everything breath taking.

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Kyoto Region

Kyoto was an interesting city to see. There were lots of buildings, of both new and traditional architecture, electric wires, with a lot of trees growing in between buildings. A balance of housing and nature was breathtaking to see.

The 4 areas I will be covering in this post are the Fushimi Inari Shrine of Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Hiroshima

Fushimi Inari Shrine

So my first stop to Japan was in the capital of Kyoto, staying about 10 min walk away from Inari Station, the train station directly across from the Fushimi Inari Shrine, most famous for it’s red gates.

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It is a great first stop and pretty much a must see/tourist attraction for tourists. Also conveniently located directly across from the Inari Station, so traveling here is very easy. The area is like a giant park that leads upwards to a hill, as well as a lot of open areas to walk around. There is even a shrine where Shinto ceremonies are often performed. Beautiful to walk around and enjoy the cultural and nature loving side of Japan. Also a good area to take pictures, either with the gates or among the forest. One interesting thing you can do here, or most other temples, is purchase a small wooded red gate where you write your name and wishes on it. Though I am not sure of the exact reason, there are many different areas around the park where you can place your gate and leave. I believe the idea is that you’re praying for your wish to come true. I took mine home because I wanted a souvenir. There are also fortunes you can purchase, which sadly are all in Japanese, so if you get one, try to find someone to translate for you. I went on a weekend and there were lots of food stands selling assortments of hot foods. Make sure to bring cash as most places will not take card. There are also lots of shops nearby, selling all sorts of souvenirs. There was a store that sold chopsticks where they will engrave your name onto them, either in English, Japanses, or both if you desire. There was definitely a chopstick with my name on it at that shop. Zing!
Overall, I do think people can spend a good couple hours here, probably not an all day excursion, but half a day I think is good. Perfect if you want to plan on seeing multiple areas of Kyoto in one day. There are a few other temples around Kyoto to see as well. Though you can definitely make this place an all day excursion if you like. Make sure to bring water as the hike might make you thirsty, especially on a warm day.

I did took the time to just walk around the city, and just exploring the neighborhoods and finding beauty wherever I walked. As Ferris Bueller once stated:

“Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

This was honestly one of my favorite parts of Japan and I would recommend to anyone to try this. The Cherry Blossoms really made the exploration worth the effort. At one point, I found an old man reading a book along the waters, just relaxing and enjoying himself. There was something about it that amazed me, and I think it is because here in the States, we live a very fast pace life style, most don’t even think about sitting down in a remote area to just read a book. Take some time to take in the fact that you’re in a different country and truly enjoy and embrace all the different beauties that this country has to offer.

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Osaka


I like to describe Osaka as a grey city, meaning not as much of a combination of nature and buildings like Kyoto, but lots of tall business buildings and Japanese business men walking around. Despite this, there is still a lot of things to do here and nearby. I took the train line from Kyoto Station to Osaka Station, which took maybe 20 min to get there. Not far at all.

If you are a Pokemon fan, then definitely stop by the Pokemon Center at Osaka Station. Once you exit the trains and find yourself in the shopping plaza inside the station area, just look for an elevator. I forget which floor the Pokemon center is exactly, but there were signs and a directory near the elevator that will tell you which floor the Pokemon center is in.

My next stop was the Ando Cup Noodle Museum. To get here from Osaka Station, you have to take a train line that isn’t part of the JR Pass (I will get more into this in a later post) so you have to pay separately to use it, but it honestly is not expensive anyways.

At the Cup Noodle Museum, you can see the history of the Cup Noodle, there are English programs here, and for 300 yen, you can make your own cup noodle, color and decorate however you wish, and customize the flavors and ingredients for your cup noodle. Workers will tell you to eat the noodles within 3 months or it will go bad. A fun activity for anyone who lived off ramen noodles in college, I would definitely recommend. Plus it is free to enter, you only have to pay for the cup noodle should you wish to get one.

Osaka is also home to the Osaka Castle, a beautiful castle from the Sengoku (feudal) era of Japan. It has a giant moat, and is located inside a giant park, which is amazing to walk around and see. The castle has a museum which closes at around 4-5pm. Be aware of the time if you plan to go, because I wasn’t and didn’t arrived on time. There is also a statue of Tokugawa Ieyasu in the park, the warlord who pretty much conquered everyone, unified and ruled Japan in the Sengoku era.

Hankyu Umeda is a giant, 7 story department store located right next to Osaka Station. The different floors offered different products and is definitely fun to browse around for gifts. The floors range from electronics, clothes, video games, plastic models, anime figurines and collectables. It was here that I bought some shoe insoles, which really helped because I realized I was doing a lot of walking and my feet, knees and legs were starting to hurt. Imagine how sore your feet are walking around Disneyland, now do that for multiple days in a row. So unless you have legs of steel, I would definitely recommend investing in some insoles, if anything to help ease your legs.

For dinner, I ate at a restaurant called Chayamamchi Maguroya, famous for selling fresh fatty tuna, and is ridiculously cheap! Well, I found it really cheap. Most plates were around 700 yen (less than 7 us dollars), and the tuna cuts were nice and think as well. They also have Kirin Beer on tap, and I say it is my favorite Japanese beer. Very smooth and and light. Perfect for anyone interested in eating very fresh cuts of fish including Tuna, Salmon and Uni.

It did took a little while to find, and my google maps originally gave me the wrong directions as I had problems finding an exact address. I was able to find the place using the directions given by this blog. The place is a Japanese bar style, so their hours are 5pm – 2am. So don’t go there early like I.

3 Specialty Izakaya Restaurants with Bizarre Offerings to Try in Osaka

The blog lists 3 different restaurants, it is the first restaurant listed and the directions on it, I found the most helpful to find the restaurant.
You can also use this blog to look at better pictures of the food and also some pictures of the restaurant to help you find it.

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Tuna at Osaka’s Chayamamchi Maguroya

Osaka was an amazing city to explore and eat. There are a lot of different places to eat, and next to the station, on the streets, are many ally ways of restaurants ranging from ramen, sushi, okonomiyaki, to even a Yoshinoya. Don’t be fooled though, the menu looks a lot more appetizing than the menu here in the States (sorry if I offend any Yoshinoya fans out there). Though I did not go, Universal Studios Osaka is here as well, which does have their Harry Potter world available as well as a lot of anime related products. Particularly if you are a fan of Evangelion, there is a 4D ride based on the series there as well as a lot of merchandise from the show.

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Nara

Nara is a very old and traditional town that is most famous for having a large park with wild deers. Fans of Naruto can easily make the connection between Nara and deers.
Nara is actually the oldest prefecture in Japan (according to my rickshaw driver so don’t quote me on that), so there are a lot of old traditions in the city. One of them is their respect for deers, which in old customs, deers were sacred as they were believed to be sent from the gods. Though the deers are accustomed to people and you can buy biscuits for 150 yen to feed the deers. They are so used to people that most will bow to you in hopes that you feed it. Very kawaii-desu.
The deers will start crowding you when they see you have food, and will not hesitate to nip at you to feed them. My shirt became a little more holey after my trip here if you know what I mean, so just a tip, you might not want to wear your nicest closes here. Just do not antagonize the deers as they are wild so they can bite or headbutt you. Their antlers are shaven down so at least you don’t have to worry about getting skewered.

To get to the park, take the train to Nara Station, and you will have to walk a bit to get to the park. The walk is maybe 20 min at most, not far plus you walk through an area where cars do not enter, so the walk is nice. Plus you pass by a lot of stores and shops. As a traditional town, there are a few shops that sell caligraphy products if you’re into that. There are also lots of pachinko (pinball slot machines) here if you like to play those as well. If you walk through some of the ally ways, you will find a some clothing, souvenire shops, and restaurants ranging from Sushi, Shabu Shabu, Onokomiyaki, Ramen, a McDonalds, and even a vietnamese restaurant.

The park is very large and not only are their deers to feed, there is also a temple with a very large Buddha statue. You do have to pay to get in, but it is nice to see if you are into it.
At this part, I found a rickshaw driver to show us the area a bit and drop us off at the Buddha temple. Though it wasn’t the cheapest, I did not regret my decision. He was very nice, spoke a good amount of english, showed us some nice spots to take pictures, and even game us both handkerchiefs  as a present (which came in VERY handy as I will explain in a different post). His name was Kazu, and was a very present guy to  meet and talk to. He even showed us filming spots that are popular in Asian and samurai films.

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Closeby to the Buddha temple is another temple that you can walk through. To get to it, look for the red gates located nearby and follow the path until you reach the spot. You do have to go up some steps, but the view from the top is amazing. Nara has a lot of forests, hills, and trees, and the combination of forests and temples is truly a sight to behold. And to me, it felt like a bit of a pilgrimage. Most of my friends who came to Nara only stayed at the park to feed the deers and left, but if you would like to truly experience the beauty of Nara beyond the deers, then take the extra time and extra hours of the day to see the Buddah statue and temple above the steps. The walk back might seem like a trek, but be sure to stop by some of the shops for some gifts. There are a few deer related items that you can only find here. Also, there is a strawberry mochi food item that I think was around 150-200 yen. It is a big fat strawberry and the mochi is filled with red bean. It was absolutely delicious, definitely worth it and buy at least 2 because you will be scarfing them down pretty fast. The strawberry was very fresh and the mochi tasted freshly made.

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I ended up spending the entire day at Nara, but you can definitely make it a half day drip if you only want to see the deer. It does take a little while to get here from the trains, I believe it was about 30-40 min, so I didn’t mind spending the entire day here. Just like Kyoto, the cherry blossoms located at multiple areas of the park really highlighted the beauty of Nara Park.

Hiroshima

The final area that I will be covering in this post. A town that reminded me the most of home (Orange County). The streets here were wide and what seems like you would want to either drive or take the bus to get to places. Other cities felt more compact so you would walk everywhere. Hiroshima had more of a suburb feel to it. Hiroshima was about a 1.5-2 hour train ride from Kyoto Station, taking the bullet train. Though it is a little far, definitely worth the trip.

The goal of my trip here was to see the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which was bit of a walk from Hiroshima Station. Of course you could take one of the many buses to the park, but if you want to be an explorer like me, it is about a 20 min walk to the park. Or for me, it was about 40 min because I kept stopping at random shops. Along the way, there are neighborhoods with lots of shops, restaurants, and souvenir stores. One in particular was the Shonen Jump Shop, which if you are a fan of the Shonen Jump Mangas (Dragonball, Naruto, One Piece to name a few), this shop is a definite must see. The merchandise is only Shonen Jump related and you can not find anywhere other than Japan. Don’t worry if you don’t stop here though because there are multiple Jump Stores in other cities as well.

The park itself was very peaceful and nice, filled with lots of memorial shrines dedicated to those lost from the bombing. The museum was free to enter and you can see pictures from the bombing, a database of those who perished and survived the bombing as well as documents and audio recordings from survivors of the bombing and their experience from it. It may not have been the easiest to listen to, but it does give you the perspective of Japan’s desire for peace and a world without weapons of mass destruction.

Not in the park itself, but very close to it on the street area is a clinic that was the center point of the nuclear blast. It was a clinic when the bomb stuck and is one day, as a symbol of Japan’s desire to move forward from the tragic event.

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On a random note, while walking through the Hiroshima Park, if anyone is familiar with the Youtube channel Screwattack, I saw someone who looked a lot like Boomstick (Chad James), and was very tempted to say hi or shout out “It’s time for a death battle!” but decided not to because I figure it wasn’t the guy and didn’t want to bother him. Turns out, it was him, and I am so disappointed in myself for not saying anything. So if you’re somehow reading this Mr Boomstick, hope you had a great time in Japan, and I love your channel!

Be sure to try the Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki, the restaurant that is popular for this is located very closeby to the park entrance. You will most likely spot it from the line of people in front of it. If you’re lucky enough to get there when it is not crowded, I recommend. If not, there are other places that sell it as well.

Other places to see around Hiroshima are the Hiroshima Pokemon Center and Hiroshima castle. There you can pay to enter the castle museum, learn about Hiroshima’s history, take pictures wearing Japanese clothing and samurai armor (which totally makes me look manly btw), and when you reach the top, get a nice view from the castle’s highest floor.

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Definitely a day trip on its own because of it’s distance from Kyoto, but a definite must for those who are interested in the Peace Memorial park. Though there were other things in the area to do as well, I do understand if people skip out of Hiroshima because they feel it might be too depressing. Let me at least say that the park did not projected an atmosphere of depression or sadness; rather one of reflection. I felt that people there more reflected on what happened, and feel that the best way to honor those lost is to move forward to a better future. This was what I took from Hiroshima, and hopefully, you can take in something soulful as well.

 

That is all for now, my next posts will be of my trip to the country side of Japan and of Tokyo.

 

 

 

So I realize that I have quite a few draft posts I never finished, but now that I have some free time (Got into grad school, left my old job (yay!), and applied to a few internships)
I decided to revisit some of my old blog drafts to finish them. So there’ll be a few random blog updates, from movies, shows, maybe another Game of Thrones one, to my recent trip to Japan 2 months ago as well as one about tips for planning a trip to Japan. There were a lot of things I wish I knew while planning the trip and I thought I’d share some of them for others like me who are traveling/want to travel for the first time and are not really sure where to start or what to consider. Anyway expect a few more blog posts in the near future, and for now, here’s one about one my favorite TV shows. Enjoy.

 

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*Note, this was written on February 16th, 2016.

So yesterday, February 15th, 2016, on Presidents day, and also a perfect way for met to end my long weekend before coming back to work (which btw was filled with family and asian new years, valentines day, and a doctor who convention), was the series finale of one of my favorite shows of all time; Gravity Falls.

Gravity-Falls

Words can’t express how I feel about the end of this series, so I figure I’ll let out my thoughts on my blog. I can hardly imagine I only discovered this series in April of 2015 when one of my best buds introduced me to the show, and I was instantly hooked! The humor, the mystery, all the nerdy references, and the characters! I absolutely loved every single one of the characters on this show (especially Grunkle Stan), and it’s one of the reasons why I fell in love with the series.

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Grunkle Stan, truly an inspiration for everyone.

Without trying to spoil too much, in case some of you haven’t heard of or watched the finale yet, my heart was filled with so many emotions watching the finale. I was eager to see it, as I’ve been waiting to see the conclusion since November of 2015, joyful to see the series go off on a strong note, and at the same time, really saddened as well.

This next part contains some spoilers so if you don’t want any spoilers, go ahead and scroll pass this section

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Overall there were some things I wished the series answered. Dipper’s real name, if there’s any significance to Dipper’s scar, what happens to time now that the Time Baby was killed, if Grunkle Stan can regain his memories, does that mean Bill might be able to return as well? And is there any significance with the Zodiac? The concept was introduced and shut down in literally 5 minutes.

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But despite all the questions I still have at the end of the episode, I still loved how the series concluded. The finale had closure for some of the characters, tied up some loose ends, made lots of cameos and references to previous episodes, kind of like how Dipper and Mabel’s (the two main characters) adventures had all been leading up to this final confrontation.

It was awesome to see and the finale had fitting conclusions to all of our favorite characters. And just as in real life, everything must come to an end, and so must the Mystery Twins’ summer in Gravity Falls. For me, the saddest goodbye came from between Mabel and Waddles, I almost burst into tears. And as I watched the characters leave their beloved summer home, and the end credits rolled away, I felt conflicted. I did not want the series to end. I only just discovered the show and it felt like Gravity Falls left as quickly as it began. Though I do agree with Alex Hirsh’s decision to conclude his show on his own terms, and the way he envisioned it. He wanted his show to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and did not want the series to be something that went on for many seasons. And of course it’s fantastic to see Gravity Falls leave on a high note, instead of ending after becoming dull or boring.

I do hope the series gets a continuation in some way shape or form, such as how Avatar the Last Airbender continues in the comics to show what happens after the series ends. I hope they do the same with Gravity Falls. There’s still so much I want to know. I want to know what lies ahead for Dipper and Mable. Does Dipper become just like his great uncle, is it really the end of Bill, do the twins return next summer? Also…*spoiler alert*  I really want to know how Dipper and Wendy’s relationship develops. Doesn’t mean they have to get together one day, although I wouldn’t be against the idea of that when the two of them are a bit older, but even if Wendy does start seeing someone, I want to see Dipper develop and learns to accept it as a man. Basically, I want to see the twins grown up. The entire series is about the end of childhood, how everything can’t always stay the same, and how no matter how hard we try, we have to face the future and move forward often meaning to letting go of the past and facing the future.

For me, I think that is what I am taking the most with me from this show. I have always loved animations and shows ever since I was young. To be honest, I often feel that the morals that I have growing up came more from the things I watch on TV then from my parents. (If any of you have the typical asian parents at home, then you probably know that a lot of asian parents and children are not emotionally close. Most asian parents are very hard working and grew up in an era and country where children and parents don’t often speak emotionally to each other.) Growing up, I always believed in loyalty, the values of friendship, putting others before myself, a strong sense of justice, and the belief that in doing what’s right even if it’s not the easiest choice. I watched a lot of anime, cartoons, power rangers, and comic books related shows as a kid and back in the 90’s, shows always liked to have morals attached to each episode. Even now that I am older, and my mind is a little more open to how the real world works, I still try to embody the lessons I learned from these shows. It may not be realistic, and too idealistic for most people, but it’s how I choose to live my life, and in the end, you just have to be happy with your life, no matter what you choose or what other people say.

Anyway, I hope people who watch Gravity Falls can take with them the value of growing up, and moving forward with life. Things don’t stay the same forever, and you’d be surprise how much you can still learn even as you grow older and feel wiser. So I hope people can take and learn from this series just as much as I did.

I love the series, will not hesitate to recommend to anyone to watch the show, and will not stop expressing my love for Gravity Falls. It is very well written, has great and memorable characters, great humor, a lot of heart, and a good show for anyone who is a fan of sci fi, math, science, and fantasy. (Almost reminds me of Futurama, another series I love)

Now here’s a little comic strip I found online. Thanks for reading, and remember,
I put the Fun, in No Refunds!

Toodles.

gravity falls high school

*Alert*
The following:

1) Contains spoilers. If you have not caught up with Season 5 of Game of Thrones, or read up to A Dance of Dragons in the books, the following will contain some spoilers.

2) This is meant to be a parody and comedy analysis of the series. I am mainly speaking sarcastically and of course jokingly, so please don’t get offended or offer counter arguments on how my analysis is wrong. There are so many youtube videos/blogs about Game of Throne theories out there and I just wanted to do something a little different. If you at least cracked a smile reading this, then my job was a success!

Anyway on to the post! Cue entry!

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Dun dun, dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun, dun dun
DUUUN, DUNNN, DUN DUN DUUUN, DUNNN, DUN DUN DUN
Dun dun, dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun, dun dun

Ok so you’ve most likely already finished watching season 5 of Game of Thrones that had audiences in such agony that TV/Laptops everywhere were being tossed to the walls from the agonies of everyone’s favorite character on his death bed.

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Ahahahaha….. tragic…

Anywho, book readers have had 4 years knowing this was going to happen and must have been watching with tears of joy as us series watchers/non-book readers watched in utter shock as Jon was stabbed by his own men, saying to ourselves “he’s not dead…he can’t be dead…MARTIN YOU SON OF A… *insert profanity of choice* .. ”

The internet banded together, series watchers and book readers all around, analyzing the situation, rewatching the finale, and searching for clues as to how Jon could survive his fate. Theories go from Melissandre resurrecting Jon, Jon warging into Ghost, even analysis onto his pupils during his death and trying to figure it out if his eyes dilated or turned a different color (possibly signifying some hidden power or something unique about his bloodline).
I think by now everyone’s heard of the theory about Jon’s real parents *cough Stark and Targarean cough* and some would feel he can’t possibly be dead as he has a larger role to play in the wars to come with the White Walkers. Also George RR Martin has yet to confirm the characters death. And lets not forget Sam telling Gilly before leaving to train as a Maester: “Don’t worry. He always comes back.” So there is a good chance that Jon might not be dead.

Or… maybe that’s just what Martin wants you to believe as his evil master plan unfolds!

Me personally, I was saddened and a little upset to see Jon killed. He had such a rough life so far, Mother not liking him, father and uncle both telling him they’d talk about his mother only to die/disappear, people who gave a damn about him dying (Rob, Lord Commander Mormont), having the chance to avenge his family with Stannis, and falling in love but loosing her to… OLLY!!!!! That evil child killed both Ygritte and Jon! And of course his brothers turning on him for showing compassion to wildlings.
The character was dealt such a bad hand in life but he kept on fighting and not letting anything stand in his way. He was the Stark that constantly chose his duty over love, and I believed there was a lot of potential for his character; consistently being offered the choices to take the easy way out but always choosing the hard path. So it was quite painful to see him die off and seeing how his story line ends so abruptly without any resolve/conclusion for the character.

Even though I was saddened, I guess I’m so used to Game of Thrones now that I sort of brushed it off after a while. I mean there’s been so many characters you can’t help but love only to get killed off by the end of the season. Yes it stinks, but honestly, that’s the type of world Martin as created. That’s just the reality and whether we like it or not, his world is not a fairy tale and that’s what makes his series so unique and likable.

There’s also a theory going around as to why the books are called A Song of Fire and Ice
Here’s a hint:

jon_snow_by_darkfong-d4coily daenerys_targaryen_by_linxz2010-d61v3j3

With the series focusing a lot of Daenerys and Jon’s storylines, one can’t help but to feel that the Fire and Ice part of the title is about Danny and Jon respectively. And hey, it makes perfect sense plus the theories of Jon’s parents ties the two characters together.

But what if we’ve been looking at the whole picture wrong?

It’s true that Martin has yet to confirm or deny Jon’s death and there’s a lot of evidence that he might survive, plus the series title about Ice and Fire does make sense that Danny and Jon are set to play a larger role in the story, but lets consider this fact.

There have been other characters who’s death made audiences around the world think “he’s not dead… he can’t be dead. There’s no way!” Case in point: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Catelyn Stark, Oberyn Martell, and I’m sure some of you have thought the same with Princess Shireen.

And lets be honest, it would not come to that much of a surprise if Martin essentially flips everyone a huge middle finger and lets Jon stay dead and ends his story right then and there.

Martin has stated he wants readers to be on the edge of their seats when they read the series and I don’t think it’s beyond him to end the entire series with everyone dying, White Walkers winning, or maybe Daenerys storms in with her dragons and burns everything to the ground, killing everyone! Basically Marin trolls readers for the past 20+ years and kills every main character at the end of the book. And you know what, I think that makes perfect sense.

Maybe the Ice in the title isn’t referring to Jon, but the White Walkers. Maybe they’re meant to invade, take over, and destroy everything, covering the land in total ice, winter, and death. They pretty much seem impossible to defeat and with everyone in Westeros so busy fighting each other and not even paying much attention to the problems North of the Wall, I think it’d make perfect sense for Westeros to fall under everyone’s own greed and pride. I mean everyone who tries to do the right thing ends up dying so maybe it’s all a metaphor for whats to happen. Also it wouldn’t make too much sense for Danny to storm over to Westeros and take over, she doesn’t know anybody there. But she is known in the lands of Essos. Wouldn’t it make more sense for her to claim and rule over all of Essos with the fires of her dragons raging on and burning all of her adversaries in fire and blood? The entire world will be ruled under Ice and Fire, completing the prophecy of of George RR Martin and the final book ends with Tyrion narrating the entire story as a bard to a few of children survivors and finishes with “and that children…is a song of fire and ice” (Yes Tyrion is too awesome of a character to die, so I think he’ll live throughout the entire series) If this is honesty how the series ends, it would be Martin pretty much trolling the entire fanbase, be a huge flip of the bird to everyone, make everyone scream “no this can’t be how it ends, that character can’t die”, and would catch everyone off guard and prove that the series is definitely not a fairy tale. Pretty much what he’s been doing since the series began! So hey, maybe my theory isn’t too far fetched. It doesn’t fall beyond the realms of what Martin has done so far. And maybe A song of fire and ice was not meant to have a happy ending, but to be a divine tragedy.

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“I hoped everyone enjoyed my story…this is for all the death threats and telling me how I should write my own books!”

Maybe he just wants to teach everyone a big lesson, that if we as a species can not look beyond our own greed, pride, and ambitions to see the larger picture, or set aside personal goals and beliefs to transcend prejudiced and hate for one another and band together to face a greater threat to the world, then everyone is doomed to parish. And we’d have no one to blame but ourselves when it’s too late.

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“I bring jobs, unity, peace, ever lasting life, and a descent benefits package…and yet I’m the bad guy of the series?”

Or if that ending’s too upsetting for you, here’s a few alternative endings that I have thought of as well.

  • White Walkers takes control of Danny’s dragons and rides around all of Westeros shooting ice and fire!
  • The Lord of Light that Melissandre worships turns out to be Martin himself appearing in his own series, holding what is essentially a DeathNote (like the anime) with the ability to write the deaths of any character in his notebook and it comes true. He kills every character except for Reek/Theon Greyjoy, because apparently no one remembers what his name is so Martin can’t write his name in his death note. (joke reference to the Game of Thrones RPG by Collegehumor on Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hftnySHVnF0)
  • It turns out to be Hodor was the reincarnation of Azor Ahai, or the Messiah of Game of Thrones the entire time Hodor does rhyme with Azor. (Personally I want this to be the ending)
  • The series ends with Bran waking up from his coma and there’s a bard signing to him beside his bed.
  • Or what I’m sure is a lot of people’s favorite, the Starks all come back to life, Arya comes back as a kickass assassin, Sansa…. can just sit somewhere I guess with Theon braiding each other’s hairs, Bran wargs into a Man-Bear-Pig, Rickon comes with northerners who are loyal to the Stark family, and they all attack with an army of animals, ancient people, and dire wolves and kills everyone! THE NORTH REMEMBERS!

So that’s my take on Game of Thrones. As I stated in the beginning, yes this was a comedic analysis of the series, so please don’t get too offended. However I would definitely laugh my @ss off if I end up being partially correct,

Bit shout out to one of my best friends, Kevin K Nguyen for brainstorming with me on these crazy ideas. He’s a lawyer, so if you ever need legal advice and are located in the Southern California area, look him up.

I love this series and I hope that despite all the negative events that happen in the story, I hope everyone will keep on supporting Martin at least until he finishes A Dream of Spring. True the show may not capture everything in the books, and I have heard a lot of hate for the series because it’s not enough like the books, but hey, lets take a bit of advice from Martin’s story, stop hating and just appreciate everything for what it is.

Have fun with the show/books everyone. And just remember to …

1315eb4

…UGHhhhhhhhhhhh……

Today I watched two animation shorts that absolutely moved me like no other. Very well done, incredible animation and story telling, and without a single line of dialogue spoken. (Unless you count grunts and sighs)

Disney’s Paperman

Paperman_still_1

Originally released as a short along side Disney’s Wreck It Ralph, this 6 min story of a chance encounter and a man’s struggle between his office job and his origami abilities to take a go after with who could be the love of his life. A great story told from start to finish, Paperman tells the classic story of the search for love, to go after what you want, and with a little bit of luck, and maybe some disney magic ;D, your worlds will collide like you never believe.
This short represents everything that I love about animation and more! Animation is not real. Animation is drawn images from people like you and me, and pre-recorded dialogues and music added to produce sound for the images. But despite all of it, despite how not unreal animation is, it doesn’t stop it from making you feel so real on the inside. Paperman tells its story and touches the hearts of its viewers just as well as any of Disney/Pixar’s current animated films. It goes to show you that through all the fancy graphics and special effects, sometimes a simple story and incredible story telling and animation is all it takes to produce an amazing work of art.
The magic that animation gives us, the ability to take images and sound and produce real emotions within all of us is what animation is all about, and Paperman delivers like no other.
Along with being the first animated short by Disney to win an academy award in over 40 years, Paperman is a must see for any animation, disney, romance fanatic. You can find a few clips of it on youtube currently, just look for any that is around 6 minutes long. The other videos are usually clips or trailers. I also believe it is on Hulu or Hulu Plus.

Pixar’s The Blue Umbrella

blue umbrella

Another animated short, shown in theaters with Pixar’s Monster’s University, tells is another romantic story in a way only Pixar is able to. Through inanimate objects that has feelings and emotions and does not make us question it what so ever!
Just like Paperman, this short also uses minimal dialog minus background music and noises while telling a story about a blue umbrella that stands out in many ways among a crowd of people and becomes infatuated by a cute red umbrella standing next to him. It’s love at first sight! (yes I know umbrellas don’t really have eyes so it technically can’t be love at first ‘sight’ but just go with it ok)
But things take a turn for the worst, when their owners take turns away from each other and head their respective ways, taking their love smitten umbrellas with them.
Blue goes after his woman…umbrella..girl…I don’t know… he goes after Red and must find a way to her before it’s too late. Which is hard because umbrellas can’t move on their own.
Another sweet and simple story about love and chasing after it. Pixar did an amazing job yet again with making us fall in love and cry over a household item we would otherwise relate no emotions towards.
A must see for everybody! You can find a few clips on youtube, though quality will not be great, but watchable at least. Like Paperman, look for a video that is about 6 minutes long. Shorter ones are usually trailers or clips.

So there you have it. Two animated clips that have made my day! Now I know what you’re thinking. “Which one was your favorite?”
I hate it when people ask me that!
I can’t just pick one, I like them all too much. So why not both?

I present you Umbrella Paperman! God I love the internet! It has helped me find so many great things. It has even one me a slap bet against my friend, we made a slap wager that I could not find a cool picture of Ryu from Street Fighter rocking a cape. And boy did I prove him wrong! But that shall be a story for a later day!
Until then, for those who have found your lover, watch these films together and have an amazing evening. For those who have not, when you find that one, go after them! Live your life like these animated icons and chase after love! If you’re not the lovey dovey person, then find something passion to chase after and go for it!

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Perspective

The key to success in all human relations is unselfish love.