August in Tokyo

Spring of 2019 we came across an amazing Delta deal – R/T tickets to Japan for $470 each! We found 10 days in late summer and happily started to plan our trip. I had been in Japan for 7 days in 2014 as a solo-budget-traveler and LOVED it. (Click here to read that blog post.)

Asakusa Gate with local tourists in 2014

I knew this trip would be very different- this time I was traveling with my husband! He travels frequently for business so he is great at packing but his standards for accommodation are a bit different than mine. He chose the Hilton over the capsule hotel.

(See my post about staying in a capsule hotel.)

Here is my fancy husband with all of our luggage as we board our MSP>HND flight. We managed 11 days of travel with only a carry-on and a personal item each! I’m quite proud. We checked a bag on the flight home.

The flight was 12 hours from Minneapolis to Haneda. We chose that Tokyo airport over Narita because it’s close proximity to the city made it much easier/cheaper to get to our hotel.

The view from the Shinjuku Hilton.

It was VERY humid and warm out, but we trekked out for a bit of exploring and found ourselves in the Shinjuku Chuo park. It was a lovely spot to stretch our legs and the noise from the cicadas in all those trees was incredibly loud!

Soon we happened upon our first temple. Richard especially loved the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern.

We bought a fortune (omikuji) from a machine at the shrine. If your fortune is ‘bad’ you tie the paper onto the provided wire, as you can see above. The wooden plaques (ema) are purchased and you write a prayer/wish on them and leave them at the shrine for the spirits to receive.

As it got dark, we happily realized that we had managed to out-walk the jet lag! We grabbed some grocery store sushi (yum.) on our way back to our room and ate dinner in our Hilton kimonos. Zzzzzz.

The next morning we popped into the Executive Lounge and were gobsmacked at the breakfast options! In the states, Hiltons serve the standard dry scrambled eggs and sausage in the Exec lounge… here we were treated to fresh smoothies, French pastries, tofu cubes, yogurt, salmon, eggs with wild mushrooms and fresh-squeezed orange juice! Richard’s favorite breakfast was the build-you-own Miso soup bar!

Now that we were suitably fed, we headed out to Asakusa to explore the famous Senso-ji Shrine. We were there early to avoid the heat so many of the shops weren’t open yet.

Wandering the streets of Asakusa before things get crowded.
The frequently-photographed gate to the Senso-ji Shrine.
Before heading into the shrine you should purify yourself. Rinse your hands with the ladle at the fountain and waft the incense over your head. You can tell that we were there very early, by the end of the day that giant basin will be entirely full of incense offerings.

Inside the shrine, look up and you’ll see this gorgeous nymph gathering sacred lotus blossoms.

It started getting hot and crowded but the stores were opening, so we grabbed a cold beverage at the Don Quixote’s and I mocked the poor eel just living his life in front of the megastore.

There is EVERYTHING in a Don Quixote – that might be a whole other post. That post might also include why you can’t drink tea/water/etc on the street.

We decided that due to our early start, we had time to catch the train into Tokyo station and find some lunch!

Tokyo Station, built in 1914.

The plan would have gone smoother if it wasn’t 100+ degrees outside. We walked out of the station and IMMEDIATELY wanted to head indoors to escape the humidity. We were hungry and we ended up eating in the station. The food in the train stations is consistently good. After recharging, we headed over to the Imperial Palace.

The grounds of the Imperial Palace

Since it was spur of the moment, we didn’t have tickets which should be purchased online before your visit. Tickets are free. We walked the finely manicured grounds and gazed longingly across the moat. By this time we were hot again and needed to get back in the A/C, so we headed back to Shinjuku to take a nap.

The trains are so efficient and clean!

After our nap, we popped into the Exec lounge to grab a bottled water and a snack… only to find out they were serving DINNER and so we made a reservation! While eating our free lounge meal (which was amazing) we discussed how much more enjoyable today would have been if ‘someone’ had packed comfy walking shoes. That someone did some research and discovered all the cool Tokyo kids are wearing Onitsuka Tigers! After dinner that ‘someone’ purchased the largest size Tigers in the store.

‘Someone loves his Japanese Exclusive Onitsuka Tigers!’

Tomorrow we catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto! Stay tuned.

Sayonara, Japan.

I left Kyoto determined to get more than a glimpse at Mt. Fuji. I didnt need to climb it- especially after Mt. Ontake had erupted earlier in the week. I just wanted to see Fuji. So, I hopped on the Shinkensen for a few hours, transfered to a tram to head up into the mountains near Hakone.

I arrive in Gora after dark and found my hostel (Hakone Tent) and had some dinner.

This was a traditional Ryoken, so my dorm room had a woven tatami floor and futon mattresses for beds.

It also had an Onsen, which is like a natural hot tub. I had a lovely soak before bed and slept so soundly.

My hostel also had a turntable… in the kitchen.

In the morning, I got the 8am bus from Gora to Hakone to catch an early glimpse of Mt. Fuji.

I had a nice walk along Lake Ashi…

…and stopped off at a forest temple.

Then, I got down to business- where is that big ol Mountain hiding? Is it by this pirate sihp?

Hmm, couldn’t find it. Must walk further… yay! I found the viewpoint park!

Well, shoot. Mt. Fuji is just behind those clouds somewhere. It should look like this.

The viewing house did have a cool 1930’s light fixture…

and a manicured shrub that looked like a pile of stones.

I had a 6pm flight out of Tokyo and so I give up the hunt for Mt. Fuji and head back to the bus station. The tram up had cost me $7US, so I figured the bus must be cheaper… plus, the map showed the bus traveling a more direct route back to the Shinkensen. So I made the obvious choice and jumped on the bus.

I spent a long time in the front of this bus and figured out what all this is for. The orange/white machine dispenses tickets with a # on them- you take a ticket when you get on the bus & then you follow a chart to tell you how much to pay at your destination.

The next machine scans people’s bus cards. When you get off the bus, you use the next block of machines.

The one with the red arrow is where you pay your fare. But first, you put your tiny ticket into the front of the machine.

Anyway, I finally got to the Shinkensen station via bus and made it out to Narita airport with time to spare! I had a United club pass and enjoyed my last few hours in Japan eating free snacks and drinks in the airport lounge.

The next time the wheels touch the ground, I’ll be in Bangkok, Thailand! Sayonara, Japan!



City of the red gates: Fushimi Inari and ‘writing my hope’

Travel Date:  9/29/2015
When I travel, it seems that there is never enough time in one place. 3 days in Kyoto made me feel this acutely. This is my last day in Kyoto. This afternoon I’ll catch the Shinkensen towards Tokyo but I’ve got time for one more stop; Fushimi Inari’s famous red gates.

Inari is just 2 stops from Kyoto on the local train so its quick and easy to get to. I head off to Kyoto station by bus. Then, I leave my heavy bag at the train station- for $4-5 you can get a locker or check your bag into the bag storage on the lower level. Next, I hop on the local train and head out.

The site is directly across from the train station- 15 minutes after I leave Kyoto, I’m walking up a corridor proudly flanked by 50+ of these TripAdvisor signs.

Now the fun begins! So many red gates!

There is a big hill to walk up. All lined with gates!

Don’t worry, old ladies with canes can make it up- so can you!

I took a side trip to check out some memorials where the locals leave offerings for their ancestors.

Maybe I got too far off track because once I got to the top there was no gate. Just an old billboard frame & a view of the city. No matter. On the way back down I found wonderful sights like Buddah’s mother & kittens!

I ducked off the path again and found it. A four foot high stone temple covered with white fox figurines.

And also a place for ‘Writing Your Hope’. I have seen many of these places in the temples of Japan and they usually instruct the worshiper to light a candle for luck or good fortune or love or health. Some are very specific; safe traveling, good exams, happy attitude, etc. But this one was wide open, what did I hope for?

Immediately, I knew my hope. You might know it too.
It is no secret that I hope to meet a kind + clever man.
It was clear, this temple knew my hope as well.
All of the tiny papers tied along the fence had hopes like mine.
I didn’t have time to read them all – but I didn’t need to.
The ones I read were meant for me. It was unusual that they were in English.
I looked around to located the stack of papers, but couldn’t find them.

Instead, I left a small offering and took one of the tiny fox figurines in a bowl nearby.

They had a little string on them, like cell phone charms.

Writing my hope, Fushimi – Inari.


Oh, Deer! Nara.

I was really enjoying Kyoto, but I was told that Nara was a 'must-see'! So, off I go to see the 3rd largest Japanese Buddha and pet some deer. I was not disappointed!

The best part was watching the deer being fed small, round crackers by little, nervous children. The deer were the size of med-large dogs and were eye to eye with the 3 year olds (who are easily intimidated into giving up their crackers.)

The walk from the train station to the Buddha sends you down a street full of touristy shops- I stopped for a red bean mochi cookie. The town is chocked full of tourists, both foreign & local. Everybody is in a snapping photos.

New friends & a lovely pagoda.

The deer are everywhere.

This giant wood structure houses the Buddha image and is actually 1/3 the size of the original, which burnt down at least twice.

Step over the threshold and there he is! Buddha! There is a pleasant aroma of incense and wood. There is also a hoard of people being directed around the Buddha.

The building is supported by giant wooden posts. People were lined up to crawl through this one (does anybody know why?)

They direct you around the back of the Buddha and out the front of the building, so you see Buddha from his left side as well.

Buddha is impressive, but other than a row of souvenir shops, there isn't much else to see… So back out to the deer.

So cute & tiny, even this momma deer has spots.

Deer Selfies!
After a bit more wandering I find a field of deer and this cool statue.
Then, I make my way back to the trainand head back to Kyoto.

Thanks Nara, you were lovely!


Biking around Kyoto

Biking is so fun! I paid $7 US to rent a bike from my hostel. The first thing I noticed was that it doesn’t take much to deter a Japanese bike thief. Most of the bikes had a short, thin chain through the back wheel. My lock was a crecent, built into the back of the bike frame and just slid through the back wheel and locked. No one locked their bikes TO anything. Just put up your giant kickstand, slide the lock into place and off you go!

(Kid-carrying bike photo for Hillary Mull!)

Umbrella holster!
I rode 10 minutes up the street when I spotted a lovely temple gate and headed in for a look around.
The Yakasa Temple grounds cover such a large area (and there was so much going on!) that I stayed for 2 hours and ended up having lunch there! (Ymmmm, Squidballs!)

There were vendors selling coins (I bought a few), TWO weddings going on and in the back there was a temple up on the hill that offered a great view of the city.

Wedding #1 – the girl with the golden forehead is a ceremonial dancer.
There were many guests and attendants at this elaborate wedding. The guests all wore black.
The woman helping the bride also attended to the bride in the 2nd wedding.
Wedding #2- Just a simple affair.
This guy makes some stellar Squidballs!
This is the last known photo of Joey- who was lost in a last minute stand-off with airport security.
I ended up checking a bag to keep my tiny (but too pointy) scissors, but lost Joey in the shuffle. 😦

While I was eating my Squidballs this lovely man approached me to ask if I was from Vietnam…

He just wanted to practice his English & show me his ‘study guides’. Exibit 1- The lyrics to the ‘What a Feeling’ from Flashdance. Exhibit 2- ‘What did you expect from Mardi Gras?’ Uhhh…

Next, I peddled around the Imperial Palace grounds, the wide ‘roads’ are all gravel so people stick to one thin trail where the gravel has been compacted by bike tires. It’s pretty hot but there are lots of little, shady spots to explore. I found a children’s playground, a bunch of bird photographers & an outdoor library full of nature books!

The day is half over! Off I go to the Golden Palace! After you buy your ticket, you just follow the crowd around the lake and back out again. Luckily, the weather was perfect & the sun was reflecting off the palace. It went by so fast that I just went through again. No charge.

There is a Phoenix on top!

I treated myself to some Red Bean ice cream & biked back to the hostel. As soon I walked in the door, I heard a cheery voice asking in anyone wanted to go out for dinner. I sure did! A few of us walked downtown to a Conveyor Belt Sushi restaurant! There were little touch screens to choose your sushi, then they showed you a photo of it when they put it on the conveyor in the kitchen so you are paying attention when it comes around.

I was sooo tuckered out! Back to my Santiago Hostel for a shower & a sleep!




















Arrogato, Kyoto!

My second morning in Tokyo I had to catch the bullet train to Kyoto. Jana and I had a bit of time to grab some breakfast and see the palace before. American breakfast is notoriously hard to come by in Japan. Luckily, we found a Dean & Deluca and had some fantastic quiche!

The palace is a big walled compound so we didn't get to see much. The shadow of this carefully manicured tree was my favorite. The rest of it looked something like this..big walls and a moat.

Off to the train station to speed across the country!

(Side note: Ron told me a funny story about safety testing the Shinkensen. Japan asked Boeing how they ensured that the glass in the cockpit could withstand an in-air collision with a bird. Boeing sent them the specs for a cannon that fired chickens at the front of the planes in their testing facility. Japan built the cannon, did some tests, broke all the windshields, redesigned the windshields and did more tests. They were unable to make a winshield that could pass the Boeing test. When they called Boeing to ask for advice, they seemed to be doing everything perfectly. After repeated tests and another phone call they discovered that Japan had been using frozen chickens.)

The train ride is smooth & fast, soon enough I'm wandering the streets of Kyoto looking for my hostel. I pass ladies in Kimonos, ancient temples and more 7-11s than I've seen since the 90's.

I get a bit lost on the way to the hostel, which is not surprising. I have no internet and I'm working off a screenshot from Google Maps and an address. I approach a group of ladies and they chat to eachother encouragingly when I point to the pin on the map and show them the address. I finally get to the hostel… I had walked right past it. I have to leave my shoes at the door and bunks have curtains around them.

Goodnight, Kyoto!




Signs, signs, everywhere the signs: Japan edition

Happy Fall! Here are some of the entertaining signs that caught my eye while traveling in Japan.
I didn't know the Japanese had Boy Scouts! That sure looks fun.
All campers must remember to put out their fires.

What to do if you drop your hat on the train tracks.

Seen at Senso-ji temple: where you should be careful about where you hang your laundry.

Do you want to experience the coldest water available? It's AMAZING!

I mean, seriously amazing.


If you're not into freezing water, then maybe you're into sweat? (This is an electrolyte drink.)

This sign made ME sweat! Seriously, this is the subway map? Eek.

Feeling hungry? Follow Snoopy to your table!

The deer in Nara love the round crackers that the tourists feed them.

But you have to be careful around the deer, they are 'wild' animals after all!

“Who? Me?!?”

This sign is pretty self explanatory. Don't get drunk or a teenager will post photos of you.

The only thing worse than public drunkenness is MONKIES! They are so naughty.

One of the things that separates us from the monkies… or not.

I hope you enjoyed this little sign tour together!




Konichiwa, Japan!

The first time I called Delta to work out the details of my trip, I asked if there was a possibility of staying in Japan for a few days. I was informed that any layover longer than 24 hours would cost more Skymiles than I had. The second time I called, I asked again and heard, “Sure, how long would you like to say?”

What started off as a layover, has turned into a love affair!

You may recall, I spent my first 2 nights in a Tokyo capsule hotel in the Shinjuku area.

On my very first morning, I met an American and invited her to breakfast … later we find out that she is friends with my little sister! Jana flew into Tokyo to meet up with her husband who has taken a JET position teaching English in a rural Japanese village. Even better, Jana has a friend, Brent, who is a guide on Mt. Fuji and he’s taken the day off to show her around… would I like to come? YES!

We visited a local temple and Brent taught us how to use the fountains to purify ourselves before going into the temple. (Use the ladel to rinse your left hand, then right hand, then mouth.)

Gates to the Senso-Ji Temple and market.
For $1 you could get your fortune (Omikuji) at the temple by shaking a stick out of a wooden box, then matching the symbol to the drawer full of paper fortunes. My fortunes: The lost article will be found later. The person you wait for comes late. Building a house and removal are both good, but a half fortune. To start a trip is all right. Marriage of any kind and new employment are both half fortune and gets better later.

We stop at the everything store: Don Quijote to buy a snack and check out the strange food, like Matcha KitKats or seaweed flavored potato chips.

Next, we take a Tokyo Canal tour, ending up at a tea house in Hamarikyu gardens.

It was a very hot and humid day, but the rain arrived while we were enjoying out matcha and cooled things off.

Matcha is made by grinding up tea leaves and stirring it into hot water… I’m more of an Earl Grey fan.

We rode the train out to Kagurazaka for dinner & a Shinto Shrine. The shine was much smaller than expected but dinner made up for it. The waiters wore paper hats and aprons like a 50’s diner but you ordered your meal from a vending machine! Yummy dinner for $3!

Joey orders for me and appreciates my tempura/noodle bowl.

On the way back to the capsule hotel we wandered through the entertainment district to pass by the Robot Restaurant. It cost $60 for dinner and a show- which involved scantily clad women operating these robots and other such nonsense- all accompanied by super loud music and a million flashing lights. Yikes.

Back to the hotel. I was beat and tomorrow I’d take my first ride on the bullet train!

I’ll leave you with a lovely painting from the ceiling of this morning’s temple. Her skirt reminds me of something Gustaf Klimt would paint.



















All about Umbrellas.

The Japanese love umbrellas. They love the tall, clear ones with hooked handles. The love the paper sun parasols. They love tiny umbrellas that look like Geisha and fit in your purse. They also love not getting direct sun exposure. So, despite the weather being nearly perfect, I saw plenty of umbrellas in Japan this week.

The Japanese are a very conscientious bunch. They have the good of the nation to keep in mind. For example, when they feel a cold coming on, they wear face masks to keep their germs to themselves. It follows that they do not want to inconvenience other people with their soggy umbrellas.

Umbrella Condoms: The thing that first caught my eye, was what Brent referrs to as ‘Umbrella Condoms’. There are machines outside of stores to slide your umbrella in the top and pull it out the side with a plastic bag on it.

Umbrella Lockers: In this scenario, you lock your umbrella up outside the store.


Umbrella Shaking Area: This handy device was spotted outside City Hall and has a tray under it to catch the water that falls off your umbrella when you shake it back and forth.

As much as the Japanese love umbrellas, they seem to lack an American appreciation for SOAP. Yes, handsoap. They do not provide it in the bathrooms! The Japanese ladies I’ve seen quickly rinse their hands and head out. No soap, no paper towels… its pretty amazing that I haven’t gotten sick yet.






How to survive a night in a Capsule Hotel in 5 easy steps.

Trip Date: 9/24/2015
To give you an idea of what its like sleeping inside of a capsule, let’s use our imaginations. Picture two bathtubs stacked on top of eachother (lip to lip) and bolted in place. A large hole has been cut into the end and covered with a retractable screen. Inside, there is a TV bolted to the ceiling and an array of plugs and dials. It looks like someone from the 50’s was asked to create ‘the bed of the future’.
If you are ready to cozy up inside of 2 standard-size bathtubs or 1 refrigerator box, then you’re ready to stay in a Capsule Hotel! Just like ME!
Reasons to stay in a capsule hotel.
It’s usually the cheapest way to sleep in Tokyo. ($25 vs. $85!)

Free amenities. PJ’s are provided Aso, disposable slippers that smell like almond. Free towels.

All the toiletries you could ever use. (Plus the toothbrushes come loaded. Awesome. Why don’t we have that in teh US?)

Great showers! Lots of hot water. Good pressure & it only took a few tries to figure out how to adjust the temp.

The toilet lids are heated, mechanized & play music. (I still have’t figured out what all the buttons do…)
The Wi-Fi is pretty fast! (This is notable: Japan has weak/hard to find WiFi.)

FYI- This capsule hotel has a lot of rules. And rule #1 is no shoes past the entry way. They are super strict and make you lock your shoes in a locker and bring the key to the front desk before you can check in. Also, no eating in your capsule … Or the shower. Seems reasonable so far. They keep everyone out of the hotel every day from 10 am until 4pm, even if you are staying multiple days. They charge $4 to keep something threre from 10-4pm.

I really enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of the capsule hotel. The female guests were Japanese business women, with a few travelers thrown in for good measure. I’d go back!  You should try one.

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