Posted in Travels in Japan

Golden Week Adventures: Back in Tokyo!

In continuation from the other Golden Week post, Rebecca and I headed back to Tokyo after our three days in Kyoto. We woke up early and headed off to Ginza to meet up with a mutual friend, Keni. We wanted to eat at a well known sushi restaurant called Sushi no Midori. The seafood and fish are brought in fresh there everyday, so as you can imagine, it was supremely delicious.

The lunch menu allows for a more than reasonable 2,000 yen plate of sushi, all freshly made by the chefs on order.

These plates came with ten different kinds of sushi. A maguro (tuna) roll, a long eel sushi, ikura (fish egg), different cuts of salmon and tuna along the top, oyster, ebi (shrimp), kani (crab), and sweet eggs. Honestly, it was the best sushi I’ve ever had in Japan, and the price couldn’t be beat.

Rebecca and I left aft our sushi lunch for Shibuya. Of course, we did our obligatory pictures with Hachi as well as the Shibuya crossing.

But the main event for this adventure was Cat Cafe Mocha. Nestled on the 7th floor down the street from Shibuya crossing is an adorable little cat hideaway.

Although most of the cats were just sleepy kitties, there were a couple of very chill cats that allowed petting and sought out human attention. Of course, the people who bought the extra snack packs got more love than us snack-less humans.

As adorable as the cats were, I really like the layout of the cafe itself. There were so many cool looking cat trees were the cats could leap up to nap, and the neat birdcage like places for them to sleep above the customers. The stairways also had these nooks with small doorways for cats to walk in and out of. Basically, everything was designed in the place with cats in mind, and I enjoyed that architectural idea put into practice. When I’m an old cat lady, I’ll keep this place in mind for my home layout.

After we spent a good couple of hours in there, Rebecca wanted to head over to this specialty green tea restaurant.

Green Tea Restaurant

1899 Ochanomizu makes everything in their restaurant with green tea. They even have a selection of green tea beer, which was what she wanted to try out. We ended up getting the darker variety of beer along with a savory seasonal green tea egg custard recommended to us by our waiter.

The green tea beer was bitter on top of bitter, which somehow worked out deliciously. Even though the hops were a bit poignant in that combination, it was still refreshing and settled well on my tongue. The egg custard’s green tea was more of an under-taste, really the saltiness kind of cut through the bitter aspect of the matcha.

It was already a full day, but oh we weren’t done! I was set up to volunteer for Tokyo Closet Ball that night (because I like to stress myself out, apparently). We zipped over in a taxi from the restaurant to the venue Gyoen Sound in Shinjuku.

Tokyo Closet Ball is a drag and also off the wall sort of entertainment show. This particular show was a part of Tokyo Rainbow Pride Week.

And boy-howdy, did it ever! The performances were phenomenal. We even had an Austrian drag queen come as a guest performer, and she was AMAZING! We had a fantastic rendition of “Sweet Transvestite” from Rocky Horror Picture Show, as well as some great LGBT comedy in between with the M.C.s Tatianna and Eric Shaw, and even a little burlesque featuring the Pride flag!

By the end of the show, Rebecca and I were exhausted. Having been run ragged from hiking through Kyoto, we were all set for sleep. We would need it, because the next day we’d be up in Harajuku for the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Festa!

Posted in Travels in Japan

Golden Week Adventures: To Kyoto!

It’s been awhile everyone! Yes, I know, sorry. I should’ve put out a post before I left on vacation, but I had literally NO TIME. From the second I posted my last article to now has been just non-stop, can’t stop, all the things!!!

See my friend from high school, Rebecca, came over to visit me. She’s super cool and going to be a doctor pretty soon. I’m still thinking of calling her Dr. Becky with the Good Hair, but then I’ll have to have my coffin with me when I do it (She’s never liked that name and it’s only gotten worse with time).

She wanted to go to a lot of different places in Japan, with my original list including fox village and cat island with a possible Hakone excursion. However, we only got about a week to do all the things. In the end, she decided the number one place to go to would be Kyoto.

And I agreed. Hakone in Golden Week is terribly, oppressively crowded. Fox Village and the nearby Cat Island up in Miyagi are a long trek from my area. With only a week, Kyoto and Tokyo seemed the best course of action. I had to be back in Tokyo on the weekend for Tokyo Rainbow Pride.

We headed off as soon as she touched down. Poor thing had already flown for over 30 hours and here I was forcing her onto a Shinkansen. I mean, it’s a comfortable train, but still added 2 hours to her already long travel time.

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“Proof of Shinkansen!”

When we arrived at Kyoto station it was pretty late, so I opted to just get a taxi and head for the apartment. I found this pretty cheap place through Agoda.com, an apartment that we could stay at near Kinkakuji for only about 3,200 yen per night (plus a cleaning fee). Wheat a steal, right? The place was really nice, too. My only worry had been that maybe the apartment would be hideous in real life, but instead it was just a typical Japanese show box apartment.

The next morning, we headed right out to Kinkakuji. The Golden Temple was a bit packed at the beginning, with a lot of tourists using selfie sticks to try and get some good angles. I expected as much, Golden Week meant that everywhere would be either packed or super packed depending on the time of day. I was just surprised that so many were there so early in the morning.

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Rebecca wanted to buy some charms and some yatsuhashi (famous Kyoto style mochi that’s in the shape of a triangle…that you can also totally buy at grocery stores, but shhhhh). She wanted to get some marriage good luck charms as well as some studying/knowledge charms.

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We also stopped by the fortune area. Omikuji are like lottery fortunes, you put 100 yen inside a machine and then a random fortune pops out. I think only in Kinkakuji and maybe a few other main shrines can you get the English versions. Usually, I have to give my fortune to the nearest Japanese person to read and translate. Rebecca and I both got the “Good” level fortune. There are actually several levels of luck with these that range from “Awesome!” to “Absolutely wrecked.”

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Via Next Stop, Japan

After Kinkakuji, we ran off to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. As it was getting to be around lunch time, high noon and very sunny at that, there were less people milling around. I like the Palace mostly for the gardens. In the spring there are cherry blossoms and in the fall the leaves change colors, so I definitely recommend those.

We stopped there for some udon, and discovered to my horror that Rebecca is a pod person because she didn’t like the udon. Everything I thought I knew about her is a lie. In case you didn’t know, kitsune udon and soba are a staple in Kyoto. Everywhere you do there is an udon and/or soba place.

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My version of fine dining

After resting up, we figured out the bus to take to Kiyomizudera. Just as an FYI, the bus schedules are a bit hard to navigate without Japanese translation assistance. I discovered much, much too late that there are actually bus maps in English available online through the Kyoto Tourism site. There’s also a whole PDF that you can easily download to your smartphone or tablet. Don’t use Google Maps, it’s all kind of wrong and confusing.

At Kiyomizudera, it was super packed again. Ladies were running around in yukata, kids were playing tag on the steps, couples were holding hands and taking selfie shots. Rebecca and I did the whole purification ritual before entering, and discovered unfortunately the main temple is under construction for the 2020 Olympics. There is scaffolding all around it for the foreseeable future. If you’re planning to go, just a heads up.

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Not terrible, but not as picturesque as normal.

After walking around, we waited in line to drink from the spiritual waters from the waterfall. Each stream is different, and you’re supposed to drink from the one you want and make a wish.

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The one on the left is for knowledge, the middle for love, and the last for a long life. 

I chose knowledge, because living long is fine and love is alright, but I would rather just be smarter in general. Rebecca chose the same, because future doctor, it’s kind of important for her.

After a full day, we walked around to find dinner and had a couple of drinks at a bar before heading back to the apartment. We planned to hit up the Fushimi Inari Shrine as well as Heinan Temple the next day before heading back to Tokyo the next day, with possibly squeezing in a tea ceremony if we could manage it.

We did one of those things, that being the Fushimi Inari Shrine, and that’s kind of my bad. The morning started off with us checking out and then getting on the buses. We were only supposed to transfer once to another bus in order to get to Kyoto Station to drop off our stuff. As it was, we transferred onto the wrong bus, and had to get turned around.

Once arriving at Kyoto Station, we discovered that everyone and their mother had taken the lockers. I managed to get lucky and find one, but then Rebecca had to do a baggage check instead. By the time we finally got on a train and hit Fushimi Inari, the day was already half way eaten up.

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Fushimi Inari Entrance

And of course, it was congested with people, so going up the mountainside of tori meant slowly meandering our way towards the top. I felt really guilty for getting us on the wrong bus, so by the time we got halfway up the mountain, we had to turn back so we could get to Kyoto Station for Heinan Temple.

But then I messed up again, and we went down a wrong path. According to the map it was supposed to take us back to the main area, but it didn’t. Instead, it brought us into the suburbs surrounding the mountain. We got lost, not for terribly long, but still too long in an already crunched timetable.

By the time we righted ourselves and headed back towards the station, it became fairly obvious we couldn’t do the other temple or a tea ceremony. Rebecca wasn’t super upset about it, she’s kind of really laid back like that, but if I ever do another tag along to Fushimi Inari, I’m going to just stay on the main paths. No adventuring out to short cuts, it’s not worth it.

Right across from Kyoto Station is the Kyoto Tower. We didn’t go up for the view, but instead did some last minute onomiyage (souvenir) shopping, because I needed some for my co-workers.

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At the base of Kyoto Tower there’s a mini-souvenir shop. You can buy Kyoto sweets and the yastuhashi I was talking about earlier, along with other specialty Kyoto things. I bought some matcha cookies, because Kyoto is pretty famous for green tea.

And from there it was back to Tokyo. All in all it was a good trip, but next time I will be better about planning for certain things. However, in the next post I’ll talk about our Tokyo adventures, and then of course about Tokyo Rainbow Pride, so stay tuned!