Monday, November 18, 2013

Nikko!

This past weekend I went with some friends on a quick weekend trip out to 日光 (Nikko). It's about 2-3 hours outside of Tokyo, and it was so nice to get out of the city. Don't get me wrong, I love Tokyo. I would probably spend the rest of my life here if I didn't have to go back to America and finish my university degree. However, a person can only take so much concrete before you just need to get out into the fresh air and open space. It was also a great time to go since the autumn leaves are still in full color, so we got to see a lot of beautiful trees. Sipping my apple tea, I just want to go back! We stayed at a place called Pension Yummy (don't ask me how they chose that name)and it was so much fun! It was a pretty traditional Japanese hotel and it had a few small hot spring tubs the guests could use. We spent some time our first night and the morning after just soaking in the tubs. I was a little nervous, since at a Japanese hot spring you go in naked, and I didn't know how awkward that would be with my friend Rena. However, once we got our clothes off and into the tub, it wasn't awkward at all! I think the more you think about it the more awkward it gets, but if you just go with it and don't put too much thought into it, it isn't weird at all. 



The hot spring, I can't wait to go to another one!


Some scenes from around the hotel

Gorgeous scenery

The second morning that we were in Nikko, we decided to go see the temples and other things the area has to offer. There is a series of temples, called 東照宮(Toshogu) honoring the first Tokugawa Shogun 家康 (Ieyasu). We spent the morning walking from shrine to shrine and looking at all the beautiful buildings. Since it is so famous, and the shrine area brings in so much money, all the buildings and statues were beautifully maintained. 

This was the largest stone gate during the Edo period






One of the most famous parts of 東照宮 are the 3 Wise Monkeys

Look at all those good-looking people!


Another famous part is the ねむりねこ (sleeping cat)

We walked up 200 steps to see the grave of 家康 (Ieyasu)

The grave of 家康



After lunch we walked around looking for おみやげ (souvenir's) and then went to see the Sacred Bridge. We didn't pay to actually go onto the bridge, but it was still incredible just looking at it!



Our final stop of the day was to go see 華厳滝 (Kegon Waterfall). It was about a 30 minute drive, but it was definitely worth it. 

On the drive to 華厳滝

華厳滝

Close to 華厳滝 there is also this amazing lake called 中禅寺湖 (Chuzenji). The lighting was perfect when we got there!


I would definitely recommend going to 日光 if you are ever in Japan. It's easy to get to, and there is so much to see! Now that I've gone on my first trip out of Tokyo, I'm just itching to go again! Any suggestions of where I should go next?

For your amusement...

Just the boys doing some casual modeling

And taking selfies




Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Asakusa/Akihabara

Time management used to exist in my life. All my homework was done a few days before class, blogs were posted the day after the event took place, and life was good. Nowadays when I am not hanging out with my new friends I spend the majority of my time watching music videos (like this and this), doing late night yoga and effectively avoiding homework until the night before. Don't even get me started on blogging. That being said, I went to Asakusa/Akihabara last Saturday. So this post isn't too ridiculously late. Maddie and I decided we should meet up again before she has to leave(can you believe she is only here for like 6 more weeks?!). We're both so busy that getting together is very infrequent even though we only live maybe 1.5 hours away from each other. We decided we should meet up by Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa since her and her friend Grace and her wanted to look for some おみやげ (souvenirs) for their friends and family. I had never been to the Asakusa area so I was all for it! I got there a bit earlier than Maddie and Grace, so I spent the time just people watching. 
Kaminarimon, the gate into the Senso-ji area. Usually they have a big lantern, not just a picture of one, but it has been taken down for cleaning

These guys were standing around offering to take your picture in front of the gate and other things (I couldn't understand everything they said). They must have been so cold in their shorts!

You could get a rickshaw ride! 

They arrived and we got down to business!


The main shopping street in the Senso-ji area. There were so many shops! 

As we walked the day ended up being a mini eating fest. It was all traditional stuff and it was so good!

These peanut mochi on a stick were so delicious!

まんじゅ!(manju)

I had my first たいやき (taiyaki) and it was one of the best things I have eaten in Japan! 

We got to the actual temple area, but since it was so late in the afternoon it was closed for the day. We got our fortunes told, but that was about it. I'm definitely going to have to go back another day so I can see the temple more in detail! 

Another big lantern!

After we had had enough of the temple area we decided to head to Kanda for some food, but we ended up just going to Akihabara. The lights were too pretty to resist ^_^ We decided to go to this sushi place that Maddie had been to before. I was really excited since it was my first sushi restaurant I have been to! I know, 2 months in Japan and I never went to get sushi. Don't judge me too hard. I'm so glad we went! It was extremely good and relatively cheap if you picked the right plates.
They have signs telling you how much each plate is worth, so you just choose your plates, and later the waiter will count how many different ones you had and add the total up for you.

Maddie loves sushi!

Overall it was a super fun day and I hope I will be able to see Maddie and Grace again at least once before they leave! I should also get some pictures with Grace, since I realized posting this we never took any together. 

P.S. the tea of the day is Lady Grey from the lovely Siobhan ^^

P.P.S. I will try to do better about posting! I am going to Nikko this weekend, so I should have at least 1 really exciting post coming up! 

P.P.P.S. if there is anything you guys want to know about Japan, Japanese culture, living in Japan etc just post a comment and I will do my best to make a post about it!




Sunday, November 3, 2013

Japanese Trains

I don't even want to count how many days it has been since my last blog post. Let's just forget about it and talk about trains! Japanese trains! Before I came to Japan I was told by countless people that I would get lost on the trains and it was so hard to figure out where to go. However, I have not found this to be the case. True the spaghetti that is the train map is terrifying at first sight, but once you know how to read it and how to use the stations, it is not as bad. 

Terrifying train map

I'll walk you through how to use the trains, so if you ever come to Japan, you won't freak out and get on the wrong train. 

When you first walk into a station they will have these machines along one wall. This is where you buy your ticket. All the ones I have seen have English buttons, so if you can't speak Japanese, don't worry! You can still buy a ticket. My suggestion is not to worry about which one to buy, just get the cheapest ticket, and worry about adjusting your fare later if it is not enough. For those of you with a train card, you can also add money to the card here.

Next is the ticket gate. The arrows will tell you if you can enter or not. If people are coming through from the other way it will have a red do not enter symbol. If you have a ticket there is a little slot to put it in. If you do not have enough money to go through the gates will close and you have to go to the fare adjustment machine. If you have excess money it will give you your ticket back. If you have the right amount it will just keep it and let you pass. If you are using a card, just put it on the little blue circle on top and it will read it. 

Once you get through the ticket gate you will see signs like this. They usually have Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean. They tell you major stations that the trains are stopping at, so you just have to know what is in the general direction that you are going and pick a side. If you absolutely have no idea each station has an information kiosk. Just go in and in whatever language you speak try to explain where you want to go. The workers will usually just give you a paper map, draw lines and circles around which stations you want to go to and transfer at. This is a magical place and why I have not so far gotten lost. If I ever don't know which train I want I just go ask my friends at the kiosk and they tell me exactly where I need to go. 

Once you make it to the platform there will be these billboards. They flash from Japanese to English telling you what type of trains are coming (express, local etc), how many cars they have, where they are going and what time they are departing. I usually take the same trains every day, so I barely look at this, but if you are a newbie it is so helpful. 


If you get on a train and are still nervous you got on the wrong one, all trains have something similar to these screens. They tell you where you are and which stations are coming up. If they are not stopping at a particular station, that station will be in gray instead of black writing. They flash between English and Japanese, so I think it's fun to try to test myself and see if I can read which stations we are going to when the writing is in Japanese.

Last is this miracle machine. This is the fare adjustment machine. If you are trying to leave the station of your destination, and the gates close on you, don't panic! Don't freak out and push yourself and your suitcases through the gates and then hope station workers didn't see you just stealing a ride. That is not necessary. Just calmly look around for this machine. Once you find it you either put your ticket or card in, and it will tell you how much more money you need to pay to equal the amount of your ride. Once you give them the money, they will give you a new ticket and you can go through the gates like a normal person. 

Well, there you have it! How to use a Japanese train/station. I hope that you will find this helpful, and if I missed anything just comment with your question and I will do my best to answer it!

P.S. The tea of the day is peach tea ^_^