Most of you have already met me. I’m the girl who has NO IDEA about anything K-Pop related, but still managed to win ALL THE POINTS in an overseas game of “Is this a Kpop Star”? That’s right, I’m that awesome and omnipotent that I don’t even need to know what I am talking about to win at life.
Which is exactly the reason why Stephanie, your fearless leader, asked me to have a serious discussion with you about the perils of drug abuse and how it leads to teenage pregnancy and autism.
But I was like, “NO! No one wants to hear about that. Let me tell the masses about my wonderful travels throughout the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.”
She relented, so now I get to regale you with my tales of 10 days spent in Nagoya, Kyoto, and Tokyo.
The story really starts with an unexpected glimpse of snow-frosted mountains through crisp Winter air. I’ve seen numerous silk-screens, scrolls, and movies that feature mountains in Japan. I’m fully aware that Mt. Fuji is located in Japan. But I was really not prepared for the full breath-taking beauty of the mountainous landscape as you fly into Nagoya.
Among my first days in Nagoya, I took a leisurely stroll through the Osu Shopping Arcade. It’s essentially a GIANT outdoor market that has every intention of overwhelming each one of your senses until you are literally eating and breathing the essence of Japan—not that i’m complaining ;). There is an explosion of Kanji everywhere. The siren call of Pachinko parlors lures you close until the deafening sound of people having fun starts to make your ears bleed. But, like a good American, I soldiered through the chaos to visit as many pastry shops and curry houses as my stomach could handle. There is something about watching someone make your food that makes it taste So.Much.Better.
There are approximately 100,000 Shinto Shrines in Japan – obviously impossible to see them all. I only had 10 days – so I made the decision to Go Big or Go Home. Luckily, within walking distance of my lodgings was the revered Atsuta Shrine – originally established circa Year 120. (That is not a typo.)
The Shrine itself is gorgeous. As you would expect from most remnants of ancient Japanese culture, it is exquisitely detailed and colorful.
One of my favorite things about Japan is that its 12 hours ahead of New York. When I was going to sleep, New Yorkers were starting their workdays. Every post on Facebook was dated FROM THE FUTURE. I was in love with the idea that when I retire for the evening, there is actually a whole world out there that is still awake and having the time of their lives. (It’s like when you are staying up past your bedtime as a kid and experience a whole different side of your parents that you have never seen before). So one of the things I became obsessed with was making photos of the city at different times of day – and relating it back to East Coast time. It put into perspective how big the world is.
Visiting the Gion district of Kyoto was definitely the top of my list of things to do in Japan. A seriously-bucket-list item. Why?
Has anyone ever read “Memoirs of a Geisha”? This is my ALL-TIME favorite book. I first discovered it back in 1998. I’m not going to lie – I only read it because my idol, Madonna, had a brief Geisha-inspired fashion period and attributed this homage to the book’s antagonist, Hatsumomo.
So, I figured if the book was good enough to inspire Madonna, it was good enough to inspire me. Since my first encounter with this book, i’ve re-read it almost every year since. It’s a gorgeous novel that continues to pull me into the seductive world of Geisha.
A guide in Kyoto told me that Maiko (apprentice Geisha) tend not to wear full make-up during the day – only when they are on their way to entertain or to a performance.
Since Geisha are called upon to entertain in the evening, you have to wait around until dusk to see them walking around in full-makeup and costume. After wandering around and getting the occasionally-rare sighting, I decided to take in a show in Gion that featured Geisha of all ages performing tea ceremony, flower arranging, dance, and singing.
These dudes are NOT Geisha.
The last leg of my journey took me to Tokyo. Tokyo is insane. It’s a good insane. It’s like New York in that its a crazy-dense frenzy of people trying to get from point A to point B and features tall buildings, but that’s where the similarities end. I covered a good portion of the city on foot over the 3 days I was there, and I literally never saw a piece of trash on the ground – especially impressive, since there are virtually ZERO trash cans anywhere in the city. I drank a bottle of water and held onto the container for a good 45-minutes until I finally ducked into a Starbucks to throw it out.
There is so much in Tokyo to report on, but i’m going to just give you a glimpse of two specific attractions. The first is the Imperial Palace. Walking around the massive grounds, I truly felt like I was on an elaborate movie set. It’s such a romanticized symbol of power.
The other “highlight” of Tokyo was the Shimbashi neighborhood. It’s packed with tiny eateries and bars, and forever haunted by Tokyo’s salary men — which are the male Japanese work-aholics that live by the motto, “Work Hard & Play Hard”.
Visiting Japan was definitely an unexpected experience. I love living life outside of my comfort zone; and I equally love coming back home to a normal-sized cup of coffee. My advice to you when you travel is “When in Rome, eat Italian.” Or whatever. Take lots of photos so you can relive the craziness everyday.
I can’t wait to get back to Asia. I’m thinking that my next trip will have to be with Stephanie to … Korea! I’m totally acing the next edition of “Is this a Kpop Star”.