The last five months flew by while I sat around like a lump in my parents’ house. It was the first time in about 15 years since I had lived with my parents, and being back for that long allowed me to spend some quality time with them.
On our last day in Tokyo, we took a walk along the Kanda River with my mom and her favorite daughter, Kaede. It was also the first time in 15 years that I saw the cherry blossoms in full bloom in Japan, and what was pretty uninteresting then was now totally transformed in my eyes.
Sadly, Nara lives in the large shadow of its big sister Kyoto. Few people know that Nara was briefly once the capital of Japan for about 75 years, before it was moved to Kyoto (for over 1000 years) and finally to Tokyo in the mid 1800s. During its brief stint as the capital, Nara’s imperial family pushed for the spread of Buddhism into Japanese culture.
The impressive Todaiji Temple with its daibutsu (big Buddha) and Kofukuji Temple with its famous Ashura statue (among others) is a testament to just how hard the artisans and builders worked to create something awe-inspiring to attract potential worshippers. Todaiji is one of the very few temples we’ve come across that allows photography of their religious statues so don’t forget your camera!
Food in Tokyo is pretty damn good, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that there are great meals to be had in Kyoto besides the traditional Japanese food it’s known for. These are the top five food spots we liked best. We only wish we had a better camera. Please excuse our sub-par photos.
1. Italian at Colori Caffe
A friend of a friend in NYC heard we had plans to visit Kyoto and introduced us to Yossi, Italian restaurant owner and chef extraordinaire. From the moment we met, I knew we were going to be friends. I could go on and on about how awesome she is, but I’ll save that for another day. This girl does everything by herself, from the buying of the food to the cooking to the serving to the cleaning. Crazy, right? But she does everything so flawlessly and seamlessly that we were able to really enjoy the food.
Kyoto: Tokyo’s #1 fantasy. A history- and tradition-packed city of beautiful Buddhist temples, quiet narrow streets and unique food arrangements. A sophisticated city which boasts incredible natural views during cherry blossom time and autumn (especially on those pretty tourism posters in Tokyo train stations). But we found out recently that it’s so much more than just a pretty face.
There is so much to say about Kyoto and why we’ve fallen head over heels in love with it, but that would take too long, and we’re busy kids. We’ve chosen our top 5 favorite things to do.
For photos of our trip, check out our Flickr page.
1. Fushimi Inari Shrine
Skip the insane crowd at overrated Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) and go here instead. This mountain shrine reveres foxes, which are considered heavenly guardians. This explains the fierce-looking fox statues everywhere.
Torii of various sizes line the walkways, making for quite a visual as you approach and walk through what ends up looking like long orange corridors.
There are a ton of things to look at as you make your way up the mountain paths, so this is a fun shrine for the inquisitive photographer. Unlike the other shrines in the area, Fushimi Inari isn’t a quick walkthrough. The path winds up a mountain and takes a while to ascend. The crowd at the very bottom of the path suddenly disappeared as we got to the halfway point of the route, and we were left alone to enjoy the quiet. Unfortunately, we were drenched from the constant drizzle that day so we turned around before we made it to the very top. Entrance is free, as with all Shinto shrines (unlike the Buddhist temples).
My grandfather, having had a passion for photography, started a camera shop after the war. I stumbled across some relics from the past in my grandparents’ old home.
While waiting for KS to get sheared, I stumbled upon this awesome model train shop in Omotesando. The Japanese sure love their trains!
More train nerdery fun here:
Shop info in case you have $10,000 to spend on a model train.
6-3-9 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 井門原宿ビル4F 井門Harajuku Building 4F
Yesterday was a perfect sunny spring day, and it couldn’t have been better weather for jubilant gayness at Tokyo Rainbow Pride. N and I met up with my high school friend Mai and made our way to Yoyogi Park. With this event coinciding with the long Golden Week holidays, we expected a bit of a crowd to have to fight through. We stepped off of the train at Harajuku Station and were swept along by a sea of people making their way through one of the busiest cities in Tokyo.
The event itself was held right by the NHK stage in the park, and the plethora of rainbow flags and signs made it easy to find. Having lived in the U.S. for so long, I had only seen rare glimpses of life as a queer native Japanese in Tokyo. So when I found out that we would be here for Tokyo’s pride parade, I was ecstatic. In the past, the organizers of this annual event had struggled with participation and interest from the LGBT community, so we were shocked by the number of people who showed up. Wow, Japan, when did you get so gay?
Today we hiked Mt. Takao in Hachiōji, Tokyo, Japan. It’s only an hour by train from Tokyo city center and offers many hiking trails for all levels of hikers. Takao-san is about 599 meters high and on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji from the summit. We weren’t so lucky today, but it was still a nice hike. It was ¥360 each way from Shinjuku to the base of Mt. Takao and you can save some money by bringing your own lunch. They also sell soft ice cream cones at the summit and you know I had to have one. Hiking and ice cream. Life is good.
Check out our Flickr set for more photos: Mount Takao Photos
It’s been a year since the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami swept through the lives of millions of Japanese. It was a wake-up call to those of us in developed countries that no, Mother Nature is not something humans will ever be able to conquer and subdue. More importantly, it was a terrible living nightmare that left tens of thousands dead and many more with irreplaceable losses.
At this time last year, I woke up to a text from my boss asking after my family “because of the earthquake”. I still remember how my heart stopped for a second before proceeding to pound in my ears and leave me reeling. What earthquake? Like always, N was right there next to me, telling me that everything was going to be OK. My hands shook as I dialed my parents in Tokyo. How bad was it? Where was it? Was this it? The overdue Kanto region quake that we’ve been dreading?
Once in a blue moon, my mother tears herself away from her urushi (Japanese laquerware) projects long enough to hastily send a care package to her daughter halfway across the globe in New York City. These boxes generally consist of Japanese food and snacks, and a few art postcards and exhibition posters on the bottom to motivate me to produce art. Instead of bubble wrap, she fills the empty spots with packs of Japanese rice crackers and random towels. Yes, towels. If there’s one thing I have an excess of in my tiny apartment, it is towels. Washcloths of linen and cotton, tea towels and handkerchiefs of all different patterns. “Who uses handkerchiefs anymore?!”, exclaimed NB recently as we were going through my stash of towels from my mother. “I do.” Or rather, will… someday, and when that day comes I’d like to know that I have a bunch on hand to pick from.