Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Japan Trip: Part 1!

Hi Everyone!
We're back after two weeks of traveling all over Japan-- what an adventure it was. It was a lot of fun, and an amazing learning experience for all of us.

(First off, sorry for any typos)

We are all thoroughly exhausted, but looking forward to going back to work and getting on a regular schedule once again... and of course, being back in our own beds.

I took over 1000 photos during our two weeks there. Halfway through, I purchased a new camera duty-free WHOO HOO. It's about time :) More on that when the time comes.

So I'm thinking of showing you our trip.. in order of what we did on the trip. It'll take a couple of blog posts, so please read on if you'd like!

This two week trip to Japan had been in the works pretty much ever since our good friend started the JET (teach English in Japan) program last June/July. We had made plans about half a year ago to visit him during his 1 week Spring vacation; our decision to make it two weeks was so that we can also use that time to relax and unwind from work.

Brian, John and I were due to fly our from San Francisco International Airport at 12PM on Friday, March 23rd. Upon check-in at the Asiana desk, we learned that our flight had been delayed. The original plan was to make a transfer in Seoul, Korea 11.5 hours into the flight for another flight to Tokyo, Japan. The clerk assured us that we shouldn't have an issue making our transfer (only 50 minutes after touch down on the first flight), but to be safe, she stuck priority tags on our luggage.

The service during the flight was superb. Attendants were extremely gracious, polite, and attentive though their English was very limited. The food was surprisingly delicious.

Our first meal (which all 3 of decided to get over the Western selection) was Bibimbap!

* Sorry for the poor lighting on these photos. I didn't want to disturb others by using the flash on the plane.

The second meal was.. amazing as well, actually. FISH and fried rice. The fish was spicy and delicious! Really, what a pleasant surprise. The bean and cucumber salad was superb as well.

You know what, weird thing about airplane fruit cups: they are beyond acidic. My tongue started to hurt after 2 piece of pineapple... not sure if other people observed this?

Brian and John got Chicken Lasagna -- it was an extremely unattractive looking meal but apparently the taste was not bad:

This chicken and rice was not impressive, darn.

The matcha desert that came with it was yummy though :)

Our flight became more and more delayed. We ended up missing our transfer to Tokyo by 20 minutes, and had to stay in Korea that night as there were no other flights out. Asiana did not compensate us or even apologize for the delay, which was.... surprising. I'd like to attribute that to a language barrier, but isn't apologizing for a delay common courtesy? Anyway, once we landed in Korea, someone with a sign promptly escorted us to the desk, we were handed tickets for the next morning, and pointed to the immigration line to get to our hotels for the night. No apologetic words or mannerism. We had someone waiting for us in Tokyo and a hostel waiting for check-in and payment, but Asiana clerks did not seem have the time to listen to their customers. Another couple on the same flight needed to call Narita Airport in Japan to notify the people they were meeting that their flight was delayed a day.. but the Asiana clerks somehow did not understand that simple request. Since Asiana is an international, Korean airline, we did expect them to at least have 1 person who has at least conversational English... We tried to talk to the clerks at their HQ but.. nothing came out of it, sadly. We were literally hounded to get to our hotel. The lot of about 8-10 of us rode in ONE taxi van (lol), and our luggage went separately. We were assured that our luggage would be safe. The next morning, we found out that someone had lost their luggage lost on the taxi ride. The ride from the airport to the hotel took 1 hour and 15 minutes. Um. Why?! Why does the hotel have to be so far? We were dead tired. Asiana provided hotel buffet coupons for the hotel (expires in 1 hour from our time of arrival to hotel). We didn't use it because 1. we were dead tired, 2. we were still waiting for our luggage to arrive.

So we lost 1 night in Tokyo + more than half of another day + money for the hostel + inconvenience for the person we were meeting up in Tokyo due to flight delay. No apologies from Asiana We were annoyed, but we quickly forgot about that as we were anxious to get on with our vacation!

We arrive in Tokyo about 1/2 PM on Sunday the 25th..
Our hostel was a traditional Japanese Ryokan with tatami-- a beautiful, large room for 4!

It was a stunning place, minus insulation but otherwise perfect. For those curious, this Ryokan is called HOMEIKAN, and you can find it at hostelworld.com if you'd like to stay there. There is a public bath & shower that's actually quite relaxing -- I didn't run into anyone so ... didn't really get the public bath "experience" but I'm fine with that :). Bathrooms are also shared by everyone on the same floor. Again, never ran into anyone in the bathroom either.

A shot of the hallway: 

And the garden that we couldn't walk in because it was undergoing renovation:

I really enjoyed staying at Homeikan and receiving the full on Ryokan experience. The staff was warm and attentive, and did not speak much English, but they were able to completely still communicate to us.

The first leg of our trip was in Tokyo.
Unfortunately I didn't take a lot of photos during this period... :(

We went to Shibuya... and saw/participated in the busiest crosswalk in the world;

It's crazy. Tokyo is especially dense, and this is.. normal.

Our first night in Tokyo, we went for some Chicken Karaage (Japanese chicken nuggets)-- a favorite dish of ours. I failed to take a photo of that, but got a shot of the little complementary seafood salad included with our snack:

And resuming our walk around the Shibuya area, we came across a pet shop... purebreds only.... munchkin kittens. A little sad to see this...

Cute, and trapped. Not a good environment.

Before retiring for the night, we stopped by a random ramen join and stuffed our faces a bit..

There was an earthquake on our first night-- Keith and I woke up but Brian and John slept through it!

The first convenience store purchase and snack was.. cute coffee (delicious) and Matcha + Strawberry Kit Kats!

The next day, the bf wasn't feelling well so we stuck around the hostel and... lived off of onigiri, karaage, coffee and snacks. We went to a bakery and picked up some delicious baked goodies including hot dog breads, cakes, etc.

This is just a random shot of fake food display outside a desert shop at Harajuku:

^ LOTS of eateries and restaurants have fake food displays out front. Pretty awesome actually. Makes ordering food a lot easier for us foreigners :)

And a shot from around the Meiji shrine area:

Off to the see the shrine!

There were tons of sake barrels on display at the shrine. There was a meaning behind these barrels, but I honestly can't remember the details right now, sorry.

John with barrels of Sake.

Washing hands  before entering the temple:

Locals visiting the shrine left small offerings and expressed their hopes and wishes:

It was quite cool that as we were walking around the shrine, we saw a couple getting married there that day!

Later we continued to explore the Tokyo streets-- Keith took us to the guitar district:

Wandering Tokyo:

And of course, we hit up my weakness..

Claw machines.

Clay Machines, aka UFO Catchers as they're called in Japan, are definitely aplenty.

Rina, you would have loved all these.

The.. only awful thing.. was that they were all 100Yen per play. That's about $1.15 - $1.20/ play! Because 100 Yen are similar in size/feel/weight to US quarters... so it can be quite dangerous ;)

Then.. we were off to Kyoto, on the Shinkansen, or bullet train.

They're fast. They go almost up to 200 mph.. intense!

On our way to Kyoto, we picked up some bentos from the train station:

Cold food wasn't too tasty, but it slaved off our hunger :)

That's it for the first few days of our trip! Definitely not as many pictures as I would have liked... but there will be more coming later :)

Whilst in Kyoto, we came across a bead shop and I purchased just a few parts... of all of which have been incorporated into the following earrings crafted:

These were inspired by Harajuku fashion.. cute.... a little wild and over the top ;)

See Harajuku Girls HERE.

These, inspired by Shiva from Final Fantasy; SEE THEM.

And finally..
I really, really, love these. The filigree leaves are stunning, just... stunning.

See Filigree Embrace HERE.

That's all for tonight! I promise to blog very, very soon!



Annie said...

I've always wanted to go to Japan so reading this made me smile! Can't wait to read more of your travels in Japan. Also, the new earrings look fabulous :)


Kimmiexstar said...

Glad you had a great experience in Japan; I look forward to more stories and pictures! ^^ The Harajuku earrings are beautiful!