Japan, winter break '15 // 02

Japan wasn't part of the plan. We had already been in Taiwan for a month when my parents randomly asked me and my siblings whether or not we'd like to visit Japan with what was remaining of our winter break, and of course we said yes! Without any plans, we bought our tickets and hopped on a plane.


Check out my first Sunday morning in Japan here.

The prospect of a trip without any plans, without any commitments, without any constraints, full of nothing but time and freedom, sounds like an awesome adventure, doesn't it? But even with a flexible schedule, I couldn't take full advantage of the unlimited possibilities without first figuring out where to start and where to go. Whether I want to stick to it is up to me, but I gotta work off of something!

Lucky for me, my parents researched overnight and had the foresight to purchase Kansai Thru Passes, which gave us three days of unlimited transportation via subway/train within the Kansai area.

NARA. Deer wander comfortably through the streets and vendors sell crackers to the tourists for the deer. The bolder of the bunch might nip at you looking for treats, so hold onto your bags!

Usually I refrain from buying souvenirs because I've realized that they just end up adding to clutter, which I've become more aware of after packing for college and summer storage. But かわいいですね~

We got a little jealous of the deer, so we got food of our own. Too bad we don't get fed for free too.

TŌDAI-JI TEMPLE. I thought the deer were the main attraction, but we finally arrived. About time too, because my feet were dying in my Marc by Marc Jacobs elastic panel booties (got mine via ThredUp; similar | similar | similar) after walking those cobbled streets. Remind me to travel in sneakers next time.

NARA NATIONAL MUSEUM. I personally like experiencing and tasting things, and I love observing the world through my lens, but I'm not too keen on being stuck on the other side of a glass window.

OSAKA CASTLE. It's crazy what night can bring. It's another world. It's beautiful. Lights are strewn up for the festive season, but the main attraction is the light show projected onto the exterior of the castle.

OSAKA. Everyone rushes around the square, and tourists like me stop to snap pictures in Dōtonbori of the Glico running man and Kani Doraku crab signs. The people flow through the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade where shopkeepers are pushed to either side but continue to relentlessly vie for our attention by holding up large, handwritten signs and chanting their promotions. The brighter the neon signs, the louder the megaphone, the crazier the outfit, the greater the crowd, the better.

KUROMON ICHIBA. The traditional market is surprisingly calm. Perhaps we arrived at an odd time of day. Oh well, that just means shorter lines and more food to eat at bargain prices!

Everyone knows what takoyaki is! Next time you're visiting a foreign country, I dare you to close your eyes, randomly point at the menu, order whatever your finger lands on, and eat it. My family and I didn't do that, but I wish we had, because we spent ages attempting to decipher the menu.

KYOTO. Layers of mountains dissolve into clouds that float in the blue sky, taking my breath away.

Noms! Street food and public transportation are the most authentic ways to experience any city, imho.

BAMBOO GROVE. Rickshaw runners are on the lookout for tired tourists to pick up. They're wearing special outfits that I wish I had gotten pictures of, but I'm always hesitant photographing strangers. I probably don't need to be, as they probably have their pictures taken every day by the flocks of tourists. Okay the real reason is that my heart is thumping so I can't hold the camera steady. These young men are quite fit and quite attractive and... what? Who said that? Moving right along...

NONOMIYA SHRINE. The vibrant reds lure my camera over. I lose track of time and I also lose my family. Oops, they've been waiting for me by the exit for awhile. My brothers don't look too happy.

KINKAKU-JI TEMPLE. Push comes to shove and tourists fight their way to get the clearest view.

I have a confession: My parents led me and my brothers everywhere, and we followed them like dysfunctional ducks in a row. Throughout the trip I had no idea where we were going until we got there, and sometimes not even. This past year in college, I've realized that I have more life skills than I give myself credit for. I mean, I didn't give myself any credit before, so that's not saying much haha. Being away from my family for the past semester helped me develop my life skills, facing mini-challenges and rising to the occasion to overcome them. But it took no time at all for me to revert back to my old ways and become totally dependent on them once we were reunited over winter break.

There's a lot we did that I wasn't able to capture, like that time Mom went to the mall late at night and fought through the crowd to catch the bento box end-of-day sales that would have otherwise been a splurge, like that time we went to Kyoto Ramen Alley and should have ordered a bowl from each shop to share and compare but instead only went to one from which we ordered our lunch from something that looked like a vending machine, like that time we came across a heated vending machine along the street, like that time we visited the Pokemon Center, like that time we met up with a distant relative at Krispy Kreme, like that time I bought a beautiful Japanese print hair clip that didn't need to be clipped to keep my hair up but used something that was like the non-fuzzy side of a velcro strip, like that time I got my hair chopped off.

Despite not having a plan, I think we covered a lot of ground. On the other hand, considering we had a week, maybe we didn't cover as much as we could have. I still want to visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine, Universal Studios Japan (the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!!), and the Ghibli Museum (!!!).

Other bloggers who have been to Japan recently are Native Blush (Fushimi Inari Shrine, Nara, last day), Lace & Lilac (Tokyo), Eat Love Merry (arriving, Tokyo Disneyland by day and by night, Nana's Green Tea, Hakata Ippudo), Marevoli (Tokyo), and Wish Wish Wish (Tokyo guide, Ghibli Museum, Harajuku, Shibuya, Hanami). From their blogs, you can see pictures of Japan in warmer days!

Last but certainly not least, I am so inspired by JacksGap's 24 Hours In... vlog series, which I mentioned in one of my Friday Favorites. In the series is one of Tokyo, and on his blog you can see the behind the scenes. What's even more interesting is that he traveled with friends, and each of them made their own unique videos of the same place, the same trip. The creative mind is a beautiful thing.

What's your favorite Japanese advertisement?

PS: I spent eight hours straight until 4:30AM writing this post (once I'm on a roll, I just let myself keep going) only to have the post completely erased after one too many ctrl+z's. YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO UNDO ONE STEP AT A TIME. NOT ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I tried my best to keep my cool and I think I did relatively well. In between heaving breaths, I chanted to myself that I had simply completed my rough draft and was ready to move onto the final. It will be better. It will be more... "concise." ಠ_ಠ

PPS: I guess my mom really liked Japan; we're going back. We just bought our tickets last night, and our flight to Osaka is in a few hours! Got any recommendations for places we must hit, food we must eat, things we must do? Harry Potter World is already at the top of my list! EEK, much excite.