KYOTO HERE WE COME
I didn’t mention, but yeah, we were heading to Kyoto, which we’d heard is dope. And since I believe everything everyone tells me all the time, I figured if people said Kyoto was dope, it must be dope and off we went. Taking the shinkansen was just icing on the metaphorical cake.
The train was awesome and the views of Mount Fuji, especially on the way back to Tokyo, were phenomenal. It reminds me a lot of Mount Rainier in Seattle, just insanely beautiful and kinda seems like it’s floating out of nowhere out there.
Also, the train had great free internet so while baby slept I actually felt productive and got some work done. Win!
YOU MUST STAY AT THE DORMY HOTEL IN KYOTO. MUST!
Ok, so Kyoto ruled, but what ruled just as much was the Dormy Hotel. You get off the train at Kyoto Station and you’re pretty much at the hotel, which is nice when you only have backpacks and a baby…the less walking, the better. But trust me, the Dormy is much more than just a sweet location.
DORMY = ONSEN, RAMEN, MINI MART
As usual, Caitlin absolutely crushed the part of this trip she planned. She told me there was an onsen (more on that later) and free ramen every night, so I was sold quickly and easily. But my favorite part is the mini mart that’s attached. It’s a Lawson, which is pretty much like every other small grocery store, and it’s awesome. It’s open 24 hours, so did I go there at 3am? Yes, yes I did. Did I go multiple times a day? Yes, yes I did.
The Lawson is accessible from the street, but even better, there’s a door inside the hotel directly into it. It was pretty much my dream come true. But yeah, about the other perks:
FREE RAMEN IS GOOD RAMEN (EXCEPT TO ME)
Every night at Dormy, they have free ramen. Not like crappy American ramen but real Japanese ramen. I had very low expectations since it was free, but boyyyyyyyy was I wrong.
It was like fully legit. There was a chef wearing a cool chef hat making these giant pots of very fancy ramen. The bowls were huge and were totally like what you’d get at a restaurant, and they were free, all free! Sadly for me though, it was extremely fishy, like everything else in Japan, so it wasn’t my thing. But man, what a cool perk at a cool hotel. Stay there!
ONSEN = GIANT NAKED BATHTUB
Having been to Iceland and knowing that they require nude showers (seriously, they have people whose entire job it is to make sure everyone showers naked…weird job…) I wasn’t really worried that the onsen had a million signs saying you have to shower completely naked before getting in. Old news. What I was shocked at is that you cannot wear clothing into the onsen either.
Basically, an onsen is just a big bathtub. It’s a very traditional Japanese thing, which is why we were excited to try it. They’re normally around hot springs, and I THINKKKKKKK the one at Dormy is around a hot spring but whatever, either way it’s a bunch of hot pools.
And yeah, you can’t wear clothes. Like, I still wonder where everyone even kept their towels, because there was absolutely not a stitch of clothing anywhere. Men and women are separated, so it’s really not a big deal. It was basically me with a bunch of old naked Japanese dudes and Caitlin with a bunch of old Japanese women. And seriously, it’s pretty dang relaxing. Lots of steam and it was a fun cultural experience if you can get over the weirdness.
DON’T PLAN TO EAT BETWEEN 1-5PM
We were fungry (fat and hungry, freakin hungry, whatever) and went to find some delicious food, only to find 4 or 5 restaurants in a row were closed from 1-5pm so we ended up eating at some massive food court. Weird, but good to know just in case.
THE GOLDEN TEMPLE IS PHENOMENAL
As usual, Caitlin had all this stuff planned while my only plan was to roam the streets, soak in the coolness, and try and find some cool drinks that didn’t contain laxative properties. When Caitlin said there was a temple to see, I was in, but when she said it was a GOLDEN temple, I was all in. We caught the JR 3 bus from the main station (again, I can’t stress this enough, STAY AT THE DORMY HOTEL), which was across the street from us, and off we went. As usual, the bus was insaneeeeeeeely crowded, and having a baby in a car seat certainly made it a little more difficult, but people are chill and polite so it wasn’t a huge deal. And, uh, yeah, the Golden Temple is an absolute must see.
As I usually mention, Wikipedia is a thing, so I won’t go into details that you can find elsewhere, usually because I’ll probably butcher the history or description or whatever and Wikipedia (usually) won’t. But yeah, it freakin rules and you need to go. It’s just what it sounds like, a large temple plated in gold. Real gold? No idea. But it was real to me.
And the scenery? Oh the scenery. Don’t get me started on the scenery! You want to hear about the scenery? Fine, the scenery: It’s beautiful. Super lush with a gorgeous koi pond and it’s such a nice and chill walk around the temple grounds. It was a bit crowded, and there were some stairs where I had to carry baby’s car seat/stroller, but it was very accessible and very easy to navigate. It was a gravel trail, so the stroller ride was probably bumpy, but baby didn’t seem to mind. You absolutely cannot miss the Golden Temple.
And again, the bus back to the hotel was even crazier. Like, as Thom Yorke said and I’ve so oft quoted here, we were all Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box. But we made it back, and that’s all that matters, and it was an amazing day.
THE KYOTO TOWER IS SWEET AND GOOD FOOD IS UNDERNEATH IT
As usual again, I had no idea what to expect in Kyoto except that it was cool and good and old, so the Kyoto Tower was another pleasant surprise. It’s just a massive and tall building that lights up at night and looks sweet. And, better yet, since our hotel was right by it, it was my guiding north star throughout Kyoto where I always knew where we were (kinda). But the best of all? There’s a big food court in the basement and the food there rules.
When I say food court, I don’t mean like in the USA, where you have some gross cardboard pizza and other disgusting food options like in most shopping malls. In Japan, the food courts we ate at were actual restaurants, many seemed like small mom and pop local restaurants, and pretty much everything we ate was awesome.
On this particular night, we went to a beef place in the food court, which was absolutely bustling. It had bar seating, which was a plus for us since we could park baby’s stroller underneath the bar, and we got a bunch of beef skewers. It was more expensive than we expected to spend ($34), but there were some really good cuts of beef including wagyu, which we’d never had before and it’s a Japanese specialty. Basically though, if you’re in Kyoto and need a bunch of food options, head for the tower and you’ll find something good down there.
Caitlin and baby finished the night at the onsen and I finished the night sleeping soundly whilst Caitlin and baby finished the night at the onsen. Win!
DAY 6: MONKEYS OF KYOTO
Now, once I heard there were a bunch of (wild, I think?) monkeys in Kyoto, I knew I had to go see them, mostly because I closely relate to their lifestyle and behaviors. The only problem, and I found this out too late, is it was pretty similar to the monkeys in Gibraltar, which is to say, super cool but it felt like something we’d already done. So yeah, if you’ve done Gibraltar and seen all the crazy wild monkeys, maybe you’d wanna skip the ones in Kyoto. I dunno. But anyways, on to the monkeys!
First off, we took the train to the monkey stop, and the area where the trail starts is super cool. It feels very European, with narrow streets with very little auto traffic and lots of foot traffic. There are shops on both sides of the road, and we loaded up on unhealthy foods and ice cream and yes, even bought a kimono for baby. Caitlin got takoyaki, which is a fried octopus ball, and surprisingly she didn’t love it. I was actually shocked, because she pretty much loves any slimy thing that comes from the sea. Oh well. The walk towards the monkey trail is super enjoyable and it was a beautiful day and we were just in heaven.
To get to the monkey trail, you cross this bridge over a river and it’s just a fun, pretty area. Even if you don’t actually hike to the primates, the area itself is definitely worth a gander. And if you look online, you’ll see all these opinions, ranging from “the hike is too strenuous, don’t do it” to “the hike is just a walk and I did it with no legs and if you can’t do it you’re fat.” The truth lies, as it usually does, somewhere between these extremes.
It’s about a 20 minute walk, and it is a decently steep incline up. Luckily, it’s paved and there are stairs in area, and I was carrying a 10 pound baby and still didn’t have a horrible time. It took us a few extra minutes than it would have otherwise probably, but neither Caitlin nor I thought the hike was enough of a detriment to not go again. So don’t let that be the reason you don’t go. You can go at your own pace and it’s pretty and tropical and quiet (until you get closer to the top and hear screaming monkeys).
MONKEYS ARE COOL
There’s not a ton to say about the monkeys except that it’s fun to hang out with wild animals besides my family. There were some cute baby ones, and even though monkeys kinda freak me out a little, it was fun to watch them all. Fat ones, skinny ones, ones playing on the roof, babies, toddlers, adults…Kyoto monkeys had them all. As far as I know they’re wild, and there’s a little shack where you can buy snacks (for you, not for them) and watch out the fenced windows where the monkeys come climb around. It’s a fun activity, I think it would probably be more fun with a child who was old enough to appreciate it. Either way, it was a fun and beautiful walk and we didn’t regret going.
TENRYU-JI TEMPLE GROUNDS
After the monkeys, we walked over to Tenryu-ji Temple, which is also called Dharma Hall. There’s supposed to be some cool dragon painting, and it looks cool online, but we were happy just to roam the grounds. On the way, I crammed so much street food down my gullet it was incredible. I was most excited about the yuba, which is tofu skin, and I got mine with cheese and it looked incredible. Sadly, as usual, it was fairly fishy tasting and Caitlin ended up eating more than I did. The idea was good, though. I got some beef croquets from a shop and it was pretty much just fried meat, very salty but good but made me feel the same way I feel when I eat something from an American gas station…heavy and gross. We also got some green tea ice cream, and green tea is called matcha for some reason. Even weirder, we got tofu ice cream. Both of them were decent, not incredible but not bad. But I was in food heaven with all these little shops and couldn’t stop eating. Caitlin also stopped by Miffy Sakura Bakery, which is fairly famous, and bought some baked goods that looked like animals which we promptly devoured. Mmmmm…
Anyways, on to Tenryu-ji Temple…
Actually not really. We just walked around the grounds. There were a few random places to sit and we had to sneak behind some building to change baby on the ground (check out my GEAR section to see the cool stuff we brought for baby) and we got some cool pictures underneath the big orange torii which is the gate thing, and the grounds were a nice place to stroll and relax.
BAMBOO FOREST IS COOL
Just a few minutes away from Tenryu-ji is a cool bamboo forest. It reminded me of the one we visited in Maui, probably because it was a forest with bamboo…weird, eh? It’s just a cool atmosphere and we saw a few people in traditional Japanese clothes (which you can rent for the day, if baby was older we definitely would have) who looked dope getting pics here, as well as a couple wedding couples. It’s definitely a good place for a picturesque (aka Insta-worthy) moment and it was on our way to the train so we would have been stupid not to do it.
KYOTO HIGASHIYAMA DISTRICT (OLD TOWN) IS INSANELY COOL AND THE BEST
And now, the reason we wanted to come to Kyoto in the first place (besides the Brand New lyrics in mene)…OLD TOWN!!!
We walked from the bamboo forest to the train at Nijo Station, and from there we took a subway that was $5.20 each and was not covered by the JR Pass. That took us pretty close to old town, and after a brief stop at Starbucks to feed baby (and eventually buy something because we felt awkward with the employees coming to look why we were there every 10 minutes), we walked over to the old part of Kyoto…and it ruled.
Seriously, this was pretty much all we knew about Kyoto is that it had an old town and it was supposed to look and feel like Japan used to be…and me likey. A lot.
We got there as it was starting to get dark and I’m not gonna lie, it had kind of a creepy Jack the Ripper type feel with these eerie dim-ish glowing lamps and all these small shops with dim lanterns in the window. It was all wood and had kinda stone-ish streets and it was totally beautiful. Once again, I know it’s dumb and I have no better way to explain, but it just felt like Japan, if that’s even a thing. It was easy to imagine the older days, and it was SOOOOOO different than the crazy neon and skyscrapers that fill most of the other parts of Japan we’d been to. We didn’t really do anything besides stroll around, but it was incredibly cool and if you go to Kyoto you absolutely cannot miss it.
After that, we headed back to our awesome hotel (did I mention the amazing location? I’m not sure I did. It’s amazing because every train and bus goes to the main station which is your hotel. Stay there) and ate in the food court under the Kyoto Tower again. I had really bloody good gyoza and noodles, and Caitlin and baby headed to the Onsen and I headed to one of the highlights of my whole trip: Osaka!
OSAKA CASTLE IS INSANELY DOPE
For some odd reason, and I honestly mean that, Caitlin was very anti-Osaka. She had read that it was just another big city and I was not gonna miss it, even if just a tiny piece. And, again, since we had the JR Pass, it didn’t matter if I was taking the train because it was already paid for, and I didn’t feel like I had to stay a certain amount of time or do anything in particular. I knew I wanted to see Osaka Castle and that was that.
First, the train…you people in Japan are crazy! Both ways on the train it was sooooo packed. And yeah, I know I’ve mentioned this, but it was like 10pm on my way back and it looked like all the business dudes were coming home from work. I’ve heard Japan has long work hours but sheeeeeesh! I actually felt bad for everyone as I was wondering if they really had just worked like 16 hours or something.
Anyways Osaka Castle was 100% worth seeing. The train was something like 45 minutes to Osaka, and I had no idea where I was going and I didn’t really care, I just wanted to get lost in a cool city. I roamed around the station, came across some weirdos playing saxophone and guitar (it was awesome), bought some Red Bull and candy, and then…there she was!
I was roaming through this park right near the station (it’s Japan, you can roam through dark creepy forest parks whenever you want) and all of the sudden…wow. It’s more impressive than it looked in photos, even. Just amazing and super bright and very Japanese looking and way tall. Just bloody rad. Getting to it, however, was a different story…
HAILING MY FIRST TAXI EVER
The castle looked close enough but it was like that one scene in Monty Python where they keep running and never get closer when I tried to get there. I soon realized I would be walking a bloody long time (Google told me like 30 minutes or something) and I might be better off catching a cab, which I had seen a million of around Japan. And yet…do you just hail a cab like the movies? Would I get into a car that wasn’t a cab and the person would be too polite to tell me to get out and would take me for free? Would I be driven to a dark alleyway and politely told off? No idea.
And yeah, it was like in the movies. I went into the road and frantically yelled “Taxi!!!!” until one stopped. Seriously, it pretty much went like that. My cab happened to be an insanely smoky and disgusting one, like the old dude driving it had been chain smoking in it for 55 years, which may have actually been true. There was a major language barrier so I just said “castle,” and he seemed to get it and off we went. I had cash, and it was slightly more than I thought it would be ($15 or so) for a short drive, but whatever, I had to see the castle up close.
The dude dropped me off at what felt like the middle of nowhere, I honestly thought he’d scammed me for a minute until I realized the grounds to Osaka Castle are huge and I had to walk a decent ways around the walls and moat to get to the actual building part.
OSAKA CASTLE AT CHRISTMASTIME = $$$
Now, back to the castle. Now, I hate to overstate this, because Caitlin wasn’t there, and I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE how people will pick up on the one thing you didn’t do on any given trip and swear that you missed the BEST PART and so forth. But seriously, and I’m not just saying this to make Caitlin feel bad or nothin…Osaka Castle was one of my favorite parts of this trip.
For one, there was this massive Christmas lights show going on around the grounds. It actually cost something like $13 to go to that, and I thought I was going to have to pay just to walk around the castle but that was a different thing. From up near the castle, though, I was able to see some of the Christmas lights and hear the annoying songs play over and over, so I was glad I didn’t have to pay and still got to see it.
But the castle itself? Dannnnnng Gina it’s crazy. It was cool because between it being late (like 8pm or something) and dark and fairly cold, I literally was the only one around the castle for most of my walk. It took ages to get around the walls and moat, but even that was cool. Once you get close, it’s just…amazing. I don’t know what words to use, but it’s incredible. It’s really well-lit and it sits pretty high above where you stand, so it just looks like this big floating castle. It’s a cool mix of Japanese and traditional architecture and I had so much fun just walking around, taking photos, reading its history online, and once again just marveling about the fact I was in Japan. Like…who’s life am I living?!
DIDI = UBER OR LYFT OR WHATEVER
Once again I didn’t feel like walking for 30+ minutes to the train, so I downloaded some app called Didi which is the Japanese version of Lyft or something, and I had some promo code I found online that gave me a few bucks off. It actually took about 10 minutes to get a cab to show up, and one random dude pulled up and I started to get in until he realized I wasn’t his passenger, but whatever. Weirdly enough, Didi told me I’d been “upgraded” to a Star Wars cab, which literally just meant the guy had these semi-ghetto Star Wars seat covers and signs on his car, and somehow people pay more for that or something. But yeah, it was like $15 to get back to the station, well worth the money in my opinion. I got on the train, which I already mentioned was crazy crowded even late, went back to our awesome hotel, and got two hot steaming bowls of fishy ramen…both for Caitlin, of course. I finished the night with a bunch of old naked Japanese dudes in the onsen, as you always should whilst in Japan. Good day indeed.
DAY 7: NARA DEER ARE VERY GOOD DEER
Nara was a place I was super stoked for, and that turned out to be a well-founded excitement. We caught the train to Nara and it was a 45-minute train ride, and for the first and last time ever, the train was actually NOT crowded, which was nice. Weirdly enough though, as we were waiting for the train, I tried to go to the bathroom in the station and there were SO many cops blocking the men’s bathroom and telling me I couldn’t go in. I was so curious what had happened, and I kept looking online since they wouldn’t say what was happening. All I know is I had to hold it for an hour to pee in Nara. Which reminds me…
HOW HAVE I NOT MENTIONED JAPANESE TOILET SEATS YET?!
Ok I’m really upset with myself about this. Toilets in Japan are…heavenly. Like, every single one. I’m not kidding. Toilets at the places we stayed, whether apartments or hotels, toilets in restaurants, toilets in train stations. All. Of. Them. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you why. They have heated toilet seats!
It’s like this super heavy duty toilet seat that plugs in and basically gets warm as soon as you sit on it. It’s just a beautiful feeling, you can tell they really care about your bathroom experience in Japan. They also have bidets with multiple settings and functions, which I cannot speak on, but the seats just rule and Caitlin and I are trying to get one immediately.
NARA DEER MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE A DISNEY PRINCESS
Pretty much all we knew about Nara is there’s heaps of deer there and the deer are very good deer. And yep, that’s about it, and it’s awesome! The train station is like 15 minutes walk from the deer park, so we took a bus that I think we had to pay for (not JR Pass but like $2 each or something) and you know you’re at the right place when you see deer literally everywhere. It’s crazy. They’re wild, from what I know, but wild in the sense that people have taken over their lives and now they are nice to people to get stuff from them…which is the way I like deer!
There’s all these old people with tables selling these wafer things around the park and I think they’re like $2 and the deer love them. So basically you walk around and deer follow you around and eat right out of your hand. It’s pretty bloody cool, and for the most part the deer are well behaved. For the most part.
Caitlin somehow attracted an aggressive deer who would not accept the fact that he couldn’t have all of her wafers, so he started following her closely and then even butted her with his head a couple times while I nearly fell over laughing so hard. Then, another one got right into baby’s face, even trying to take a bite out of her stroller. Oh and one ate the luggage tag from the stroller…I hope that deer is ok and that the tag was delicious. Good times. But really, Nara is totally worth going to just for the deer, but there’s even more to Nara than deer…such as:
NARA PREFECTURAL OFFICE = AWESOME VIEW, RELAXATION SPOT
Now that I’m looking online, I guess this building is well known for its views. Me, however? I just roamed around looking for a bathroom, which I found inside this building. Then, because I was already there, I decided to go up to the top floor and see what I could see, and to my delight there’s an amazing rooftop patio. We fed baby up there, ate our snacks and lunch, and just relaxed. It’s a really beautiful spot and has some cool views of Nara. It was a pleasant hidden gem for us and since it’s literally across the street from the deer park, you might as well go. Plus, you’ll see a couple rebellious deer in the grass of the building which is cool.
WALKING TO TODAI-JI TEMPLE WHERE I AM HUMILIATED PUBLICLY
After the rooftop, it was a nice walk over to the Todai-ji Temple, which is another awesome spot in Nara. It’s a big complex (one that I just found out literally right now on Wikipedia that Bob Dylan played at in 1994) with buildings but the main highlight is the Grand Buddha Hall. It was $6 each to get in, cash only. There are some super dope statue heads and a really, really, really massive Buddha made of wood. It was nice and sunny inside and there was heaps of Japanese high school or middle school kids there and it was just a fun atmosphere, particularly because they loved our baby. However, my enjoyment was short-lived, as my greatest humiliation (at least in the last week or so) was about to happen…
Yikes. Sheesh. Why am I putting this in print, where all my loyal reader (hi, mom) will now know the depths of my embarrassment? Well, here goes nothin…
So Buddha’s Nostril is this hole inside one of the wooden pillars holding up this temple, and it’s supposedly as big as one of the nostrils on the massive massive very large Buddha statue in the room. And if you crawl through it, you supposedly have good luck or something, whatever, I just wanted to crawl through a dang tree.
But first, baby! We knew baby needed good luck since she’s a Mallory and Mallory LITERALLY means unlucky, so hopefully Buddha’s Nostril would reverse the curse. Plus, there was a ton of school kids going through, and they were all excited that I was standing in line with a baby. I put her through and she was immediately lucky, plus the crowd loved it. It was fun and cute. What happened next was not.
So I used to be skinny. Like, deathly skinny. Like, 100 pounds skinny. And yeah, I’m not tall, but it wasn’t a good kind of skinny. But I got used to it, and one day around age 23, I suddenly got some belly fat. And more. And more. And more. Until now, when I have a legit dad bod gut and it sucks and I hate it and keto plus exercise plus lots of other stuff hasn’t helped one iota. So I should have known I shouldn’t have done it…But, again, my last name is Mallory, and I needed some good luck. I mean, after all, I was in Japan with a beautiful wife and healthy baby, so obviously my life needed some help.
Yes, dear reader (hi, mom), I got stuck in Buddha’s Nostril and I had to be pushed from one side and pulled from the other like a giant fat booger from his nose. It was not pleasant, nor was it dignified. Masses of Japanese schoolchildren laughed at me and a crowd gathered to see the fat American stuck in a tree. I wish I was kidding. Finally, I was pushed and pulled and I wriggled and struggled and listened to 10 people telling me 10 different ways to contort my body and I emerged from the hellish birth canal with no dignity and barely with my life. The best part? The crowd cheered, and I legitimately mean cheered, when this fat Yank got unstuck. Sigh…
THE GENERIC FORTUNE TELLER IS KINDA COOL…ALSO, BOWING DEER
This is minor but kinda cool. In Cambodia at Angkor Wat I had my fortune told by a Thai monk, and it basically said life would suck but get better. In Japan, I noticed these fortune telling things at some of the touristy places, but I saw lots of Japanese people using them so I knew I had to.
You give the person like $1-2 and choose a tile from a bag or box, which corresponds to a scroll you take out of a different box. They give you a fortune and yeah it’s generic and boring but it felt like a cool Japanese thing to do.
As we left, we noticed a bunch of people around the straggler deer that hang out around the temple, and we realized why…they bow. THE DEER BOW! I’m not even kidding, it’s amazing and so cool to see. Even their deer are polite man!
ENDING OUR NIGHT AT FUSHIMI INARI WAS PERFECT
“Raining in Kyoto /It’s flooding the streets/I’m nursing a [Red Bull] from a vending machine/
I saw the god of rice, a fox with a key” -The Wonder Years, Raining in Kyoto.
All I know is while we were in Kyoto, I listened to this song nonstop and it was stuck in my head every second of the day, so I was thrilled to get to Fushimi Inari and actually see the dang fox.
Fushimi Inari is a 100% can’t miss in Kyoto. We got there as it was starting to get dark, and just like in old town, it had a very creepy and eerie feel. I think I played too much Fatal Frame as a kid. But there’s heaps of these Japanese gates, like everywhere. And they just keep going and going and it’s a huge tunnel with dim lighting and it’s eerie but so cool. The whole complex is cool because there’s shops and food and lots to see. And yes, we did see the fox with the key. I should mention, from Nara it was about an hour train, and again it wasn’t too crowded on the train which was nice. The whole experience at Fushimi Inari was cool and we were super glad we went; it was a perfect end to the night. As usual, though, the train back to Kyoto was absolute insanity.
DAY 8: THE VIEWS OF MOUNT FUJI ON THE TRAIN BACK: *CHEF’S KISS*
Look, dawg. I’ve been in some pretty places. I’ve chilled in Iceland and New Zealand (NZ for 2 years, at that) and Switzerland and lots of others. I know what a good mountain looks like. I live in Utah, home of good mountains. But dannnnnnnnnng, seeing Mount Fuji, even just from the train, is some next level stuff.
It is just a majestic looking mountain, and it kinda seems like it comes out of nowhere. We saw it briefly on the way down to Kyoto, but the trip back had way better views. I got up on the train and just stood by the window and took photo after photo and I love every single photo I took. Just that view alone made the train ride back to Tokyo awesome.
IMPERIAL PALACE EAST GARDENS
At this point, we felt super content with our trip. I hadn’t really seen the Skytree or Eiffel Tower up close, but I wasn’t totally heartbroken about that. Other than that, we had done everything I wanted to do. So once we got back to Tokyo and ditched our stuff at our hotel (the Tokyu Stay Nihombashi…which, by the way, is like 1 minute walk away from a JR train station (Shin-Nihombashi Station) that goes to Tokyo Station…a bunch of people online said this train station didn’t work to get to Tokyo Station or that it wasn’t a JR Station…they’re wrong) and headed to the gardens.
Honestly, this was a great way to wind down our trip. For one, it’s free, which is cool. And they give you a token when you go in that you have to return, which I thought was odd, but I think it’s so people don’t hide inside the park when it closes because they’ll know how many people were in there. It was a chill place where the cops were on bikes and besides a bunch of super loud and probably drunk Aussies, all was relaxing and quiet.
There’s a bunch of history that I won’t relate, but it’s basically just a bunch of pretty gardens and trees and a little stream, all of which make for nice photos and nice place to get Zen. We just roamed and talked and baby slept and people came and asked about her and all was well. It’s cool because it’s Tokyo and you can see tall buildings and stuff but it feels like you’re not in a big city…kinda like Central Park in NYC. Very much good and enjoyable.
MY BIGGEST REGRET: EATING AT SHABUSEN GINZA
Since our experience at Shabusai was so good (3.8 stars on Google? Get bent.), we wanted to try another place. Rather than just go back, which we knew was the safe bet, we decided to find another highly rated place and had hopes that it might even be BETTER. Alas, we really blew it because it sucked and it was double the price.
We ended up going to a place that did shabu shabu called Shabusen Ginza, but we ended up ordering this “soup,” which was pretty much plain water that you boiled stuff in and then dipped into sauces, all of which were not good. The beef and pork just weren’t really good tasting, the sauces were flavorless, and there was hardly any food. Yes, I’m a fat America, but still…And then they asked if we wanted more but then told us it wasn’t included. No bloody thanks. It seriously was a huge disappointment and we still talk about it to this day, how we should have just gone back to Shabusai. We suck. It was $60 and we left hungry, depressed, and with a very bland taste in our mouths. C’est la vie. With that everlasting sadness, we went home for our final sleep in Japan.
DAY 9: WATCHING THE BIG BOYS AT ARASHIO-BEYA SUMO STABLE
One thing I was bummed about was when I learned there were only a few sumo tournaments a year in Japan. I just assumed there would be sumo wrestlers everywhere and matches would take place whenever I wanted them to, so when I found out that wasn’t true, I figured we wouldn’t get to see any sumo, which made me sad. I mean, when in Tokyo, right?
Anyways, this is a can’t miss whilst in Tokyo! Repeat…you have to see this!!!!
First off, isn’t it kinda rude to call the places where the sumos train “stables”?! I mean, I know they’re big dudes but come on, STABLES? They may be as large as farm animals but don’t call their homes a STABLE! Nonetheless, I digress.
So yeah, my friend Google told me about this place and I figured it was worth a shot. The best part? Their website has a dialogue to use to find out if sumo training will happen the next day, and IT ACTUALLY WORKED! No, seriously, check this out:
- YOU: Moshi-Moshi (Hello.)
- WE (Arashio-Beya): Hi, Arashio-beya desu. (Yes, this is Arashio-beya.)
- YOU: Ashita Keiko Arimasu-ka? (Will keiko take place tommorow morning?)
- WE: Hi, Arimasu. (Yes, it will.) or
Yeeye, Arimasen. (No, it will not.)
- YOU: Arigatou (Thank you.) or
Yuck-ree Onegai shimasu. (Excuse me, please more slowly.)
- WE: Arigatou gozai-mashita. (Thank you so much.)
I called and used that and they actually said yes, so I knew we could go the next morning. SO DOPE! And I am so so so glad we went!
We ended up just taking a cab over there since the train was an hour and a cab was something like 12 minutes. It was $10-15 each way, so certainly not cheap, but I absolutely couldn’t miss sumo in Japan if I had the chance.
Basically, you stand outside this building with a huge window and watch giant dudes throw each other around. No, seriously, that’s it. But it’s rad. We got there pretty early and were the first ones, so we got right up to the window. It gets way steamy inside, but some nice old guy who has a cool cat sitting on him continually gets up and de-fogs the windows so you can see inside. Even though you’re in the street/sidewalk, they still say don’t talk or use flash because the doors and windows are open and they may get distracted.
And seriously? These dudes are fit! I couldn’t believe it! They’re pudgy, yes (not like I’m one to speak) but their strength is just unreal. And when they go to the ground, it’s this graceful roll thing where they don’t look like the types of things these giant dudes should be able to do. It was pretty incredible to watch and was 100% worth doing. In fact, it was one of my favorite things we did. GO!
THE SAD TREK HOME BEGINS
Just like that, our trip was over besides the worst part—the journey home. We checked out of our hotel and headed to Tokyo Station where we were going to catch the Narita Express. As I mentioned, book your seats ahead of time, because the train can get crowded. We had done that, so we headed to the station to find some eats and…
SEA URCHINS ONLY…A RESTAURANT MADE ONLY OF SEA URCHIN FOOD
Inside the station, we were trying to find a place that would let us come in with both a stroller and our large backpacks, and several places said no because space was limited. Finally, we saw a place that had a couple pictures of their food that looked like traditional ramen or something, asked if we could bring stuff in, they said yes and rearranged a table and we were ordering our last meal. In Japan they often have an English menu if you ask, and we were seriously shocked when they gave us the English menu because…
Everything contained sea urchin. I’m not joking, it was a sea urchin only restaurant. I wouldn’t touch sea urchin alive or dead and certainly wouldn’t eat it, but Caitlin had tried it at her conveyor belt sushi place and hated it so we knew we had to bail.
I mean, I know it’s Japan and they like seafood, but it reminded me of that Simpsons episode:
Waiter: I’m sorry, ma’am, but everything on the menu has fish in it.
Marge: Mmm, what about the bread? Does that have much fish in it?
Literally everything was sea urchin. They were super polite and nice when we said sorry we are going to leave (it’s Japan, they’re always polite and nice), but we still laugh about it now that there’s a restaurant that serves only and exclusively sea urchin. Good times.
Anyways, I ended up getting a ramen bowl that the waitress told me was chicken. Like, I said does this have fish? She said no. I said any fish? She said no, chicken. And when it arrived it was the fishiest ramen I’ve ever smelled or tasted. Needless to say, I left it uneaten which I felt bad about but whatever. Just like that, we were off to the airport and the miserable trek home.
NARITA AIRPORT LOUNGE: MEH
As I always say, traveling with Priority Pass rules and the lounges range from “better than sitting in the airport terminal, but barely” (Stansted), to “this lounge is the best thing ever” (mainly ones with showers like Cambodia and Peru), but no matter what, lounges beat not having a lounge. The Tokyo one was fine, nothing special. It had really basic snacks and drinks, but was quiet and clean, 2 things which most airport terminals are not, so it was a win for us. As I mentioned earlier, the Seattle lounge was better, decent food, but SOOOOO crowded on the way home, and of course there was this huge group of American college kids who sounded drunk (8am, whatever) and were SOOOOO loud. It was very annoying but whatever.
THE FLIGHTS HOME: UNEVENTFUL. FINAL REFLECTIONS: JAPAN RULES
To make up for not sleeping the whole flight to Japan, baby slept the whole flight home. She slept all the way from Tokyo to Seattle almost without a peep. In Seattle, we changed her in the lounge (like 5 times) and people ogled her and asked all about her, and then she slept again from Seattle to SLC. Major win.
In closing: Japan ruled. I never had this obsession to go like so many people, but I kinda thought it would be novel and fun but nothing too special. I was wrong, it was amazing. The food, the people, the sights…everything was perfect…even with a newborn.
So…what did we miss? Hit us on Facebook, Instagram or check out our YouTube Channel and tell us how we’re the worst travelers ever and missed the best parts of Japan, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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