Category Archives: Inspiration

A Japanese Adventure: “An Icy Delight” …

Wow! It’s been a couple of months (I think) since I last blogged about the amazing Japanese adventure.. 🙂 It’s time to get back to it!

The next stop was perhaps THE best stop of our trip…. none other than Fuji-san … aka Mount Fuji!

I’ve forgotten our awesome tour-guide’s name… but she made great use of our long bus ride… by educating us on the mountain structure and regional landscape, a little Kanji-analysis, some awesome origami (yes, we made Mt. Fuji!) and telling use some mysterious stories…
I can’t believe I don’t remember the story.. I’m going to have to chase my sister on this! (Stay tuned!)
By the way, in the snaps below you’ll notice that in my (not so well-done) Mt. Fuji origami pieces, the white layer at the top (which represents Mt. Fuji’s snow-capped peak) is always different in size. While you may be tempted to think this is because of my ridiculously poor origami skills (and you’d be right) .. it is also intentionally different because it represents Mt. Fuji at different times of the year (more snow on the peak in winter).. 🙂

The weather was definitely a step up from our earlier hot and humid days… It was still humid but cooler… and we had no idea just how cold it was going to get.. 😉
We had been told that our first stop was going to be the ‘Ice-Cave’.. and we were pretty excited when we finally got off the bus and saw the sign “Narusawa Ice Cave Entrance”.

Our guide once again took us through the flow of the ice-cave and warned us that there would be some narrow tunnels and that we’d really have to kind-of crouch and scoot a bit. We were also ‘advised’ to take a hard heat to protect our fragile heads….

Of course I didn’t take a hard hat and I ended up exactly as the warning sign said I would:
(The sign also won the award for cutest warning sign ever… haha… :D)

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And so off we went.. descending into the unknown.. 🙂

Our guide carried a giant thermometer to show us exactly how fast the temperature would fall (mercury-based thermometer and not a digital one.. )

It’s a short way down and yes it does get quite low at times.
Little tips:
1. If like me, you are not used to the cold, you may want to carry some gloves. Why? The bamboo supports are COLD too and slippery! So gloves might help you get better grip. You don’t want to slip and fall down…
2. It get’s cold pretty quick. The temperature fell almost 20 degrees in the little walk! At the bottom of the cave, surrounded by ice… it was 3 degrees celsius! (Yup, for me.. coming from a 40 degree climate… that’s COLD!!)
3. Obviously.. carry a nice warm jacket.. 🙂
4. Wear comfortable and solid shoes.. maybe hiking boots.

It was an amazing experience… my nose turned red and I was freezing! I didn’t have a warm jacket so I was wearing a thick sweater on top of a light hoodie… yeah.. it didn’t feel enough.. 🙂

We then took a little breather before heading off to another cave: The Wind Cave!
Our Mount Fuji adventure had just begun… there was a lot more to see… trekking between the sites took some time and allowed us to take in the amazing natural beauty around us.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts on the trek!

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A Japanese Adventure: “Kindred Spirits”

All throughout our trip my sister jokingly said that most of my adventures revolved around food… and she was probably right. I’m a foodie, I can’t help it. 🙂

After our adventures and exploration in Shibuya we headed to dinner at “Ippin”.
(https://www.facebook.com/ippin.ebisu)

And we came across this fantastic beauty while we were walking to Ippin:

Ippin was another quiet and dimly lit peaceful restaurant… perfect for a relaxing meal at the end of a touristy kinda day.

Now, everywhere in Japan, everyone we met was extremely polite, gracious and helpful.. but here’s the thing about Ippin…. they had the friendliest and ‘awesomest’ staff of all the places we’d been to!! 🙂

You could tell the minute you walked in… They were kindred spirits.
Their contagious smiles and light-heartedness was just what we needed. One hostess in particular was so full of life (Ok.. I’ll admit it… I totally had a crush on her.. 😉 … ) and energy, we just watched her as she went from table to table, full of smiles, making sure everything was alright.

Now… the food… I was not in a noodle-mood, so while everyone else in our group had noodles, I decided to be a little adventurous and order (if my memory hasn’t failed me) hot garlic chicken…. it was epic… !

As we left, the super awesome staff was kind enough to pose for a picture with us 🙂

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We made our way back to the hotel, full stomachs and hearts overflowing with warmth…
If I ever go back, I’ll definitely visit Ippin again!
The next blog post will cover our trip to none other than……. Mount Fuji … aka Fuji-san! 🙂

But before I sign-off, just a couple of thoughts on photography:
Most of the pictures I took on the trip were on my iPhone 6 Plus and occasionally some on my backup phone, the Samsung A5… and both were fine. One of our tour group members had an amazing alternative: Instant Prints.. courtesy of Fujifilm instax mini 90 neo classic. I’d highly recommend that if you’re into photography, you carry a small instant camera to capture some prints as memories.. 🙂

A Japanese Adventure: Peace and Prosperity

After days of heat and humidity and an overpowering sun…. we finally woke to cloudy skies … 🙂
This was just what we needed because we would, again, be walking quite a bit. This time the first stop was the ‘Meiji-Jingu‘ shrine.

Panorama from the hotel:

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Background:
Meiji-Jingu is one of, if not the most, famous Shinto shrines in Tokyo.
“Meiji Shrine (明治神宮, Meiji Jingū) is a shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. Located just beside the JR Yamanote Line’s busy Harajuku Station, Meiji Shrine and the adjacent Yoyogi Park make up a large forested area within the densely built-up city. The spacious shrine grounds offer walking paths that are great for a relaxing stroll.”
 – http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3002.html
More information here : http://www.meijijingu.or.jp/english/

After a taste of Tokyo’s commercial atmosphere, it felt good to get back to more peaceful, cultural and spiritual centers. The walk from the bus to the shrine was refreshing.. finally a little cooler (although still humid) .. and the entrance to the shrine was like entering a forest… a forest of perfect green with beautifully tall trees. While some of you may not find this particularly amazing… for those of us coming from desert-ish countries, greenery is always appreciated.

I have to say I stood a little in awe of all the beauty around me.

The path was lined with donations:  Japanese ‘sake’ on one side of the path… and international donations of other forms of wine on the other side.

The shrine is quite massive, with many buildings and structures  and it is quite a beautiful walk, especially if the weather is right. As with the previous shinto shrines, there is also an area for purification with water (prior to entering the shrine), and also a place where wishes are written, either on wooden tablets or on paper, and hung.

Weather and time permitting, one can lose oneself….. and find oneself in this shrine of beautiful green.

Instead before I knew it we were already off to our next stop… which was “Takeshita-Dori” – the center of ‘Kawaii’ culture. Unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures of this amazing street because I was just too busy taking in the sites and trying to pick up some goodies… in particular a cap. Since arriving in Japan, I’d been looking for a good cap… but I hadn’t found one I liked yet. The caps either said: “tokyo”, “kyoto”, “Japan”, “samurai” or “ninja” … or they said “New York”….
(I did find one I really liked later on… a separate blog post on that.. 😉 … )

Background:
Takeshita-Dori  is summarized pretty well in this little leaflet snapshot as “the birthplace of Kawaii culture”.

It was fantastic to see some people in character outfits with hair dyed in various colors… 🙂
The shops had everything from fashion, to figures, belts, swords, food (lots of food goodies), dog clothes.. and believe it or not dog cosplay gear.., kimonos, sports wear and more…
Another perfect little shopping street. 🙂

Sadly, I didn’t get to snap too many pictures as I was busy enjoying the stores and the unique gear. The street was insanely busy (which was awesome) but also made it difficult to take any clean shots of buildings/stores.

One place that I did want to visit while there was the Evangelion store (which is on a parallel street).. but I was sad to see that it had actually closed and had re-located (Google Maps… you let me down.. 😥 … )

Background:
Evangelion is another popular anime series with quite a fan following.
Themed stores for the franchise allow fans to enjoy the anime merchandise.
You can see snaps from one of the stores here: http://japanlover.me/otaku/otaku-travel-guide/evangelion-store-harajuku-tokyo/

I was completely drenched (nope not in rain.. just sweat) after the humid walk through this little shopping heaven and decided to stop at the Starbucks at the end of the street for a little ice cold drink. One thing you can always count on is a Starbucks, or, my preferred coffee shop in Japan, “Tullys” to be close by for a refreshing snack.

Surprisingly, the best coffee shop I visited in Japan was not one of the more well known brands.. but rather was a small family run coffee shop. It was one of the best coffee shops I have ever visited. The food was delicious and I’d love to go back!!! This little hidden gem will be discussed in an upcoming blog post…. but not for a while. The next blog post is going to cover a very interesting lunch and the amazing Shibuya crossing.. 🙂

A Japanese Adventure: Akihabara and … Gundam Cafe!

After a quick lunch at Bosporus Hassan (Turkish cuisine) we headed to one of our most eagerly awaited destinations…. Akihabara!

Background:
Akihabara (秋葉原), also called Akiba after a former local shrine, is a district in central Tokyo that is famous for its many electronics shops. In more recent years, Akihabara has gained recognition as the center of Japan’s otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are now dispersed among the electronic stores in the district.
(http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3003.html)

It is the place to go to enjoy technology, anime, manga, and a fantastic atmosphere!
I had my map (an actual paper map) and I had Google Maps, and I was energized …. I was ready!

The group bus dropped us off at the Yodobashi Camera megastore... a shopper’s paradise.
Whether you are looking for mobile accessories, computers, Apple products, consoles and games, models, crafts, gifts for children…. this is the place to visit. 🙂

After browsing the many many floors of Yodobashi Camera I decided it was time for a little exploration… and the first stop was… the Gundam Cafe!

Background:
In case you’re not familiar with ‘Gundam’: Gundam are mech or mecha or human/pilot operated robot suits (also called “mobile suits”). The Gundam franchise has been running since 1979 (so before I was even born) and is extremely popular.
You can read more about the history of Gundam here:
(http://io9.com/a-history-of-gundam-the-anime-that-defined-the-giant-r-1690326227)

I never actually watched Gundam.. until Mobile Suit Gundam 00 which aired between 2007-2009. This was my first ‘contact’ with Gundam and what fascinated me was the depth of the narrative, the political context and the character development. This particular incarnation of the franchise is set at a point in time when humanity has finally turned to solar power as its source of energy and has evolved technologically to the point where it can harness solar energy through receivers in space and transport that energy efficiently back to earth… thereby causing oil dependent economies to start to collapse…. an interesting political/economic backdrop isn’t it? 🙂

Anyway, back to the Gundam Cafe. In Japan you’ll find many ‘themed’ cafes or restaurants or stores. These are outlets dedicated to specific franchises and the Gundam Cafe is all about Gundam.

We were able to find it easily.. thanks to Google Maps.. 😉 … and I was in for a treat.
The menu was actually based on Gundam 00.. the only franchise I had watched… so I could actually appreciate all the references! Woohoo!
I ordered the Tieria Erde (my least favorite Gundam Meister.. but hey.. it was berry flavor).. 😛

Another surprise was that they had strawberry shortcake!
So.. I’d been hearing a lot about how I absolutely had to try strawberry shortcake and I finally got my chance. It was deeelicious!

For someone who enjoys Anime, Gundam, Food… this place is perfect. I loved it.. it was the icing on my strawberry shortcake of a trip.. 🙂

I picked up a few souvenirs from the attached Gundam souvenir store and we continued our exploration of Akihabara.. more to come in the next blog post! (Hint: More Gundam adventures too.. ;)… )

A Japanese Adventure: Towering Brilliance and Bite-Sized Beauty

After having petted and fed deer, and after having found some unique souvenirs (special post on that coming soon), it was time for another Japanese lunch!

Now, I have to confess, I don’t remember the name of the restaurant.. which I feel quite guilty about and I’m going to have to do some research… research done… itinerary consulted…  it was called: “Matsumotoya” .. 🙂 (Couldn’t find an appropriate web site/link)

It’s a restaurant as well a snack and souvenir store. They had a sign out front, with our name on it… literally! What a lovely welcome.

It was refreshing, and quiet.. just what we needed. The food was simple and delicious. I savoured every bite. It’s amazing how much you can grow to love a cup of cold water after the outdoor adventures!

Verdict: Bento = Fabulous! Loved every bit of it (and yes, I helped myself to what my sister didn’t finish off.. haha!)

There was quite a bit to see in the store. As always everything was ‘Kawaii’! 🙂

The beauty about Japan, and this came as a surprise to us, and to those we told after our trip, a lot of this snacking and shopping is not particularly expensive.. in fact, coming from Dubai, you may find a lot of goodies that are much cheaper than what you’d pay back home.

After lunch, we headed to the Horyu-Ji Temple!

Background:
Horyuji Temple (法隆寺, Hōryūji) was founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku, who is credited with the early promotion of Buddhism in Japan. Horyuji is one of the country’s oldest temples and contains the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures. It was designated a world heritage site in 1993. (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4104.html)

Prince Shotoku (574-622), a member of the imperial clan, exercised political leadership from the end of the sixth century to the beginning of the seventh century….[…]…He created Japan’s first constitution, known as the Seventeen-Article Constitution, which established rules for officials engaged in political affairs. For example, it stipulated that officials serving in the imperial court must obey the orders of the reigning monarch and that there must be fair trials. Prince Shotoku also devoted his efforts to the spread of Buddhism in Japan, building many temples and dispatching envoys to China. (http://web-japan.org/kidsweb/explore/history/q1.html)

It’s actually just a 5-10 minute walk from the restaurant and on the way we came across a little untouched beauty:

The temple is an architectural, historical and engineering marvel… of that there is no doubt…
One can only wonder at how they were designed to be able to withstand natural disaster and the passage of time… it seems the only weakness that all ancient wooden structures we have come across is… fire.

Our tour guide, was helpful as always, making sure we went through the brochures and guides we were given, and making sure we understood the significance of each structure, each statue and each site.


We also visited a museum area, however, photos were not allowed, and words cannot accurately describe the well preserved artifacts: statues, tools, clothes, tablets, and structural models – a fascinating experience!

As we made our way out of the temple we stopped at one my favorite Japanese delights:
A vending machine! 🙂  Unfortunately, the pictures aren’t clear due to the lighting used in the vending machines – they add a bit of a flicker.
– Interesting things to note: ‘Fanta Melon’ – never seen that before!
– I asked a Japanese group member for a recommendation of a drink to try… Something ‘Japanese’ and they recommended ‘Calpis’ ..!
I did try it and it was refreshing and delicious!

Background:
Calpis (カルピス) is a Japanese uncarbonated soft drink…[…]…The beverage has a light, somewhat milky, and slightly acidic flavor, similar to plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt or Yakult. Its ingredients include water, nonfat dry milk and lactic acid, and is produced by lactic acid fermentation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calpis)

Our next stop was a shopping district followed by a delicious Moroccan dinner… which I’ll cover in my next blog post.. 🙂