Japan, The Land of the Rising Sun. For me, it is the land where I fulfilled a lifelong dream and connected with so many people. It had been eight years since I lived there (read about it a bit here) and I finally went back last month to visit. It almost felt like I never left.
Fair warning: There are lots of vacation photos ahead! If you’re itching to see my fabric shopping experience, I’m sorry but that’s saved for the next post! This post would have been a MONSTER if I added all of that in! So stay tuned for some Japanese retail therapy in the upcoming week. In the meantime, please enjoy looking through my experiences. If you ever have the urge to go to Japan and have the means to do it, I highly recommend it!
We landed in Narita Airport in Tokyo, but the next morning we took the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. Our hotel was a dream! We stayed at Hotel Mume in the heart of Gion, the old geisha district. I have never had a customer service experience like I had at Mume. The staff all spoke English and bent over backwards to provide the absolute best customer service they could. It was insanely good.
Each room has a theme, and we stayed in the Moon Room. Needless to say it was very cozy and easy to relax and dream away the night.
I had 3 opportunities to do the whole “geisha glamour shot” thing when I lived on Sado Island and if you ever have the opportunity and time, I highly recommend it! It takes up a good chunk of your day between hair, makeup, getting outfitted with the kimono, photo shoot, then peeling away the kimono layers, and finally getting that makeup off! But it’s a fun experience and you gain a whole new respect for geisha after trying to teeter around in those shoes while being wrapped like a glamorous burrito.
Here’s one of my favorite pictures from one of my photo shoots eight years ago, featuring DD!
Anyhoo, getting back to my trip… so yes, there were many sightings of people dressing up, including wedding and engagement photo shoots!
One of the highlights of our trip was taking a Japanese cooking class. Our tour book and many bloggers suggested Haru Cooking Class. It’s run by Taro, an ex-chef, who will take you on a tour of Nishiki Market to explain the different Japanese foods and then back to his home where you and other tourists learn how to either cook a vegetarian meal or a meal with Kobe beef. We partook in the Kobe beef class. Like, real Kobe beef. Certificate and all! We learned that Japan did not start exporting Kobe beef until a couple of years ago, and only to very high end restaurants. So if you think you’ve eaten it in your hometown Japanese restaurant, you’ve probably been fooled!
DD and I loved the cooking class as we wanted to concentrate on more cultural immersion rather than see the same sights we did so many years ago. With that in mind, we also took a roketsu-zome class. Roketsu-zome is a dyeing technique where you draw an image onto fabric with wax and dye it once dried. The areas where you drew the wax do not pick up the dye, leaving the fabric white. As you’re dyeing the fabric, you stir the fabric around with a stick, creating a crackle effect with the wax image.
It’s super easy since they have a huge collection of images you can trace, so there are no artistic skills required! I would recommend having at least some Japanese skills because they don’t speak English… just a word here and there. But all in all, it was a really cool experience and we have super personalized souveniers!
Here’s a close-up of mine. I used maneki-neko (lucky cat) and sakura (cherry blossom) traced images. The maneki-neko was too kawaii to pass up. ^_^
Of course, we had to do some super-touristy things like the Kiyomizu Dera:
Kyoto was a great time and is one of my favorite major cities in Japan. There is a balance of old Japanese culture and modern city that I absolutely love.
Next, we traveled to my home away from home, Sado Island.
We stayed at a hotel just down the street from where I lived. You can’t beat these views!
DD and I did a few touristy things around town. We walked around Shukunegi, which I guess would be the Gion of Sado. This is where there used to be geisha back in the day. It gives you a real feel of “old Japan” for sure. There’s a neat house that’s shaped like a boat, too!
DD needed to get his sake fix on, so we went to the Hokusetsu brewery for sake tasting in Akadomari. Unfortunately, I was driving so I couldn’t partake. But we did bring a couple of bottles home so I could enjoy them!
The Hina Matsuri (Doll Festival) was happening in Aikawa, so we checked it out with a couple of friends. You walk from building to building where there are very intricate and super old dolls on display. Here’s Hiromi and I posing with some samurai!
Probably the funniest part of our trip was walking around the Hina Matsuri and running into a random 8 year old. He saw DD and I and was like, “Ah! Foreigners!” I reacted by saying, “Ah! A Japanese kid!” and then he became our friend. We just called him “stray boy” because his parents weren’t anywhere around and he just kept following us like the stray cats on the street. Don’t worry, it’s super safe on Sado and he did belong to someone… somewhere. He was telling us where he went to school and loved to show us pictures of his Pokemon on his gameboy.
Stay cool, stray boy.
There was also a food festival going on the weekend we were on Sado. We got to taste lots of local food and do a sake tasting contest where we won a few prizes!
At the festival, there were oni daiko performances. Oni means demon and taiko (or daiko) means drumming, so demon drumming! In local dialect, it’s shortened to “ondeko.” This is specific to Sado only.
Speaking of friends, I had a wonderful dinner with my friends from Akadomari at my favorite restaurant, Casa Blanca. It was a good time as always and I was able to meet the current Akadomari JET Program participant, which was super cool!
I am just so lucky to have met such wonderful people during my time living in Japan, and I’m even luckier that I was able to visit them again. Pictured below are Mihoko and Hiromi, who were my best friends during my year on Sado. As they said, “We speak different languages and sometimes don’t understand each other’s words, but we have the same heart.”
Tokyo seemed like such a blur. Maybe it’s because we tried to jam-pack everything into as few days as possible.
We took a side trip to Mito to see the plum blossom park. It was still too early for the cherry blossoms to bloom, so we focused on seeing as many plum blossoms as possible.
For the last couple of days, we did the usual Tokyo things. Hitting up Shibuya quickly at night:
But of course the highlight was getting to see my friend Chitoku and his new family in Yokohama!
All in all, it was such a wonderful trip. It feels like a distant dream now, but I am so grateful I was able to see my friends and my second home, Japan, again.