I’m in Taiwan! 

travel

We’re staying in the Da’an District in Taipei, Taiwan. I’ve been taking photos non-stop and will be making a big blog post about our adventures, but I just had to make a quick post to say how great it is here. The metro system is efficient and Westerner friendly, food is amazing and there’s always something to see and do. Currently we are unwinding our long day with cocktails at this great bar called Roxy Rocker. Tomorrow we’re hitting up Jiufen Old Street. 

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Bill Murray Was Here.

Eat and Drink, travel

I just want to start this post off by saying that this past weekend I was able to check something off my bucket list:

  • Lost in Translation Bar 

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Yes, I went to New York Bar from Lost in Translation and it was magical, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.

An old friend/former coworker/previous classmate that I have known for 13 years or so came to Japan with a group of friends. I was so glad that we both found time to meet up and catch up a bit after 6ish years of not seeing each other. We met up near the Hachiko Statue at Shibuya Station and began our little adventure.

Tokyo was very cold that day, with even a few snow flurries dancing around in the frigid breeze between the rain. It was a perfect day to grab a hot cup of coffee, so that’s exactly what we decided to do. My friend had a couple of spots in mind nearby that he had been wanting to check out. Armed with his navigation and my umbrella wet set off to the first spot.

The first place we tried was called About Life Coffee Brewers. A small coffee stand on a corner in Shibuya. A bit away from the hustle of the shuffle, it was a nice place to start with a good selection of beans from different roasters and regions.

Next we hit up Good People & Good Coffee, tucked away in the Meguro Ward. I loved this coffee shop. I’d say the interior was fairly spacious compared to others in Japan, and the decor was fresh, hip and welcoming. I didn’t catch his name, but the barista behind the counter was very friendly and inviting.

After wandering around back in Shibuya, and being unable to decide on what to eat, my friend decided to check in with his group of friends that he had been traveling with. A few of them were nearby so we met up, shopped around a bit, grabbed some Kin-no-torikara (delicious boneless fried chicken) and then decided we were ready to hit New York Bar in Shinjuku, the famous Lost in Translation Bar where Charlotte and Bob Harris meet.

Located inside the Park Hyatt on the 52nd floor, this swanky bar definitely felt like I stepped into the movie. Unfortunately, Sausalito was not playing. Lost in Translation has been one of my favorite movies for years, and was responsible for piquing my interest in Japan as a teen. Now here I am.

With views of the Tokyo Tower and Cocoon Tower, the Tokyo skyline backdrop is breathtaking at night from this bar.

 

Needless to say, I had a wonderful day in Tokyo. It was so great to spend some time with my friend, and meet his. For me, that’s what life is about. To share memories with good people in places that speak to your soul.

Gearing up for TAIPEI!

travel

We’re 24 days out from our trip to Taiwan. This will be my husband and my first trip together outside the U.S. We didn’t even travel to Japan together. Technically this is our honeymoon trip since time and finances didn’t allow us to take one after we got married. Better late than never, right?

Since Asia is so accessible to us for the next couple of years we’ve decided to make it a priority to see as much of it as possible. It’s definitely very different living abroad and trying to travel. It has pros and cons, but I definitely feel like I’m kind of on vacation everyday here in Japan since there’s always new sights to see. Actually, Japan is very seasonal. Since I was raised in a desert that basically had two seasons, hot AF and cold AF, I am fascinated by the varieties of plants and flowers that appear each month.

Anyway, let me get back on track here. Traveling around Asia, yes. Both my husband and I actually didn’t have a passport until a few weeks ago, surprisingly enough. Now i’m sure you’re asking, “how did you get to Japan then?”. My husband was able to travel to Japan on his military ID and I received a government issued passport that only allows me into Japan.

So in order to get a passport, we had to make and appointment and visit the US Embassy here in Tokyo. The process was quick and painless and allowed us to spend the day in Tokyo for some fun.We also received our passports in the mail about two weeks later.

I booked our flight with VanillaAir through Skyscanner, and started looking for places to stay. I was originally going to go with AirBNB, but decided to book a hotel through Booking.com since we may arrive into the city a bit late.

I have a huge list of things that I want to see, do and eat, but I am going to try to stay as open minded and flexible as possible.

Once we get back from Taipei, I want to focus on taking more day and weekend trips in Japan. There’s still so much that I haven’t seen.

On another note, I have been spending my time at home listening to a few podcasts to inspire, educate and get the creative juices flowing. My two favorites right now are The Budget Minded Traveler and The Travel Bite.

Temple Hopping in Kamakura

Eat and Drink, Great Outdoors

One of the perks of not having a regular 9-5 while being here in Japan is that I have lots of time to scope out new hiking trails, places to eat, and do extensive research for upcoming travel or events.When my husband is off on the weekends, I am able to share my new discoveries with him and play tour guide… kinda.

This weekend I wanted to share the Daibutsu Hiking Course with him, so Saturday morning we hopped on the train and headed to Kamakura. (You can see a map of the trail and get detailed directions from the Kita Kamakura Station to the trail head here.)

There were a few shrines and temples in the area that I had not yet visited, or didn’t get a chance to explore the other day on our hike.

Off of the East exit of the Kita Kamakura Station is Engakuji (円覚寺), one of the leading Zen temples in eastern Japan. This beautiful temple was founded in 1282. One of the main purposes that this temples was built was to pay respect for the Japanese and Mongolian soldiers who lost their lives during the second invasion attempt by the Mongols in 1281.

Engakuji is a popular temple to see the vibrant maples that change colors in early December. When we visited, there were beautiful white and pink ume blossoms in bloom.

One of my favorite parts of the day was getting the chance to see archers practicing kyūdō, the Japanese martial art of archery. I have seen Yabusame (mounted horseback archery) at the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū in Kamakura, but there was something very intimate about seeing the archers practicing in silence on a cold, quiet Saturday morning on temple grounds.

Oh, and another highlight of my day was petting this super kawaii neko (that’s kitty cat in Japanese) at the temple. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

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^ _  _ ^

Once we got back onto the main street we continued onward and stopped at Tōkei-ji. This shrine operated as a nunnery and helped women divorce their husbands in a time where it was difficult for women to initiate divorce. This temple’s beautiful garden was surprisingly scenic even at this time of year, but offers many beautiful flowers that bloom in the warmer seasons.

We finally made it to Jōchi-ji, used the restroom and visited Hotei, the god of happiness.

After completeing the hiking course, naturally we were hungry. We took the bus from just out front of The Great Buddha to Kamakura Station and took a walk down Komachi. The weather had dropped to around freezing at this point and it looked like a storm was blowing in.

We bought 2 cups of amazake (sweet hot sake made from fermented rice) from a vendor then continued our search for food. I happened to notice a very small, modest establishment on the left side of Komachi street. I have been down that street dozens of times, and it seems like there is something new to discover every time. It’s hard to notice every single business when your senses are overwhelmed by multiple story buildings, crowded streets, delicious street food and shiny objects. I wandered over to the  inconspicuous black door and slid it open. The man behind the counter waved us inside to inhabit the last 2 seats in the tiny ramen joint. Second tiniest in Japan as a matter of fact. We both ordered the regular miso ramen, which was just a little spicy and a whole lot satisfying. Sandwiched between my husband and a very friendly Japanese man, I slurped my ramen and reflected on how simplicity sometimes transcends in such a complex word. Hirano offers only 2 types of broth, soy sauce and miso, but offers an assortment of toppings to go along with your soup if you please. Here is the TripAdvisor page for Hiranohirano

In other news, We’re on the final one month countdown to our Teipei trip. I can’t wait!


More photos below!

 

Daibutsu Hiking Course and Okonomiyaki.

Eat and Drink, Great Outdoors

My girl friends and I try to get together at least once a month to get our hike on. We decided to take on the Daibutsu Hiking Course in Kamakura. This trail goes from Kita Kamakura Station to Kotoku-In (Great Buddha). I love Kamakura, but surprisingly I hadn’t hiked this trail yet. This is an easy hike, and would be suitable for kids. We also saw a few dogs on the trail as well. See below for a map of the course.

To start, we met at Kita Kamakura station from the JR Line and took the West exit, made a left onto the main street and then a right at Jochiji Temple. To get the the trail, we kept on the road to the left of the temple to the stairs. Head up the stairs into the hills, and you’ll be on your way to a scenic and relaxing hike. Be sure to bring enough yen for entry to the various shines and temples along the way.

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This hike took us about 3 hours start to finish because we stopped to take lots of photos, explore and stopped at Genjiyama Park for snacks, but it tkes most people 60 to 90 minutes. Once you get to Kuzuharagaoka Shrine and Genjiyama Park, be sure to keep an eye out for Fujisan on the right hand side of the road at the view point. This day was extremely clear, so of course we took advantage of the photo op of the majestic mountain.

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Masaruishi

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From Genjiyama Park, we continued on the main road. A small detour to the left will take you to the statue of Minamoto Yoritomo. Minamoto was the first shogun of the Kamakura shogunate of Japan.

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Heading back out to the main road, you can continue straight out of the park where the statue is located and continue onto the Daibutsu Course, or take a short detour to the left. This will take you to the Zeniarai Benten Shrine. You will see the entrance to this shrine on the right hand side through a stone tunnel. Here you can wash your money to “increase it many times and come back to you”.

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After exiting this shrine, you may make a left back the way you came and continue to the left to get back onto the Daibutsu Course. From here, it’s just another 20 to 25 minutes of walking to the end of the trail. After descending a few steep stairs, the trial will put you out on Route 32 near Kotoku-In and The Great Buddha.

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We were feeling pretty hungry by this point so we continued onto Route 32 and mapped out an okonomiyaki joint on the same street as Hase-dera. Sometaro offered an English menu (which is always very nice) accompanied with excellent service. We enjoyed pork kimchi okonomiyaki, shrimp okonomiyaki, chorizo yakisoba and of course a cold draft beer (or two). You can check out Sometaro’s information on TripAdvisor here.

Heading back down 32 towards Hase Station, we stumbled upon a coffee stand… er, van. A man selling slow drip coffee to order out of the back of his adorable van, surrounded by hip decor and books called Idobata. Check out the Facebook page here. A girls gotta have her coffee, so we stopped there too then proceeded to Hase Station and took the Enoden Line back to Kamakura Station.

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My heart swells with happiness when I think about how fortunate I have been to meet the women that I have here in Japan. Whether it’s a hike, a 5K or just a good dinner, I have such a great time enjoying life with my new friends.


Be sure to check out more random photos below from this trip.

Kinugasayama and Me.

Great Outdoors

Now that the weather is cooler, I have no excuse to not lug around my camera and take more photos to share. Actually, right now is the perfect time for shooting pictures because the leaves are changing into beautiful gold, yellow and crimson. I am by no means a professional or even experienced photographer, but I do like to write about my adventures so I figure learning the basics of photography and shooting photos can only enhance my blogging.

Today I took the later half of the afternoon to myself and went to the large an breathtakingly gorgeous park nearest to our home. Kinugasayama offers dozens of trails that are sure to please any nature lover. Lush green trees and bamboo line the trails that take you atop the small mountain complete with an ocean back drop and Yokohama in the distance. On a clear day, you can see Fujisan from the observation tower. I haven’t been so lucky (even though I have stood at the summit).

Throughout the park are woodcarvings of different animals and creatures which adds even more charm and quirkiness to Kinugasayama.

The park is especially beautiful in the Spring time when the sakura (cherry blossoms) are in bloom.