Nara, Osaka and Kobe

8 Aug

Day 9: Nara

In the morning we opted for the Western breakfast at the hotel and enjoyed eggs benedict, fresh fruit, charcuterie, and a selection of pastries from Pierre Hermes:
MVIMG_20180629_084111We went back to our room to finish packing, then had an early lunch at Tempura Mizuki, conveniently located in the hotel. We’d had delicious, cheap tempura in Tokyo and wanted to compare it to fancy, Michelin star tempura.
IMG_20180629_123642All my other experiences have been closer to the heavily battered, comfort food end of the spectrum so I really enjoyed seeing what high end tempura was like.

Our seafood and vegetables before they were battered and fried:IMG_20180629_115007The batter was soooo light. It was quite a thin layer and applied with a brush. The tempura wasn’t greasy at all – after the chef fried each item he’d set it down on some blotting paper which seemed mainly decorative because there were no excess oil drips.

Look at our huge, beautiful scallops!
IMG_20180629_120433After eating his scallops James was very pleased and gave them what I assume has to be his highest praise: “I think Kyoto and Mouse would really like this”.

The chef recommended different salts for different tempura. The options were matcha salt, seaweed salt, lake salt and Kyoto pepper salt.
IMG_20180629_114030I was curious what $21-a-glass tea tasted like so I ordered the Royal Blue Tea. It tasted like tea.IMG_20180629_114325It was a wonderful lunch with wonderful service. Though the service was actually more attentive than I’m comfortable with – for instance, when we left the chef and waitress escorted us to the door to say goodbye and stayed there as we walked up the stairs. IMG_20180627_070222When we got to the top I looked back and they were still there. Holy crap.

After we checked out we took the train to Nara, where of course we went to the deer park. It was initially quite disappointing because the deer weren’t very interested in us. Cat will be able to vouch that I sent her a series of panicked texts asking where to find the deer biscuit vendors.

Here’s a picture of me trying to be friends with a bunch of deer who did not give a shit:
IMG_20180629_151115 But that all changed once we found the deer biscuits. Suddenly everyone wanted hang out with Kaye.IMG_20180629_152911It was kind of unsettling how aggressive the deer were for food. And it wasn’t just food – this deer snatched the paper biscuit wrapper away:
IMG_20180629_153105 (1)Right before this photo this deer nibbled my top and left a slobbery combination of drool and biscuits on me. MVIMG_20180629_160424 (1)We ended up making pretty good friends with them though. We had something they wanted (deer biscuits) and they had something we wanted (deer selfies):IMG_20180629_161213Photos with our dear (deer) friends:MVIMG_20180629_161245I remembered reading somewhere that some of the Nara deer would bow at you to get deer biscuits. So I randomly tried it and got followed around by a herd of bowing deer. Some of them would just kind of roll their heads around but a couple were quite good at it.UfCz9if - ImgurSo well-mannered!

Needless to say, the biscuit ladies made many yen from us that day.

We also went to the Great Buddha Hall in Todaiji Temple to see this enormous bronze Buddha. It was quite spectacular and definitely worth the entry fee:
IMG_20180629_164848
Inside the hall was a pillar with a hole the same size as the giant Budda’s nostril. Apparently if you can pass through that hole it’s a sign you will attain enlightenment in your next life.

Here is a picture of James failing to reach enlightenment:
IMG_20180629_165904Back outside the temple, James found a deer licking its friend and threatened to join in. Look how sick of their shit that middle deer is.
IMG_20180629_170709We were just about to leave when it started raining heavily so instead we decided to head under cover. The park (which had been quite crowded) cleared out almost completely and we got to see the deer walking around looking for shelter.

This guy walked up and joined us.IMG_20180629_171000 And we all sat there together, waiting for the rain to pass.IMG_20180629_171141 (1)Once it had died down we said goodbye to the deer and headed to Osaka to check into our hotel and grab dinner.

We put our names down at a popular chicken restaurant called Ikkaku and had a bit of a wander around downtown Osaka.

Apparently this running man sign is a famous landmark.
IMG_20180629_201939Ikkaku is famous for a dish called “old chicken” but we both preferred the texture and flavour of the “young chicken”. The old chicken was more intensely chicken-tasting but it was also quite tough, whereas the young chicken was fall-apart tender.

There was a sign on the wall which had a cartoon man making this pose.
IMG_20180629_205903But I forgot to take a photo so now it’s just a weird photo of James.

Day 10: Osaka

We went to Kuromon market as soon as it opened. The first thing we ordered was this beautiful salmon, tuna and roe bowl:
MVIMG_20180630_092124It was so cheap and tasty! I never stopped being impressed by the enormous salmon roe in Japan.

James also scouted out this awesome soft shell crab burger: IMG_20180630_095629We also bought an $8 peach because (much like the $21-a-glass tea) I was curious what an $8 peach tasted like. IMG_20180630_100922They cut it up for me and it was very peachy and nice. Not orders of magnitude nicer than the <$1 peaches I’ve eaten though.

Before we left I bought some oversized scallops grilled with butter soy sauce:
IMG_20180630_103325 It was delicious: IMG_20180630_104040I was pretty full by that point but I still regret not getting this sea urchin:
IMG_20180630_103158It was really heating up by this time, but we didn’t have a ton of time in Osaka so had to power through. We visited a shrine shaped like a lion’s head:
MVIMG_20180630_112507 Then went to a knife shop where James bought a handmade paring knife. He tried out a bunch of different knives and this one was his favourite:IMG_20180711_134842The store engraved it with his name in Japanese and showed him how to keep it sharp. It is his favourite thing he bought in Japan and he babies it like crazy.

In the evening we had a takoyaki snack:
IMG_20180630_201419Then headed to Ajinoya, a popular okonomiyaki restaurant that’s known for having a lighter batter than most okonomiyaki: IMG_20180630_205150That picture only shows half of the queue – there was a second queue across the street so as to not block the street or neighbouring businesses. The double queue was quite common for popular restaurants in Japan and they were all very good about actively managing it and making sure people didn’t accidentally cut the line,

Our okonomiyaki on the grill:
MVIMG_20180630_215735After dinner we walked back to the hotel to crash for the night.

Day 11: Kobe

In the morning we took a train to Kobe to visit the Hakutsuru sake distillery. They had a free self-guided tour where we learned about the history of sake and the sake-making process. It was a nice, informative way to spend an hour or so.
IMG_20180701_093757The free tour included four tastings at the end, which was pretty generous! Also in the gift shop we met Haku-chan, a sake-recommending robot. IMG_20180701_101717Then we continued to downtown Kobe to meet up with Haruka and Noah for lunch. We had more okonomiyaki:IMG_20180701_124757We’d brought them some snacks from the US but they surprised us with gifts of their own! Haruka gave me a beautiful hair tie that she’d made herself, and Noah also gave us some handmade presents:
IMG_20180808_120338The thing on the top left is a little game where you pick one of the coloured paper bits and unwind it to get a little prize. Cute! And he also made us little paper birds with our (and his) names on them. I’ve never had a kid make me anything before – I actually teared up a little.

But yeah, it was really nice chatting to Haruka and catching up over lunch. We grabbed dessert (mainly for Noah, who has a huge sweet tooth) and parted ways at the train station.MVIMG_20180701_153645Then we were on our way to Kobe Animal Kingdom! It originally wasn’t on our itinerary but we decided to go at the last minute since we were in the area.

I’m really glad we did because they had capybaras! For 100 yen you could buy leaves or kibble to feed them.
IMG_20180701_162610They were very chill. Though unlike the deer of Nara, as soon as we ran out of leaves they lost interest very quickly.

I was excited about the capybara and he was mildly excited about the leaf.IMG_20180701_163308I like to think he just told me a wonderful joke.
IMG_20180701_163310There were other animals at the Animal Kingdom. Some of them were in enclosures like a zoo but others were fairly free range. Outside we hung out with (and fed) kangaroos.
MVIMG_20180701_171404 If you’re curious what an alpaca looks like right before it spits at you this is it: MVIMG_20180701_170104Terrifying.

Inside we saw a cool sloth. He moved so slowly (slothfully, even) and was so chill.
IMG_20180701_172603After Animal Kingdom closed we took the train back to Osaka and ate some katsu curry for dinner -it was under $10 each and incredibly satisfying. James thought it was one of the best meals we had in Japan.
IMG_20180701_191253(Though really, pretty much every meal we had in Japan was amazing).

We didn’t spend a super long time in Osaka proper, but unlike Tokyo and Kyoto there wasn’t a ton we wanted to see, so we were quite happy just eating at random places and using it as a base for day trips. Though, like pretty much everywhere else, Osaka is probably best experienced when not 30C+ and humid. Maybe next time!

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Kyoto!

29 Jul

Day 5: Travel to Kyoto and Geishas

In the morning we checked out of our hotel and took the shinkansen to Kyoto. The weather in Kyoto was insanely hot – much more hot and humid than Tokyo. We’d planned quite a light itinerary, but even then we still pared things down because it was awful being outside in that 12-5pm stretch.

Luckily our hotel was beautiful. We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton and they upgraded us to one of the luxury river view rooms:
IMG_20180625_131252It’s hard to tell in that photo but on the console is our own little bonsai tree. =)

On the table they had a welcome gift of some fresh fruit, some green tea waffles and a box of chocolates. Also some beautiful origami cranes:
IMG_20180625_132815Our room was enormous compared to the other Japanese hotels we stayed at. You could probably fit our other hotel rooms in the dining area alone.

And then another hotel room in the bedroom area:
IMG_20180625_132801The doorway to the left led to the entrance hallway had some refreshments (water, coffee and tea restocked daily) and the mini bar:
IMG_20180625_131143And to the right was the bathroom area, with the toilet at the end of the hall and the bathroom opposite the mirrors.
IMG_20180625_131204The showerhead was across from the bathtub so that wooden panel was the shower floor. The bath amenities were great – Asprey body wash, shampoo and conditioner, with yuzu and hinoki bath salts also provided.

And did I show you how big the bed was?
IMG_20180625_170305 (1)It was by far the most we’ve ever spent on a hotel but it was worth it. Housekeeping would come by twice a day and in the evenings they’d leave us a little snack like chocolates or cookies. =)

But anyway, we were able to check in early and then headed to Nishiki Market to wander around. I loved the stores where you could pick out fresh seafood and they’d prep and serve it:
IMG_20180625_141405I also loved the oversized Japanese oysters:IMG_20180625_141735But my favourite was sea urchin!MVIMG_20180625_142214We walked around eating whatever caught our eyes – which was generally oversized seafood. This:
IMG_20180625_143913 Was turned into this:IMG_20180625_144224The different parts of it had different textures – some of it was really soft and a couple of parts were almost crunchy.

For lunch dessert we had some green tea rice cake:
IMG_20180625_144817It was very matcha-y and the lady behind the counter said it wouldn’t keep and had to be eaten day-of.

We were full by the time we saw these little hedgehog pastries so didn’t get any, but how cute are they?? MVIMG_20180625_145424After the market we walked around in the attached shopping area where we found an arcade to hang out in. I liked how random some of the claw machine prizes were – bread in a can!
IMG_20180625_150751James also found a drum game that he enjoyed. I like the bonnet-wearing dogs on the screen:
IMG_20180625_151443 Speaking of … IMG_20180625_155004We also found another cat hat gachapon in the shopping arcade. This one had really cool costume hats and I kind of regret not trying for that cool sushi hat at the end:
IMG_20180625_155000After that it was time to go back to the hotel and shower/change for our Geisha dinner at Gion Hatanaka.IMG_20180625_200149The food was beautiful: IMG_20180625_175128But not that tasty. =( There were multiple courses that we forced ourselves to eat – it was all you can drink, which helped.

In between dinner and dessert we were introduced to the Maiko (apprentice Geishas) and the hostess told us some facts about their dress and lifestyle. Then we were treated to a shamisen performance from a Geisha while a Maiko danced.
IMG_20180625_182803Afterwards one of the Maiko came to the different tables and we were able to ask her questions through an interpreter.

Then after dinner we got to play drinking games with the Maiko – that was definitely my favourite part of the night.

(I didn’t choose the title of the video – that was James, who was very proud that I won. Afterwards he was like “she trained at drinking games! And you beat her!”)

Most people lost and the Maiko would pour them a glass of beer or sake (which you can see to the right of the Maiko in the video). If you won you got to pick a small prize (in the basket to her right).

The second drinking game was basically rock/paper/scissors. You hid behind a screen then chose to be either a samurai, tiger or old lady. The samurai killed the tiger who ate the old lady who, I don’t know, scolded? the samurai. Here James is the tiger and the other guy is the old lady, so James won!
IMG_20180625_194157I also won my match. Our night’s loot:
IMG_20180711_142758(Oil blotting sheets, Geisha coasters and chopsticks)

Afterwards we headed to the nearby Yasaka Shrine to look around. It was very atmospheric at night.IMG_20180625_201752Looking towards the street:IMG_20180625_202731-EFFECTSThen we walked back to our hotel, ready for an early start the next day.

Day 6: Arashiyama

In the morning we took a bus to the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.
IMG_20180626_074805We got there around 7am which was a good time because there were only a scattered few other people around and it was easy to get uncrowded photos.
IMG_20180626_073625We talked to a photographer who said he’d gone at 8am the other day but even then it was too crowded. So yeah, like with Sensoji (and every other popular attraction in Japan) best to go early!

Afterwards we headed to the nearby Tenryuji temple gardens which we which we enjoyed a surprising amount.
MVIMG_20180626_083204 We were there right as it opened so pretty much had it to ourselves (I assume while everyone else was at the bamboo grove). IMG_20180626_083446James was particularly impressed with the moss. The day before I had seen him stop and admire a moss display at a florist in Kyoto but I think this was the day that confirmed his love of it.

James and his moss:
IMG_20180626_085314It’s always quite exciting when you discover something new about yourself. =)

After the zen garden it was time to go the monkey park. To get to the monkey area we hiked 20 or 30 minutes up a hill, which was quite tiring in the heat.
MVIMG_20180626_091640There was a feeding room where we could buy food for the monkeys (apples or peanuts) and stand inside what was basically a giant cage, feeding the monkeys who were outside. We prioritised the baby monkeys because they were adorable.
IMG_20180626_094429I didn’t realise this at the time, but apparently the monkeys give birth in June/July and that’s why there were so many babies around.

It was really fun feeding the monkeys and it didn’t hurt that the shade and fans were a nice respite from the heat.

Outside it was so hot even the monkeys looked for ways to keep cool: MVIMG_20180626_095500Did I mention how cute the babies were? I did, but it really needs to be re-said.
IMG_20180626_094901 Super cute.IMG_20180626_094852We packed a lot into that morning! Afterwards we walked to the train station and headed back to our end of the city for some ramen. We went to a place called Honke Daiichi Asahi. It was absolutely delicious.
IMG_20180626_112135 And very popular. And very air-conditioned inside. =D

This was the line by the time we left – pretty decent for a weekday lunch! IMG_20180626_113940When we got back to the hotel we relaxed in our room, went for a swim in the pool, used the sauna (James: I don’t like this. It’s like being outside) and had a fortifying afternoon nap. Since it was so unbearable outdoors we were really happy to have a nice base to come back to.

In the early evening we went to Okazaki Shrine, which is appropriately rabbit-themed since it’s associated with fertility:
IMG_20180626_164337There were little bunny statues everywhere:MVIMG_20180626_162415And the Chozuya had a decorative rabbit instead of a dragon:
MVIMG_20180626_163844Then we had an early dinner at a nearby restaurant. We ate wild boar and candied grasshopper that the owner/chef had caught himself:
IMG_20180626_171427And followed that with drinks at the hotel bar. The cocktails were quite pricey ($23) even by US standards but they were delicious and beautifully crafted. This one came in an ice bamboo glass:IMG_20180626_203414I also had a hojicha cocktail which was decorated with tea leaves:
IMG_20180626_210119It looked really cool but got quite sticky as the honey glue holding the tea in place dripped down.

James really enjoyed the theatrics of his drink (and the drink itself):00060IMG_00060_BURST20180626212039_COVERIt was a great way to end the night. =)

Day 7: Kibune

This was the first morning that we took advantage of the free hotel breakfast. If you wanted the Japanese style breakfast you had to reserve it the night before:
IMG_20180627_072846The rice was cooked overnight in a clay pot (I think that was the reason we had to reserve it the day before).IMG_20180627_072855It was a massive breakfast.

Then we walked to the train station, crossing over the Kamo-gawa river.
MVIMG_20180627_084020We took a couple of trains and a bus to Kibune, which in summer is famous for its picturesque riverside dining and nagashi somen (noodles that you catch with chopsticks as they flow past you in bamboo chutes) at a restaurant called Hirobun.

I was a bit worried because our train and bus were quite full, so even though Hirobun didn’t open for 1.5 hours we power walked up the hill to get there. This was the line just before it opened:IMG_20180627_102259It’s not that long and at first we felt like idiots. But when we walked down we saw that nagashi somen only sat 10 or 15 at a time, so everyone past that lady in the yellow skirt had to wait for the second seating.

We prepaid at the counter upstairs then went down to the river, where we were greeted with this view:
IMG_20180627_104209James waiting for his somen to arrive (ours was the middle chute): IMG_20180627_110030Catching my noodles:
00013IMG_00013_BURST20180627110124_COVERThe noodles were quite plain but the activity was fun! They were really good at timing the noodles so you had enough time to eat but weren’t waiting around too long. It sounds silly but it was really exciting whenever I saw some noodles plop into our chute!

This was the waiting area by the time we left (and there was an equally long line outside). At least it was nice and cool next to the river. =)IMG_20180627_112359There were tons of noodles and we were really full at the end. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re in Kyoto in summer!

Then we went to Kifune Shrine, which is dedicated to the god of water and rain. You could purchase a cool fortune which only showed up if you dipped it in water:
MVIMG_20180627_114337 It had a QR code that you could scan to find your fortune in a bunch of different languages. =)

After the shrine we hiked from Kibune to Kurama. It was quite uphill at the beginning:
IMG_20180627_115859Despite that it wasn’t a difficult hike, and there were a lot of shrines and others points of interest to stop at. This tree grove had really interesting roots: IMG_20180627_122721And James found a giant bell:
IMG_20180627_124829Kurama-dera Mountain Temple was also pretty cool.
MVIMG_20180627_125232 It had a lovely view over the mountains:MVIMG_20180627_125309 This was the end of the hike, descending into Kurama:IMG_20180627_130811We took the train back to Kyoto and our hotel for our customary afternoon rest.

In the evening we did a bit of shopping before dinner. On the way we saw a lady walking a turtle! MVIMG_20180627_171202She told us its name but I can’t remember it. Sorry little anonymous turtle!

At Loft, we found a whole series of cat gachapon. =D
IMG_20180627_175612And even more cat hats: MVIMG_20180627_175904
For dinner we went to Anzukko, which is known for its cast iron gyoza. It (and everything else we ate there) was excellent:
IMG_20180627_183120After dinner we walked around and found some mysterious adult only gachapon: MVIMG_20180627_194055
Which I completely bypassed for the peach squishy gachapon next to it:00000XTR_00000_BURST20180627202518-ANIMATIONNote: it (along with the french breadstick squishy under it) was the only one we saw where the contents were guaranteed.

We actually went back for that peach squishy – I couldn’t stop thinking about it after we originally saw it so we went back. Also it came out all compressed and gradually inflated over the course of an hour.

My peach joy:
IMG_20180627_202632

Day 8: Fushimi Inari

At 6am the next morning we went to Fushimi Inari. There were a few people around but it was pretty empty:
IMG_20180628_060023It was difficult waking up early all the time, but really worth it to avoid the crowds and the afternoon heat. MVIMG_20180628_060120Inari is the god of rice but is also worshipped as the god of business, and all of the torii at the shrine have been donated by Japanese businesses. The foxes at Fushimi Inari often had stones or keys (to the granary) in their mouths.
MVIMG_20180628_060441James liked the foxes and kept looking for one with 9 tails (apparently the more tails the fox has the wiser it is).

This one-tailed fox didn’t cut it:
MVIMG_20180628_082301The walk was very nice – even at the lower shrines where it’s normally quite busy we only ever saw a couple of people.

I can’t remember why the path split here – I think maybe they wanted you to go up one way and down the other way?
MVIMG_20180628_060818This section was called senbon-no-torii (one thousand torii) – they were so dense they blocked the sunlight:
IMG_20180628_060830The backs of the gates had details about who had donated them and on what date:IMG_20180628_061827We soon arrived at the inner shrine of Fushimi Inari. Nearby there were these rocks – you were supposed to make a wish and lift up one of them, and if it was lighter than you expected your wish would come true. Spoiler: the rocks were both very heavy.IMG_20180628_061322We kept walking and it was pretty cool seeing all the gates in various states. Some were faded and old, others quite new and even a couple with signs warning you not to toucch them because the paint was still wet. This shrine wasn’t finished yet:
IMG_20180628_075036We took a slight detour to a shrine area with stray cats:
IMG_20180628_063232This was the view near the top:IMG_20180628_080116Us at the summit:
MVIMG_20180628_072755The way back down was leafier and at times the torii gates were quite far apart: IMG_20180628_073809We passed a shrine grotto with a waterfall that you could stand under and pray:
MVIMG_20180628_074428 We didn’t see a lot of people on our walk down:IMG_20180628_074626It only really started to get busy once we hit the inner shrine. At the bottom we bought a torii gate ema:
IMG_20180628_060344(I’d taken that photo earlier – by the time we got back down it was swarming with people).

On the walk back to the station James tried his luck with the gachapon, hoping for the 9 tailed fox. IMG_20180628_085659Unfortunately both times he just got regular foxes. In our Japan expenses spreadsheet he has them listed as “2 unlucky foxes”.

After breakfast we went shopping, which might have been a mistake because it was so hot. On the plus side we found some Peach Coke!MVIMG_20180628_131241And another gachapon arcade. The weird gachapon we found here were buff birds:IMG_20180628_135024And tiny clothes hangers:IMG_20180628_135128In the evening we had dinner in Pontocho Alley: IMG_20180628_183248And enjoyed our evening snack from hotel housekeeping:
IMG_20180628_142140I was so sad to leave that hotel! But I guess not too sad since I knew we were definitely going back to Kyoto one day (which was also why I was OK with skipping a couple of the main temples that were under renovation) – but never again in summer. =P

Kyoto was a gorgeous city and a nice change of pace from Tokyo. But we were ready for the next portion of our trip – Nara, Osaka and Kobe!

Tokyo, Canyoning in Minakami, and an Owl Cafe

17 Jul

We started our trip with a few days in Tokyo. I scheduled some early starts to take advantage of our jet lag because I remembered needing a few days to adjust in Seoul.

Our trip was at the start of Summer, but for the first few days the weather wasn’t too bad (and led to the erroneous belief that we were dealing pretty well with the heat/humidity).

Day 2: Tsukiji and Ginza

Our first morning we woke up bright and early for the Tsukiji Market. A little too early – we got there maybe 30-60 minutes before the outer market really opened so just kind of wandered around for a bit.

We had a delicious breakfast at Sushi Daiwa.
IMG_20180622_060417It’s apparently the second most popular sushi place in the market and I originally hadn’t planned on going because I didn’t want to wait in line, but we were able to walk straight in (FYI Sushi Dai, the most popular sushi place, already had what looked like a 2 hour wait).

This was the queue outside Sushi Daiwa by the time we were done:IMG_20180622_062135Afterwards we wandered around a bit more and bought a $5 giant oyster at Taito Fisheries. It took 3-4 bites to finish and was delicious.
MVIMG_20180622_071641 (1)Then we went to Ginza where we did some window (and actual) shopping. James bought two pairs of shoes from Onitsuka Tiger and we had omakase at Kyubey.
MVIMG_20180622_131941It was even better than Sushi Daiwa, but that makes sense given that it was twice the price!IMG_20180622_130535Sea urchin is so, so tasty.

We shopped some more afterwards. Probably the weirdest place we went to was Dover Street Market.
IMG_20180622_140956 It felt more like an art gallery than a clothing store.IMG_20180622_141103I’ll take two.

I can wear it while I watch the Gucci hat parade.
IMG_20180622_141041Afterwards we headed to Bar High Five where we drank delicious cocktails. I don’t have any photos of dinner so I think we decided we were still full from our giant breakfast and lunch, and just crashed at the hotel.

Day 3: Minakami Canyoning

The next morning we took a shinkansen to Minakami.
IMG_20180623_055856We went canyoning in the morning, which consisted of floating through creeks, ziplining, abseiling, and waterfall jumps.

Here I am leaping into the water in a quokka-esque fashion:
P6230110Whee!
3DAFD80C00000578-0-image-m-20_1488092927987This is James going down a natural water slide. They let us go down this one a couple of times – once forwards and once backwards.
P6230097Backwards was scarier by far since I had no idea where I was going, and got super disoriented once I hit the water.

But the freakiest thing was getting dropped from this waterfall:
P6230040
(We didn’t drop from that height – they lowered us about halfway so we didn’t bounce off the rocks)

Ziplining!

After canyoning we had lunch and went white water rafting. The water wasn’t very high and occasionally James and one of the other guys had to get out and push us over the rocks. All credit to the company though, they made the photos look very dynamic!
Then we had showers, got changed, took the shinkansen back to Tokyo and had a delicious tonkatsu dinner.
IMG_20180623_194251
Day 4: Sensoji and Akihabara

Sensoji is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Tokyo so we went early to avoid the crowds (and the heat). IMG_20180624_073308It rained a little which cut through the humidity, and the weather was actually really comfortable for walking around. Asakusa has a ton of shrines and we found this bizarre one: MVIMG_20180624_082209We visited Tobifudoson, the shrine for flight safety (how niche!) and Imado, a cat shrine that claims to be the origin of the mani neko statue. We picked up some ema boards as souvenirs:
IMG_20180717_172547At Imado we also met a cat which seemed appropriate.MVIMG_20180624_091754James: I like that you can’t go near the shrine but the cat’s allowed to sit there and lick his butthole.

By this time the shops had started to open up so we walked back to the station and grabbed some tempura from a chain restaurant. It was delicious and ridiculously cheap – something like $12 for the two of us. IMG_20180624_101704Then for lunch dessert I had some gelato at Asakusa Suzukien which is famous for its intense matcha gelato. From a website discussing the store:

The matcha gelato has 7 degrees of richness. No. 7 is said to have the richest matcha flavor in the world. In the gelato industry, No. 5 is believed to be the richest that can be produced. Here at Suzukien, they exceed this limit to No. 7.

“No. 7?? Madness! Big Gelato said it couldn’t be done!”

On the bottom row you can see the progression in green intensity from 1 to 7.
IMG_20180624_105953I tried the No. 7 and the hojicha. No. 7 was tasty and indeed extremely matcha-y but I preferred the hojicha because I love hojicha. But it was definitely worth trying No. 7, if only for the ability to turn up our noses at all the other non-boundary-exceeding matcha ice cream stores.

I snapped a quick picture of the crowd at Kaminarimon Gate by the time we left – definitely better to go early!
IMG_20180624_094555My original plan had been to shop Kappabashi Kitchen Town but after some last minute research I found out about 30% of the stores were closed that day, so we decided to save it for next trip and opted for a rest at the hotel.

We got back to our hotel about 15 minutes before the Miyazaki Clock was set to go off. There were a whole bunch of mechanical vignettes that lasted about 10 minutes and it was really cool to watch.
IMG_20180624_115036We rested for a few hours, then headed off to Akihabara. I didn’t think I’d be that interested since neither of us are really into anime but we found a bunch of stuff to entertain us. =)

We spent some time marvelling at the weird shit like anime sex pillows (you can tell they’re sex pillows because of the hole), and also an hour or so browsing Japanese board games, but the real hero of the afternoon was the gachapon arcade. IMG_20180624_154353We were absolutely addicted to these things in Japan. They’re like those little toy gumball machines you loved as a kid, but the stuff inside is so much cooler.

Our favourite gachapon were the cat hats:IMG_20180624_153442Unfortunately we got the orange which was like, the lamest or second lamest one, depending on whether that peach has a leaf in the back. There were a ton of different cat hat series – fruits, vegetables, bunnies, teddies, etc. Also lollies:IMG_20180624_152139Every time we saw a gachapon in Japan we would check to see what wonderful capsules there were inside. Even on super hot days when we’d been walking for hours, we’d still cross the road for them. But anyway, here are some other awesome and weird gachapon we found in that store:

The Garbage Collection:
IMG_20180624_151924 Animals peeing at urinals:IMG_20180624_152128Spoon Hamster:
IMG_20180624_152451 Vomiting animals:IMG_20180624_152448Miniature Sniper:
IMG_20180624_152039The Statue of Liberty on her day off:
IMG_20180624_153923It was always so exciting opening up our capsules to see which one we got. =)

Then it was time for the owl cafe! James thought I had dressed up for the shrines but I had really dressed up for the owls. Here James and I are with Pot Sticker and Gorilla:
20180624_6D0A4880The cafe had a room full of owls chillaxing, with some of them off-limits because they had already been patted too much. You could hold two owls and James started with Pot Sticker:
20180624_6D0A4899Then moved to Spring Onion. He said at first Spring Onion was quite standoffish but then they got along. As proof he showed me these photos of them in tandem:MVIMG_20180624_184242
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MVIMG_20180624_184317
1x06_Visiting_Ours_(41) (1)
I hung out with Gorilla at the start. He started upright and majestic (and incredibly suspicious of me and the other birds):
IMG_20180624_181554Then partway through he kind of sighed and collapsed on my arm. There were two employees there and both of them came by at separate times and were like “wow, he must really like you!”20180624_6D0A4946 (1)(That’s me hunching over to be more like Gorilla – my posture isn’t quite that bad)

My second owl was grumpy little Okra.
MVIMG_20180624_184921He was so soft! We were only supposed to touch them very gently on the forehead but I would sneakily rub my cheek against him.

When the guy put Okra back on his perch he put him too close to another owl. Okra looked annoyed and took two very deliberate little steps away. Look at him glaring at poor Kuppi who did nothing wrong and was just trying to enjoy his break time. MVIMG_20180624_185227The staff took some really nice photos of us (which they sent to me digitally) and made one of the photos into a postcard. I also bought a souvenir feather of Okra to stick in my hat. =)

For dinner we went to Ippudo for ramen. It was delicious.
IMG_20180624_202716The next morning we packed our (slightly expanded) bags and headed to Kyoto!

Travelling to Tokyo

16 Jul

Last month James and I crossed off one of our bucket list items and travelled to Japan for two and a half weeks. We loved it. It was so hot and humid but we had the best trip and I totally won’t be able to do it justice in my blog.

But first off, I want to say that the new United Polaris lounge at SFO is amazing. It has a really nice cocktail bar and an area where you can get meals cooked to order.

We were there for breakfast I had a “deconstructed” bagel (the deconstruction seemed a bit unnecessary but I appreciate the attempt at artistry).
IMG_20180620_093310
And James had a cheeseless omelette and a Bloody Mary.
IMG_20180620_093547Then we spent the time before our flight drinking cocktails and eating breakfast dessert. (Actually I was the only one who had breakfast dessert because James doesn’t believe in it – or lunch dessert for that matter).

When we boarded they let me sit in the cockpit!!
IMG_20180620_122117Don’t the controls look like they could be from the 1960s or something? It’s not even an old plane – one of the pilots told me that it’s less than a year old.

The pilots were super nice and funny. They immediately offered to take a photo, we chatted about Tokyo, they showed me what some of the controls did, and they moved the chair back and forth for me.

Me: Is it true that they don’t let you guys eat the same meal in case of food poisoning?
Pilot: They don’t even let us breathe the same air.

During the flight James and I both opted for the Japanese dinner and immediately regretted it because it was massive.
IMG_20180620_135720Way too big for a plane meal.
IMG_20180620_141459James (afterwards): Did you also think it was over and then get surprised by the second course?

Yes. Yes I very much did.

We landed at Narita in the late afternoon, grabbed our bags and took a train to Tokyo. After checking into our hotel we explored nearby Odaiba.

I don’t know why there’s a Statue of Liberty but I love it.
IMG_20180621_195735 And a Unicorn Gundam! IMG_20180621_202000At certain times there was a show where music would play and bits of the Gundam would light up and move. It was pretty cool. =)

We were both a little bit tired from our flight. James said he actually just wanted to stay in the hotel and veg but that seemed like a waste, so just wandering around Odaiba and admiring the lights was a nice, low-key way to end our first night in Tokyo.

Clusterfest Comedy Festival 2018

17 Jun

Time for Clusterfest again! Unlike last time though, they didn’t release the line-up in advance, so we made a leap of faith based on the strength of last year.

Ehhh …

The line-up wasn’t as good as last year and also they changed the seating so that VIP was way better than General Admission. Last year anyone could get to the seats at the main stage but this year they were only for VIP, resulting in this for Third Eye Blind on Friday:
IMG_20180601_183230 (1)(James and I were standing in the front row right behind the barriers).

We could see organisers with walkie-talkies (walkies-talkie?) trying to figure out how to fix the situation – because they wanted to let some regular people in to fill the seats and make it look less awful, but a VIP ticket guaranteed a seat, so they couldn’t let in too many non-VIPs.

Luckily James and I were part of the batch they let in!
IMG_20180601_215850Unluckily though, non VIPs didn’t have in/out privileges, so we made the decision to skip John Mulaney since we’d seen his show earlier this year, and stay for the Daily Show Correspondents set and Trevor Noah so we would have seats for The Lonely Island.

I heard John Mulaney was really good, but we were happy we got to see The Lonely Island because they were fantastic. =)

On Saturday we repeated our “get there earlier and camp Bill Graham Auditorium” strategy from last year to see “Drunk History and Friends” with Kyle Mooney, and a comedic set with Jim Jefferies. We had to leave to get tickets for Middleditch & Schwartz, which was an improv act by Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and Ben Schwartz (Parks and Rec).
IMG_20180617_093240The whole ticket situation was stupid. It was held in a tiny venue relative to the demand, so the line for tickets started two hours earlier instead of one hour earlier like all the other acts (which was confusing because there were two long lines at the ticket booth – one for the act beforehand and the other for Middleditch & Schwartz).

Then at the venue there were three lines – a line for VIPs with tickets, one for GA with tickets and a standby line for everyone without tickets. There were a lot of people in the wrong group, who were then really upset when they had to go to the back of the other line.
IMG_20180602_182214This photo doesn’t really convey how massive the line was, but the people on the right are in the ticket line and the people on the left are in the standby line. About half an hour before the show the standby line extended another hundred meters.

It was totally worth it though, because the show was hilarious. The absolute highlight of the festival for me. =)

After the show we went back into the auditorium to see a set with Michael Che, then explored some Daily Show exhibit of Trump’s tweets. (Oh yeah, and earlier when I was waiting for James to go to the bathroom, Jim Jefferies walked past me!)

But anyway, here is James sending out his own tweet:
IMG_20180602_214851When Australia sends its people, they’re not sending their best.
IMG_20180602_215218Afterwards we went outside to sit on the grass for Amy Schumer – neither of us find her very funny, so we were OK with missing the start of her set. And her set was awful – she pretty much just re-did her SNL monologue from a week ago. We were at a comedy festival – did she think the people there didn’t watch SNL? She also finished half an hour early, possibly because she was bombing so hard. So yeah, that was pretty shit.

On Sunday the festival cancelled the one thing I’d been looking forward to – the screening of Arrested Development with David Cross, Tony Hale (and, for some reason, also Kyle Mooney). =(
IMG_20180602_131814Instead we watched an interview with Jon Stewart, and a live read of Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Thomas, Middleditch, Ben Schwartz, David Cross, and Sasheer Zamata.
IMG_20180603_171134Then afterwards, a comedy set with David Cross (who was really, really unfunny).

In the evening we sat on the lawn to watch Jon Stewart’s set. It was OK but I think he is more clever/thoughtful than funny. A lot of people we talked to absolutely love him – hey, guy who told me to imagine my favourite comedian, then double it and double it again? YOU WERE SO INCORRECT.

Overall I think this year was very heavy on the political material, and not nearly as funny as last year. Last year the headliners were better and the undercard was heaps better – we laughed non-stop last year and this year there were multiple comedians I didn’t even crack a smile for, and (aside from Middleditch & Schwartz) even the better ones I just laughed once or twice.

James and I still had a good time, but agreed that we would wait for the line-up next year.

A Cocktail Making Class!

10 Jun

Last month James and I did a cocktail making class with some friends of ours. Here we are before the class, all chipper and eager to learn:
IMG_20180519_120107

We did the Introduction to Mixology class here – it was a two hour class with maybe 10-15 participants. We learned about the history of cocktails, and how to balance sweet/bitter/sour in drinks (with little educational taste tests along the way).

About to learn about gimlets!
IMG_20180519_132214We also learned about all the different barware, and James was so inspired that he came home and ordered a Boston shaker, cocktail strainer, jigger, mixing glass, bar spoon and ice cube tray (apparently our tray doesn’t make the correct sized cubes).

Then at the end of the class everyone got to make their own cocktails. Here is James putting the finishing touches on his drink (a sazerac):
IMG_20180519_140040And me!Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180519141420Looking back on that gif I’m so embarrassed by the large amount of booze that doesn’t make it into the drink. At the time I thought I’d done well.

Also that was not my biggest drink malfunction of the afternoon:
Burst_Cover_GIF_Action_20180519141307I did better the second time, but apparently that attempt wasn’t caught on camera.

James and I thought the class would largely be theory based, and didn’t realise the … er, samples would be so generous. We didn’t have breakfast and, not going to lie, we got absolutely tanked.
IMG_20180519_141717James signed up for the more advanced course in August. It’s 6 hours long!! He asked a friend of his from NY if he wanted to do it with him and his friend was like “I’m offended you even had to ask”.

After the class we walked to Chinatown and had some cheap Chinese food, played board games, then napped drunkenly. It was a lovely afternoon. =)

Giulia in Boston

29 May

Giulia is the one meal I booked in advance for Boston because it kept showing up on “best of” lists. I’ve never been wowed by an Italian restaurant but I thought it was probably worth trying out. It was surprisingly difficult to get a reservation (even mid-week!) and we could only get a table for 9pm.

It’s right next to Harvard and we were so happy to be seated next to a foursome of the most stereotypical looking professors you could imagine. I sent James a message saying “hey, don’t the group next to us all look like professors?” and when he saw it he grinned, nodded excitedly and said “that’s what I was thinking too!”

So that was a wonderful start to the evening. (Also, from overhearing bits of their conversation, we were totally correct). =D

We did the tasting menu with one wine pairing but unfortunately didn’t get photos of all the courses. This was our first – chicken liver crostini (for me) and a non-dairy alternative for James that I can’t remember, potato foccacia and sardinian flatbread:
IMG_20180516_212904It was paired with a massive negroni and we were very glad that we’d opted to share a wine pairing.

Then some grilled octopus with capers and lemon that we didn’t take a photo of. It was after this course that James looked at me very seriously and said “I don’t know if it’s because I’m hungry, but this is the best food I’ve ever had.”

Next was pasta with fennel, anchovies and sweet onion “butter”, which was delicious.
IMG_20180516_220131(Our waitress was really sweet – she said that she wanted to be the one to bring this dish over because she said everyone else would mention the butter but didn’t want James to worry about it because it’s not actually butter).

Also all the wine pairings were great. James said he’s always really impressed by wine pairings where the wine makes the food better and the food makes the wine better.

And then … the stars of the night – they look crappy in the photos but they were so, so good. Bucatini alla matriciana:
IMG_20180516_221601 And wild boar pappardelle: IMG_20180516_221610Our waitress described the boar pappardelle as “outrageous”, which was just the perfect description of it. She pointed out a man at the bar and told us he was a Harvard law professor who would drop in once a week for the pappardelle. She said he would ride down the main street on a boosted board with a lit-up helmet, and the times he kept going she and the other staff would be like “ah, no pappardelle tonight.”

The other two pastas were also amazing – between them the second and third best pastas I’ve ever had (which gives you an idea of the overall quality of the meal) – but the pappardelle was outrageous.

James had the bucatini first and was like ‘this is so good!” and I told him to wait until he tried the pappardelle. When he did, his eyes went really wide and he looked at me and said very hopefully “… can I have the rest?”

Aww of course you can Jamesy!

Next was a very light and tasty fish course that we didn’t get a photo of. It was Maine halibut with a spring vegetable and citrus juice. The juice was so delicious and I drank it like soup.

Then dessert! I had the chocolate terrine with hazelnut gelato and salted caramel:
IMG_20180516_225625And James’ non-dairy option was the polenta cake with poached rhubarb and pear sorbetto.IMG_20180516_225620They were both wonderful – everything was wonderful. It was one of those times where the meal is so perfect that you feel all glowy afterards. =)

James said he enjoyed Giulia more than French Laundry, Eleven Madison Park, and even his previous favourite meal, which was é in Las Vegas. The food didn’t have unusual flavours or crazy presentation – it was simple but just done mindblowingly well. If you’re in Boston I’d highly, highly recommend going to Giulia.