I’m back and [finally] free of all jet lag symptoms. Before too much time passes, I wanted to share some highlights from our trip including my travel snacks, workouts and sightseeing activities.
Prepping for a big trip is one of my favorite activities. In 2016, we went to Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and escaped Boston for a handful of weekend trips. Japan was our biggest trip of the year. This wasn’t my first time in Japan, but that didn’t make it any less exciting!
We left on Thursday, October 6th, and returned on Wednesday, October 19th. Getting there — and getting back — took just under 24 hours of planes, trains and automobiles. During those hours, I like to make sure we are snacking and well-fed. (Half of my carryon was snacks and there were raisins, almonds, Justin’s nut butters and Larabars in my suitcase.) Airport food options can be unpredictable and unfavorable at times. Here are scenes from our journey from Boston > Japan:
We started our trip in Kyoto – where Ryo’s family is from. We arrived and had enough time to settle in, get dinner and then sleep off the travel sleepiness.
We spent our first full day in Nara, known for its free-roaming deer and Tōdai-ji, a Buddhist temple with Japan’s largest bronze Buddha statue.
We started with those two touristy things, then traveled off the beaten path towards the abandoned Nara Dreamland. The theme park – a photographer’s dream – has been out of commission since 2006. Disney Tokyo and other popular amusements might be to blame.
We snuck in through a hole in the fence and quietly started roaming around. We saw a couple other groups of travelers from a distance, but didn’t have any security guard sightings until we were at the top of the Screw Coaster. Lucky for us, we weren’t spotted and were able to continue our exploration.
Here is a weird video my friend put together and pics from our exploration:
Unfortunately for you, demolition of the park began a few days after we were there. Perfect timing on our part. After the heart-pounding experience, we rewarded ourselves with zaru soba. Later we had gyoza from Chao Chao by the Kamo River and beers at AB. Pro tip for Chao Chao: Order it as takeout! The line is long, but if you don’t mind skipping the sit down experience, they’ll take to-go orders on the spot.
On the second day we hiked Mt. Hiei in Kyoto. The top promised an amazing view which didn’t disappoint. That night, we had more friends arriving in Kyoto and met up for a rewarding tonkatsu dinner at Katsukura (the best I’ve ever had).
The next two days in Kyoto were spent showing our friends some beautiful temples and shrines. One morning, I got up for a run by the Kamo River. The next day I headed into Imperial Palace Park down the street for a bench workout.
The last night everyone was in Kyoto, Ojiichan also treated us all to an amazing dinner at Ganko that will never be forgotten.
It broke my heart, but we had to say goodbye to Ojiichan (who spent 2 months with us in Boston prior to our trip to Japan). We were off to Tokyo to spend time with friends… and eat… and drink… a lot.
Day one in Tokyo I hustled everything onto a train — OK, a few trains — to Nikko. It took about 2 hours to get there, but I had been dying to go for a while. Here is why: Brightly painted, moss-covered temples and gorgeous waterfalls. We ended the night with dinner and drinks at an cheap izakaya.
On the second full day in Tokyo, we wandered around Shibuya, Harajuku and Akihabara. Later that night, we met friends for Korean BBQ and karaoke in Shinjuku.
On Sunday, I got up to stretch and do a quick circuit workout. We spent the morning packing up and getting ready for our journey to Okinawa. This was our last big stop and the one I was most excited about. The main island of Okinawa is the largest of the Okinawa Islands and Ryukyu Islands of Japan. The island is best known for being a strategic location for the U.S. Armed Forces since the end of WWII. Culture on the island is more laid back than the Japanese mainland and has a lot of American influence. It felt like the Big Island of Hawaii (which we visited back in March).
It got up in the mornings to stretch and read on a nearby resort beach.
We were there for two days and had a car (highly recommended). On day one, we road tripped to some waterfalls and coastal sites I had mapped out. On day two, we took the morning to drive to two more sites including Nakagusuku Castle ruins.
We finished out time in Okinawa off with a couple bowls of noodles and then hit the airport for one last ride to Osaka. Our night in Osaka was short — too bad. We grabbed some gifts, conveyer belt sushi and called it a night. We were up early to start our journey home.
It’s hard to pick one highlight from this trip. But the most humbling was our last 24 hours in Kyoto. Ojiichan showed us some of his photography and we spent hours going through photo albums from his years of traveling (there are A LOT) of photo albums. The morning we left for Tokyo was emotional. We went for a walk to the Kamo River and then headed home to catch our taxi to Kyoto Station. Before we departed, Ojiichan shared a poem. It was in Japanese, but went something like this:
The things that I enjoy most about life:
To be able to walk,
to be able to converse,
and to want to drink sake.
It’s so simple. A simplicity we can all hope to treasure as we age.