Monday, June 25, 2018

Japan: Tokyo PT. 2

After Odate, we went back to Tokyo for a few days before we flew out, which we did right before a TYPHOON which was so crazy and anxiety filled but it ended up all working out and I was so happy to be home and thankful to Singapore Air for getting us there (also there was news about the typhoon all over and I kept seeing the number five so I thought it was a category five typhoon but nah, typhoons are so common in Japan they don't name them, they just number them haha)
We don't have a ton of pictures from this part of the trip, mostly because we were so tired and it was also raining a lot so we didn't do very much. This was also the time where we all wanted to kill each other from being together for three weeks so.. things were a little rough, haha. But we got in to Tokyo and had a great airbnb (beds! we had beds! yay for no floor!) and went to get some yakiniku again, while I had a delightful second course of McDonalds because I was ready for no more rice. 
The next day Mark, his mom and I went to the place that David Chang from Momofuku and Ugly Delicious fame said was the best pizza in the world. You heard that right, the best pizza in the world and it's in Japan, so we had to go.

You guys, it was. It was the best pizza I have ever had, My perfect pizza. It makes me sad I have peaked so early in life and that I will have to go to Japan to get a pizza like this. It's for sure worth a stop if you are ever in Tokyo.
Immediately after pizza, Mark wanted to try another food place and since we didn't know when we were going to go back to Japan we decided to make room for a Delifucious fish sandwich. I lost nerve and couldn't make room, but Mark did and he 10/10 recommends this place as well.

After that, we met up with some friends and the rest of our family and went to a little cafe (lol) since none of the others had eaten. Again, I fell asleep on a table which really brought the whole trip full circle. We then went to a twelve story mall and bought a few more fun things. 
After a rest back at the airbnb we were all starving and exhausted so we just decided to wander the streets to find somewhere to eat. We stumbled into this ramen place and they made us order from a vending machine that gives you tickets, it was really confusing and we were all so hangry so it was not awesome. Once we did finally order we all calmed down, and I especially appreciated this little touch.

We were watching the guys make the ramen and they just seemed very tense and angry with each other and I was like, "oh they are having the night we are having." 
We all got our ramen and started eating it and it was soooo oishii (delicious) like my favorite ramen I have ever had. My FIL started talking to the chef guys and saying "this is so good, perfect last meal in Tokyo, thank you thank you" and the guys just started talking our ear off! We realized that they only get business men coming home from work who don't really talk, they just slurp their ramen and leave and these ramen boys might have been desperate for a little kindness and human interaction? Idk it was just a very heart touching experience for some reason. We for sure left them better than we found them, joking and getting along. It was good.

Because of weird travel plans and the typhoon messing evyerthing up, we had to check out of our airbnb at 11 but didnt fly out till 7:30 so we had a lot of time to kill in Tokyo with our luggage which was not ideal nor expected. Usually finding coin lockers is no problem but this time we couldn't find them, so we were in the rain and angry at each other, ready to go home, pissed we had our suitcases when we saw the warm glow of the golden arches and decided to head that way.  Lo and behold, there were coin lockers right by the McDonalds so we were able to lock our suitcases away, have one last teriyaki burger, and hide from the typhoon rain before catching our train to the airport.
Just a tip for anyone flying out of Japan, everything takes two seconds. I was PANICKED because my mother in law suggested that we go to eat at a restaurant in the airport an hour before we boarded the plane. We were literally not even through security yet. I was like "WE DO NOT HAVE TIME!" and she was like "trust me trust me" but I did not trust her and I was so stressed. When we finally did go through security and customs, it took less than ten minutes which apparently is very common.
We did some last duty free shopping (man they know how to GET YA) before boarding our flight.
If you remember, on the flight to Japan we were #blessed that no one sat next to us. As our flight was boarding, the person next to us just kept not coming. We couldn't believe we got lucky twice. It made the flight so much better. It turned out to be absolutely crucial because I got food poisoning about three hours into the flight! Puke for literally days, made the airport bathroom my new home, it was horrific. Also, shoutout to Singapore Airlines who SUCKED on the trip back. I thought they would be so helpful because on the way to Japan they took care of Mark so well, but they wouldn't even bring me water after I hurled my guts completely out. I feel like I was owed a free flight for making it in the toilet every time, so the least I deserved was a freaking water bottle refill. The flight went fast despite flying through a typhoon, puking out every organ I had, and generally being miserably tired. We also didn't have a day layover in L.A so that was really nice. I felt significantly better when I was able to get some soup in LAX during our short layover, and we made it home just as the sun was doing its thing, it was beautiful. 

I loved this whole trip, although traveling isn't always easy, sometimes downright miserable, it's 100% worth it every single time.  It was an honor for me to learn about the culture. I was really appreciative that my in laws really kept a rich culture experience for Mark and his siblings and I hope to continue that in our home. I have grown to love traveling abroad because you are given some perspective that the world absolutely does not revolve around you and not to get caught up in your own bubble. I also love seeing the cultural differences and it makes you question a lot of the way you live. 
I wouldn't say that Japan is a popular place for people our age to visit, but I think you should add it to your bucket list. It's beautiful and unique, and 100% worth a visit.
If you have any questions about the trip logistics or any general questions, feel free to email me at rileyjoblog (at)
Thanks for following along!
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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Japan: ODATE

I almost threw this in with my last blog post but it was too special! After a six hour journey of three-four different trains and being pretty freaking sick and just needing some dang soup (which my MIL tracked down for me because she da real MVP) and we had to say goodbye to my SIL because she couldn't take as much time off. BUT! We finally got to Odate which is pretty far north in Japan. It's essentially Lindon, Utah or Idaho Falls. Just a small town that is pretty rundown since a lot of the younger people moved to Tokyo to work. A friend of my MIL's picked us up from the airport and it was the first time a Japanese person spoke to me in English and I was so shocked, haha.

 I was a little worried about how Mark's grandma (baba)s' reaction would be towards me because the rest of his relatives were apathetic at BEST toward me and from what I knew of Baba, she's pretty blunt. I was especially worried because Mark is the firstborn grandson, which is big deal as you can see from the ginormous painting of him in the entryway below..
 BUT! Baba couldn't have been nicer or more sweet to me. She was obsessed with my skin which was lovely because I have been hating my skin lately. I felt so bad that we don't speak Japanese, she kept forgetting and would try to talk to us anyway but with help from Google translate we got most things figured out. I don't deal with her shenanigans on a day to day basis so I had a lot of sympathy for her, being all alone and far away from family. I am putting together a little package for her to send before summer ends.
Our first night there we got conveyer belt sushi and not only was it delicious but it was so fun! You can grab stuff off the belt or you can order things using the screen at your table and when your food is coming down the belt it plays a song. They are priced by the design of the plate, so like the yellow plates are a dollar, and then at the end they come measure it with a ruler haha. It was my favorite meal in Odate, although we had the best ramen in the world as well as eating at this Western place that was actually really good too, so saying this was my favorite is high praise!
most unflattering picture of me ever? yessssh.

One of the days we just spent going shopping, to the dollar store which was insane (I guess they have one in California if you are ever there!) and then the grocery store so Mark could buy some Japanese ingredients and stuff.  

 The next day, Mark's little brother and dad took the train up north where his brother will be serving a mission this year. Mark, my MIL and I met up with a high school friend who was kind enough to drive us to this gorgeous little lake and national park area. There was a really long hike/walk that followed the river that lead into the lake and it was so green with waterfalls everywhere, just really beautiful.
 Funny story, we had lunch at this pizza place near the lake and I swear whatever playlist they had going was from my ipod circa 2006.  It was so confusing to me that not only were they playing American music but they were playing American Alt music that was popular in high school. Haha!

It was fun to see my MIL's stomping grounds and meet her friends. I thought I would hate Odate because there wasn't a lot to do but it was one of the highlights of the trip for me! It just slow and exactly what we needed after being go go go for so long.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

Japan: Kanazawa/Nagano

We were only in Kanazawa for one night. My MIL came last year and she just thought we would love it so we had to stop. We did love it! We stayed in a nice hotel and slept in a bed for the first time since Kyoto. 
We also ate at a realllllly good sushi place (twice in fact) that gave me unagi (eel) that will never be topped. 
We went to these Japanese gardens that were BEAUTIFUL and I would suggest going to Kanazawa just for the gardens. We could have spent a long time in there. Even wth the drunken tourists, it was really peaceful and quiet.

 My FIL pointed something out about this waterfall that was constructed in the 1770s...that while our founding fathers were fighting for independence in America, the Japanese were building this waterfall.

This is a waterfall. That tells time. And the date. JAPAN LIVING IN 3018.

This whole area by the train station was so cool, I loved this modern torii gate!
We spent a lot of time shopping in the train station, I bought a really pretty ring box that is traditionally Japanese so I thought that was an appropriate place to put my wedding ring.
dreamy breakfast
The next morning we had a few hours to kill before our train so we split up and some went to the museum and we explored an old samurai village, an old castle and then did round two of sushi before meeting up with everyone to catch our train to Nagano.
While we were walking around we met this Japanese guy who told us, in English, that he loves Trump. Blargh.

 The sushi people were so confused when we came back with half our little group.
We rode north to Nagano to meet up with Mark's uncle who I have never met! We weren't there very long either, one night in a glorious hotel, but it was important to see him! This was probably my favorite temple we visited because of the insane carvings.

After this we had to catch a bus to dinner, but I found this jewelry shop and spent significant time picking out jewelry when they said "WE HAVE TO CATCH THE BUS NOW! IT'S THE LAST ONE OF THE NIGHT!" but since I'm a brat I was like, "you guys can, I'm buying this jewelry!" and even though the cashier moved in slow motion and was being a brat, I made my purchase and about a minute later the bus came, so we made it! 
We ate some great yakitori where I inadvertently ate cow tongue and thought it was very good before Mark told me the truth (days later because he knows me and my rage)
This was the day I started really not feeling good (I caught a cold and it sucked) so I was really tired and wanting to go home when my MIL dragged us into a karaoke club. Guys, I would rather be naked in an onsen with family than sing karaoke. It is my biggest pet peeve, worst fear, whatever you want to call it. When I was younger I wrote a poem about getting rid of karaoke forever. So I was not the happiest camper about this karaoke thing. None of us were, in fact I would say we were pretty big snots about the whole deal. 
So I am reluctant to admit I warmed up to it and had a great time. I know!! I still hate karaoke with all my heart, but it was fun.
We were on our way to Odate the next day which would be six hours of traveling, bleck! Stay tuned.
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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Japan: Hiroshima/Shiniwakuni

 We were sad to leave Nakatsu after being treated so well, but we were excited to see family that I have never met and Mark hadn't seen in 11 years. They also treated us so well! They picked us up and took us to lunch. This was another meal I struggled with (I promise I didn't struggle with eating the entire time) you see that green stuff in the middle? This is where I didn't follow my own rule of trying things. My sister in law gave me her potato salad because she's a saint who didn't want me to pass out from hunger.
After we ate (Japanese style, by the way, aka on the floor) our family led us to this museum that they said we absolutely had to visit. I knew we were going to a bridge that was built with no nails, so I assumed this museum was about that. The museum was super nice, clear a lot of money had been spent on the displays and stuff, and we sat down to watch a movie about the museum. It was an animated movie about a white snake and it honestly didn't make any sense and I was really confused about where the bridge was?? We kept walking through the museum and there were all of these facts about snakes and then a big glass display case of real white snakes just slitherin around. We were all SO confused until finally we realized it was NOT the bridge museum and just a little museum about the white snakes that naturally live in this area of Japan. They are good luck because they ate the mice that were trying to eat the rice way back in the day, so they are super holy. Once we realized it was not the bridge museum and it was a snake museum it made a lot more sense but...there's only so much info that one needs to know about a very specific breed of snake, so we didn't spend a lot of time there and hopefully we didn't offend our relatives. Lost in translation is real! 

After THE museum of the year walked through the LOVELIEST park and splash pad area. It was gorgeous and so fun with little shops and ice cream stands everywhere. It led to this bridge, which I think at one time was built without nails but it for sure had nails in it when we walked over it so... *shrugs* but it's honestly so much bigger than it looks in this picture! Walking up the bumps wore me out. 

 After the bridge and a little ice cream break we traveled back to our relative's extra house (because who doesn't just have an extra house lying around) and got ready for our little baby cousin's first birthday party. I was real stressed because they bought two huge sushi platters that had been sitting in a warm house literally all day.....but I didn't get food poisoning on this part of the trip (lol) so it must have been fine. The cake was so good!

After a fun party, my mother in law and I were dropped off at the laundromat so we could do laundry for the family and I struggled with the Japanese directions, clearly. People don't show the unglam parts of being gone for three weeks, there is no way you can pack enough clothes/underwear/socks so you might have to spend a few hours doing laundry on vacation. 
A culture thing I realized while doing laundry which I had started to notice, Japanese people are a lot more lenient (is that even the right word?) about their children. I saw SO many little babies and toddlers in the front seat, sometimes in a carseat and sometimes not. When we drove the hour to Hiroshima, our little four year old cousin wasn't in a carseat, he was just chillin. Then in the few hours it took to do laundry, the one year old was asleep in the minivan and no one even checked on him nor was he really visible from where we were. It was just super interesting to me, but Japan is a LOT safer than America so maybe it's a non issue!
 The next morning we made the hour drive from Shiniwakuni, where our relatives live, to Hiroshima. This was a pretty intense place and one I would recommend anyone visiting and I wish that all American citizens were forced to visit. I have a history minor and I never, ever was taught Hiroshima accurately or as atrociously as it really was. 
You can see the before/after of this building. Everyone in the building was killed instantly.

 After the bomb, people would run to the river thinking it would help their burns but it made them worse and many drowned in the river.
 They have an extremely thorough museum, unfortunately a lot of it was under construction but they said they got most of the information condensed, we saw a good amount. We spent a lot of time in the video area where survivors shared their stories, it's just horrific and unimaginable. 
Clothes from people that were still very far from the detonation point

This was instant
Because I am a history nerd, this was my favorite thing we did on the trip and something I won't ever forget. I just think that if people visited these places, a lot of what we argue about politics wise would be a non issue. The museum really boils it down to humanity, and humanity and atomic weapons cannot co-exist. It was pretty life changing so I would recommend a visit. 
Also, I know that it's common sense but don't bring a drone to such a peaceful place. My MIL will go AFTER. YOU. HONEY! 

After Hiroshima and our lunch, which consisted of a banana and pringles for me and Japanese pancakes for everyone else, we drove to get onto a ferry (also, if you see this post and are going to Japan, there is a JR ferry that you can use your railpass on!) to go to DEER ISLAND! It's actually called Miyajima. You can read about the deer here. They really just want food and literally don't care about you at all if you don't have food. When we were there, they didn't have any deer cookies that you could buy so maybe the deer were getting sick or something.
On deer island there are SO many shops, restaurants etc it's a total tourist trap but I loved it. It's a fun place.

There is also a Shinto temple here with a gorgeous Torii gate that is over the water. We were trying to make it there earlier so we could see it at high tide. I'm sure it's beautiful all the time!

Okay, so after this the funniest thing happened. We got back on the ferry, got in the car and started driving. We assumed we were going home, but remember it's rude to ask what the plan is. So after not that long of driving, we pulled into a parking lot. We asked where we were and they said an "onsen"
So just to recap from my last post, an onsen is basically just a natural hot water spring. Sometimes they are hot to the point that you can't get in, and sometimes they are like hot tub hot, so it's a big thing in Japan to go in an onsen spa. To do this, you aren't clothed. Japan has this phrase that's basically like "such good friends because you have seen each other naked" and they just have a very different culture surrounding nakedness than America. So when our relatives pulled up to an onsen I thought it was the kind we had gone to a few days before where you just walk around and see it, but no, this was a naked onsen. I cannot imagine what my face looked like when I realized. I maybe would have been game to go if I hadn't 1. been with relatives and 2. wasn't already a spectacle, my naked body would have sent the poor Japanese ladies into a panic!
I was racking my brain trying to figure out how to say no but not be rude because that is a huge thing you have to be careful of when my MIL was like "you don't have to go!!" and saved me! Mark and I and his little brother hung out in the lounge area while everyone went in and then we all ate dinner together in the same building when they were done.  I do want to go in one one day, just alone! and preferably empty! I guess I just want to take a bath. Haha.

We were sad to leave our [fully clothed] family but were reallllly ready to not sleep on the floor and be in a clean hotel, so we headed off to Kanazawa!
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