Obon Festival

A typhoon is rolling in and you can see hints of it in my new vlog here!

OBON SEASON:

Obon (or just “Bon”) is a special time during the year, typically around August 15, that people come together to celebrate their ancestors’ spirits. Nowadays, it is a time for families in Japan to hold family reunions and despite it not being an official holiday in the country, many people are still given the time off from work. Most of the country celebrates this festival.

This year, Bon will start on August 13 and end on August 15 (however, some parts of Japan celebrate it in July, depending on the calendar they use). It is believed that the spirits of the deceased ancestors will return to earth to visit their relatives. It is tradition to leave lanterns outside the house, perform Obon dances (bon odori), and visit graves. On the final day of Bon, families hang lanterns outside which are meant to guide the spirits back to their final resting place (this is called okuri-bon).

Kinkakuji

A yukata.

Since this festival is celebrated during the summer, in the middle of the oppressive heat and humidity, people wear yukatas, the cooler, cotton version of the kimono.

ORIGIN:

The Obon festival originated from the story of one of Buddha’s disciples who learned that his mother had fallen into the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Buddha told the disciple to leave offerings to other Buddhist monks on the 15th day of the 7th month. Soon, the disciple’s mother was released from her suffering and in his joy, the disciple danced. This dance would soon be called the bon odori (literally translated to: Bon dance).

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My Last Days in Kyoto

A late update! Yikes! I was pretty tired from running around all around Kyoto and its surrounding areas so this post and its corresponding video has been delayed for a while. But here it is!!

FUSHIMI INARI TAISHA:

The morning after Miyajima and Himeji castle, I took off to see Fushimi Inari Taisha. It is famous for its thousands of torii that line the path behind the main building. In the sun, the torii glow bright red and its a breathtaking and highly recommended sight to see. I thought it would be most fitting to go in my yukata but did not realize that there would a hike and wore my geta (sandals for yukatas. Not the best thing to wear when hiking). I’d say wear some good shoes and bring lots of water.

 

Fushimi Inari Taisha ToriiI woke up at 5AM in order to get to Fushimi Inari Taisha at 7AM (I took a while to get my yukata on) so I could avoid the massive crowd of tourist that start to flock in around 8AM. Definitely do the same as I did because once more people come, it’s hard getting a photo with just yourself and the torii. The hiking path also starts to fill up with chatter from the crowds and one of the best parts of this hike is the beautiful quiet that comes with it.

It’s only a 5 minute train ride from Kyoto station to Fushimi Inari Taisha so there’s no need to wake up at 5AM like I did! I have also heard that this place is really pretty in the evening and not many people go once the sun starts to sink because being here when it’s getting dark can be a bit creepy. I would have loved to try going at night but, unfortunately, did not have time.

TOGETSUKYO BRIDGE “MOON CROSSING BRIDGE”:

After seeing the gorgeous torii, I went to see the Togetsukyo Bridge. The Katsura River flows under this massive bridge and even though it was packed with people by the time I got there, it was still really pretty. There are boats you can take on the river and, I am told, you can also eat a meal on these boats, but I felt a little hot and opted to eat kakigori (shaved ice) on the other side of the bridge instead.

KINKAKU-JI “GOLDEN PAVILLION”:

KinkakujiThis stunning Zen temple is completely covered in gold and, in the sun, it glows brightly. Entry inside the temple is prohibited but there are pictures outside that show what the inside looks like (all gold!) and what this place looks like during winter. The golden temple really stands out in the white snow! It’s something that I would like to see one day in the future.

It’s 400 yen to enter and there’s a path you follow after seeing the temple that takes you through the forest and out. At the end, you can also purchase fortunes in a machine by the small shrine by the exit. Mine said that I had “Good luck”!

NIJO CASTLE:

Nijo Castle Wall PaintingsWhen I came to see the Nijo Castle, I was a little worried that I would have to walk up several steep flights of stairs again like in Himeji Castle. It turns out, I did not have to worry at all! Nijo Castle was pretty flat and did not have any stairs that needed to be climbed. It was also much prettier than Himeji Castle with massive gardens, spacious rooms, and gorgeous wall paintings that the former castle lacked.

The group inside the castle are a special kind of floor, called a Nightingale floor. Since this castle was building for the first shogun of the Edo Period, the shogun had to worry about assassins trying to kill him. Every step taken on this floor emits a chirping sound to alert others in the area of someone walking around. The sound isn’t obnoxious and its name is quite fitting as the boards sound like a bird singing.

FLEUR:

Looking for some of the fluffiest and most delicious pancakes you’ve ever eaten in your life? Well Fleur has exactly what you’re looking for! It’s a 5 minute walk from Kyoto Station and opens at 11AM but you should get there a bit earlier to put your name on the list. The pancakes also take about 50 minutes to make so don’t come starving!

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetI got the limited edition pancakes and though I forget the name, I know it had to do something with lemons. I would go back in a heartbeat. The pancakes were divine and melted the moment they touched your tongue. This is a popular date spot so if you go alone (like me) the waitresses may give you strange stares at first! It’s definitely worth it for those pancakes though!

The ice cream and cream that came with my pancakes were a bit too sweet (even for my sweet tooth!) but the pancakes were perfect so one of the other, less sugary, options may be the way to.

KURAMA ONSEN:

Kurama OnsenAfter all that traveling and not so much sleeping, I decided to spend my last day relaxing. So, after stuffing myself with pancakes, I headed over to Kurama Village to bask in their onsen. It was a little more complicated getting to Kurama than anywhere else I had gone before just because I had to take 3 trains to get there and 2 of them weren’t covered by my JR Pass so I had to refill my train card several times along the way.

The onsen is pretty small but super warm and it had a spectacular view of the mountain next to the village. There’s an indoor and outdoor bath but if you pay 1,000 yen, you can only go into the outdoor bath while it is 2,500 yen for access to both baths, towels, and a yukata. Personally, I think outdoor baths are always going to be more fun so I just paid for the outdoor bath and bought a 400 yen face towel that I was allowed to keep.

 

Wheew, that was a lot! I hope you enjoyed this post, I know that I just briefly covered a lot of topics so if you have any questions or need any clarification, please let me know!

Warning 1: Heat levels are at an all-time high this year and probably will continue to climb in the coming years so please remember to drink water and eat salty things (something Japanese people always say to do, the salt helps your body retain water!).

Warning 2: There are so many bugs!!! The reason I had to leave Kurama Onsen after about an hour was because of the massive bugs that were flying around the bath. Always wear bug repellant because those bites are not fun! I have been eaten alive by all sorts of insects and bug repellant is a life saver.

 

Nara, Miyajima (Again!), and Himeji

I condensed my past 2 days of travel into one video here!

Hi everyone! I hope the summer hasn’t gotten to you all the way it’s gotten to me! For this post, I am going to briefly cover all 3 of the locations I visited in the past 2 days.

NARA:

Deer in Nara

This was the moment that this deer noticed the deer crackers I had bought.

Nara’s deer are famous for a reason! They’re super cute and super comfortable with humans. There are also over a thousand deer that roam the famous Nara Park, making them a pretty common sight, once you get over the shock of seeing this typically timid animal harass tourists for snacks. Buying the 150 yen deer crackers will guarantee a bit of harassment, if not a lot of harassment, from the deer. I was swarmed with several deer who ended up nibbling at my clothes in an attempt to snatch away the snacks. Once you’re out of snacks however, they quickly lose interest in you.

There is also the famous Todai-Ji Temple with the world’s largest golden statue of Buddha right inside the park. Unfortunately, because of the overwhelming crowd of tourists, high temperature (35 degrees C = 96 degrees F) and lack of water, I soon found myself weak and unable to enter the temple. I had to sit in a shaded resting area, surrounded by deer and away from the big crowds until I could gather enough strength to leave. Instead of going to the temple, I instead opted to find the Isuien Garden and spend my time there. If you are looking to get away from the large crowds like I did, I highly suggest Isuien Garden.

Recommended?: I would say to go to Nara Park and Todai-Ji Temple if you have a bit of extra time. Since it is such a popular tourist destination, it’s hard to navigate and move around freely due to the massive crowds wherever you go. Instead of seeing the deer in Nara, I would say go see the deer in Miyajima…

Isuien Garden

Definitely a nice getaway from the more crowded areas.

MIYAJIMA:

Itsukushima Shrine

If you go early enough, you might be able to catch one of the boats that will take you directly under the torii! Only 800 yen (~8 USD).

I didn’t get the chance in my last blog post to talk about how much I love Miyajima so I’m glad I can get the chance now! Miyajima is most definitely one of my top places to go to in Japan. The torii (the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine) in Miyajima is a gorgeous sight to behold, no matter if the tide is high or not. I’ve seen it once later in the day and today, early in the morning and if I were given the chance, I would go see it again. It is still a popular tourist destination but I found the crowds to be a bit more manageable than Nara’s crowds.

If you decide to skip Nara and feel bad for not seeing the deer, do not fear! There are plenty of kind deer in Miyajima!

Recommended?: Yes, yes, yes! Itsukushima Shrine, the torii, the deer, and the shopping is all 100% worth seeing. Even the ferry ride to the island is fun!

HIMEJI:

Himeji Castle Moat

The castle’s moat! It was so hot, I dreamt of jumping in…

I was able to take a quick detour to Himeji Castle on my way back from Hiroshima to Kyoto. If the weather is not too hot, I would highly recommend going to see this beautiful castle. The castle is visible from Himeji station so finding out how to get there is not a problem at all! Himeji Castle is also called the White Heron Castle due to its magnificent, white appearance. It had 6 stories so be prepared for a long climb.

Himeji Castle View 2

You can see the town and the breathtaking moat from the top!

I paid 1,000 yen to enter (~10 USD). When I got far enough in, I was asked to remove my shoes as to not damage the building. In the past, samurai used to walk barefoot through this castle and it’s great that such traditions are kept alive to this day. The stairs to the top story are steep and I had to take a few rest stops along the way. The day was still hot and I was still feeling sick from the previous day in Nara so I took my time climbing to the top. The wind that blew through the lattice windows was a great relief and probably the one thing that kept me going.

The view from the top was spectacular and I’m so happy that I was able to trudge my way to see it.

Recommended?: If the weather is good, yes. While the view was nice, I started to suffer from the heat and I definitely feel like I could have enjoyed my time much much more had it not been so hot.

Himeji Castle View

Views from the 6(th story).

Hiroshima and the JR Pass

I took a day trip to Hiroshima!

Hey everyone! I’m writing this from my hostel in Kyoto (Shiori An, super friendly and super clean! If you need a quiet place to stay, this is your place) but I haven’t actually been in Kyoto all day. Instead, I took a day trip to Hiroshima. It was one of the best trips I’ve had so far while in Japan and I was able to travel to, from, and around Hiroshima all without having to pay for a single ticket and I want to share how.

The JR Pass

The JR Pass. Super convenient!

JAPAN RAIL PASS:

The Japan Rail is an extensive transit system that stretches out all over the country. If you plan on traveling to Japan and know for a fact that you will need to take the Shinkansen and local train lines many times, the Japan Rail Pass (aka JR Pass) is for you! With this pass, you can ride any JR transportation vehicle without having to purchase a new ticket each time – those tickets add up!

JR TRANSIT OPTIONS:

Today, I took the Hikari Shinkansen from Kyoto station to Shin-Kobe station then quickly transferred to the Sakura Shinkansen to get to Hiroshima station. Though this might sound like a huge hassle (it definitely did to me at first) it turned out to be super easy. The Sakura train picked me up at the same place the Hikari dropped me off so I didn’t have to leave my spot. This trip might have cost almost 10,000 yen (~100 USD) but I didn’t have to open my wallet at all when getting my ticket.

Mascot

The cutest mascot!

Of course, the Shinkansen is a huge factor in why people purchase the JR Pass but the pass can be used for other JR transit systems! When I arrived at Hiroshima station, I wanted to go to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum but didn’t know how. When I asked at the information booth, I was surprised to learn that there is a local sightseeing bus that goes to all of Hiroshima’s top locations and even better, it is run by JR! The bus is called Hiroshima Meipuru~pu and it has the cutest mascot ever.

The bus has several routes: Green, Orange, and Lemon. Orange and Lemon follow a similar path and Green goes through downtown Hiroshima but all three start at Hiroshima station and will take you to the top sightseeing locations. You can get to the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum (and the stunning, Studio Ghibli-eque Shukkeien Garden), the Atomic Bomb Dome, and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum using any of those buses. I was able to visit those three locations using the wonderful bus system but fair warning, they don’t seem to really follow the schedule to be prepared to wait for a while after the scheduled bus arrival time.

I highly recommend all three of those sites. The first place I visited was the Shukkeien Garden and its beauty shocked me speechless. The koi fish also know how to beg for the 100 yen (~1 USD) snacks that visitors can purchase at the entrance. The garden is huge and despite spending an hour there, I left feeling like I didn’t quite see all of it. Entry is only 200 yen (~2 USD) but if you have a university ID, it is 150 yen. Next, I visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It’s a sad place to visit and the video of the survivors’ testimonies is a grim reminder of how awful nuclear weapons are but it is most definitely a place to visit. Entry is only 200 yen (~2 USD). The Atomic Bomb Dome is also a sad place to visit and while I did see it, I did not stay long because of the heartache I felt.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum Quote

“Hiroshima, May Peace Prevail on Earth!” -Wanagari Maathai

Deer in MiyajimaThe last place I wanted to visit was the Itsukushima Shrine. First, I had to take the local JR San-yo line from Hiroshima station to Miyajimaguchi station (free, of course!). Then I took the JR ferry to Miyajima where the shrine is (once again, free!). Miyajima has a stunning ocean view and because I went in the evening time, it was low tide. While I unfortunately missed seeing the “floating” torii during high tide, it was great to be able to walk under the giant historical landmark and see the bright orange color up close. I also missed the chance to walk into the shrine because I went too late so my advice would be to go earlier in the day! There are also deer that populate the area. They are completely comfortable with people, to a point where they will shove their noses at you to ask for food, and they do not mind being pet.

In short, I used my JR Pass to travel on several Shinkansens, local trains, buses, and a ferry so it was definitely worth getting.

PURCHASING A JR PASS:

Depending on how long you are planning to travel in Japan, you can choose different JR Pass durations. There are 7, 14, and 21 day options. Since I’m only traveling for a week in Kyoto and surrounding areas, I purchased the 7-day pass for 33,000 yen (~296 USD) and considering all the traveling I’ve done so far in just 2 days, I would definitely say this pass is worth it. And if you haven’t yet arrived in Japan, unlike me, it’s even cheaper! It costs 267 USD to purchase the 7-day pass online and have it shipped to your home. Whether you are buying online in advance or you are already in Japan and want to buy one now, head over to the JR Pass website and you will find all the information you need!

Good luck to all you current and future Japan travelers!

Putting on a Yukata

I finally got to wear the yukata that my host family helped me pick out! I wore it to the Hitachi Port Festive here.

PUTTING ON A YUKATA:

A while ago, my host family helped me choose a wonderful yukata and ever since that day, I have been waiting for the chance to wear it. A yukata is a casual summer kimono which means it is cooler and easier to put on. Though putting it on does require a bit of effort still.

Adjusting the Yukata

Adjust the yukata.

1. After putting on the yukata, you have to make sure the garment is lying evenly across your shoulders. Once it is straight, you pull the yukata in front of you and pull up so that the bottom rests just above your ankles.

2. Once you have your desired length, take the right side of the yukata and draw it to your left hip. Next, take the left side over and to the right hip. (Be sure to do this correctly! The opposite way means you are going to a funeral!).

 

Tie your Yukata

Tie the yukata.

3. While holding your yukata together, take the thin string that (typically) comes with your yukata and tie it around your hip to keep your yukata in place. There should be excess fabric that drapes over the string. Adjust this part to keep the yukata length even all around.

4. There are slits in the underarm of the yukata. You have to slide your hands in to tighten the garment around your neck and chest from the inside. Once finished, tie another string under your chest to keep the placement of the yukata.

 

PUTTING ON THE OBI (SASH):

I have a pre-tied bow for my obi so I do not actually know how to tie a real one. Pre-tied bows are much easier to put on for beginners and I would highly recommend starting with one of these when getting your first yukata.

Wrapping the Obi

You can see the towel I use under my pink obi.

1. I have to pad my waist because yukatas are meant to create a straight form. I use a towel to give myself a flatter image and I wrap it tightly around my waist before wrapping the obi over it.

2. Because my bow is pre-made, the obi is also different from an obi that is meant to be tied. It had strings on either side so I just have to wrap it twice around my waist and then tie the strings together.

Pre-tied Obi Bow

The white part under the bow is meant to slide into the obi and the strings will be drawn to the front to tie tightly.

3. Once the obi is tightly secured and the towel under is also safely in place, I slide the bow into the back of the obi. Then I take the strings from both sides of the bow and bring them to the front of my body to tie and tuck into place.

And it’s done!

To figure out how to properly put on the yukata, my host mom and I watched Uniqlo’s Youtube tutorial but for some reason, it is now unavailable. However, they do have a wonderful visual guide!

 

 

Me and my Host Sister

At the Hitachi Port Festival with my host sister! As you can see, the yukata’s obi is very convenient to hold small, flat items, such as fans.

Okinawa Day 2

Watch my second, sun-filled day in Okinawa here!

NAMINOUE BEACH:

Naminoue Beach was about a 15 minute walk from our hostel. We woke up a little earlier than usual, around 8:30AM, to bright sunshine so we headed out as soon as possible to ensure that we would get to the beach with plenty of sun. We were worried the typhoon wasn’t over yet but it turned out that we had nothing to worry about. The sun stayed bright and hot throughout the day.

Naminoue Beach

You can see the sectioned off portion of the water, marked by the floaties as well as the highway that went directly over the beach.

The water was beautifully clear and the temperature was perfect. However, there was only a small section of water that visitors were allowed to swim in and when Sarah and I tried to move outside of that section to take pictures, we were scolded loudly. The scenery was also interrupted by a massive highway that cut directly across the horizon.

I know that Okinawa has much prettier and bigger beaches so I would definitely try a different beach the next time I happen to be in Okinawa.

FUKUSHUEN GARDENS:

After swimming and sunbathing, we headed off to Fukushuen Gardens. Entrance cost 200 yen for adults and it is a miniature price to pay to wander in the majestic gardens. It is a traditional Chinese garden, created to celebrate the ties of friendship between Naha and Fuzhou, China.

Colors of Spring

A relaxing scene from the Spring location.

There are several beautiful ponds and springs all sprinkled with glimmering koi fish and for 100 yen, you can buy a box of food to feed them. There are also lovely footbridges to cross but the main area of the garden is the Soaring Rainbow Bridge and Mount Ye and Pavilion of Ye located in the “Colors of Autumn and Winter” section. There are three parts to this garden and each is meant to depict the scenery of one of the four seasons. There is the Autumn and Winter area, located by the main entrance and next comes the Summer location followed by the Spring location. All are beautiful and have unique Chinese architecture, which makes sense considering that all these pieces were ordered from Fuzhou, China.

Fukushen Garden

The iconic figures from the Autumn and Winter area.

The Soaring Rainbow Bridge and Mount Ye and Pavilion of Ye are the most iconic landmarks of the Fukushuen Garden. The Rainbow Bridge crosses in front of the waterfall that splashes out beneath the pavilion that sits on top of the manmade mountain, made to imitate Fuzhou’s own Mount Ye.

Fukushuen is a massive garden that stretches out for 8,500 square meters so there is plenty more to see than the things I mentioned. These parts were just my personal favorite and because it was so hot the day I went, there weren’t very many people so I was able to peacefully enjoy the sounds of water splashing throughout the garden. I would highly recommend visiting this place when in Naha, Okinawa! It is also very close to the Kenchomae Monorail station so very easy to access.

Fukushuen Views

The view from the Mount Ye Pavilion.

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this post!

Okinawa Day 1

Watch my first day in Okinawa here!

Hi everyone! So sorry about the lack of updates, I’ve been in Okinawa and didn’t bring my computer with me. But I’m back and ready to share my adventures in Okinawa!

GETTING TO OKINAWA:

On Friday, I had to wake up at 5AM to catch my bus to Narita Airport. I was accompanied by my friend Sarah (who you will see a lot of in my vlog) and we arrived at the airport fairly early. We ate lunch at the food court (I ate one of my favorite Japanese meals: udon with tempura) and then caught our Jetstar flight to Naha, Okinawa.

ARRIVING IN OKINAWA:

Umikaji

Cleanest hostel by far!

We checked into our hostel, Guest House Umikaji, and were pleasantly surprised. This was not only the cheapest hostel I’ve stayed in during my time in Japan but it was also the cleanest one I’ve seen yet! It was also right next to the monorail station which made getting around the city very convenient.

After locking our things up in the provided lockers, Sarah and I took to the town to find a place to eat. We found ourselves at the Kokusai Street Food Village and ended up in a fantastic okonomiyaki place. The restaurant was very small and only about 7 people could fit in it all at once. The Street Food Village itself is very narrow so you have to do a lot of squeezing by people. Every restaurant had a Japanese, English and Korean menu so for those who are worried about ordering food, do not fear! The menus also come with pictures just in case the word “okonomiyaki” doesn’t mean anything to you. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake-like dish and the word literally translates to “Grilled as you like” so there are many ways to eat it. I ate the very typical Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki with batter, cabbage, and pork but there are so many more variations of this dish that I have yet to try!

Kokausai Street Food Village

Once more people come, this places gets really packed!

DAY 1 IN OKINAWA:

A typhoon was scheduled to hit Okinawa and hit it did. Saturday was filled with ominous looking clouds and strong wind. So instead of heading to the beach, we decided to shop around in the different tourist shops. Every few hours, it rained really hard and Sarah and I had to quickly escaped into different stores to avoid getting soaked.

Beni Imo Tart Display

A giant beni imo tart display. That purple is the same exact color of the tart itself!

While in the shops, we tried a belly-bursting amount of beni imo snack samples. What is beni imo? Only the most beautifully colored purple sweet potato ever. There were so many shops sprinkled all over Naha dedicated to this wonderful sweet. I made sure to buy several boxes of the treat for my host family.

After sampling until we were about to explode, Sarah and I escaped from another sudden downpour into a Don Quijote, a discount chain store known for its overwhelming amount of goods and loud music and announcements that never cease. We wandered around for a while before finding PINK hair dye. So of course, I bought it and immediately rushed back to the hostel with Sarah to try it out.

Long story short, I’m pink now!!

Day 1

Huge thanks to Sarah for helping me turn into my favorite color! Ft. hair curler.

Stay tuned for Okinawa Day 2! The weather cleared up the next day so we were able to do and see a lot more!

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