Archives for September, 2011

Sayonara Song

Saying goodbye might be the hardest part of travel. Despite all the miles I clock and all the countries I visit, I have yet to perfect the process of bidding farewell to a country that I have fallen so deeply in love with. I left Japan a few hours before a big typhoon — it…

Truly, the hardest part of my job is leaving a place. As my journey in a country comes to an end, I tend to get very sad, wondering if and when I return and thinking about how much I wish I could stay for longer. Often, my only consolation is to take stock of what…

Faces of Japan

Travelers know that it’s people who define the places we visit and that it’s often the people that we remember the most. I have spent the last three weeks in Japan, traveling across much of the country and enjoying all of its magnificent scenery. Still, it’s the Japanese that I have fallen for, in a…

School in Japan

From the moment I arrived in Japan, I’ve felt like a small child. So little of my life’s knowledge applies here–from reading and writing to knowing the right way to behave, Japan is different. Even though navigating daily life has been a fun travel challenge, I still hoped to get some extra insights by attending…

Big in Japan

I don’t mean to scare people, but I do. When I stand on a street corner, waiting for the light to change, they look up at me with shock. They gasp audibly in that Japanese way, inhaling and singing, “Oh!” before laughing awkwardly at my awkward size. I don’t need them reminding me. I already…

It’s OK to wear black socks with white running shoes in Japan. That’s what I tell myself as I tighten my laces and head down the hall of my hotel. It’s not like I’m going to blend in anyway. The elevator agrees with me, chiding in Japanese soprano, mocking my last clean pair of socks.…

I travel with many cameras, but find more and more often that it’s my phone that I use to capture whatever experience I’m having–it’s small, quick, easy and unobtrusive. And so after arriving in Hiroshima, I spent one day wandering through this infamous city, iPhone in hand. As an American visitor, I couldn’t help feeling…

Continued from Part 1 So what kind of  car does a Japanese multi-millionaire take for a Sunday morning drive? A white Toyota Prius (I gather you don’t become a millionaire in Japan by wasting money on gas). Shimotakehara-san had generously offered me a shiny black car and chauffeur for the day, but when he discovered…

The world’s largest daikon ever harvested weighed exactly 69 pounds (31.3 kilograms)—more than three times the size of your average daikon. I blinked at the rubber, life-size model of the record-breaking radish through the display case in the museum—it was the same size as one of those exercise balls for doing sit-ups.  Given the chance…

Buried Alive

They buried me alive before breakfast. My shallow grave had been dug already; the quiet man in the blue coat simply lied me down inside, pressed my legs tightly together, and pushed my arms against my sides. I lay in place silently, a willing corpse, listening to the terrible crunch of the shovel as the…

Do cats go to heaven? Do you ever miss your dead cats? Do you ever wish you could commune with them one last time? Let them really know how much you miss them? I found out where you can—in Japan. Nekogami Jinja (the Cat’s God Shrine) is part of the vast gardens at Sengan-en, the…

Japan in a Day

2014 marks the centennial of Tokyo Central Station. Check out my recommended 10-day journey through Japan! I wanted to travel across all of Japan in a day. You can do that here, thanks to the incredibly fast bullet train that connects Japan’s major cities: you can actually cross the whole of Japan in a single…

I met him in the water—that morning, back in Hokkaido. After a week in Japan, I feel more comfortable bathing with strangers in the onsen—perhaps because it happens so often. It was early morning and I took my shower sitting down, on a stool. Once I was completely clean, I climbed into the mud. My…

“How to survive a brown bear attack.” The video’s subtitles offered this one small hope—but only after having convinced me that as a human, I really didn’t stand a chance. At least the mandatory instructional video at Shiretoko National Park had subtitles. Without them, I would have only guessed at the ominous Japanese voiceover, listened…

I spend my first day in Hokkaido sweating with strangers. Although, honestly, I am already sweating when I arrive. The flight lands in a rainstorm of mist and scattered drip-drops on pavement so that my first glance of Japan’s northern island looks just like a Japanese watercolor—mountains in the mist—and I half-expect a vertical line…

Baseball in Japan

Comparison is the natural knee-jerk reaction whenever you arrive in a new country. The mind wonders, “How is this place different, how is it the same?” Japan has been no exception for me, as I find myself constantly comparing everything I don’t understand with the things that look vaguely familiar–like baseball. What most people don’t…

Two Tokyos

I arrived in Japan two days ago—two days that I spent in Tokyo, two hours of which I spent in two totally different cities, just two blocks apart. I was keen to explore the world’s largest city—whether you cut the cake by area or population, Tokyo in 2011 still wins the prize. Nearly 36 million…