Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

Journey to Japan v.4: Golden Week Rush

Another Day in Kyoto

So, yeah. More temples today. Because we haven’t had enough of those. They’re all really beautiful, though, I promise. Totally worth it.

1,001 Buddhas in Sanjusangen-do Temple

We walked to Sanjusangen-do Temple from the hotel. This temple features 1,001 gold buddhas. All in one place. You can’t take photos, but I will attest to the fact that they’re all there. They also had statues of several deities; I believe there were twelve. Only two were women—Lakshmi, Vishnu’s wife, and Parvarti, the Goddess of love and devotion. I kind of liked her. Apparently, she gives life-force to all of creation and counters the warlike energies of other, male deities. (I learned that there are other female deities, there were just two at this location is all.) One thing I did not realize about Buddhism is that it seems to be a derivative of Hinduism. I read an entire book about Buddhism and, for whatever reason, I didn’t commit this to memory. An FYI that the other main religion in Japan is Shinto.

Sanjusangen-do Temple awning detail

The “Slim Fluffy” Translation gaffe

We stopped off at a convenient store on the way to our next temple to see if we couldn’t find something akin to Benadryl for me. I read that Japan really doesn’t have nearly as many medicines as the US and many Americans would basically find the dosages and effects of Japanese OTC medicines a joke. We asked an employee for “itch medicine” and she directed us to mosquito spray. Pretty good guess, I suppose. Because of this, we resorted to Google’s sign translation app, but didn’t end up finding anything.

This is perhaps TMI, but it happened on our travels and that’s what I write about, so… suck it up for a paragraph. …We also had to stop for feminine products. More poor planning on my part. For all the ladies reading this that might travel to Japan, you should know that tampons are not very common in the country; pads are the general standard. My advice? Think ahead if you have a lot of walking to do. Fortunately, this store had both, and I bought both. Total toss-up. (Just a couple months ago, when I was in Greece with my dad, I had to run to the store at like midnight for the same thing. Their selection was horrible and I observed two men stocking the shelves. Figures, right? The only tampons they had had no applicators and the pads turned out to be the most gigantic things I’ve ever seen.) The more entertaining part of the Japan incident, if you’re still with me, was that, when we used the sign translator over the pads package, it defined them as “slim fluffy.” Hysterical. Anyhow…

The “Memoirs of a Geisha” Shrine

Took the subway or metro or JR train (whichever one it was) to our next site. This transfer was not at all problematic for us. I think it’s the major train stations, like the Shinkansen, that are the insane ones. Particularly Kyoto. It’s also the train stations specifically that are mobbed with people. I’ve never seen anything like it. Jeff gets a birds eye view of the crowds as we’re navigating and I can only imagine. He repeatedly comments in amazement.

Fushimi Inari Shine post detail

Got off to see the Fushimi Inari shrine. You know, the one with all the orange and black gates that they feature in “Memoirs of a Geisha.” (If this doesn’t ring a bell, just trust me that you’ve seen it before.) It basically features an “avenue” of several hundred orange “torii” (gates) leading up to a main shrine. As it’s Golden Week, all we needed to do was follow the never ending stream of people in whatever direction they were going. Sure enough—found it. The shrine was pretty amazing all-around. And, where Nara is represented by deer, Fushimi Inari had foxes everywhere. Foxes are thought to be the messengers of Inari, the Shinto god of rice, so you’ll see them all over, some with little scrolls in their mouths.

Fushimi Inari Shrine foxes

As we trudged through the orange gates in the slow-moving mob of people, Jeff and I started our usual photobombing game. Generally, our victims find it really funny. I targeted an older gentleman trying to take a selfie. Was successful the first time, but I think he noticed and had an eye on me for the second attempt. He seemed annoyed that take, so I let him be. I’m just trying to pass the tourist trudging time. Lighten up. …At least I got one good one in there! One should know that Jeff is much better at this game than I am. (Nice Guy Jeff.) He definitely has more practice than I do. Guess I need to step up my photobomb game.

Fushimi Inari lantern

There were tons of street vendors lining the alleys. All of the food smelled amazing. This would be my dad and stepmom’s dream stop, for sure. We strolled around this area for a bit, checking out the local street food and crafts before heading out. As we were crossing the train tracks to get to our platform, the track alarm started going off and the poles started coming down right on us indicating a train was coming. This is the part where I started throwing elbows to push through the lollygaggers who decide it’s a great idea to stop right outside the track itself to figure out their next steps, or I dunno, gossip, have a casual conversation, whatever. Just have some awareness of your surroundings, folks. Please. Getting hit by a train on vacation would be a total downer. Certainly worse than the elbow you just caught in the face. You did it to yourself. Just sayin.

Baby octopus from street vendors

Dodging The Yakuza

We walked some random way back to our hotel, through a bunch of alleys with not a lot of people around. There were a couple of jokes about running into the Yakuza here, but we made it to the hotel safely and without incident for check-out. Watched a random cheerleading performance outside the train station. I dunno. Everyone was doing it. Jeff and I started to clap at its conclusion, but realized no one was else was clapping. At all. (Maybe that’s not a thing in Japan? I’ll research that for my customary conclusion post and get back to you. That, and whatever the sumo outfit is called.) Also, happy to say, now that we’re Bullet Train professionals, we encountered zero problems finding where we need to go. The train ride was nice and relaxing and just the right amount of time.

Got to our Tokyo hotel where we learned that I only booked the room for one person. Another rushed planning botch on my part. Jeff told me, if I didn’t want him to come with me, all I had to do was say so. And, for the rest of the night, I had to endure comments about me just wanting to be alone and to use my speaking words. The best part is our hotel room really is the tiniest thing. Totally for one person. We’ve had pretty good hotel luck thus far, though, so I’m not complaining. It’s a nice hotel, just a tiny room.

Last, but certainly not least, we saw three Buddhist monks wandering the big city. They’re hard to miss in their traditional orange robes. One looked to be wearing Crocs, which was moderately amusing, but the best part was… we’re almost positive we saw them go into Starbucks. We tried to confirm more than once. Pretty sure, though. Big city debauchery!

Total mileage for the day was 5.87 miles.

Tomorrow, we’re doing at doing a few random things in Tokyo. We’ve talked about the fish market, another shrine, the busiest intersection in the world, an owl or hedgehog cafe, and, yes… this super interesting bar district we read about. Last night in Japan, y’all. Gotta do it up right!


The Amazement of Downtown Tokyo

Contrary to yesterday’s sign-off, and very unfortunately, we actually ended up doing very little of what we said we were going to do. Not for not trying, I’ll tell you that much. We were venturing to the northwest of Tokyo for the day, a solid half hour metro ride from central Tokyo and carefully mapped the order of our sights.

Staple Adventure Friends

But, first, we made friends in the hotel elevator with an English couple on holiday after Jeff asked the guy how it felt to be the tallest person in Japan. Jeff pretty much towers over everyone here and this guy was significantly taller than him. Ended up having coffee together at a Starbucks downstairs, where they’re apparently featuring an “American cherry pie” frappucino. I always love meeting people on our travels and hearing about their travels and their perspectives. They’d mentioned they were really embarrassed about Brexit and I replied, “You’re embarrassed? We have a president who’s about to declare nuclear war on Twitter.” As it happened, the girl was a writer and the guy was in finance, so… very similar dynamic to Jeff and I. It also turned out that she went to the International School of Brussels, just a stone’s throw from the high school in Belgium Jeff and I went to, SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, the NATO HQ). Small world. New Facebook friends!

The Busiest Intersection in the World: Shibuya

Took the metro to Shibuyu intersection, the world’s busiest crosswalk. It was actually pretty intense. Not AS busy as I thought it would be, but I can only imagine what it would be like during rush hour. Lots of skyscrapers with colorful signage. Love it. Good photo opps. After a few failed selfie attempts where Jeff kept videoing us instead of photographing us in the middle of the intersection, we started walking to Harajuku, the major shopping district of Tokyo. Again, blazing hot. Supposedly, it’s only 75 degrees, but I would swear to you it felt like 90. Concrete jungle with no shade, walking a mile. I’m usually always cold and, this entire trip, I’ve been dying of heat for some reason. I’m thankful they have vending machines for drinks everywhere on the streets in Japan.

Shibuya crossing in Tokyo

Tokyo’s Central Park: Meiji Shrine

Right in the middle of Harajuku is the Meiji shrine, another massive shrine with a huge forest in the middle of Tokyo. This is the one the psychic from the other night recommended to us. The trees were pretty beautiful and Jeff and I walked a good portion of the stretch to the shrine in the shade, but started to realize the walk was a really, really long distance. We’ve been pushing ourselves for days. Our feet hurt, we’re exhausted, and it’s really hot out again. We’ve seen a hundred shrines. So, we made the decision to duck out and forgo the remainder of the hike. We did note there was a guy who was responsible for manually sweeping all the tree leaves in this massive avenue. Seemed like a thankless job since leaves continued to fall as we actively walked. Jeff laughed when one fell in front of me and I commented that the sweeper missed one, but at least he’s got job security.

Meiji Shrine in Tokyo

No Coffee with Owls

Lucky for us, the owl cafe I wanted to visit was right outside the shrine. You’ve probably heard of cat cafes everywhere (particularly popular in Japan). We figured a cat cafe was way too run-of-the-mill and we basically have our very own cat cafe at home, so we upped the ante to an owl cafe. They also have hedgehog cafes. You sit, have coffee or tea and treats, and get to spend some time with owls or hedgehogs. Well, evidently, the owl cafe was all booked up until 7. …It was 1. I cry. But they did let us snap a few shots of the owls from the cafe section of the establishment. They ranged from super tiny to massive. Adorable, gentle creatures.

Owl cafe in Tokyo

The Insanity of Takeshita Street

So, yeah. We’re officially 1-2 for the day at this point. We passed Takeshita Street, the main drag for Japanese teenage fashion. It was completely mobbed. We’d already been moving through insane crowds the entire morning and this looked five times as intense. I can only sustain dense crowds (and shopping) for so long and Jeff was not at all down with venturing down this street either, so… another sight bypassed. 1-3.

Takeshita Street in Tokyo

I was getting a little hangry at this point and refused to eat at another mall or transit center, so we veered off onto a small alley street and found a ramen place. It seated maybe fifteen guests and we had to request an English menu. Ultimately, Jeff said it was the best meal he’d had on the trip. Mine was pretty good, but not exactly what I was expecting. I liked his better. Ha. Always the way, right?

Afterwards, we wandered the side streets of the shopping district and came upon “Kiddy Land” (with a “y”). It was basically five floors of cartoon character products, ranging from Disney to Sponge Bob to Looney Toons to one thousand Asian cartoon characters we’ve never heard of. It was entertaining enough and actually had some cool tchotchkes in it. Also crowded. And it got ten degrees hotter every floor we went up. We were really just trying to waste time in this part of the city until Golden Gai opened.

Ticking Time & Golden Gai

Golden Gai is a district in Tokyo comprised of tiny bars. The district is several blocks and the bars seat five to ten people at a time. You basically have a drink and move on to the next. (More on Golden Gai here.) I’d been looking forward to checking this out for a while, but it doesn’t open until 5:30. Seems early enough, but Jeff and I have been waking up at four everyday and, in standard #AdventurePartnersForLife fashion, we get up and go and are done with all our sights by one o’clock. I think it was around two at this time and we just didn’t have it in us to walk around another few hours. Going back to the hotel and heading back out would also have been a pointless waste of time. So, again, we decided to skip this one and call it a day. We also just decided to catch a cab because working our way back to the metro through all these people seemed like a challenge we just couldn’t endure. (Interesting tidbit on Japanese cabs—the doors automatically open for you.)

Sky-High Libations Over Downtown Tokyo

Got back to the hotel and decided to have drinks there. Our hotel is on the 27th floor right above the Tokyo train station. They seated us in the corner, all windows, which looked out over the city. Tokyo is just massive. Stretches in every direction as far as the eye can see. We also got to watch the bullet trains come in and out over scotch and a beer. In the center of the hotel lobby, they have a massive model of the city district, complete with running bullet trains. A guy dusts all the moving parts with a tiny little brush.

27th-floor hotel drinks overlooking Tokyo

They keep offering foot massages in all of our hotels and Jeff has been pretty insistent on getting one. I wouldn’t at all be opposed to this either. He called the front desk when we went up to our room to ask if they come to you (since some of our prior hotels did this) and they told him we had to walk to get there. Lol. He was like, “no.” We were also under the impression it was in an entirely different building as well, so not just a spa on a different floor. Thwarted again.

Why We Do What We Do

While it seemed like we missed out on a lot today, I have to say I’m just satisfied to experience any of this at all. Actually, I should restate that—not just satisfied, intensely happy. We put in a really good effort and moved at a reasonably quick pace the entirety of the trip and, sometimes, you just need to relax. There will always be more you wished you’d seen and you’ll always wish you’d had more time here or there.

People always ask me why Jeff and I don’t stay in certain places longer than we choose to, and there are a couple reasons for this. One is that we’re both somewhat ADD when it comes to travel. We just have short attention spans and like to move at our own pace, do our own thing. Another reason is that more time in one place means less time in a new place, and we want to see it all. We do know a lot of folks who like to really soak up the atmosphere in one city or to extensively travel one country. If we had the time off work, we’d probably do more travel in a given country, but we’re usually done with a single city after two or three days. I will say that we’re getting older and just can’t seem to move at the pace we used to, so we might start narrowing our focus in future trips. I say that now, but we’ll see if that actually happens! I have a sneaking suspicion old habits will die hard.

Sad to say, tomorrow is our last official day in Japan. We check out of our hotel at noon and catch a 4:00 p.m. flight back home. Yesterday, we had grand plans to sneak one more sight in in the morning, but we’ve since dismissed that idea for a chance to sleep in and chill. I’ll be writing a summary post of sorts tomorrow—reflections on the trip as a whole, answers to the unanswered questions I’ve had along the way, And… contemplating what my next travel challenge will be, if there is one. Because, this, ladies and gentleman, concludes my 40×40.

Kanpai signature


Today’s featured photo: The gorgeous orange posts of the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

© 2019 Jordan Campbell. All rights reserved.

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