My love for Taiwan runs deep. I grew up visiting at least once a year, partly because much of my extended family still lived there at the time. Every January, my mom would fly us to Taipei to celebrate the Lunar New Year when my cousins would get a break from school and have time to play. We went, that is, until my 2nd-grade principal called and said my mom needed to stop taking me out of school for a month at a time.
When I wrote our quick guide to Kyoto, I felt like I had to keep it reasonably short– namely, limit the number of photos. But I can’t stress enough how photogenic Kyoto (and the rest of Japan) really is! Everywhere we turned was a potential snapshot, and it required little cropping or editing to get them to look beautiful.
You can spend many, many days in Kyoto without getting bored; with over 2,000 temples (many with gardens) it would take years to see them all. Whether you have years or only a few days, Kyoto is a must-visit, and Travel & Leisure agrees. We took our time in Kyoto; we didn’t rush to see absolutely everything, because I am partial to slow travel. So, without further ado…
As I sift through our Japan photos, I have to ask myself: is there any place more photogenic than this?
So I decided to select only 10 snapshots that come with a good story or memory from our time in Japan. After reading this I hope you’ll feel compelled to visit one day! And if you have not read my other Japan-related posts, you can find them here.
If you’re asking yourself, “Should I go to Japan?”, take a look at these photos and you tell me!
This bamboo forest was the bane of my existence for about 24 hours. We just could not find it! There’s an entrance to the forest that many people go to, and it looks kind of like this– except there are other trees and tons of electricity lines everywhere. We thought that was it… and that the famous bamboo forest had been totally overhyped. One early morning Aaron and I went to that beginning section of the forest, looking for it. We then searched in the wrong direction and found ourselves in a quiet residential neighborhood, disappointed. It was not until the 3rd time we looked for the forest that we wound up in the right place– here! It’s not overhyped after all!…Continue Reading
Many people don’t realize that Japan is arguably the world’s food capital. Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city, and the famous Tsukiji Fish Market handles much of the highest-quality seafood to be found anywhere.
As a food lover myself, I could not have been more excited to visit. Japanese food traditions are founded on the idea of umami– the 5th taste that enhances all the other tastes (sweet, sour, salty and bitter). Umami is that savory quality that makes you want to take just one more bite; it’s possibly the best indicator of a successful dish.
Anthony Bourdain himself said of Japan, “This is a great country. Every chef I know wants to die here.”
Well, there it is.
Still, to the surprise of many Americans, Japanese cuisine is not composed of Dragon Rolls, sake bombs and beef teriyaki. In fact, it would not be easy to find any of those things on a Japanese menu, much less to explain it to Japanese chefs.
So if you’re traveling to Japan it’s important to know what you’re really looking for. Sure, they’ve mastered the plastic imitations that are displayed at the front of some shops, and some menus even have photos on them. But, just because you can see a picture doesn’t mean it’s what you should be eating.
Instead, here is my food “bucket list” for your visit.
What To Eat in Japan: A Food Bucket List
One thing I enjoyed about Japan was that it was modern without being Western. Sure, it shares lots traits with Western countries– and went through a somewhat westernizing transformation during the Meiji period– but Japan owes its unique style to traditions far different from our own.
What I love about traveling is being able to make a splash– however brief– in a culture that challenges me. Even if it means feeling a bit disoriented, and perhaps nostalgic once I come home, the lessons remind me that my way is not the only way. It’s humbling to happen upon philosophies and ideas that provide the answers we’ve been searching for. Japan has done that for me.
5 Lessons from Japanese Culture
There is so much to say about Kyoto (and I’ll hopefully say more in another in-depth post, so look out for that), but I wanted to put together a quick guide to Kyoto for anyone who’s thinking of visiting.
First of all, Kyoto should be on your list if you love travel. It was named Travel & Leisure’s #1 city to visit in 2014, so you know it’s got to be good!
Before you head to Kyoto (and possibly other parts of Japan), here are a few things to remember:
- Japan is not a “cheap” destination. With the 3rd largest economy in the world, you can bet on spending at least $15-20 a day on food, much more if you wish to taste authentic cuisine! More on that later.
- Most people in Japan do not speak English (or at least as much as people in Europe). There are few English signs in train stations, so be flexible or learn some Japanese phrases.
- All of this said, Japan remains very travel-friendly. It’s safe, clean, and especially good for traveling alone. And there’s TONS to do and see!
Happy Tuesday, friend! Our adventures in Japan continue beyond Tokyo to the countryside via shinkansen, the fastest train I’ve ever ridden.
Off to the historical villages we went– just northwest of Tokyo to the cities of Takayama, Shirakawago and Kanazawa. These areas are known for preserved architecture from the Shogun period, and they hold rich stories of old Japan.
This is only the second time that I’ve traveled with this blog in mind, and I think I am getting photography fatigue. Not being a professional (or even very experienced), travel photography can be rather overwhelming. Still, I’m chugging along like the little engine that could. Sure, my husband is a better photographer (check out his tips here), and I could continue to steal his photos, but I’m working towards a bit more independence here.
Anyway, this is the best I can do with the somewhat cloudy and rainy weather we’ve been having. Your feedback is greatly appreciated; enjoy the snapshots!
First stop: Takayama
Kami Sannomachi street is known as the “Small Kyoto” for its traditional buildings and canal-like gutters. Little shops with artisanal goods and tasty sweets line this pedestrian-only walkway. Ducking under noren, cloth dividers that cover most entries, we entered gorgeous displays of local earthenware and lacquerware….Continue Reading
It’s hard to believe that the first leg of our trip has come to an end. Tomorrow we’re off to the Japanese countryside!
But first, a couple of reflections on the trip so far. I did not expect to like Tokyo. Not only did I find it intimidating, but I also thought that it was mostly for high-fashion shoppers and electronics geeks, neither of which I am.
However, there has been nothing better than to make our initial splash in Japan here– at its modern, fast-paced, impeccably clean and hospitable capital. The truth is, Tokyo travel is awesome and a visitor to Japan would be ill-advised to skip it. Despite its far-reaching high-rises and even higher prices, I might even love it. We’ll see.
10 Things to Love About Tokyo
Our trip to Japan is in less than 2 weeks…
It’s hard to believe. Aaron and I are both somewhat drowning in work at the moment, so our Japan adventures still seem far off.
Sometimes I feel as though I’d like to sleep for a week when work finally lightens up. But as I look through our itinerary, my excitement grows– not least because my husband volunteered there in 2011.
Japan is a destination with so many layers, and it feels impossible to ever see it all. But that doesn’t mean we won’t try.
The cliche of every cross-cultural adventure is that we will experience cultures unlike our own. And while I hate cliches, the fascinating thing about Japanese culture is that it is just as modernized as the West, but all too differently.
This means there will be more than a few moments where our foreign-ness is painfully apparent. The familiarity of advanced technology and first-world accoutrements will be juxtaposed with dramatically different social standards. Knowing me, I will probably put my foot in my mouth, periodically, throughout the trip.
In addition to expecting occasional embarrassment, I also expect to be amazed. There is something about the quiet, consistent and perfectionist nature of Japanese culture that I hope to learn from.
We come from a culture that is always talking, and I’ve already observed that we need a little more silence around here. But am I ready for the kind of silence in Japanese temples, gardens and even restaurants?
“Just assume that you’re being too loud– all the time.” That’s the advice I got from some website I no longer remember. When you’re in Japan, remember that your very presence is already too noisy. Duly noted.
10 Highlights On Our Japan Itinerary
1) Tokyo, Old and New
To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about Tokyo. It’s a bustling city that is unbelievably organized, but that does not mean it will be easy to find anything. We’ll visit the stately Imperial Palace as well as the funky Harajuku District– a combination that seems more like a paradox than anything else. Wish me luck….Continue Reading
The first time I ever wished I were a backpacker was when I went to Queenstown, New Zealand. I realized something then that I had never realized before: that when you carry your stuff on your back, you’re able to see things that other people just don’t get to see.
Still, without the backpack (and trekking poles and sleeping on a rock), the southern tip of South Island was nothing short of glorious.
Waterfalls that laced the rocks on their way down to seawater. Rugged peaks that became the famous backdrop for all of Gandalf’s rides. A strangely lapis lagoon that shimmered despite the rainstorm.
Let me back up for a moment.
After our magnificent, sunny stay in Marlborough Sounds— where we boated with dolphins and spotted the New Zealand Giant Pigeon, among other things– we boarded a flight to Queenstown.
It was forecasted to rain– hard– for the duration of our stay, and despite the fact that locals tried to convince us that rainy New Zealand was beautiful, we were miffed.
Yet as it turned out, the rain was the best thing. Something about the gloomy weather shed a pleasantly moody light on the entire place.…Continue Reading
It’s no secret that New Zealand is one of the most naturally stunning countries ever. And I’m pretty sure the filming of the The Lord of the Rings sealed the deal for that reputation.
And why not? With picturesque coasts, rugged mountains, jade-green fjords and rolling pastures, New Zealand is a shutterbug’s dream.
Our family traveled to New Zealand in January 2013, and it was terribly difficult to decide where to go. Due to the geological diversity of the two islands– North and South– we had to make some tough choices.
After hum-ing and ha-ing about our trouble in paradise, I selected two destinations on South Island– the second of which I’ll be sharing in the near future. First stop? Marlborough Sounds.
I’ve not blogged for that long, but I have traveled, and I want to start sharing some special photos and stories from the pre-Simplicity Relished days. There probably aren’t enough photos to turn this into a series, but I hope you enjoy!
It’s hard to characterize China with a single word. It is such a dynamic, diverse, challenging, and ancient place, which is also rapidly developing in seemingly unhindered ways. When we visited China back in the winter of 2011/2012, we were unsure of what to expect. Flying straight into Yunnan Province, in the southwest region that borders Myanmar and Laos, we knew we would have a very focused, intimate experience. But we were not prepared for the stunning natural beauty of the entire region. It was awe-inspiring.
Yunnan is a place of myth. Lijiang is a romantic old city that has, thankfully, been restored and maintained for visitors to enjoy. It is every poet’s dream to live and write in this region, or so I’ve been told, because it is somehow reminiscent of a golden age– an era that preceded the Revolution and the rapid industrialization of what we now know as China….Continue Reading
Hokkaido is the northern-most island of Japan, known both for its cherry blossoms and ice sculptures. We were there this summer for five days and we absolutely loved the landscape, culture and people. Here are a few highlights from the trip!…Continue Reading