Thursday, 27 October 2016

From "Sometimes" to "Always"

I've delayed writing this blog post.

I want to blame my affinity for procrastination, but I think the postponement is actually because writing this final post is the tombstone to my life in Japan. For a long time, I've mulled over what I should write about. I'm sure most people are expecting to hear me say things like "Japan was so crazy and weird!" and "everything was so kawaii (cute)!" but life in Tokyo was like what I expect living in any other big city would be like: crowded, internationalized, and energized. So rather than perpetuate urban legends about Japan, what I really want to rave about are the more mundane things like how amazing it was to be surrounded by convenience stores, praise how delicious all the food was, and talk about how personal space did not exist on trains during rush hour. Everybody expects travel to be this great big, life altering experience and while those moments do exist and are supposed to be the things you remember the most, it's actually the minute details, the trivial things that you don't even think about that affected me the most.

When I think about my life abroad, I do reflect on the times when I was able to see historical sites such as Kinkakuji and the A-Bomb Dome, but mostly I think about the morning commute or slurping up ramen after a day at work.
The A-Bomb Dome

Ide Shoten Ramen in Wakayama!

There are little triggers in my everyday life now that will set me off reminiscing: When I get stuck in traffic or have to feed the parking meter obscene amounts of money, I think about how all these annoyances could be avoided if transportation in Portland were similar to that of Tokyo. When I order fast food and open my bag, I'm startled for a few seconds by how large the portions are because a small size here is equivalent to the large size in Japan (however, I must confess with some shame that I adapted back to American sizes pretty quickly because I love to eat).

A size large in Japan is equivalent to a size small in the U.S. at Shake Shack

I wish I could go back and live abroad again. In Japanese culture, cherry blossoms are cherished because of their fleeting nature: no matter how long you want those blossoms to last, they will always wilt away. Sometimes before you even have a chance to fully appreciate their beauty. In the same way, although my time in Japan was too short, that timeline didn't detract from its beauty but instead made me value my experiences even more.

Cherry Blossoms in Japan

Reflecting on my yearning, I can't help but recall one of my favorite quotes: "Sometimes, I can feel my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living" (Jonathan Safran Foer). Now that I've had an amuse-bouche of what international life is like, that "sometimes" has turned into "always". Traveling and having international experiences can be scary and uncomfortable, but it's that discomfort that makes it so amazing. I want to always feel awkward and dissatisfied because I know these emotions will act as my impetus to continue striving for adventure.

A bittersweet taste lingers in my mouth and I feel restless for the future. I wanted to be on a plane heading off to a new, distant land yesterday. I'm already planning a list of places I want to visit (and yes, a return to Japan is definitely near the top of that list). But until I can start a brand new adventure, I'll just have to be satisfied with the time I did have in Japan and continue reveling in the small beautiful, fleeting moments I had.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Tran Takes...Kyoto??! Part 1!

In Japan, there are a string of four national holidays (Showa Day, Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day and Children's Day) that occur almost successively. Depending on when the first holiday starts, the Japanese will get a long string of days off and this event is known as "Golden Week". Luckily for me, this year happened to be one of the lucky times when the first holiday started on the right date so I was able to take nine days off to travel around western Japan (specifically Kyoto, Osaka, Wakayama and Hiroshima)!

My sojourn was off to a rocky start on Friday night. I was planning on taking an overnight bus from Tokyo to my first stop, Kyoto. However, the train I was taking to the bus terminal was delayed so I barely made it onto the bus. And this is not an exaggeration. The bus was supposed to depart at 22:45 and I arrived at 22:46. I am actually shocked I made it onto the bus because in Japan, ignoring the few late anomalies, transportation runs exactly on time. It is pretty scary how accurately and efficiently the transportation system operates.

A bad picture of the inside of the bus. I blame the adrenaline for impairing my photography skills!

Surprisingly, the bus ride was quite comfortable. I quickly fell asleep and before I knew it, the bus driver was announcing the arrival to 6am. But then again, the saying does go, "the early bird catches the worm"!

While trains and the subway are the best way to travel around Tokyo, the best way to travel around Kyoto is by bus.

My first stop after dropping off my bags was *drumroll please*, Kinkaku-ji (aka the Golden Pavilion)! I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Kinkaku-ji...if I'm being honest, the moment I laid eyes on it, I became overwhelmed and could feel myself tearing up: its beauty was just so powerful. See for yourself:


After Ginkaku-ji, my next stop was Arashiyama! If you're wondering what there is to do in Arashiyama, the answer is lots! A short distance from the train station is TogetsuKyo Bridge, which literally means "moon crossing bridge". The bridge was first built in 836 and has been destroyed multiple times by floods and other natural disasters. However, the bridge has always been rebuilt.

The current incarnation of the TogetsuKyo Bridge was built in 1934.

After crossing the bridge and walking around, I randomly stumbled upon the Arashiyama Monkey Park and spontaneously decided to go in! The selling point for me was the promise of feeding the monkeys! One of my favorite parts about Japan so far is the country's deep respect and appreciation of nature and animals. Even though there are animal parks in Japan, the animals are wild and staff members give clear instructions on how to respect these animals, making it clear that we are guests are of these animals. The number one piece of advice I kept hearing on how to interact with the monkeys was this: "don't make eye contact".


After a quick lunch, my adventure continued at Tenryu-ji Temple. The Sogenchi Garden, which is inside the temple, is designated as a United Nations World Heritage Site.

One of the buildings inside the temple grounds.

My favorite piece of art within the temple.

A view of the Sogenchi Garden.

Besides its beauty, Tenryu-ji is also well known for its easy access to the famous Bamboo Grove/Forest, which is just a short walk from one of the exit gates.


Walking through the forest is a relatively short walk (probably around 10-15 minutes) and once on the other side, a multitude of other temples are within walking distance. I ended up going to two other temple grounds because they were so close (I didn't take many picture though). That is another thing that is so wonderful about Japan: many activities and incredible sites are within walking distance and easy to access so the possibilities are endless with the number of things you can do in a day!

A pagoda at one of the temple grounds.

After such an action packed day, I headed back to my lodging full of excitement for what my next day in Kyoto would bring!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Take a Hike: Mount Takao!

My adventure to Mt. Takao began on a train. The fastest route from where I live to Mt. Takao should have taken about 50 minutes by train. So, after sitting on the train for 70 minutes and noticing that I wasn't even half way, I knew something was wrong. That's when I realized that not all trains are the same. At least not the ones to headed towards Mt. Takao. I should have taken the express train, but instead I took the local one! And to make things even more confusing, there is a third type called the semi-express! The difference between these trains is that the semi-express and express skip quite a few stops, which makes them much faster than the local one. Realizing my mistake, I got off at the next station and then waited about 20 minutes for the next express train. And what a difference it made. Within 20 minutes I was at the transfer station and then it only took me 20 minutes to get to Mt. Takao. 

The train station. 

The first thing I was greeted by after exiting the station to Mt. Takao was this beautiful map of the area! There are about seven trails. 

A map detailing the various trails to get to the summit of Mt. Takao. 

My initial plan was to start with Trail 6, get to the summit and do Trail 5 (a loop around the summit), then descend via the Inariyama Trail. You'll see how that plan goes soon...

Hooray for signs! 

The start of trail 6. 

Saw this while hiking.

Parts of trail 6. 

The view from one side of the summit. 

Sansai soba (buckwheat noodles with mountain vegetables)

After recharging with soba and taking in the view, I felt more recharged than ever. So, I took my original plan of doing only three trails and threw it to the wind! I decided to do three more trails - one that would take me off the summit, one that would take me into the middle of the mountain, and then one that would take me back up to the summit. 

That was the new plan! Until I got lost. 

I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up finding this!

And this...

Oh, and this!

And then I can't forget these...

I was still pretty eager to conquer the trails, so I ended up turning back instead of exploring further. It turns out that I had ventured off to was the Yakuoin Temple area when I missed a turn and ended up going straight. I eventually made it back onto Trail 3.  

Then, Trail 3 led to Trail 2. 


Unfortunately, I wasn't able to complete Trail 2 because rather than being a direct trail, it loops around in a circle and I lost track of the second half of the circle. So, I ended up proceeding onwards to Trail 4, which took me back up to the summit. 


After making it back to the summit of Mt. Takao, it was time to refuel again!

Matcha ice cream. 

After finishing my loop around the summit (completing Trail 5), I noticed the view that I missed during my initial ascent. There, right in front of me, so close and yet so far, was Mt. Fuji. It was breathtaking. 

Can you spot Mt. Fuji?

I then proceeded down the summit, back towards the station via the Inariyama Trail. 

Glimpses from the Inariyama Trail. 

After making it back to the train station, I then proceeded to reward myself with food (again).  

Dango - Japanese dumplings made from rice flour!

Then I saw something that made me happy. There was a station for cleaning up your shoes that came complete with things to scrub them! 

After the long day, I felt tired but at least my shoes looked brand new.