This spring, Clay and I managed to plan a 9-day trip to Japan, where both of us had never been! We spent the first 3 days of our trip in Tokyo, where we stayed with my Aunt Hellen (my dad's older sister), my Japanese uncle, and my cousin Mariko. We then spent 5 days in Kyoto and returned to Tokyo for our last full day. There is so much that I want to say about our time in Japan, but for this post, I'll just share three of my personal trip highlights below:
1. Family reunion: I loved that this trip offered an opportunity for me to reconnect with my dad's side of the family. Growing up, I didn't get to know my dad's side of the family very well since most of them lived in Taiwan or Japan, both of which I had never been to. I actually didn't meet Aunt Hellen and Mariko until 2016, when they traveled to California for my wedding! This past semester, I had to make a genogram mapping out my entire family, which allowed me to learn a good deal about the relatives on my dad's side. It was really neat getting to spend time with them in person after I had just completed this assignment! My Aunt Hellen was super welcoming, meeting me and Clay at the Haneda airport when we arrived. She was so helpful in getting us oriented with the subway system during our first couple of days. Her whole family was very hospitable to us and we enjoyed staying with them in their humble home, where we got to sleep in a small traditional tatami room. One evening, Mariko took us all out to eat okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese (usually seafood) pancake. Spending time with them also inspired me and Clay to want to live a healthier lifestyle. We saw how intentional they were about eating light, healthy home cooking, as well as how mindful they were about exercising regularly. My uncle even measures his blood pressure twice a day and has been monitoring it for a couple years now. (Clay was inspired to start doing this for himself after we came back home.)
2. Cherry blossom season: Clay and I are truly thankful to have been able to experience cherry blossom season in Japan! My Aunt Hellen kept telling us how lucky we were to have made it there just in time to see the last few days of the cherry blossoms in full bloom. She said that a lot of people make plans to travel to Japan during cherry blossom season, but sometimes end up missing it because it's so hard to predict when it will come each year. It's tough to know whether the season will come early or late. Other aspects such as wind and rain also affect how long the cherry blossom season lasts, which is usually about a week or two. Cherry blossom season is quite a phenomenon to witness in Japan. Everyone from tourists to locals will go outside to enjoy it, whether it be by having a picnic underneath some cherry blossom trees or by walking along the river canal (lined with cherry blossoms) with a flute of champagne in hand. Most of our time in Tokyo was spent enjoying the cherry blossoms at several different well-known hanami spots: Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Nakameguro river canal, and Chidorigafuchi moat near the Imperial Palace.
3. Japanese food: Japanese food has always been one of our favorite cuisines, but now that we have tried Japanese food in Japan, eating at a Japanese restaurant back in the States just isn't the same. Pretty much every meal was a highlight for us, whether it was eating melt-in-your-mouth sashimi at Daiwa Sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market, delicious quality katsu at Tonkatsu Maisen in Harajuku, or tasty beef curry at Bondy in Jinbocho (a rec that Mariko gave us). Out of everything that we ate, my favorite -- that I will forever crave until I return to Japan -- is tsukemen, Japanese dipping ramen. Clay and I got to eat this a few times at Fuunji in Shinjuku and Rokurinsha (we had this one twice, once inside a subway station and one final time at the airport). If I could only have an authentic bowl of Japanese tsukemen right now...those chewy ramen noodles with a satisfying bite...and that rich dipping broth...so good. In addition to all the meals we had, we also enjoyed some yummy Japanese desserts: sakura-flavored soft serve, triangle-shaped mochi, delectable matcha cookies, "healthy" animal donuts, and even Totoro cream puffs (that were almost too cute to eat).
Clay and I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Japan, both in Tokyo and Kyoto. After this trip, we decided that Japan was one of our new top favorite travel destinations. Since there were so many places that we didn't get to see (i.e., Mt. Fuji and Hokkaido), we are very determined to return again in the future! [Note: Pictures above were only from Tokyo. Stay tuned for another post featuring Kyoto.]
Just capturing as I go.