Monthly Artsy Events!

Last month was filled with book author talks/signings such as Colson Whitehead The Nickel Boys, Rebecca Makkai The Great Believers, and Bruce Holsinger The Gifted School.  This month is a little less literary but still artsy.

Tonight, I went to a new-to-me book club where we discussed Frankenstein.  I skimmed it in order to finish it but I’m going to re-read it at a slower pace over the next few weeks.  Tomorrow, I’m going to see Noura at the Old Globe Theater.  I bought tickets through the Blue Ribbon program so they were very inexpensive!

On October 23, I’m going to see Lizzo with my friend Jenny!  She invited me to use her extra ticket and I cannot! wait!  I really like Lizzo’s last album and now I’ll listen to her more before the concert.

Finally, on October 30, I’m going to a different book club.  We’re reading Erotic Stores for Punjabi Widows by Jaswal which I’ve owned for awhile but never read so this is a good reason!

10 Tips for Traveling in Japan

1. Japan Rail Pass: This is a huge cost savings if you’re planning on traveling by train which, in the land of the Shinkansen, I hope you are!  You have to obtain your voucher outside of the country and then exchange it for the pass at any JR customer service counter.  A lot of people will do it at the airport and ride the Narita Express into the city.  I exchanged mine in Yokohama since I activated mine later in the trip. But really, you could activate it for any date at the airport by specifying a specific future start date at the time of exchange.

2. You may have read #1 and went, “Pffpt, print out a voucher” in a high-pitched, making-fun-of-me tone of voice.  You’re going to JAPAN!  Why would you have to do something as low-tech as print out a voucher? Can’t you just show your smartphone?  Well, no.  Or at least, that’s not what the instructions for the pass direct you to do and really, it’s best to follow the rules when you’re in Japan.  Sometimes, things are done in a low-tech way that you may not expect in the land of Akihabra.  Having a printout is much preferred and honestly, I’d recommend printing out any confirmation emails/passes you may have.  It definitely helped me a few times when checking into hotels.

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Station gates.  In this particular station, the worker’s booth is on the right.  You can see a small walkway to the right of the green arrow turnstile.

3. How do you use the JR pass?  At every station, there will be multiple turnstiles/gates with green arrows/red Xs to indicate whether it’s an entrance or exit gate.  On one side, there will be a booth where the station worker is located.  There is a wider gate there used for strollers, wheelchairs, and…tourists!  Just hold up your JR pass and you will be waved through.  They could ask to check the pass, but that is pretty unusual.

4. Make seat reservations at the ticket counters outside the turnstile entrances.  This may sounds nerve-wracking if you don’t speak Japanese but pretty much every ticket counter staffer speaks what I call “train English” meaning the basics of a trip such as train number, origin/destination city, window/aisle, smoking/non-smoking can be covered in English.  It helps if you know which train you want which leads me to…

5. Hyperdia.  Download this app.  It will give you the best route by train/subway for wherever you want to go.  For the shinkansen, you can obtain your train type and number which helps you book your ticket.  What do I mean by train type?  There are three classes of Shinkansen: Express (Nozomi & Mizuho), Limited Express (Hikari & Sakura), and Local (Kodama).  The JR Pass does not cover Express trains.  I strongly recommend the Limited Express since there are a surprising amount of stops on the Kodama local train which makes those Shinkansen very slow moving “bullets.”  So, if you know you want the Hikari 515 from Tokyo to Kyoto leaving at 13:33, you can write down or point to that train when making a seat reservation which makes things a lot clearer.

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Hyperdia Screenshot: This can be accessed via the app or a web browser.  On this trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, I would want to make reservations on the Hikari 515 (second train listed) since the first train listed is a Nozomi.  Also, note that the app also tells you the departure and arrival platforms.

6. If you don’t make seat reservations (why!?), the unreserved seats are usually in cars 1-3 at the front of the train.  The overhead signs on the platform will indicate which cars are unreserved.  They will also indicate which cars are the Green cars (first class).  I have always bought regular (second-class) Shinkansen tickets and been very comfortable.

7. Other train tips: Buy a bento and a drink before boarding.  Some of the larger stations have incredible basement food halls in the adjacent large stores that are amazing.  The bento shops within the station are also tasty but the food hall quality is sublime!  When traveling South from Tokyo, try to get a seat on the right side of the train for view of Fuji on clear-skied days.  These tickets are usually the first to be booked.

8. So, I mentioned the Hyperdia app.  Other great apps include Google Translate, Japan Official Tourism App, and the Louis Vuitton City App for Tokyo (this is not as high-end as it sounds).  But how should you access these?  I’ve always used my own cellphone without a SIM card switch.  I have Sprint, which has great rates for overseas travel.  I usually pay $25/week for the high-speed data, but I could use the slower rate for free.  Text messages are also free.  The only high rate is for voice calls so if you are calling back home, use FaceTime or a similar app over a WiFi connection.  WhatsApp is also great if you have contacts that use it.  This tip isn’t meant to be an #ad for Sprint (although it’s great), but check out your carrier’s overseas plans before automatically assuming you need to purchase a Japan specific SIM card.

9. Within cities, buses are pretty great.  There may be a slight learning curve but the 5 minutes saves many minutes of walking.  Don’t get me wrong, I walk a LOT and love it but sometimes, you want to go a little faster.  The Kyoto bus system in particular is great since the subway is limited there.  But, if you have 3+ people in your group, taxis may be more economical and faster.

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Not covered by the JR Pass! But very convenient so you should use!

10. Tokyo subway.  There are a few different lines.  The JR pass works for the JR subway/local trains, the most famous being the circular Yamanote line.  There are a few other Tokyo lines that will not work with the JR pass.  Most will have the Blue M in their signs.  For these, you can either pay cash fares (which Hyperdia will tell you!) or if you are spending a few days in Tokyo, it may be worth buying a rechargeable Passmo or Suica card to just throw a few thousand yen on so you can just tap the card at the gate and keep moving.

 

Sisters in Japan, Day 13: Atsugi and Sayonara

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Fuji-san (way in the distance) and I!

After almost two weeks, it was time to go.  I was definitely sad.  I really liked living in Japan and this trip reinforced what a cool country this is.  I was also going to miss my sister!  But I am always happy that I get these chances to see family and cool places so I didn’t stay down for long!

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Beautiful day in Atsugi!
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Bun Bun!

Plus, we had carbs for breakfast at Bun Bun, the bakery I had heard about my entire trip. I love the name so much!  We bought several pastries and headed out for a quick trip to Sankeien Garden in Yokohama.

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Wisteria! And ducks!

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Sankeien garden is located on the former grounds of a wealthy silk merchant’s house.  It’s been a public park (with an entrance fee) since 1906.  SMS and I had been there before for a sakura photo shoot.  I was hoping that there would be some wisteria out, since I think it is such a beautiful flower.  Unfortunately, it was azalea season.  Who likes azaleas?!  Not me.  Brady, good soul that she is, tried to defend azaleas.  Blergh, nice try sister.

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Screenshot from markschlocker.com  Amazing photography!  Highly recommend!

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We had a Bun Bun picnic, pushed LR around (such a different meaning for a baby in a stroller vs a person in general, haha), and saw a wedding couple photoshoot.  It was a beautiful day and made leaving even harder.

But alas, I have a life to get back to so after a great morning walk in the park, Brady dropped me off at Yokohama station.  I took the Narita Express to the airport since I had my JR pass although the YCAT buses are also a great option.  I bought my last train bento, which was a tasty assortment!

I hung out in the United Lounge until boarding time.  I cut it close (of course) to mail postcards (dumb) but what could be better than starting off a long-haul flight slightly clammy with sweat from running to the gate?  A lot of things.  A lot of things are better than that.

Sisters in Japan, Day 12: Jogasaki Coast and Atsugi

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Sister, sister!  We woke up to another overcast day.  We wanted to walk along the Jogasaki Coast because the shoreline is spectacular.

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Early morning balcony view

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Looking down the street from K’s House (to the right if you’re facing the hostel)
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We parked in the starred parking lot and walked along the coastline within the circle, more or less.

We didn’t have a lot of time so we decided to hit the paved trail by the suspension bridge and lighthouse. First, we headed left and I walked on the shoreline rocks for a bit.  Then we went back to the path, crossed the bridge, and went to the top of the lighthouse.  We were there for about an hour.  We were rained on once, but that’s when we escaped to the lighthouse.  The clouds were very dramatic, so it was just as pretty as when I went before on a sunnier day.

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After our walk, we got in the car.  I wanted to stop at the MOA Museum of Art in Atami.  I had seen several posters advertising the exhibit Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji, a famous collection of woodblock prints by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).  Once again, we took a completely ridiculous route that consisted of steep uphills with two-way traffic on roads that were, at best, 1.5 lanes wide.

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Heeelllllpppp!!!!

The museum was a gem!  Its size is quite manageable.  It seems that there is usually a stellar special exhibit with a few rooms of exquisite permanently displayed crafts, mostly statues and ceramics.  There is a full-size Noh theatre where performances are held, as well as a famous golden tea room (replica) used by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1586 to really wow the emperor (paraphrase).  The museum would also have spectacular views on a sunny day.  Our visit was during a time of cloud and fog, so we missed out on that.

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The most famous image.  Although this photo confuses me- did I take a picture of a print in the gift shop or is this the one?  Since the explanatory placard was my next photo, I think it’s real?
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I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

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Traditional Noh theatre in the Museum
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The Golden Teahouse

We were kind of rushed because Brady wanted to get back for the base open house, which we kind of missed partially due to timing and partially due to the lower-than-usual turnout due to the weather.   But someone special was home waiting for us…

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I missed you!!

Yes, LR was home and so excited to see his Mom.  He also thinks his favorite aunt is pretty cool.  We headed out for sushi where we had a delicious feast, as evidenced by our stack of plates!  It was sisters and LR time because Ricardo had gone into Tokyo to hang out with some visiting pilot friends.

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Srsly, this kid falls asleep everywhere…what is he, a baby?!

After sushi, we walked home where our wild and crazy night continued…

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I’m awake!  Let’s party!