Category: Japan Things

New Friends in Okinawa

I just spent the past two days on a beach! Not what we planned for when mapping out our trip to Japan, but no complaints here.


From Nagoya we took a plane to the main island of Okinawa, then another flight to Ishigaki-jima, then we hopped a ferry to Iriomote-jima, a remote jungle island where John and I did some snorkeling a year ago. Because I didn’t bother to bring my contacts to Japan, the snorkeling was a little blurry for me this time, but still a lot of fun. I spent more time lying in the sand (with plenty of shade and sunblock), reading my book and listening to the ocean. I also met some new friends!

This is Dwight. He was pretty shy, but I thought he had a lovely shell.


Next I met Fusako-san. She crawled around on John’s hand for a while, before falling off the edge. (She was fine.)


This is Goro, who wasn’t shy at all. I loved his beady little eyes.


Then we have Chibi, who was almost the tiniest crab we found. (Photographed on John’s index finger.)


And finally, Stripy-kun! Who was very stripy.


All of these guys were extremely friendly and graciously tolerated our poking them and turning them upside down, so I think I’m over my fear of hermit crabs. They’re just too cute to be afraid of.

Now we’re back in Tokyo for the night, and tomorrow we return to the states. I really feel like I just got here, but surely it won’t be so long before I’m back for another visit. I’ve also got plenty of more photos to share once I return!

Adorable Mascots

One of the things I love about Japan is how personified everything is. It seems that every good or service (including government services) requires its own adorable mascot, and walking down the street you can quickly lose count of the cute faces greeting you on signs every five feet or so.

It was originally my plan to document every cute character I came across for a few days, but that task quickly proved too daunting. In any case, here are a few just from the past day or so in Nagoya.

A “card” character featured in the current promotions for the department store Parco


Also at Parco, this little deer has been my favorite so far.


These are some kind of plant I think? I’m not sure, but they’re cute.


This giraffe wants you to use Nanaco, which is some kind of “card service,” I think.


Of course, Toyota has its own cuddly animals hawking their cars.


And finally, the police get a mascot too!


Our travel plans have changed a bit, so we’re heading off for a few days in Okinawa tomorrow morning. (Yesterday I managed to buy a bathing suit in Japan, if you can believe it.) Probably no internet for real this time. So I’ll be back when I’m back!

An Unfortunate Good-bye

Yesterday was a little surreal. I’m sorry to say that Bonney was not feeling well, and she needed to go home to New Hampshire early from Japan. We were disappointed that she couldn’t make it through the rest of the trip, but when you’re feeling bad and in a foreign country, the only thing you want is to go home.

So Bonney went home, and she was happy to do so. There are a lot of things in Japan that I’m sad she’ll have missed (like craft stores!), but I’m certain she has lots of memories even from her short time here that will last her a lifetime.

We ended up leaving Kyoto a day early, and heading to Nagoya today (where there is an international airport). Nagoya is usually skipped by tourists, but John and I lived in this city for a year after college, so it’s a little like home to us. It’s actually a pretty nice city—not as intimidating as Tokyo, but still a relatively happening place.

We took it easy for most of the day after going to the airport, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a Sega center next door to our hotel, and we went out for some crane game fun after dinner. With much success!


Rirakkuma is a popular prize in “UFO catchers,” as they’re called. We already have tons of these little bears at home, but you can never have too many pancake-eating stuffed bears, I say.

John won a Rirakkuma with a chef’s hat and utensils and a Rirakkuma wearing a scarf. He also won me a white one who’s holding a sandwich. Too cute!


(He wants me to mention that he didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before, and that’s why he’s a little less than photogenic in these pics.)

And remember these guys?


We now have more little plastic tofu blocks than we know what to do with, so enter the photo contest this summer and you might win some.

Bonney, if you’re reading this, we miss you and we hope you’re feeling better once you get home. We will be trying our best to have lots of fun for you in Japan!

1001 Buddhas and a Milkshake

Yesterday we went to Sanjusangendo, which is my favorite temple in Kyoto. Its main feature is a massively long hall that houses 1001 intricately carved statues of Kannon (not technically Buddha, but close enough for most non-Buddhists). This is another hugely popular temple, and it’s usually packed with crowds of visiting schoolchildren, but the crowds were amazingly quiet yesterday so it didn’t seem so packed.

Photos are forbidden in the hall, and I’d rather not use any blurry ones posted online by rule-breaking visitors, so I’ll just say that the sight is breathtaking and not to be missed.

And now for a milkshake.


You may have heard that there are vending machines on every street corner in Japan. That’s more or less true, but contrary to popular belief, they do not all contain used girls’ underwear. (I’ve never seen one of these mythical vending machines, though I have spotted one for eggs and one for porn, but these were rare sightings.)

The cool thing about vending machines in Japan is that while most of them carry the same 10 or so drinks from Coca-Cola and Suntory (sodas, coffee drinks, tea and the like), every once in a while you’ll come across a drink you’ve never seen before, and you might never see again. Such was the case with Milk Shake.

Milk Shake is not an authentic milkshake, but it is milky and very sweet. Kind of like watered-down melted ice cream, with a little bit of an artificial aftertaste. I liked it, but we probably shouldn’t have bought two before tasting it, because one was enough for everyone to share, and our ryokan room doesn’t have a fridge in which we could keep the other one warm. Warm watery ice cream drink with a bit of an artificial aftertaste, anyone? No?

Off to Kyoto

I had underestimated the traditional ryokan we’re staying at in Kyoto. Free wireless internet for all!

To get here, we took the bullet train, the highlight of which was bento boxes. Here is Bonney with hers before digging in. (I haven’t gotten her permission to use this photo, but I’m going to anyway because I think it’s great.)


We could identify about half of its contents before she ate it, and two-thirds after. (Mine was a vegetable bento, and much less mysterious.)

Once in Kyoto, we reached our ryokan by cab. The driver turned out to be a plush toy lover!


He was an older man, and hard of hearing, and that made the plush fandom even more endearing.

The place we’re staying is within walking distance of Maruyama Koen and Kiyomizudera, so that was our outing for the day. Both are extremely popular destinations, and the crowds were pretty incredible. But we had much fun browsing the souvenir shops that lined the steep streets heading up to the temple. For myself, I picked up the most adorable mousey!


It’s made from kimono fabric, though I can’t recall what this type of craft is called. (Any help?) There were lots of reeeally cute toys like these, and it was hard to resist buying more. There’s a whole museum/shop devoted to them somewhere in the city that I stumbled upon once. I’m not having any luck locating it again, so I guess I’ll just hope that I’ll have the good fortune to find it by chance.

Maybe a pic or two of the hundreds of temples and shrines in this city will make it into my post tomorrow.

Kewpies and More in Shibuya

Hellooo from Japan!

Today was our first full day here. We had planned to do both Shibuya and Harajuku, but the former proved to be more than enough for us.

We spent a good part of the day in Loft, browsing the latest in stylishly cute housewares and zakka. Then we ogled delicious food at Shibuya station.

Kewpie dolls continue to be all the rage in the cute department. Here they are advertising a new TV show:


I love love love this ad! Each Kewpie is dressed up as a food or animal or other thing of Japan. Wouldn’t it have been fun to make all these outfits? They’re also selling cell phone straps of Kewpies incognito as various foods and animals—I picked up a Kewpie beer and a Kewpie mushroom today. So cute!

Here’s Kewpie dressed up as the horse character Rody.


If you look closely and can read Japanese, you’ll see that this particular crane game has a sign proclaiming it the “second most popular!” What a crowning achievement.

The “Kapibara” character is still going strong too, with a few new varieties added to the mix. Do these guys remind you of someone?


Perhaps a certain toupee-wearing mouse?

Now for edibles. We came across a counter with the most gorgeous, exotic varieties of honey.


Yuzu, lemon, thyme.. those are the ones I can remember, but there were dozens of flavors. I think we could have gotten samples, but we were too busy buying them up to think to ask.

Finally, yummy bright green sweets.


Made of sticky rice, sweet bean paste, and unidentifiable squiggly green thingies.

We’re heading off to a few days in Kyoto tomorrow, where I’m not sure if we’ll have internet access or not. I’ll be back when we do!