Day 8: Kyoto, Gion Matsuri third day: Yoiyama

16 July

Weather:  37 C at noon, felt as 40 C 

Sunrise and streets

That morning we got up before the sunrise to catch the golden hour (best time to take pictures are as the sun rises and sets). We walked and photographed between streets till the Kamo River. 

It was truly a beautiful morning, I loved seeing how Kyoto is getting up, the shops still closed, people getting to their work slowly. Some people were sweeping their house front.

Near the river, there were young people just finishing the day, some still in their festival dresses.

Someone was sleeping with their luggage as the cushion, demonstrating how Japan is so safe. 

and another one in another corner

After walking hours in the streets, we decided that today is the day we finally gave up walking and rent bicycles for the transport. 

Early breakfasts day

Everywhere was closed except konbini stores, so we took small bites from Family Mart and walked more. Then McDonalds was the second place we went around 6 am but we needed a decent (or somewhat decent) coffee so once Starbucks opened around 7 am, we went there to have some coffee and truly wake up. 

Bicycle renting

Before coming I read in many blogs that Kyoto is very safe to bike, it was our agenda already. After breakfast, we rented bicycles from the nearest bike shop until the day we leave for Osaka. We preferred J-CYCLE for the renting, but I believe there are many more options.

Erhan, living many years in the Netherlands was already used to bicycles, but me? I had not cycled for many years, but you know what they say like using a bike, it is true 🙂 I remembered quickly. 

As soon as we rented the bicycles, we headed to Kyoto station for lunch. After spending the 2020 in isolation, looking back to photos from 2018 Kyoto it hurts my heart a little bit, seeing such a large crowd all together.

You will absolutely go to Kyoto station once or twice and if you have time to spare, go up and enjoy the unexpected beautiful terrace of the station with beautiful bamboo trees and a sky view.

GION MATSURI CONTINUES…  YOIYAMA

Gyoza festival

It was already the third day of Gion Matsuri. Today we decided to have dinner outside of the festival area, and I already know what to eat and where with the help of my workings before Japan! Gyozadokoro Takatsuji Sukemasa ぎょうざ処 亮昌 高辻本店! Near our home in Kyoto, and without leaving the festival area. These were the best Gyoza I have ever eaten in my life (and also will eat in Japan through the journey). If you ever go there don’t miss it, you’ll regret it.

Erhan’s Note: Eating it came with a manual of how to. There were several spices and sauces to enjoy, first without any spice, then with the spices respectively and also the store made it clear that the gyoza was made all with Japanese ingredients.

After our own gyoza festival, we headed to the festival area one more time, and enjoyed to the last drop.

We saw the floats at night one last time and carved the scenes in our memories with their shiny lights.

We weren’t of course the only ones around the floats, the crowd was again in the streets of Kyoto.

and the famous stalls were still working full capacity, after all people loves these stands.

and of course the officers were again there with their lightsaberish things.

***

The next day was the main event of the festival, another early start was waiting for us, therefore we decided call the night early on.

Total steps of the day: 10875

next post: The procession of the MATSURI

Day 7: Kyoto, Gion Matsuri second day: Yoi Yoiyama

15 July

Weather:  37 C at noon, felt as 40 C 

A very hot day ahead

It was so hot, it was impossible to head outside during the day, so we decided to chill in the house and rest a bit until the sun goes down.

Wifi problems: how to connect to the world, if wifi doesn’t work?

Although our Airbnb host offered internet that could also be used outside (which is very common in Japan), the internet was so slow that it wasn’t worth the trouble to carry it along. She tried to rectify the problem*, but it was a dead end. So in the end, we had to order our own device to connect to the internet.

* Erhan’s Note: Apparently it was a data cap issue of sorts. It should have resetted earlier but did’t or some other obscure reason. Remaining online while traveling across Japan is a challenge on its own. Thanks to the internet there are many guides out there on how to do it, and if I remember correctly there are many mobile internet sales booths right out of the airport arrivals gate.

Until the device showed up, we used the Starbucks and other cafe’s free wifi connections.

connection is everything

GION MATSURI CONTINUES… YOI YOIYAMA

This was the 2nd day of the festival. Before coming to Japan, after my thorough research I found out that the crowd starts to disappear after 9pm. As a photographer, the crowd is not always a bad thing if you wish to catch the true sense of the Matsuri.

So around 5pm we headed out the house, and started to walk to the streets where there are floats we didn’t catch the previous night. 

Sun was going down, the light was pretty good and the crowd was getting to the streets in that hour. A photographer’s dream hour: golden hour! 

Erhan’s note: I am an opportunist when it comes to posing in the golden hour.
sun setting slowly amidst the lanterns.
us enjoying the festival with lousy selfies:)
someone kindly took our photo and we had a neighbour 🙂

SUCH A CROWD

I don’t know the exact number of the people who attended the festival that year, but boy, it was crowded! 

But don’t worry, because Japanese know how to deal with this crowd, they are really prepared for the festival. There are many police officers guiding everyone with their lightsabers to right and left. Everyone -even the tourists- obey the rules (because it’s JAPAN).

MATSURI FOOD DAY 2

Today we knew how to move around and hit the food stalls immediately! And we were not alone with the same thing in mind, everybody was eating something delicious along the way to the floats.

some big calamaris on a stick 

We skipped the corn table but they were looking good

and of course takoyaki

The famous Kakigōri (かき氷) (Japanese shaved ice dessert flavored with syrup and a sweetener)

and many more options…

Total steps of the day: 12743

SPECIAL GION MATSURI ALBUM: DAY 1- 14 JULY

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Day 5: TOKYO to KYOTO, 1st Shinkansen experience

13 July 

Heading Towards Kyoto

Weather : 34C degrees at noon

We checked out from the hotel in the morning and from Okachimachi we went to Tokyo station. Since this would be our first Shinkansen experience, we took the tickets for the 11:50 train. Not too late not too early. We found the lockers and locked in our baggage. There were many lockers but since lots of people pass through busy stations, most of them were already filled, so it took a little time to find a non-occupied one. There are size options in the lockers, for our luggage we chose the 700 yen (app. 7 dollars) option. The rule is that your stuff can remain there for 3 days at this price but we needed only for a couple hours. We ended up settling for the price since there were no cheaper/shorter time options.

Tokyo station is really big*, so we decided to take a tour first and spotted the shops for Bento Boxes. It was so crowded with so many options, we had to walk at least 3 times the same shop. It was really hard to choose but we managed to make one, for me sushi and for Erhan is a really big Bento box and of course some drinks to accompany. Time to take the luggage and head to the train…

* Erhan’s Note: Although the main building of the Tokyo station looks old and relatively (especially relative to building around it) small, it  has a huge underground complex, something that is fairly common for most stations we saw in urban areas. It is really easy to get lost in them.

Finding Your Train in Tokyo Station

It was easy to find the train if you follow the line signs. The track/platform was written in your ticket in numbers along with other Japanese signs and your seat numbers (if you had a reserved ticket) If you have trouble finding which line, Google maps was working really well even within enclosed spaces such as train stations and shopping malls. I’m sure that you heard the story of the Japanese shinkansen conductor who had to apologize for coming early to the destination. This is true because they are known with their punctuality.* Fearing that we would miss the train in the madness of the station, we went there at least 20 minutes earlier. 

* Erhan’s Note: The entire nation seems to be functioning on a seamless consequent displacement of people, vehicles, and goods without a break. It is very much like what a healthy circulatory system should look like, even with the overcrowded public transport. 

One Additional thing that I learned before coming to Japan is that the track officers bow down to incoming and outgoing trains, as well as conductors within bowing when they exit individual train segments. A lot of bowing down happens in general in Japan, but I think in this case it functions as a memory tool, something that the officers and workers use to indicate that they are present, and that their duties are performed satisfactorily, to the point where they can bow out with relative assurance. Sort of a ritualistic non verbal mass communication punctuation that has both internal and external significance.

Silent, Efficient, and Fast: Cleaning Team of the Shinkansen

The train came, passengers exited, and the cleaners came to the train with their pink outfits and cleaning equipment. It was so ceremonial, fascinating to watch.* They left the clean train at the same time and at the exact time, waiting passengers started to step in.

* Erhan’s Note: Also a bit like formula 1 pit stop teams, but with elderly women in majority. Acting all in unison and precision. They went in and came out and everything was squeaky clean.

Shinkansen Food: Bento Time!

Erhan and I were so excited that the minute the train left the station, we opened our Bentos, even though we were not yet hungry.

Faster than a Speeding Bullet Train

Shinkansen speed is about 220 to 330km/h . And of course we tested the famous stability of the train along the tracks with our drinks to see if they would spill along the ride! The answer is of course no, not a movement.

Drinking on the train is always fun.

With this speed, it took approximately . 2.5 hours to go to Kyoto from Tokyo station (normally it’s almost an 8 hours drive) . At the 50th minute of the ride, we saw 富士山 (FUJI-SAN) a little bit, with its glorious curves. As Turkish persons, we are very keen to watch scenery along the way since Turkey has also an impressive list on its own. In this sense, this ride was almost poetic for us.

And finally KYOTO… A Dreamland in the Normal World.

Since we planned a long stay in Kyoto, we had arranged an Airbnb house there. The check out time was 4 pm, it was still early to go there, so we decided not to spend any money for lockers twice in the same day and took our luggage with us. 

Once we stepped into Kyoto station, a music welcomed us from far away, when we approached we saw there is a presentation of Gion Matsuri and the music is coming there, a special music to the festival.

After checking the presentation a little bit, we spent our time in Mister Donuts in the station. The donuts are always a good threat but a bad idea for the health at the same time:)

We followed the directions of our Airbnb host and took a bus in front of the station. Every first experience was a new lesson to us.*

* Erhan’s Note: We had heard so much about it, and were excited like little kids. Right off the train the station itself was quite impressive, and out of the station we were greeted by the Kyoto tower. 

Our first Airbnb experience in Kyoto

Following the directions of our Airbnb host, we found the bus to the house. Tip: In Japan, you pay the bus fare to the driver while descending but always prepare your money beforehand, otherwise everyone is waiting for you to pay and it’s very uncomfortable.*

Erhan’s Note: The bus experience was very traumatic for me because I was scrambling to get the exact change for the bus fare. I had to give it to the driver instead of depositing it in the box near the front exit, and he waved me off, probably saying it was ok. For some reason I felt the entire nation would be angry with me for failing such a simple and basic activity. Silly tourist…

Our house has only one bedroom including the entry, the kitchen and the living room:) but after the hotel room, we thought that it’s big and comfortable. It even had a balcony. In Turkey, we are used to taking out our shoes while entering home, but I know that most Americans or Europeans are not very used to this habit. Be prepared, in Japan, you will definitely take your shoes frequently, while entering houses, temples, onsens, some restaurants, even some ryokans…

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When we came Kyoto was extremely hot but windy, unfortunately the wind stopped after a while, and we faced the real Kyoto weather: hot and extremely humid.*

* Erhan’s Note: Calling it hot and humid is not enough. There needs to be another word for that. 

Time for a Small Crisis: Migraine in Japan

Erhan’s Note: One overlooked part of long travel excursions is what to do when crisis strikes. In a civilized country such as Japan there is always people that are willing to help especially in visibly bad crises, but small crises such as a simple headache may be more trouble than its worth. The language gap is huge for most people, especially because of the alphabet. Google translate helped a bit, but finding boxes of tiger jaw leg wing 1000 instead of simple ibuprofen can be taxing after a while.

I have chronic migraine, and the Kyoto humidity and the tiredness didn’t help it. Fortunately, there is 7’elevens near the house, so Erhan managed to get us some bread and cheese to calm down my stomach and my headache a little bit.* First cheese of the week (there is cheese in Konbini but it’s quite expensive compared to Turkey, therefore we avoided for a while but in our everyday life we used to eat cheese everyday for breakfast, thus 1 week of avoidance was enough:))

* Erhan’s Note: Like a brave little scout, I walked down the street, crossed the road, entered the konbini, bought the goods and exited the store and returned home. All by myself. 😀 

So we decided the that we will rest for the evening and prepare for the busy days ahead of us.

Total steps of the day: 4245 

Next: The famous GION MATSURI! stay tuned

Day 4: TOKYO, Ameya Yokocho Market

12 July– Weather 29 C at noon 

Last day before Kyoto…

We started the day with breakfast at the hotel (it is a little expensive to have it everyday outside since the breakfast at the hotel was included in the price). We had a pretty full schedule in Kyoto ahead of us, so it was wise to take the day off before heading to Kyoto. Having difficulty deciding what to do, we found ourselves in Tully’s again.

Japanese Toilets: Open Sesame!

I know that many people know about the Japanese toilets already but believe me I wasn’t expecting to enter the toilet at Tully’s and see the lid of the toilet open automatically for me 🙂 For a public toilet it’s super useful not to touch the lid, and of course you can arrange the toilet seat temperature, a music accompanying the session, the temperature of the bidet’s water. One could write a whole book about toilets and public restrooms in Japan, but I will leave it at a paragraph or I would never reach the end of this blog.

By the way the most common brand for the toilets is TOTO, which means butt in a cute baby talk way in Turkish, this coincidence made us laugh each time (You see I’m still talking about toilets)

Erhan’s Note: Japan toilets are famous for their adjustable bidets, temperature control, and pleasant bird songs that mask the noises digested matter makes when your body twists and strains itself to do you know what. Being Turkish we welcomed the idea of a bidet, a common part of the toilet experience, which I know is already a shock in itself for some westerners, especially Americans. Automating the whole experience of course adds to hygiene, especially in public areas.

Everyday life in Tokyo

We sat at Tully’s for a couple of hours, relaxed a bit, and enjoyed our time just sitting about 2 hours. If you followed the blog so far, then you know already that I’m amazed seeing daily life in my perspective as a street photographer. While sitting in Tully’s it was again the case, seeing these well dressed up ladies enjoying their cup of café together for example, or seeing the all black dressed cool Japanese guy gave me inspiration. 

Two different views

While I’m oriented to shoot people in streets or streets in a larger perspective with people in it, like this one

or this one

Erhan is attracted to some very interesting objects and houses around. For example this little garden with its beautiful trees just between the houses

or this tree growing attached to the houses

or this electrical lamp while some may say it is grotesque while Erhan found it very interesting.

I love the fact that we see the same streets with different perspectives, we complete the world’s puzzle together.

A day off? Not really… then let’s go to Ameyoko

                                          

A day off? It’s difficult for us to sit somewhere for more than a couple hours, so we decided to go to Ameyoko (Ameya Yokocho) Market, again around Ueno. It’s mostly formed by fish, fresh fruits, and vegetable sellers. We didn’t buy a fresh thing since we’re staying in a very tiny room without a kitchen and felt overwhelmed after seeing so much stuff together.

Just a decor of a fish shop:) a bit too much, don’t you think? but again, it’s Japan, everything is too much
what is this? I really don’t know

Of course there was also Kebap House, I couldn’t think of a market without Kebap House, back in Turkey so it only made sense that in a Metropolitan area such as this, somebody, probably another Turkish person would import the idea of the convenient kebap. We didn’t try it since we’re in Japan and it didn’t make sense to us to eat kebap when there was so much else going around. 

Erhan’s note: I would rather try a regular burger franchise in Japan than a kebap place. Who knows what the quality of the food they served there was. 

There was also some cheap retails

It was again a very hot day and even the sellers were experiencing it pretty bad.

Erhan’s note: We were hearing the occasional “atsui”, “atsui desu” already 😀

What a towel really is for?

You know what Douglas Adams was right in “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy when saying : “A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”. 

Apparently Mr. Adams got the idea for this phrase when he went travelling and found that his beach towel kept disappearing, but I am sure if he had been to Japan he could have gotten this towel idea here as well. A wet towel around your neck keeps you sane, cool and healthy, or a light cloth towel around your head will prevent your sweat from entering your eyes in the hot and humid Japanese summer days. We learned pretty quickly that you shouldn’t NEVER NEVER LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT A TOWEL IN JAPAN! Especially in the summer. I don’t know why we don’t practice this in Istanbul.

Photographer vs the shot

There is a trend going these days in twitter, photographer vs. the shot, so I wanted to share in this page from this day such a shot.

A close encounter with the eight legged kind: Takoyaki

After the market, we found a Takoyaki (octopus pancake balls (literally grilled octopus)) place nearby. Osaka style 🙂 Definitely worth the try. By the way, yaki 焼き means grill and we thought that the symbol looks like a man grilling 🙂 We saw some Gyozas on the menu so we had to try it too. Result: Of course we love them. As Turks, we were already fans of “mantı” and all associated cuisine (classic pasta dough rolled out and filled with a mince of either lamb or beef and onions and spices then folded and cooked in water), so basically it’s similar to Gyoza (Japanese dumplings) except the cooking process and the shape. 

Outdoor shopping

We saw some shops in the way, and bought outdoor trousers from North Face for the hikings ahead of us. 

Shinkansen tickets

The next day, our plan was to continue our journey in Kyoto, so we bought our Shinkansen (Bullet train) tickets from the ticket machines (since we didn’t know the procedures we wanted to be pre-prepared ). 

First sushi experience and the second dinner

By chance, we saw a sushi place called Magurobito Okachimachi by walking. I was pretty fond of sushi back in Turkey so I was very excited for this experience. We entered but couldn’t find any English menu, therefore we were completely out of our comfort zone, no tourist, full of Japanese people. Normally it is good sign, this means we found a local place but when you don’t understand a thing it’s really difficult to handle. We ordered by showing the sushi. Even though there was a man sitting right next to us and was nice to chat with us a bit in English, we were quite intimated by this experience (I didn’t even took a photo because I was afraid they will tell us not to do. So I decided to took a quick video but Erhan warned me, so it’s shaky and short. ) Thus we decided to stop before we were done.

We were still hungry, what to do?

Sushi at a real sushi bar in a unremarkable spot in Tokyo. Still delicious…

So we wanted to find a cheap and simple option for our second dinner of the night. We saw a soba noodle place under the overpass of the Okachimachi station and we finalized our night by dessert to the room from Atré in Ueno Station.

We had a better night sleep, this means we’re adjusting to the time, Yay! The next day : Kyoto!

as always the summary of our day

Total steps of the day: 10595 

Day 3 (cont.) TOKYO, Akihabara

11 July (continue)

After fully resting, we were ready to get back up there and enjoy the night in Akihabara.

Akihabara in the night 

Around 6 pm, we went back to Akihabara streets for more exploration.

Salaryman/woman

The work hours were over and everywhere we looked there were Japanese salary men and women wearing a white shirt and black trousers and skirts. They were dressed as if they were the same person all over. Also some engaged in an interesting behavior: a few of them would stand around in a circle and each would bow to one another before going their own ways. I later learned this is often the case when the group of salarymen go out with colleagues (drinking and eating) and then when it is time to go home they say their goodbyes in this manner, especially in the presence of more senior colleagues. 

Erhan’s Note: Travelling to other cities (especially Kyoto) we learned people often derided and ridiculed Tokyo way of living where salarymen style of career life is most visible. It was often told us that nobody wanted to live that life, like a robot, no offense.  

Tall building where work never stops in Tokyo

The Hook for the Maid Cafe

There were some girls dressed as maids to attract customers to the famous Maid Cafes. We already watched some videos about these cafes before leaving for Japan, so we weren’t too interested in these, but believe me, many tourists were attracted to these girls and entering the cafes. I know there is nothing fishy going in there but then again as a woman, I’m not sure that I’m too happy seeing these girls having to work like this, but that is my personal opinion of course.

The maid realized we were taking her photo and did a cross sign with her arms indicating she would rather not be pictured so we decided not to put the photo here.

Mario Kart

I’m sure that you have already heard Super Mario by Nintendo. And most of you may heard or seen in Instagram, the tourist driving around Tokyo routes with the Mario go Kart cars. By chance, we run into to their garage while walking from the hotel to the Akihabara station. It was fun to see this scene. Along the trip, we saw the karts around Tokyo many times, especially in Shibuya.

Go up for the cafes

Yes you heard it right, we weren’t used to go up for entering to a cafe but in Japan,many good cafes are situated in upper floors of an ordinary building, you just have to look up.

Neon Lights

While walking in Akihabara, we saw many neon boards, again showing some anime advertisement and so.

Famous SEGA Building (Eee, one of them)

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A Spicy finish to a Fine Night: First Real Ramen

Since we skipped lunch outside, we earned the right to choose a good place to eat. Now, the research I did before coming to Japan had worked its magic and we went to one of our starred places: Kikanbo Ramen https://kikanbo.co.jp/. There were 5 people in the queue waiting, it was pretty quick because there was a machine outside where you choose the ingredients you want in your ramen and your drink and pay on the spot to receive a ticket. Once you enter you give the ticket to the counter and voila! The ramen you wished you had while watching all these anime is in front of you! The store’s ramen style was from Hokkaido and they had a dark theme going in the shop, which immerses you immediately, and the drums play a war tune in the background which went tamtı tamtıtı, exciting your appetite while waiting. Some monstrous creature sculptures watch over you from their spots on the wall. We loved the atmosphere, and once we tasted the ramen, OMG! So delicious and extra spicy. First ramen (and one of the best throughout the journey) .

BEFORE – waiting in line, hungry and excited

Erhan slurping his ramen like a PRO!

a macro view to my ramen choice (the napkin in the video is very useful because the ramen was very hot, believe me you need one)

AFTER -It may not be a good photo but I wanted to share it anyway to show you how hot it was eating the ramen:)

***

Eventually we were overwhelmed by the experiences of the day and went back to the hotel early. You could see from our timeline again, details of our walk.

We didn’t sleep much again in the night, still adjusting to Japanese time?

Total steps of the day: 11644 

Day 3: TOKYO, Akihabara

11 July  – Weather 33°C at noon 

After all these walks of the day before, we let ourselves sleep that morning and woke up late. 

We decided to see our options for breakfast since the breakfast at the hotel wasn’t something to talk about. We went to a nearby cafe at the corner of the street, and took some delicious tuna sandwiches. Cheese sandwiches are not very common in Japan, and they have a bit of extra air of “exoticness”, which is very normal since Japanese culture relied on fish, rice, and vegetables for a long time. (However they have mastered the cheesecake and it is everywhere! Omg Japanese people adore cheesecake, I won’t complain because I do too). We had our cafe at Tully’s (we didn’t know then but quickly discovered that it’s a chain cafe store like Starbucks and they have delicious sandwiches, breakfast choices etc.)

Erhan notes: Perfect for westerners who are looking for a break from the Japanese cuisine which can be a bit overwhelming.

The sitting order
some people looks like they are from an anime

There are all kinds of people around Akihabara: business people, otaku, chic ladies, tiny humans…

Akihabara in the day

A Vampire Hunter D Hunter in AKIHABARA 

Akihabara is close to Ueno, therefore it was a good place to spend the day. I knew Akihabara is an otaku (people who consume a lot of anime, manga, and related everything) heaven but I was still taken by surprise by its sheer size. At the beginning of the street the manga and memorabilia shops start and go one after another, but don’t think that these are one-floor-shops, no no, nope, at least 5-6 floors of anime goodies. Everything you can possibly imagine and more. There was so much stuff that we couldn’t decide to buy anything, we thought we would look again later, maybe when we return to Tokyo. Expectedly things weren’t cheap either. I limited my search to only one thing, if I had found it I would buy it immediately: a figure of Vampire Hunter D! Unfortunately we had no such luck and bought nothing. 

Erhan notes: This is the first time I ended up convincing Mine to climb just one more floor in an anime toy Store. Which turned out to be 6 floors. Most Japanese weighing less than 90 kilos and having no bags of camera with them (unexpected I know) usually are able to climb but less active ones use the elevators which are often hidden deep somewhere in the labyrinthine layout of the stores. Later on, we learned it is best to locate these elevators and go to the top floor and take the stairs only to descend. The sheer size of the stores’ inventory really took us by surprise and we did not even understand what was the purpose of half of the stuff they were selling.

the hidden elevators

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Universe of Everything: Don Quijote

While walking we encountered the famous Don Quijote shop (the Akihabara one), we were missing some goodies so we entered the shop: actually it’s not a shop really, it is another universe!  Every corner, every floor has another theme… chocolates candies , cosmetics, some adult stuff, baggages, everything you can think of. It’s crazy, you can spend hours there and buy so much stuff you do not need normally.

Erhan’s Note: Which is interesting how Japanese live in this constant pull and give between a yearning of the so called zen simplicity vs allure of the over cluttered public and personal spaces. We’re all human after all. 

Heat Exhaustion

Again we were pretty exhausted from the sun, so we decided to take it easy and went to the hotel to rest. For lunch, we took some goodies from the Konbini and ate them in the room while cooling 🙂 We spent about 4 hours in the room, recovered from the heat exhaustion so that we can go back to the streets in the night when it’s cooler most importantly less humid.

Onigiris, egg salad and another salad. And the blue thing under the Onigiri is medical great cold compress gel pack for our knees, now serving as a compact refrigerator in the hotel:

It was our third day but heat exhaustion had already started to affect us, by then we didn’t know how difficult it would become along the way.

Next post: Our adventure of 11 July continues: Akihabara in the night…

Stay tuned and don’t forget to comment

Goshuin and Stamps: A Great way to bring Japan back home with you

Once you are in Japan, the first thing that hits you is that it is different from home in every aspect, especially if you don’t already live in East Asia and it’s not just the alphabet.

First, it’s really colorful, not only in the night with the neon lights like in Shinjuku or so, but under the daylight too. You can see decorations and lanterns everywhere if it is a festival day perhaps in the summer when there are lots of lots of festivals (Matsuri). 

You will probably buy some stuff from the Matsuri counters, maybe a Japanese fan, an item that embodies Japanese culture more than others, like we did in Gion Matsuri (had to, due to sweltering heat anyway). Because it’s quite hot in summer, everybody has a fan in their hand, it’s a necessity more than an accessory. Or a souvenir from Matsuri?

Special Festival Shrine Stamps, or Goshuin

However the biggest souvenir from the matsuri are Goshuins which are special stamps that you can get imprinted on your Goshuincho (for more information about it, please read this post) from temples and shrines. 

Note: We were told that it is best to get a separate goshuincho for the matsuri seals. When the priests saw our goshuincho with some temple stamps already in on it they looked confused and we asked around if it was ok to do it. 

During the festival they have exclusive and special stamps associated with each float (a wooden construct that is sort of a shrine on wheels, that gets dragged along a route during the final day of the festival), and they are really beautiful. We realized this quite late and did not get all the stamps from the floats. Well there is always the next time 🙂

The Goshuin collected is a good souvenir also because you will see so many temples and shrines that after a while you don’t notice some of them in the way. Getting to the counter, and asking for a stamp really puts a face in your mind associated with the place and creates a unique memory. This is why the most meaningful and precious remembrance from Japan is our Goshuincho. Every time we were in a temple or shrine, the first thing we did was pay our respects and then go to get our Goshuin. 

Where to get a Goshuincho? 

You may get a goshuincho from the first temple/shrine you visited or from a stationery store like Tokyu Hands. We did get one from the first temple and I got one just for the love of its cover from Tokyu Hands but got filled only with the temple one, the other is waiting in our library for our next trip to Japan. 

It’s waiting for our next trip to Japan

Note: Beware that if you stamp or write anything else in the goshuincho, the priest may decline to use it for Goshuin. It makes sense to keep things tidy given how the priests also give an effort to their calligraphy. We got by by looking confused, disheveled, and a bit lost so they gave us no trouble, but I could sense some were annoyed with the state of our dirty and untidy goshuincho. Bonus fact: they also sell amazing Goshuincho covers and bags so that the books don’t get dirty. (Ours did get dirty after all that handling). So treat it with care and love:) 

And beware that sometimes there is no one in the temple/shrine, but they are leaving already prepared goshuin for that purpose, and you pay the fee and collect it.

Maybe the most precious Goshuins are the ones we got from Iseshima

More Stamps to collect: Japanese philosophy of “gotta get’em all”

Goshuin philosophy extends into regular locations in my opinion as well, as the Japanese put a certain value to every public location in their life; it may be a post office or a national museum or a trekking route or a park. That’s why every place has a stamp as a souvenir. Therefore my advice is to bring a (several in fact) notebook(s) that you love or buy from there especially for these stamps. Unfortunately we didn’t notice these stamps until Hakodate, so I decided to stamp the pages of my notebook where I took the notes of our journey everyday (hence the blog can be written after 2 years).  

Erhan’s note: There are amazing guidelines to collecting Goshuin, or even Goshuincho themselves are highly sought after. I have even heard of a wooden walking stick that gets fire branded with temple stamps along the trekking/pilgrimage route in Kumano Kodo. I regret asking for it. Here are some links to goshuin guidelines where you may find more detailed information.

  • About the Gion Matsuri Goshuin

Sharing kyoto a guide on goshuin

  • Some  reddit posts that explain quite a lot 

guide temple and shrine stamps

unique goshuin

  • Some more links about goshuin

a guide on Savvy Tokyo

Japanese stamp books on the book loving pharmacist

I really hope you read this post before going to Japan, and get these notebooks with you home. Our goshuincho is maybe the most valuable thing we bring from Japan. It is amazing how dear a souvenir becomes when you actually put something of your own into it.

For past travelers, did you know these before your trip? Did you get any of them? Any crazy goshuin we should have not missed, or goshuincho that is coveted? Comment below to share your experiences. 

Next post: Our day in Akihabara…

Stay tuned

Day 2 (cont.)- TOKYO, Ueno Park

10 July (continued)

JOMON EXHIBITION

We saw the banners and we saw the posters. Some odd looking clay figures and pots that look deceptively simple. 10000 Years old prehistoric art in Japan. Even though we had not planned a visit, we had to see it; which was the best thing about a long trip: space for unplanned events and exploration!

If you ever have the chance to see it yourself, go for it! We saw the exquisite Dogu figures which resembled to little gingerbread people 🙂 (for more information Wikipedia) as well as many more interesting arts and artifacts in the complete collection of the museum.

Erhan’s note: From a game developer’s perspective, the Jomon period explained almost the entire history of Japanese game art and where most of their inspiration came from (especially the mainstream ones such as mario, zelda series etc.). It was especially surprising for me since I would have never thought to see the roots of digital art in a museum featuring 10.000 year old artifacts. In retrospect it makes total sense.

The rest of the collection was worth visiting too. Having been exposed to classical western and to a degree islamic classical art for the most part it was amazing to see what kept the Japanese inspired and busy through the ages.

Even though it seems from the photos that Erhan is defiling and pillaging the ancient artifacts like a hapless giant who hopes his wanton destruction goes unnoticed, these were only interactive parts of the exhibition, which made it more interesting.

Further interesting photography from within the museum as well as other details of our museum tour

Erhan’s note: The 4th picture looks totally like it is from a Mario game.

Of course we were not the only ones who spent the afternoon to avoid the sun, as always there were lots of people enjoying the AC and some even relaxing in the cool air of the museum by sleeping on the benches (during the journey we learned by experience that this behavior was totally normal for Japanese people).

Inside of the museum
the best place for sleeping, the hall of the museum
A little overwhelmed, I am sitting in a dark corner of the museum waiting for Erhan to shoot some more photos:)

First Curry Experience

For lunch, we saw some food trucks in front of the museum, we took some food and found some shade. 

Erhan’s note: This is where we ate our first curry and rice in Japan. II have to say it was not good. Mostly because it was from a food truck in front of a museum under sweltering summer heat. I have to admit I thought all Japanese curry had to taste amazing for some reason. I blame Ghibli animations.

In front of the museum and the food truck in question
our first curry in Japan, thankfully not the last (curry is so delicious normally)
Walking to the museum in the sun

University of Arts

After the museum, we continued to walk in the park and saw Tokyo University of Arts. Giving in to our curiosity, we walked in, (usually entering university grounds is a big issue in Turkey and prohibited or entirely regulated by private security) and had a lovely time in their outside cafeteria. Watching colorful characters of students and staff, and seeing the university life was an interesting experience that not many tourists get to enjoy. 

Erhan’s note: This statue by Rodin (more about it here), standing in the garden of the Tokyo University of the Arts, drew my attention. People who are familiar with Japanese manga, anime, and otherwise popular culture are probably aware of their comically effeminate yet perfectly proportioned male figure trope. I thought it was just a quirky comical effect found in popular culture references. A way of poking fun at western idea of human perfection. It was a welcome shock to see it in the bronze in front of me on a park near the university grounds. Although many such casts exist out there across the world, this statue had such a stark contrast that it stood out along with its un-Japanese surroundings, and undoubtedly has influenced many people who attended the Tokyo University of the Arts. It was about two westerners (well Istanbulites at the very least) seeing what Japanese think the western values uphold. This among many other things we saw across our travels explained so much about what inspires the Japanese culture. Incredible adoption of German cultural features in some cases, as well as an infatuation with things of the French nature. We even visited an Italian restaurant in Tokyo towards the end of our trip and I am glad we did. (more about that later :D)

University’s garden
University students enjoying a fine day
Students

Let’s enjoy the park from above

Even though our short visit was refreshing, we had spent quite some energy walking around. We still needed to sit and drink something, and found a rooftop restaurant in a building within the park (Ueno Seiyoken), after a long day the first Japanese beer was rewarding and made up for all the exhausting steps.

small erhan’s note: my beard looks at tip top shape here… it gradually gets rowdier towards the end of trip. This blog is worth reading just to witness that if not for anything else 😀

Erhan’s note: I remember checking google to find a decent restaurant nearby and not coming up with much given we were in the middle of the park. We walked into the building that we thought was a restaurant but had to climb up to the top floor to find it. There is something that gives you the butterflies about not being completely sure where you will end up, but the relief when you arrive in a welcoming place as often the case is in japan is completely worth it.

The meal wasn’t anything to write home about, but from up there you can see the entire park, all green with water lillies, and the rest of the metropolitan city scape; it was a special moment of us that marked the first excursion in Japan, first real day of our adventure.

View of the park from the rooftop
View of the park from the rooftop
another perspective from Erhan’s camera

Erhan’s note: And it had gone spectacularly well for a first day too. 😀

We decided to finish our day after the beer time and to walk straight to the hotel but we were intrigued to see our first gashapon and claw machines in the wild, to be frank they are quit tempting even though you know it’s nearly impossible to win something worthwhile.

We passed some busy streets while walking to the hotel, enjoyed our first evening stroll.

When we reached the hotel, since the room was too tiny and no window could be opened, it was a little difficult for us to sleep with the AC (and we were still adjusting to the Japan time). 

our hotel room window

Have you been to Ueno Park? Did you enjoy it too? Did you see the full bloom? Comment below, let us know more!

Did you know that Google maps keeps your walking history? We learned that recently, here is the crazy summary of our 10th July.

total steps of the day: 17920 steps

The next day is another Japanese famous place: Akihabara…

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Day 2: TOKYO, Ueno Park

10 July – weather: 32 °C at noon

Erhan’s note: We woke up, took the comically tiny shower, and headed downstairs for breakfast. It was a combination of western/japanese sort of canned hotel breakfast type. They had little croissants, some miso soup, natto, rice, and some pickles on the buffet. First time having tasted natto (fermented sticky soybeans with a wet sock taste and consistency), I understood why people have different opinions on it.

Even though Erhan seemed to enjoy the taste of sticky wet sock, I was left a bit wanting after the breakfast. We googled our environment and decided to go to the Ueno Park: a great destination for the first day orientation. We grabbed our cameras and wandered out.

Ueno Park

It is a big park with a lake in the middle covered by water lilies. Unfortunately, we had missed their bloom, but it was already beautiful, covering the entire lake there was a sea of green leaves. I couldn’t imagine how beautiful they would be in their bloom (maybe a goal for the next time?). 

Ueno Park

Mystery of the Konbini Onigiri

For lunch, we took our Onigiri (Japanese rice balls where there is a flavored filling inside) from the nearby Konbini (Japanese convenience stores, like 7eleven, Lawsons, Familymart). I already had a favorite one: Tuna Mayo. I wouldn’t think something so simple would be so delicious (oishii: a word for delicious we would often use for the entire trip). By the way, being new in Japan, this was already our second time tasting the store sold onigiri and we were struggling with the packaging. They all had this double plastic wrapping with the seaweed in between, so that the rice ball would not touch the seaweed (Nori) unless it is opened. The reason was simple, the nori would get soggy and stick to the rice ball immediately once you opened the package, so it had to be kept isolated. Once we learned how to slowly unwrap it and hold the nori in a way to pinch the rice ball so it wraps around it, it was no longer a frustrating mess of rice and seaweed mush.

the Onigiri counter at the Konbini

First Temple Visit (temple/shrine count #1)

To our surprise our walk in the park led to our first temple visit! Benten-do Temple. 

Erhan’s note: We quickly learned that in Japan most parks have a shrine/temple or both given how the Japanese religious structure encompasses nature in a way. We further later learned that Japanese tend to build shrines everywhere nature or not. I had heard that some tourists experience Shrine Fatigue, a term which encompasses the disinterest they start feeling after visiting shrine after temple after shrine after temple. I was quite ok with it personally.

You may see from the photos how excited we were to come across it. The very thing we only saw in so many other photos was standing there in real life in front of us. 

Benten-do Buddhist Temple
Daikokutendo next to Benten-do Temple

We went straight to the booth of temple where they sold charms and temple related things. We immediately bought our goshuincho (御朱印帳), the special book in which you collect goshuin (御朱印) (seal stamps that worshippers and visitors to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples collect), and of course first goshuin was made there. Btw, you make a donation to take a goshuin, it’s normally around 300 yen, app. 3 dollars. 

Erhan’s note: I think we learned about the goshuincho during our preparation phase. So we already knew we should purchase it the moment we saw it. The booklets are beautiful for the most part, covered with a silk weave stitched on the covers, a depiction of whatever makes that particular temple or shrine you bought it from famous. Some booklets are really nice and some are rather minimalistic. Later in our trip, we also learned that even though most touristic temples charge you a fee for a stamp and signature, local temples where tourists rarely go to do not ask for a fee. Some temples just leave pre-signed leaflets to put in between your booklet, and a donation box nearby.

In the temples and shrines you may also purchase fortunes,  boxes, wrappings, charms, inscriptions in any form or method you can imagine.

Erhan’s note: I think we should make an additional blog post covering temples and what you can find in them.

me holding my first fortune 🙂

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Life in Ueno Park

We were already impressed with the local people when we saw this man casually chatting with his friends while playing/feeding the birds, he was so natural and nonchalant about it, he didn’t even look at them. 

the man and the sparrow

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Did I say it was a hot day? On the first day of our trip we had already experienced the famous humidity and heat of the Japanese summer. We started looking for some interior coolness.

While walking in the park we found out that there were many museums in the area, perfect for cooling down. Namely Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum. The park was also home to the Ueno Zoo. As appreciators of fine art, our first choice was The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. It was closed, so we chose to visit Tokyo National Museum.

And what a luck! we saw the banners for the “JOMON” exhibition, we wandered in excitedly.

To be continued in the next post…