Some of the best meals we had in Japan came from small street vendors. We’re no strangers to personal proprietors specializing in a single dish (or few) from a small booth on a street corner; Portland’s food cart culture is renowned. While we feared these establishments would be less adept at English, they actually proved easier when it came to ordering. With only a few items offered – most physically present behind a glass pane – it was a simple matter of pointing and holding up two fingers. And very like the much-loved, tiny food vendors at home, their business only survives if they’re really good (as patrons frequently have plenty of alternate options).
For a truly wild spectacle, check out the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku (follow the giant light signs; it’s hard to miss). The name is a slight misnomer, as this is primarily a show, with snacks, sushi bento boxes, and drinks available for separate purchase. This is certainly geared toward tourists, with everything predominantly in English. They pack about 200 people into a tight room, and proceed to parade wifi-controlled floats and extravagant illuminated robots. Cute Japanese girls dance and fill the room with thunder on the taiko. The animatronics reach out and right over the audience; it’s amazing how they can fit these things in such a small room. Music, laser battles, lights, dancing, robots!
Visiting temples in Japan, you might come across lines of small statues dressed in red caps or children’s clothing. These are Jizou statues, and they are to ease the grief of a passing infant or unborn fetus (and some believe to appease the vengeful spirit).
This was a totally different experience for us but one we were anxious to try. Now I can understand why the Japanese love it so much! Certainly worth a visit if you get the chance. Next time, we’ll find a true onsen for a real pampering!
We’re now home from our (amazing!) trip, so look forward to detailed daily overviews as I sift through the 3742 photos I took over the fourteen days. In the meantime, I’m continuing to feature a few specific pictures.
One of the favorite pastimes in Japan is visiting onsen or sentou. What’s the difference? The former are natural hot springs; the latter are public baths. The line between them has been blurred, and the terms are commonly interchanged, with true onsen explicitly calling out the natural hot springs feature of their establishment. Modern sentou create artificial hot springs by pumping geothermally heated water, so it’s easy to confuse the two.
While we won’t depart for our big trip for some time yet, we still have smaller adventures, and we’ll feature some highlights from those in the meantime. Japan was an amazing excursion for our first overseas!
Ryokan are a luxury even for the Japanese. These traditional hotels invite you to don yukata and sip tea on tatami mats in your room. Far more spacious than hotels in the city, they serve as miniature suites, with a full bathroom (as in: a full room for taking baths – not showers), a “living” room that’s converted into a bedroom with futons at night, and a sitting/sun room. Many ryokan also feature a high-end restaurant with full, multi-course, traditional Japanese meals (where you sit on tatami mats and food is partially cooked at your table). If you’re lucky, yours will additionally offer a larger, multi-person sentou or true onsen.
So this post will be a tad different from the country profiles we’ve done in the past. We’re still collecting that information, but we didn’t think a table of text was very fun to read. So this will be a bit more personal. We’ll give you more insight as to why we’re considering this for our world trip.
Now first, it’s worth mentioning that China was not originally on Aaron’s list. With dreams of exploring the famous Great Wall and seeing legendary cities like Shanghai, I obviously didn’t realize this disparity between our priorities.
Laos is one of those places that is stunningly beautiful and not as populated as most other Asian countries. This allows more breathing room when traveling to some of the top destinations and a nice break from the overrun tourist areas of nearby Thailand. Its culture is more accessible and isn’t as blurred by the tourism machine.
Laos has many excellent ways to volunteer for those who like helping out in communities while abroad. We plan to do just that. As we travel we do want to find ways to give back and this is the perfect opportunity. With programs like Big Brother Mouse Project, volunteers help children learn how to read and improve their English skills. There is also Cope, which provides assistance and rehabilitation to those who were injured during the Vietnam war (details on both below).
Ok, this post is mostly for the ladies, but men might learn something, too.
For those used to western-style, sit-down toilets, something that resembles an elongated sink in the floor might be met with trepidation and confusion. These are squat toilets, and they’re quite common in Japan. Sometimes, they’re your only option, so it’s good to know how to use them.
To help narrow down the list of countries for our round-the-world trip, I have created a basic planning tool. It will give us perspective on the best time to visit a country, the key things to know before going, and all of the logistics of covering your basic human needs while abroad. As we do more of these country profiles, there will be more things to consider, but this template should provide you with a good start to your trip planning. Our next step will be to create a ranking system, which we will present in a later post.
Family are gathered, pies are baked, wine will soon flow (at least in my house), football is queued, and the bird is already releasing heavenly, succulent smells that will quickly infiltrate every corner of the house. By the end of the day, tummies will be full, the room will be full of laughter and games, and eventually, we’ll all pass out in a food coma before our first holiday movie of the year.