A Taste of Japan: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

One of our top spots on our photography list, this famous bamboo grove is magnificent, beautiful, and humbling. Be sure to stop by if you’re in the area… or put yourself into the area so you can stop by!

LotsaSmiles Photography

A visit to Kyoto isn’t complete without a trip through the stunning bamboo grove of Arashiyama.  There is nothing more humbling than acres of majestic trees towering above your head, cutting thousands of completely vertical lines 115 feet into the sky.

Bamboo has been revered for its durability for centuries, and it grows incredibly fast, making it a popular renewable resource; the wood is used in thousands of applications.  It is particularly important to the Japanese, who view it as a symbol of prosperity and see its simplicity as representing purity.  Bamboo is unique in its elegance, which is why stalks frequent many zen-hopeful desks, but they are seldom seen in such magnificence.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: Nighttime Shrines

If you find shrines are too busy during the day, try them by night! Most are open late, and this could afford you a unique take from the typical, touristy experience. Fushimi Inari was one of our favorites, and it was top on my to-photograph list.

LotsaSmiles Photography

I only have a few more of these highlights before I get into the real meat of our trip.  This week has understandably been busy catching up from our vacation and preparing for another over Thanksgiving.  I know you’re anxious for the full daily accounts, but I’m afraid I’ll have to tease you for just a short while longer…

When you visit Japan, unless you try explicitly not to, you’re bound to wind up at a few shrines.  Fortunately, that’s ok, as every one is unique in their own way.  If you really want to mix it up, try visiting them after dark.  Check to make sure they’re accessible after hours, but if they are, this can provide a great opportunity to beat a lot of the crowds at some of the more popular destinations.

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A Taste of Japan: Shrines

It’s hard to visit Japan without visiting at least a few shrines, but they’re all so different and uniquely beautiful that it’s also hard to get bored doing so!

LotsaSmiles Photography

It’s difficult to visit Japan without tripping over at least a dozen shrines and temples.  While most of the Japanese population wouldn’t consider themselves particularly religious, many practice the standard rituals of visiting shrines, saying a prayer, and drawing fortunes.  The young go hoping for favorable test scores or new love; others simply wish for good luck and good health.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: The Philosopher’s Walk

A trip down the peaceful Philosopher’s Walk is beautiful any time of the year. Next time, I’d love to see it blushing with the spring sakura, but it was stunning burning with autumn’s glow.

LotsaSmiles Photography

If you find yourself in Kyoto, set aside a morning for the Philosopher’s Walk.  Best un- (or lowly-) populated, early morning will afford you a quiet path upon which to calmly take in the song of the water and contemplate life’s mysteries.  The entire path is a little over a mile and is lined with shops, street vendors, restaurants, and temples.  Decorated with hundreds of sakura trees, this area is popular during cherry blossom season and is a great spot for fall color.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: The Robot Restaurant (Shinjuku)

This was a fun display of Japanese ingenuity. They truly are masters of space management!

LotsaSmiles Photography

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!

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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A Taste of Japan: Onsen/Sentou

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!

LotsaSmiles Photography

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.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2015

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Maid Cafes

Of the many kitschy things to do in Japan, visiting a maid cafe usually makes many lists.  We aren’t typically ones for overly touristy things, and we often go out of our way to avoid them (tourist attraction undoubtedly leads to throngs of visitors).  But while we were recovering from having been inundated with the overwhelming noise and stimulation of the tiny Akihabara shops, we decided to duck into one of these cheesy maid cafes. Continue reading “Maid Cafes”

5 Fun Things to See and Do in Odaiba

Odaiba was an enjoyable stop on our last day in Tokyo.  It has so much to offer that we couldn’t fit it all in.  We’ll have many new things to check out next time!   Below are 5 fun things to see or do if you find yourself in this Tokyo district. Continue reading “5 Fun Things to See and Do in Odaiba”

Cat Cafes in Japan

A sensation only just now gracing our United States shorelines, cat cafes have been widely popular in Japan for many years.  The world’s first cafe actually opened in Taiwan in 1998, but the concept was quickly adopted by the feline-loving, pet-deprived, Japanese culture.  Because of its popularity, the idea is commonly attributed to the latter (After all, they even have entire islands dedicated to the fuzz balls (a must on our return bucket list)! Continue reading “Cat Cafes in Japan”

5 Awesome Things To Do in Akihabara

Akihabara has so much to offer, so it is difficult to narrow it down to 5 top things, but these were some of our favorites while we were there (in no particular order):

  1. Cat Cafe: Visit a cat cafe, and play with cute little bundles of joy.   Neko Jalala has a great selection of furry felines and is located within a 10 minute walk of Akihabara station.  Here you can have a beverage and cuddle up next to a sweet loving cat.  They even have treats you can purchase to make the purrballs even happier.
  1. Shopping:  Akihabara’s electric town is full of shops packed with the latest tech gadgets, gaming consoles, and computers at a discounted price.  They also have manga, anime, and video game shops that span several stories with a different theme on each floor.  It is easy to lose yourself in one of these places on a rainy day (of which we had a few while we were there).
  1. Karaoke:  In Japan, you don’t have to sing in front of 100 people you don’t know. You get your very own private room that seats you and your closest friends.  At Big Echo Karaoke, you can order food and drinks from your room, rent cosplay, and sing songs in Chinese, Japanese, and English.  They have several K-pop, J-pop, anime, and even baseball-team-themed rooms.  Japanese songs come with some entertaining videos on the screen.  Gather up a few of your Japanese friends, and have some fun!
  1. Maid Cafe:  Waitresses dressed as maids are on hand to serve you, their master or mistress.  Their speech is almost sickeningly cutesy, and they’ll let you take a picture with them for a small fee.  Be sure to bring your own digital camera for them to use unless you don’t mind a lower-quality printout from theirs.  The food is almost too adorable to eat, lovingly shaped into teddybears and smiley faces.  Maidreamin is a popular maid cafe, but you will find several of them scattered all around Akihabara.  Just look for the maid costumes and fliers; you can’t miss them.
  1. Gaming:  If you want to play a retro game from the 80s, there’s a video game bar to do it.  In many electronics stores you will find just about any game you could possibly dream about playing or even buying for yourself.  If you have a Japanese console, your options are unlimited.

There are many other fun things listed below that didn’t make this list but could be in your top 5.

  • Watch J-Pop live idol performances like AKB48
  • Visit a weapons store with katana and shuriken blades
  • Explore a department store like Don Quijote for souvenirs
  • Stop by the Gundam Cafe if you are a robot/mecha lover
  • Enjoy the shops on Chuo Dori street on Sundays between 1-5pm, as it becomes a pedestrian-friendly zone that is closed to cars and bicycles
  • Food!!!  Food!!  And more food!  It’s everywhere, and it’s hard to go wrong with any restaurant


Have you visited Akihabara?  What did we miss?  What makes your top 5?