Kyoto-Nagoya Station: Trains and Manga

When the train stations look like airports and the subway looks like a high class shopping mall, you realize that your standards for infrastructure and innovation will never be the same again. Muji and UNIQLO were definite culprits for the havoc I wreaked on my savings account. But in truth, my greatest weakness was the drugstore.

It was not easy navigating shelves of hopelessly foreign  beauty products. My desperation was just that great. Japanese skincare is a dream. Shiseido cleansers foam up like nobody’s business- its like putting clouds on your face. That is really what you will look like in the bathroom mirror. Hada Labo lotions are so gentle that I’m not worried that they’re going to break me out. At the same time, I can attest to the hydration and brightening properties. I even picked up this wack horse oil cream from Loshi because it’s a supposed cult favorite. (I ended up giving it away, however, so I don’t know whether it was a worthy buy.) And don’t even get me started on those wonky eye drops that are supposed to compensate for lack of sleep. That drug needs to be experienced to be believed. It’s crazy.

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Don’t mind me- just prancing around with these delicious white chocolate-filled matcha cookies and truckload of skin care products.

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My travel essentials: wide-brimmed hat, silk scarf, camera, spare SD card, power bank, sunblock, shades, concealer, and bottled water.

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I love, love, love, this scarf. It adds a whole new element to an otherwise plain outfit since it can be worn and styled in so many different ways.

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At some point, I ended up striking out on my own in the streets of Nagoya in an attempt to track down AKB48’s latest single release that my college blockmate asked me to collect for her. While I’d already been the go-to translator for my family throughout the whole trip, it was a whole new ball game to go it on my own; without a cellphone to reassure me of some connection to the life I had previously known. All I had with me was a walkie-talkie (which was not working). I was so sure I’d end up in some kind of security office, advertised as a lost child at the age of 18. Thankfully, after a good deal of searching (and generous conversations via hand gestures), I was able to locate Tower Records and purchase the elusive ‘Tsubasa wa Iranai’.

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Of course, on my way out of that mall, I couldn’t help but notice the glowing floor filled to the brim with anime and manga. For some context, the first anime I ever watched was D. Gray-man. It’s a dark, action adventure series that will always hold a special place in my heart. In fact, the 2nd season I thought would never come just finished airing recently. Much to my despair for although it was amazing, D. Gray-man Hallow’s measly 13-episode run left me craving more.

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Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu definitely gives off the vibe of being a comedic fantasy adventure-style anime with harem overtones, but that is so far from the truth. The story and characters are very intense, with each episode leaving you with more questions than answers. At the end of the season, you still won’t have any idea what in the hell is going on. But therein lies the beauty of it. You will hate the main character: Subaru, with a fiery passion (as I do). You will question why a wonderful girl like Rem loves overmuch and is always overlooked. You will complain about how much of a Mary Sue Emilia is. Surely there must be more to her than this. And you will wonder why the scenes become more and more shocking as character development reveals the most unexpected depravities. And yet, you will keep watching. If Groundhog Day had an anime baby with a penchant for fantastical beasts, beautiful girls, and psycho demons, it would be Re:Zero. This is not an anime for the faint-hearted. So watch it.

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From Trendsetter’s Bazaar hat | Hermes scarf | COPPER top | Zara trousers | From Spain shoulder bag | Samsonite trolley | Stradivarius heels

Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Taisha

One can hardly mention Kyoto without thinking of the iconic vermillion red gates or “torii” that make their appearance into many a travel-blogger’s portfolio. Fushimi Inaria Taisha can be accessed by taking a 5 minute train from Kyoto Station. The major Shinto shrine then lies almost directly in front of Fushimi station. Just follow the massing tourists and you can’t go wrong.

(Side note: I popped into the adjoining convenience store or “konbini” to grab a new SD card as I had filled mine to the brim. Konbini are amazing places for the stores back home certainly don’t provide me with emergency camera storage.)

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Locals, however, make the pilgrimage up the sacred Mount Inari and through the gated path to pay tribute and pray for good fortune. The shrine is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, Inari. Foxes are believed to be his messengers, and so fox statues litter the grounds.

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Everyone turned to look as this adorable couple strode past with their pack of beautiful black dogs. I ask you, who walks their dogs at a shrine? In any case, they looked to be golden retrievers, but the very name of such invalidates a purebred black pup. I looked it up; my best guess are that these are flat-coated retrievers.

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The shrine attendants sold a wide variety of blessed charms and talismans or “omamori” within. There were so many different kinds; true love, luck with exams, good health, long life, good fortune and fertility among them. I myself picked up a ‘good health’ omamori. After all, what good is a long life if you’re not in the best condition to live it?

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I neglected to get a good photo of it, but just up this path there are a handful of vendors. One of which was selling thrifted yukata and kimono robes. We were lucky enough to snag a kimono robe for me to live through vicariously.

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Walking further along the path, we came across these strips of divine lottery or “omikuji”. Shrine visitors make a small donation and draw a fortune strip at random. These tend not to be very specific. Expect a fortune of great luck, slightly good luck, slightly bad luck, or terrible luck.

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These torii were donated by various companies in the hope of bringing good fortune to their businesses. The kanji along the pillars indicate which Chinese and Japanese firms these were.

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If you follow the gates straight up the mountain, it will lead into the woody forests of the sacred mountain. There are view decks up there that overlook a good deal of Kyoto. Most tourists never make it that far, however. I certainly didn’t.

But no matter how far up you make it, you still won’t end up disappointed. Japanese culture and tradition is an absolute dream, and this place truly bespoke it (even without a long hike).

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Hermes scarf | COPPER top | Zara trousers | Stradivarius heels | From Spain shoulder bag

Kyoto: Gion District, Kyoto Tower

Leaving the charming geisha district of Kyoto was not easy. All the little streets and traditional Japanese architecture beckoned us to stay. I could feel the culture slipping away as the quiet town of yukata and kimono clad-citizens began melting into a more modern setting. We took a bus to Kyoto Station that afternoon and booked a night at Kyoto Tower Hotel in preparation for our train ride the next day.

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For dinner, we experienced a new style of dining wherein the customers go up to a machine and input their orders themselves. Payment is also accomplished by feeding yen directly into the order machine. Naturally, as everything was in kanji, we couldn’t understand a thing. A waiter quickly rushed over to assist us in our despondent attempts to order food. In the end, we made off with two delicious meals of sea bream sashimi and seafood tempura served over rice. They both came with sides of poached eggs and pickles. The clincher was the amazing seafood broth or “dashi” that we were instructed to pour over the rice in whatever quantities we so desired.

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We encountered a street food vendor sitting in the back of his van with an ingenious setup for serving fried octopus balls or “takoyaki”.

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From Spain printed coords and shoulder bag | Stradivarius heels | Samsonite trolley

Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji Temple, Yasaka Shrine

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The first thing I caught sight of upon entering the Kinkakuji complex was this beautiful amber-hued tree. I knew to expect a golden pavilion, but I wasn’t expecting to have the surrounding fauna garbed in the same expensive manner!

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No, this isn’t a good luck charm or a fortune. It’s the Temple admission ticket!

The sheer volume of tourists reached its peak at this particular tourist destination. I was feeling a bit suffocated, so I took the time to look up. Take notes: never attempt to visit this temple at noon again. I should have asked the locals what time would be ideal.

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If one pays close enough attention, they’ll see the mass of tourists partly concealed by the tree branch.
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Cue my triumphant smirk at having caught a brief window of opportunity to get a photo alone!

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Japanese landscaping really is beautiful. I just want to swim over to that little island and take a nap.

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The way the gold plating captured the afternoon light was breath-taking. I really do wonder how the caretakers are able to maintain the sheen of the pavilion. Apparently, the Japanese frequently reconstruct their temples at the slightest sign of deterioration. One has to admire their diligence and excellent attention to detail.

From Thailand floppy hat | H&M skirt | Stradivarius sneakers | From Spain shoulder bag

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This inviting threshold so reminded me of the movie: Memoirs of a Geisha.

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Later that night, we decided to search for a place to eat in the Gion district. It was impossible not to get side-tracked in our quest for food however, when the great gate of Yasaka Shrine loomed overhead. Of course, I ended up dragging my family in to explore further.

Japanese Shinto tradition always insists that visitors perform a kind of cleansing ritual just before entering shrines in order to expel impurities or foul spirits. As I tried to follow suit, a little tabby kitten leapt up on the fountain to look me over. I melted as it sniffed at my hand. Regrettably, it came and went too quickly for me to catch it on camera. Ynez and I were duly amazed, however, when it stretched out its neck and began drinking not from the water basin, but from the pure, fresh water streaming out of the bamboo tubes. What may have merely been an intelligent cat was instantly elevated to a Shrine neko (cat) god in our eyes. I won’t forget my quick brush with the divine.

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I suppose we passed the purification test, as Neko-sama sashayed off without further comment.
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I was expecting geisha to make an appearance at any moment, however we didn’t get to catch a glimpse of any.
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Whoops, that’s the green light. Let’s move, move, move!
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Over to the right we can see my parents hastily abandoning me on the pedestrian crossing.

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Hermes scarf | Stradivarius coat and heels | H&M knit sweater and velvet skirt

Arashiyama: Bamboo Grove, Kimono Forest

I really had hoped to arrive at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove by 8 am and evade the demon hordes of tourists. Due to a combination of factors, that plan failed miserably. And so we were greeted by a cacophony by all manner of people come from all over the globe. The worst part was when a woman dressed as a geisha began walking through to take pictures with people. She would stop after about 3 paces to pose for photos and the people just coming. The congestion was ridiculous. Despite all, the majesty of the infinite bamboo stalks disappearing into the clear sky could not be discounted.

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Just to add to the magic, I spotted a little hat perched atop the walkway fencing. I would have put it on and walked away with the abandoned souvenir but for its petite size. I wonder if anyone else happened upon it. Where could it be now?

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In spite of my best efforts, I could only reduce the number of tourists to two at least.

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I would have liked the chance to ride this stunning wagon. A shame we didn’t have the time.

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Train to Busan, anyone?

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My favorite prayer block read: “KAMISAMA BLESS MY GPA.”

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It’s been years in the making, but finally, finally I made my very first prayer to the Shinto gods. “Kamisama, accept my humble offering and grant me a heavenly GPA.”

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I think this is a cemetery. Er… So I’m just going to assume there are no bodies under the forest of memorial stones.

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But wait-
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It’s easy to get lost in the details.
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“Komorebi” light filtering through the leaves.
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Itadakimasu! An excellent (and inexpensive) bowl of nishin (herring) soba.
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Clearly, I didn’t care to stop eating for the photograph.

There really is nothing like a well-anticipated meal after getting lost in the bamboo. Sanchu is a small food stall just directly outside the Grove. The service, pricing and convenient location can’t be beat. Return to it, I implore you.

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Who defaced the last two buddhas? Ah well. Beauty in the imperfection, as they say.

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See, the attire of the wagon drivers baffled me, to say the least. I don’t see how booty shorts and socks in place of footwear are meant to make their lives any easier.

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Don’t mind me, I’m just one more breathtaking vista Japan has in abundance.
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I love that they paired the purple, retro-looking tram with lavender flowers.

Hearing the words “Kimono Forest” had me racing over to Randem tram station in a flash. It was a bit underwhelming, however. I quickly realized that the rows of lit-up kimono on display don’t have nearly as much impact when there is yet light in the sky. Were it pitch black, the vibrancy and the chroma would have been much better highlighted and appreciated.

dsc_0182dsc_0186H&M skirt | Stradivarius sneakers | From Spain shoulder bag