Nagasaki Must-Sees – I Got 6 Recommendations For Ya

Hey, squad-fam! I’ve been watching a few historical biographies on people who have promoted peace post World War II. (In particular, NHK’s “Houses for Peace” video on Floyd Schmoe is absolutely heartwarming and worth the read.) So this time, I went through some old pictures of when my host family graciously took me on a trip to Nagasaki, and I figured I’d dedicate this blog post to Nagasaki; things to see and do in this historic, beautiful city.

1. Huis Ten Bosch
Huis Ten Bosch is a huge amusement park, but first and foremost, rather than go for the rides and amusements, I’d say it’s well worth the visit to see the massive tulips gardens and Dutch-inspired landscaping when the season is right. When I visited, I ate lots of castella cake (famous to Nagasaki), saw some performers and magicians, and saw some and went to a bunch of different events, too. At the time, they were doing a One Piece special, which is an anime that’s apparently still very popular in Japan.

2. Glover Garden
After Huis Ten Bosch, we said goodbye to Sasebo and then headed to Nagasaki city to do more sightseeing. The first thing we checked out was Glover Garden. Glover Garden is dedicated to Thomas Glover, a Scottish merchant and shipbuilder. The architecture there was heavily inspired by the West, and it almost made me feel nostalgic looking around at the different residences-turned-museum.

Nagasaki’s really cool in the way that it became home to one of Japan’s first ports that accepted imports and exports from other countries. And so it was really neat to see “Japan’s first bowling alley” or “Japan’s first tennis court” and other influences that would not have occurred if Japan hadn’t opened it’s doors when Commodore Perry made them in the 1800’s.

3. Oura Roman Catholic Church
Another interesting side-trip I requested we make was to Nagasaki’s Oura Roman Catholic Church, Japan’s oldest church and first western-styled building built shortly after the Nagasaki port was opened. There’s not a whole lot to say, other than it was definitely worth the visit, and absolutely beautiful! (Note: Pictures were not allowed inside the building, so unfortunately, the only thing I can provide is this official link: https://nagasaki-oura-church.jp/

4. Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
Visiting the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum was a very surreal, yet very concrete and almost oppressive experience. I took my time here, reading, learning, and ultimately failing to even fathom such destruction and pain caused by war. The photos and videos were informative but very painful to see (could not stomach the medical videos of radioactivity treatment).

5. Peace Park
I said many prayers to the victims and for peace, and then me and my host family headed to the beautiful Peace Park to get eased and to visit the infamous Peace Park statue. The statue’s pose, I learned, has meaning: the right hand points to the threat of nuclear weapons, the left hand symbolizes eternal peace, the mild faces symbolizes grace and prayer for the victims, and the folded leg and extended left leg symbolize meditation and the initiative to stand up and help other people of the world.

When I had gone to Nagasaki, spring was in full swing; the cherry blossoms were in full bloom there, so I got to take some lovely pics of my first Spring in Japan! I learned that Nagasaki is a generally rainy place, so a lot of my pictures were taken in the rain, too. :>

6. Dejima
Though this place isn’t as glamorous as the other five things I’ve listed above, for history buffs, I’d recommend Dejima since it was one of the only ports open that exchanged trade to other countries back during the Edo Period of Japan (roughly 1600s – 1800s).

Maybe this is all conjecture, but when you think about it, Japan’s still a baby country when it comes to globalization, given the fact that it’s only had its doors open to foreigners these past 400-ish years. Though a lot has changed since then, Dejima, I felt, has preserved a lot of its old-school charm.

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3 Places Worth Chillin’ At in Kamakura

I’ve noticed that the Kanagawa prefecture holds some of my favorite chill places in Japan so far. It’s close to the ocean, so the atmosphere is fantastic and it usually smells pretty nice, too… Unless you’re on a crowded train on your way to Kamakura. Then it doesn’t smell that good. 😀

So yes, it was very crowded! But like Danielles do, I took a walk off the beaten paths, while also getting a lot of temple/shrine seeing along the way.

1) Hansobo (Chill Level = SUUUUPER Chill)
First I stopped by Kenchoji, one of Japan’s five big Zen temples started by the Hojo clan. This temple was absolutely beautiful and included a garden tour and indoor tour to boot. But what really stood out for me was nearing the end of the temple to Hansobo, a small shrine tucked up in the mountains. The forest mountains and pathways were all lined up with trees, and the steps to get to the top were very steep, proving to be quite the trek. But the view and peacefulness made it all worth it.

2) Tsurugaoka-Hachimganu (Chill Level = Only Somewhat Chill)
Then it was back down and through Kenchoji to my next temple, Tsurugaoka-Hachimangu. This temple seemed to be the tourist’s favorite, as it was packed with people. As in, there were waiting lines to climb up the steps to the temple, and there were lines to get into the temple, and if you wanted to go into the museum part, you’d have to stand in another line for that. No thank you, said Danielle, and so she took her camera and wandered off someplace else.

BUT! The surrounding area to this temple was very nice and proved to be excellent for walking around and taking in your own sights. Another cool thing about this temple was – with people, comes food – all the candy and sweet stalls they had. I got myself a strawberry candy before taking off.

3) Kotokuin Great Buddha (Pretty Chill)
I walked around the shopping streets of Kamakura for a while (always gotta buy a souvenir) before making my way to Kamakura’s Kotokuin Great Buddha. I guess a first-time visitor to Kamakura can’t NOT visit this statue. It was – again – very packed with people (guess I picked a popular sight-seeing day), but again, once you got out to the gardens, bought your charms, and took your pictures with the statue, it really became a nice place to relax.

Next time I get the chance to visit Kamakura (or Kanagawa, at least), I’d love to see the summertime hydrangeas. I’m told that if I go around the rainy season, a lot of the temples there have really pretty hydrangeas in bloom. And I am all about that kinda life.

Lake Chuzenjiko and Nikko

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06/20/2015

One of my most memorable “hitori tabi” (lone travel) during the last few weeks of my year-long internship at LEX was when I decided to take a long-anticipated trip to Lake Chuzenji and Nikko in the Tochigi Prefecture.

Let me just say, it is definitely a trip worth taking, if you’re ever in the Tokyo-area and want a close-enough trip off the beaten path. 10/10 TRUE GORGEOUSNESS.

Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine is the infamous mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that lasted for over 250 years in Japan. It was definitely a lavish sort of shrine; highly detailed in design, colorful, and really covered a lot of ground. I did quite a bit of walking around there, and I have a feeling that I still didn’t explore everything the shrine had to offer 100%.

Mainly because Danielle wanted to check out a different part of the Toshigi Prefecture.

Predictably, Danielle thought the popular Toshogu Shrine was beautiful, and the trip to Nikko was definitely well worth it. But she thought the less-populated Chuzenjiko was prettier. :>

I love a harbor town, and the smells and sounds of water. Had fun relaxing and watching the sunset at the lake. Though you can’t really see the sunset in Japan, what with the mountains and buildings blocking the sky (not as open as it is back at home in the USA). But I felt right at home at Chuzenji.

I heard that Nikko even has a fireworks event for the summertime, which, I’ll bet, is absolutely gorgeous. Again, if you’re in the area, check it, but that’s a trip I have yet to take. BUCKETLIST.

SunBretta Bakery: A Recommendation

One of the most dangerous places in Japan: The Bakery. D8 *Dun dun DUUUN*

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Seriously, the transportation lifestyle out here can be a lot to get used to. Taking the train, taxi, bus, and WALKING. To me, walking means window shopping, which means walking past bakeries, or in my case, it means walking INTO bakeries. Which is incredibly dangerous for my wallet.

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My local host mama introduced me to a bakery in Yachiyo, Chiba called “SunBretta”, and it’s cool because they also serve you free coffee or tea if you buy their bread. When I have time on my hands and have a hankering to go buy some bread at a cute local shop, I walk from my home to SunBretta to get those cravings satisfied. 🙂

In case you can’t tell, I love bread. And I love trying new things. For this blog post, I thought I’d show you my latest baked favorites.

Creme Pan (Pan = bread)

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Anpan (Anko = red bean paste)

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Chocopan (as close to a pain au chocolat I can get out here)

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Pizza (though it tastes nothing like the deep-dish wonders back in Chicago)

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and Melon Pan

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Before coming to Japan, I’d only seen this at a handful of Asian supermarkets out by Chicago. Back then, I never actually tried melon pan before; I’d always went for the fruit pastries, personally. But I had to give it a shot. And that was a bad move, because I’m now hooked. It’s sooo good.

God, I miss the walking.

Because I was curious, I looked up how it was made. For your viewing pleasure: https://cookpad.com/recipe/

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By the way, Cookpad occasionally has a lot of pretty decent recipes. I’ve tried a recipe for dango and dashi before, and they both turned out well (which may say a lot). Although I did guesstimate a bit with some of the measuring units like liters, grams, oosaji (large spoon), and kosaji (small spoon).

But now I say “occasionally” with purpose. The only downsides to Cookpad means that ANYONE can post to it. Meaning, that you can get a TON of recipes for mug-brownies, but only A FEW of them actually work out. Which means depending on the time you allot to recipe-finding online, you may need to do a lot of sifting. I’m told there is a subscription available for getting those good, monthly recipes, but I don’t actually know a willing individual who has utilized this service as of yet.

Komeda Coffee – A Recommendation

So it’s 3:00PM. Time for tea. Or in this case, coffee. Nagoya-styled coffee. Your place of choice? Before you get comfortable and say, “Starbucks”, let me first urge you to “give Komeda Coffee a shot”.

Or “get a shot… of coffee… from Komeda…”

…I tried the pun thing. Maybe I’ll be more creative next time.

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Komeda’s Coffee is a great cafe that offers decently-priced delicacies from Nagoya. My favorite of which is the infamous Ogura Toast, which is basically a thick (and I do mean thiccc with three C’s) piece of bread, slathered with sweet, whipped butter and red bean paste. You can order this Ogura Toast thinly-sliced or thickly-sliced. But let’s be real, thick is where it’s AT.

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Their sandwiches are also excellent. I ordered a Fried Pork Cutlet Sandwich (no pic included) from them, which was quite sizable and tasted fresh. And, of course, I highly recommend their coffee (pic included way above).

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They’ve got coffee. They’ve got Ogura Toast. They even got fluffy, Shiro-Noir Danish pastries. For your viewing pleasure, the menu: http://www.komeda.co.jp/en/menu/index.html

Since Komeda Coffee started off in Nagoya, you can find them all over the Aichi prefecture, but I’ve also seen them around the Kansai area, as well. If you spot one, and if it’s remotely close to 3:00pm, I’d highly recommend popping in to scope out those sweet, sweet (and I do mean sweettt with three T’s, if that’s a thing) tasties.

Negative Google Maps Reviews in Japan that Forget to Faction in Culture

I try not to be too depend on Google Maps reviews, just like I try not to be too depend on Amazon reviews. However, I will admit that they generally can influence the restaurants I choose to go to. Or the hotels I choose to stay at. Or the sightseeing I plan to do with a limited amount of travel time.

…Okay, so I guess I rely more heavily on Google Maps than I thought.

This morning, I had a breakfast date with an old friend in Umeda, Osaka. In general, I noticed that breakfast restaurants or pancake houses are more rare in Japan than out in the States, and I honestly had never gone out for breakfast in the Umeda area. Meaning, it’s Google Maps time.

I pull out that sucker and start looking for places to eat. Although I’m typically open to window shopping for restaurants, this time, I was limited on time and wanted to find a decent place for the two of us, and as a rule of thumb, I generally go for places with around four stars and up on Google.

Which is where I noticed a bunch of very good, reputable restaurants with some not-so-great reviews. I wondered what justified these reviews, so I started scrolling.

And this is where I started thinking a bit more education on Japanese culture might help people to think twice about posting ignorant reviews.

Now, to state the obvious, I won’t be analyzing any high-horse whiners, who post shitty things like, “they cut my sushi too thick, i like it thin” or “this shopping mall is a maze like constructed building, prepare to get lost” or “its too narrow!1! too crowded!” or “the staff didn’t speak english”. As we know, these don’t have anything to do with the restaurants, food, or service whatsoever, just the salty griping of a self-centered creep that probably shouldn’t have access to technology at all without proper respect. As a wise woman once said, “You can’t fix stupid.”

Anyway, disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to analyzing and interpreting.

TOO SMOKEY (at a shopping venue)
I understand this reviewers frustration, but it may not be the shopping mall’s fault, since smoking tobacco cigarettes are still a thing in Japan. When I ask around, though, I find that the times have been changing, and you’ll find less and less smokers as time goes on. In general, tobacco is now developing a bad image. Although you’ll still might be greeted in a restaurant with a, “Smoking or non-smoking?”, I also know that the amount of smoking sections out in public is dwindling. Also, honestly, I’m not sure what the vaping or electronic cigarette scene looks like out in Japan (can’t say I’ve looked), but I’m willing to bet that it may rise with the fall of tobacco, but mere conjecture on my part. I mean, cigarettes still make bank out here (you can buy these things in vending machines, for Chrissakes), so who can say.

THE LINES WERE TOO LONG, HAD TO WAIT (at a museum)
I see this every once and a while. Trust me, I feel cramped and tired of waiting. We all do. But in Japan, this is a cultural difference where we just need to put up and shut up. There are a lot of people in Japan, and we all are expected to wait patiently for our turn. You can see this type of line-forming very prominently when you line up to get on the trains, for example.

OPENING TIME (at a grocery store)
I saw a review once that complained about the late opening time of a grocery store that opened at 9:00AM. News flash, most places in Japan open around 9:00AM. Or 10:00AM. Or 11:00AM. Or if it’s a mom-and-pop shop, they can open and close and have regular holidays whenever they feel like it. And that’s okay.

I think in America we’re so used to having everything open 24-7, that when a place is closed, it’s a “major inconvenience” to us. Rather than feeling inconvenienced, just feel grateful that the hard-working grocery store employees can get the rest they deserve and come in to work at a decent time. Surely, we can wait.

THEY MADE ME HIDE MY TATTOO (at a public bath)
Part of me thanks this reviewer for their warning, but I’m not sure this onsen really deserves such a strongly-worded, negative review. At many public baths, you’ll find signs that say, “No Tattoos”. The meaning behind this is because, traditionally, having a tattoo meant you were involved with dangerous people, like yazuka. Understandably, they didn’t want to serve customers that potentially worked for the mafia, and also probably feared having them inside.

Of course, now times are changing, and more and more foreign people are starting to come to Japan to enjoy their hot springs. Meaning that – I sincerely hope around 2020 Tokyo Olympics – Japan will become more globalized enough to understand that tattoos are a fashion fairly common among foreigners, and cut us some slack. It depends on location, of course, but this is a changing phenomenon in Japan. Instead of whining about it, or getting mad that “they just don’t understand me”, please understand where they’re coming from, and just do as your told. “When in Rome…”

Ikumimama’s Animal Donuts – A Recommendation

Here is another example of Japan being really good at producing quality goods that are detailed and downright adorable.

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Ikumimama no Doubutsu Donatsu, everyone! If you are lucky enough to happen upon one of these little shops, I highly recommend giving these delights a shot. Even for those foodies without a sweet-tooth, the taste of these donuts are very light, as the ingredients used are very raw; the eggs, wheat, salt, butter, and not a whole lot of processed chemical bits.

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But enough about the nutritional facts, let’s check the spoils.

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Handmade with smiles in mind, these adorable snackies are all shaped like animals such as cats, bears, tigers, penguins, and depending on the day and season, they also have a great selection of seasonal goodies, which you can check out on their website.
https://ikumimama.com/

DSCN9551I’ve seen these shops pop up around Tokyo, and now I’m super thrilled to have finally found one in Osaka. If you come across it, just remember these words of Runa, “Give into the cuteness, feast, and be merry!”