“All right, okay, now we’re in the quiet safe room where none of the stuff that I bought from various shops can be lost in transit. Now, let’s look at all the stuff we got. We got a Kimi no na wa Official Visual Guide, that’s sixteen hundred yen. We got a Mount Fuji fridge magnet, that’s four hundred and eighty yen. We got, uh, a…some bells from the Hong Kong airport. Seventy Hong Kong dollars.” —Stealy, Rick and Morty
I’m back from my travels across the ocean to Japan and Hong Kong after two weeks; having returned for a week now, the effects of jet lag and a persistent cough picked up on the flight back are no longer felt, and the time is appropriate to do a short reflection at my travels through a section of Japan, which encompassed a journey from Tokyo to Osaka over a four-day period. It’s the first trip I’ve done in some time that did not involve my graduate work, and during the course of my travels, I noticed that time moved at a much more relaxing, casual pace than it does when I’m at work. After brief stay in Tokyo and an overnight at the Hotel Heritage Resort (where I had a fantastic evening dinner and soaked in the onsen) on the first day, we travelled to Mount Fuji and toured Oshino village nearby before ascending to the Fifth Station located on the side of the mountain for a closer look at Japan’s most famous mountain for day two. The day ended at the Ikenotaira Resort, located in the Kirigamine Highland. On the third day, after enjoying some fresh strawberries at the Enakyo Observatory overlooking the Kiso River, we strolled down the walk at Magome Village and sat down to a Japanese-style lunch before visiting Nagoya’s Atsuta Shrine. On the final day, Kyoto’s legendary Kinkakuji was first on the list of things to take in, followed by Nara’s Tōdai temple in the afternoon. The day concluded in Osaka, bringing the lightning tour of Japan to a close. Subsequently, I flew to Hong Kong and spent a week there with family, doing a self-guided tour by day and sitting down to dinner with relatives and family friends by night. It’s been a most pleasant experience, and by the end of things, I was quite ready to return to the True North Strong and begin working again.
The experience in Japan was a wondrous one, an opportunity to visit the Land of the Rising Sun for myself: it’s definitely a fine destination for visiting, striking a fine balance between modernity and history. Most of my travels saw me visit more traditional locations, such as Tokyo’s Meiji Jinju Shrine and Imperial Palace, but a glimpse of the Tokyo Skytree and drive through Tokyo’s metro area also showcased Japan’s urban aspects. Most of the trip was actually spent exploring historical and rural attractions: Magome and Oshino Village were located a ways from urban centers, offering a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of the city that is a far cry from images of a busy, never-sleeping nation. I greatly enjoyed these places, where the pacing was calm and easygoing; it is one thing to see these things from behind a screen or written on a page, so to have experienced a diverse array of places and foods in Japan personally was most illuminating and enjoyable: besides Japanese snow crab, Kobe beef was also to be savoured. As with France last year, the Japan component of my vacation was also a humbling one: compared to Hong Kong, where I can get by moderately well on account of fluency in spoken Cantonese, my command of the Japanese language is not particularly good, so even though I can wield enough of the basics to order food and ask for directions, travelling in a foreign country serves as a constant reminder that the world is vast, and complex societies that have developed reflect on the sheer diversity on our planet. Overall, this vacation to Japan was superb in all ways, and while only scratching the surface of things, afforded me a chance to explore and experience a plethora of elements in Japan.
- Last I did a post featuring photographs with anime vectors superimposed was back for the Cancún ALIFE XV Conference last July, and this post will feature thirty images on top of the standard issue discussion. The vectors are deliberately placed, to liven up the images, although some images lack these vectors, since placing them would seem illogical. The photographs begin on the full first day in Tokyo: we had arrived in the early evening on the previous day and stayed close to the hotel, being exhausted from the flight and dissuaded from exploring the nearby plains on account of a shower. This image was taken from the open area besides the Imperial Palace in Tokyo’s Chiyoda district.
- Driving into Tokyo from Narita, then visiting the Meiji Jinju Shrine and Imperial Palace took up most of the morning of the first day. We stopped by a nabe place that featured a hot pot already set up with cabbage, shiitake mushrooms and bean sprouts, with an egg, fried chicken and thinly-sliced beef strips and udon noodles. It was quite fun to cook the meats for myself, and lunch was a highly delicious affair. Following lunch, we spent some time in the Ginza district, browsing around the shops in the area.
- The Wako building in the Ginza district is visible in this image, being dwarfed by the other developments along the road. The building was constructed in 1932, and I know it best from the film King Kong vs. Godzilla. It houses the Wako department store, selling fancier items like jewellery and designer clothing. I suddenly recall that I’ve yet to actually beat Go! Go! Nippon! – having visited Japan in person before finishing a simulated visit is perhaps one of the strongest reminders of just how big of a procrastinator I am when it comes to entertainment.
- Owing to time constraints, we did not actually go inside the Tokyo Skytree, and instead, stopped on a promenade along the Sumida River about a klick and some away from the Skytree. The heavy cloud cover would have made it difficult to get a good view of Tokyo that day. With a height of 634 meters, it is the second tallest structure in the world, bested only by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. While a broadcasting and communications tower for several Japanese television stations, there are also two observation decks, a larger capacity one at 350 meters and a smaller one at 450 meters. By comparison, Taipei 101’s observation deck is 391.8 meters above the surface, and the International Commerce Center in Hong Kong’s observation decks is 387.8 meters above the surface.
- The Koganji temple is located around seven klicks ways from the Skytree as the mole digs in a shopping district. It is a popular destination, as the temple is a place where people can purify and heal minor ailments. On the fourth, fourteenth and twenty-fourth day of each month, a small festival is also held here. This image was captured facing south from the temple grounds.
- If my travels to Taiwan and Hong Kong in December 2014/ January 2015 was a high-buildings visit, then this trip to Japan and Hong Kong was a cuisine tour: lunches and dinner were thoroughly enjoyable, and I looked forwards to each meal. On the first evening at the Hotel Heritage, we sat down to a feast of sorts: besides the sashimi closeup here, and katsu visible in the background, there was also miso soup, rich personal-sized nabe with rich cuts of beef, leeks, enokitake mushrooms and noodles, a finely-prepared bento box with abalone, eel and other small dishes, plus unlimited snow crab, whose meat was sweet and tender. An hour after dinner, I took off to relax in the onsen.
- On the second day, we headed for Mount Fuji, visiting three different locations that each offered a unique view of Japan’s most famous mountain. We began at the Fuji Bhuddist Temple in Gotemba: Mount Fuji is just across the way, and while that morning was beautiful, the mountain itself was enveloped in cloud, almost as though it was still preparing itself to be seen. Here, the views of the mountain would have been spectacular, although despite not being able to see the mountain itself, I nonetheless enjoyed the cool, fresh air here.
- The main reason for why I’ve been able to document my travels over the past two years is because of my iPhone: the combination of a powerful camera and a good set of offline maps allowed me to chronicle every destination visited. I note that Google Maps does not provide offline areas in Japan owing to laws and regulations, so I went with Maps.me. Having good maps is essential to travel and takes away a bit of the guesswork in estimating where I am in relation to a destination, and in the aftermath of a vacation, also has the benefit of providing exceptionally precise recollections of where I went.
- We made our way to Yamanakako shortly after, where we stopped at a yakiniku restaurant besides Lake Yamanaka for lunch. Plates of beef, chicken and pork awaited us, and I drank miso soup while waiting for my lunch to cook. There was a shared grill that we used to bring the meat to perfection, and I chose to grill the pork and chicken first, leaving the beef for last. I do love a good grill, and this lunch was as fun to eat as it was to cook.
- Yamanakako is situated right beside Lake Yamanaka, and our stopping point was on the lake’s western shore, so I was not able to get any photographs of Mount Fuji and the lake. Largest of the Fuji lakes in surface area, it is also the shallowest and is a popular spot for water sports. In the moments after lunch, there was sufficient time to purchase some souvenirs, so I picked up a fridge magnet and was on my way.
- Next on our destination was the village of Oshino, where we visited Shibokusa. The quiet and tranquil of the village gave way to a bit of a crowd as we neared the Nigoriike pool and sourvenir shop. I ordered an ice cream: the weather that day had remained quite pleasant and warm, hence my wish for something cool. In a bit of carelessness, I had forgotten my hat back home, but a good supply of sunscreen and mercifully cooler weather on the trip meant that this mistake was not too much of an issue.
- While I was walking the streets of Shibokusa and marvelling at a water wheel driving a traditional mill, some folks in my social media feed were deep into the Kantai Collection Spring Event, fighting the impossible Random Number Generator in the hopes of besting the Abyssals and unlocking ships. From their remarks and those of other Kantai Collection players, the game seems to be more trouble than it’s worth (the setup alone requires a doctorate in computer science, from what I hear), so between Shimushu, get! or eating an ice cream in a peaceful village thirteen klicks from Mount Fuji, Mount Fuji would win every time.
- Although the season for hanami has passed, some trees were still in blossom at Shibokusa. As this image attests, the area is quite popular amongst tourists, being a ways livelier than the quieter reaches of the village. One of the locals handed out some peanuts to us while we were walking en route to Shibokusa, and I immediately wondered that, had I chosen to eat the peanuts, where would the shells go? One of the challenges about Japan is the relative lack of trash cans: the broken window theory is offered as the reason why, suggesting that forcing people to hold onto their trash means a decreased inclination to throw refuse out at random.
- The clouds around Mount Fuji had lifted somewhat by afternoon, and here, I caught a glimpse of the mountain before it was engulfed by clouds again. We had reached the end of the shops on the street and found ourselves looking into someone’s backyard at this point, hence the decision to turn back, revealing the mountain. Another aspect of Japan that I was unaccustomed to were the presence of toilet seats that seem more advanced than the seat of a fighter aircraft even in public facilities. Found at our hotels, I admit that heated toilet seats were quite nice, but I never bothered using their additional functions, which seem quite intimidating. By comparison, the toilets in Hong Kong were rather more familiar and straightforwards to use. One of the things I noticed while in Japan was the lack of soap dispensers in public restrooms: carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer rectifies this.
- The final destination for the second day was the Fifth Station, located 2400 meters above sea level. Being the highest point that climbers can begin making their ascent from, the site is home to some shops and restaurants, and the mountain itself is vividly visible. Up here, the conditions are rather different than the warm temperatures of the surrounding regions: there is a distinct chill in the air, and having a nice jacket makes it more comfortable to wander about here.
- By the time we finished the descent Mount Fuji and travelled out to Ikenotaira Hotel, on the shores of Shirakaba Lake. While utterly exhausted, I was reawakened by the buffet dinner at the hotel. I enjoyed their tempura and snow crab to a great extent and did not partake in the onsen, preferring to hit the hay almost straightway. The next morning was the third day: I woke up early and walked out to the lake’s edge to capture this image, before exploring the resort connected to our hotel. It’s an older facility that bring to mind some of the haikyo I’ve seen, but is still well-maintained and comfortable.
- There’s no anime character vector here because I took this photograph with my phone over the railing of the Enakyo Lookout point over the Kiso River, and it simply won’t make sense to obscure the image 😉 It was shaping up to be a warm day, and we puchased some strawberries from a vendor on the roadside, savouring their sweetness before moving on. There’s an amusement park, Enakyo Wonderland, adjacent to the observation point, and unlike the legendary Nara Dreamland, this one is still active: open most days from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM, admissions start at 1100 yen.
- This house carries with it a very Takehara-like feel to it, overlooking Magome-juku. Forty-third of the Nakasendõ‘s sixty-nine stations that were located along the ancient road between Kyoto and Tokyo, Magome-juku’s old town is well preserved, featuring buildings from the eighteenth century. It was a thrill to walk down the town’s main road and take in all of the buildings, among them a water mill.
- Mount Ena is just visible on the left-hand side of the image here, being partially covered by some trees. The walk through Magome-juku brought to mind Taiwan’s Jiufen Old Street, which I had visited back during 2014. Not quite as busy or crowded, but exuding an equal amount of atmosphere, it was a pleasant experience to be treading the a path that’s existing since the Edo period, and here, I reach a point in the street where Mount Ena is visible.
- Upon reaching the bottom of the hill and the end of the walk, lunch was served in a bento form: picked daikon, vegetables, fish, fried chicken, Japanese omelettes and large, sweet red beans. We also had a bowl of freshly-prepared noodle soup accompanying lunch, and a recurring theme is that while portion sizes appear smaller in Japan, that’s an illusion. Finishing everything provides plenty of food energy and of course, is an adventure in and of itself.
- By the time lunch ended, the skies had turned overcast, and I took a short walk around the area. During the course of this trip, I’ve spent more time in the inaka than I did in urban areas, and this was a wonderful surprise; the Japanese countryside has always held a certain draw for me, as I’ve taken a keen interest in the languid, slower-paced feeling from the rural areas conveyed by anime such as Please Teacher!, Ano Natsu De Matteru, Non Non Biyori, Flying Witch and Sakura Quest. Not quite as remote or empty as the Canadian Prairies, the inaka offer a sense of quiet while at the same time, give a warm, inviting sense that is absent when I drive through the parts of my provinces outside of any towns or hamlets.
- Leaving Magome-juku, our next destination was Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya. A location steeped in history and interesting architecture, I have no photographs here to show because most of them were quite dark as a result of the large cypress trees in the park. There is a museum here housing upwards of four thousand Japanese artifacts, among them a dagger that is one of Japan’s National Treasures. With this location checked off, it was off to Gifu, where our hotel was. After checking in, I had ramen at a nearby shop: although the owners did not speak English, I spoke enough to place my order, a savoury, piping hot pork ramen. The restaurant shortly filled with Chinese tourists, and for a brief moment, it felt like I was in a Hong Kong noodle shop.
- On our final full day in Japan, the first destination was the Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto. One of the city’s most famous landmarks, the building we see today is a reconstruction: after a monk torched the original in 1950, it was rebuilt in 1955 and given an extensive gold-leaf exterior that confers the temple’s distinct colour. Yui and her classmates visit the Kinkaku-ji in K-On!‘s second season, stopping to take photographs in the exact same spot that we visited, and whereas I bought a matcha ice cream to enjoy, K-On! has Yui and the others order a more traditional matcha desert and tea.
- After lunch in a park whose location and name I can’t quite remember (that lunch was notable for being a nabe with tempura on the side, in addition to being the only place where we had to kneel rather than sit), we made our way to Nara Park and ended the day in Osaka. Spent from the travelling, we had omurice for dinner (I ordered the curry katsu omurice, which was delicious) and I browsed around at Tsutaya, a Japanese bookstore, coming upon a volume of Your Name. Our journey in Japan concluded here, and we left Osaka for Hong Kong at the Kansai International Airport, where I bought the Your Name Official Guidebook for a mere 1600 yen.
- On the flight to Hong Kong from Osaka, our Cathay Pacific flight featured Your Name, so I watched that before dozing off on the flight. It was midnight when we arrived in Hong Kong, and on day one, we visited the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen museum in Central Hong Kong, before stopping by the Western market to window shop and have lunch. There’s a delightful bistro on the first floor that I ordered a prawn spaghetti from, and the day closed with a family dinner. The next day, Repulse Bay and Aberdeen were on the list of places to visit. Despite having went to Hong Kong previously, we’d only gone to Stanley, so this time, I figured it was time to try something different. Repulse Bay is rather quieter than Stanley, and has a beautiful beach that was featured in the first moments of Roman Tam’s “幾許風雨” music video.
- While my trip in Hong Kong was largely oriented around spending time with family over there, we had plenty of time to go sightseeing because this time around, we were visiting during the regular season, during which everyone is working. I myself took two weeks off work for this vacation, and previously, one of my coworkers noted that leaving for any period of time meant coming back to what felt like a completely different company. While on vacation, I did keep an eye on things occasionally, so I was roughly in the loop for comings and goings, so I can’t say that coming back felt like too much of a shock. Here is a photograph of Hong Kong’s central district, where I rode the Hong Kong Observation Wheel and got a nice discount on admissions on account of it being the twentieth anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China.
- While we did not ride any junks across Hong Kong Harbour, we did ride the Star Ferry over to Kowloon to walk the streets, and I spent an afternoon at the Tsim Sha Tsui Clocktower, the Avenue of Stars and iSquare adjacent to the infamous Chung King mansions. While there are three cross-harbour tunnels and the MTR linking Victoria Island to Kowloon, taking the Star Ferry from Central (or any ferry from North Point) has more character. Ferries are also a pleasant way of visiting Discovery Bay, a quiet resort town with a nice beach and mall. I’m a little envious of the quality of sandwiches that Hong Kong fast food joints make — their burgers are about as nice as the burgers I can get at pubs back home for a fraction of the price.
- This is the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, a city just north of Kowloon. There’s an indoor wet market at the far side of Sha Tin in Sunshine City Plaza; it’s one of the cleanest wet markets I’ve ever seen and has a very solid ambiance, bringing to mind locales from Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: it’s filled with people browsing the stalls selling fresh cuts of fish, shellfish and squid, as well as siu laap and baozi. There’s a profound beauty in the cacophony, as folks order fish to take home and slurp noodles in streetside stalls.
- Eating in Hong Kong represented a world of difference from Japan: whereas Japan was all about trying Japanese cuisine, Hong Kong wasn’t too different from home, although definitely delicious, to be sure. I went out for dim sum on two occasions, and had dinner at 嘉豪酒家 in Shau Kei Wan with family during some of the evenings. Cantonese food in Hong Kong is about the same as it is in Canada, so I’m familiar with what restaurants serve. There were some nights where we ate elsewhere: here, I’ve got a close-up of an Italian style seafood rice (scallops, mussels, calamari rings and a large prawn) at the Itamomo in Shau Kei Wan, and on another evening, I had a chicken-and-beef steak sizzling hot plate at Taikoo Shing Mall. During another evening, we had dinner at the Harbour Plaza Hotel, whose seafood buffet was simply fabulous. While being advertised as a seafood buffet, they had pork ribs, prime rib, rack of lamb, siu mei, chicken and veal in addition to whole fried crab, crayfish, large prawns, scallops and sushi. With family, we stayed from opening until closing, partaking in both the buffet and conversation as the skies grew dark.
- The biological sciences building of Hong Kong University is visible here. This vacation was, for the lack of a better adjective, incredible, and looking back, I can understand why folks undergo a bit of a change after visiting Japan. While going to Japan did broaden my perspectives, fear not, I’m not going anywhere: it’s not sufficient to lead me to drop my career and attempt to move there. By comparison, Hong Kong feels like home, minus the exceptional humidity and crowds. With this last image, my reflections come to an end, and this means that it’s back to business as usual both in reality and at this blog: the upcoming Call of Duty posts won’t write themselves, and I’ve got an eye on Koe no Katachi, which I may write about later in June as time permits.
In Hong Kong, on the other hand, my wonder and amazement gave way to a sense of familiarity and belonging, being a world of difference from Japan. Although I am naturally most at home in Canada, my background means that if there were a place in the world that feels to me like a second home, Hong Kong would be it. Making my way around Hong Kong is remarkably straightforwards: the MTR allows one to reach almost anywhere in Hong Kong quickly, and on Victoria Island, a tram links the island’s eastern and western reaches together. Finding directions and ordering food is as straightforward as it is back home. The incredible contrast between Japan and Hong Kong was thus another aspect of this vacation I enjoyed greatly. Aside from visiting attractions in Hong Kong, such as the Observation Wheel in Central and the Antique Street in the mid-levels, I spent a considerable amount of time with family there, as well as browsing through their shopping centres. Dim Sum was invariably to be had when visiting family and friends, as were large evening meals, although there were some evenings where we dined out at smaller establishments, too. With this vacation now over, I leave feeling refreshed, a bit more learned, and will definitely anticipate a return trip at some point in the future. For the present, as a part of returning to my typical routine outside of writing Swift 3.1 code and architecting apps, I will be easing back into the swing of things for blogging, as well as reading through the various Your Name books I picked up, playing Battlefield 1 and generally making the most of what is shaping up to be a fabulous entry into yet another beautiful summer.