Faroe Islands. June 6-13, 2018 (Part 1)

It’s been over a year since I last wrote in this blog! I really had planned to keep up with it but work, travel, sightseeing, photo editing, eating and sleeping take up pretty much all of my time unfortunately. I do plan to go back and write about some of the more interesting places I visited in the past year, especially really special places like Mt. Ijen in Indonesia, but I really want to write about the Faroes now since it’s such an unusual travel destination that a lot of people have asked me about and since it’s all still very fresh in my memory, so here goes!

By the way I am extremely long-winded so I will have to split this up in parts so it’s not too long and painful to read. Also because it’s already after 10pm here in Helsinki and I need to go to bed soon.

First of all, where are the Faroe Islands? Most people asked me this when I said that I was going there, because most people have never even heard of it. I hadn’t either until a few years ago thanks to Instagram. The Faroe Islands are self-governing archipelago, part of the Kingdom of Denmark. They lie about halfway between Iceland and Scotland, in the north Atlantic Ocean and are made up of 18 small islands connected by road tunnels, ferries, causeways and bridges. Some tunnels are a real doozy, more on those later.

I think a lot of people think a place like this is expensive to get to, but that’s not true at all. First of all, for Americans, you can often get to Iceland for $99 one way from many cities, even on the west coast, on WOWair, Iceland’s budget airline. Then from the domestic airport in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik, it’s a short, direct flight on Atlantic Airways (the national airline of the Faroe islands) to Vagar airport in the Faroe Islands (airport code: FAE), which I only paid $166 USD for.

So, getting there is cheap-ish and easy-ish, but once you are there, it’s definitely not a cheap place. I guess part of this reason is because it’s part of Denmark, an extremely expensive country for most people. I searched quite a bit and the cheapest rental car I could get for a week was $800 USD, even booking more than a month in advance, and that was from Sixt. I have never paid that much for a rental car anywhere ever. However, thankfully, I didn’t get some tiny crappy car like you usually get when you get the cheapest car category, we got a very nice 6-speed diesel Nissan Pulsar with heated seats and a pretty large luggage area in the back hatch, which was a big improvement over the Toyota clown car we had in Iceland. A diesel car is preferable in the Faroes as diesel is cheaper than normal gas. At the time we went, diesel was roughly $5/gallon while normal gas was $6/gallon. But, I guess it really doesn’t matter much as we only used 1.5 tanks of gas in a week driving on literally every road in the islands except a few of the smaller ones that you have to ferry the car to.

If you don’t feel like spending that much on a car, it IS possible to see the Faroe Islands without renting a car, as there are public buses that I think go to just about every village, but they are not frequent. They are however, cheap. Hitchhiking is also an option and pretty acceptable thing.

Backing up, when I made the car reservation, I made the mistake of not wanting to pay the after-hours rental car pickup fee (we were arriving at 8:30pm and Sixt closes at 5pm). I didn’t know what the fee was, but figured it would be a lot. So I made the car reservation for the following morning and I booked accommodation just an 8 minute drive from the airport so we could easily go back the next morning and pick up the car during normal business hours and not pay extra.

So our flight arrived to the airport and we  got a taxi to our accommodation, 8 minutes away. And I learned a lesson that you should never assume that an 8 minute taxi ride will be cheap. Especially in this part of the world. That 8-minute taxi ride ended up costing $47 USD. AND that was AFTER the driver “gave us a break” on the price. He said they normally charge 200 Krone per person, which I thought was BS, but later I did see that most of the taxis and shuttle buses DO in fact say on a decal on the vehicle, 200 per person (approx. $31). BUT, that is to go all the way  to the capital of Torshavn, 45 minutes away. It’s apparently the flat rate to go ANWHERE from the airport. So he “only” charged us 300. So that was another mistake, not asking the price before we left the airport, because I certainly would not have agreed to pay that amount. We SHOULD have taken the bus for 20 each ($3) as my friend suggested but I was in a daze and didn’t feel like dealing with a bus and walking any distance with my luggage which is why I just got in the taxi. I am pretty lazy when it comes to this kind of thing.

The next morning we had ferry tickets for 10:20am to go to Mykines Island. Yet another mistake: I didn’t wake up early enough to go back to the airport to pick up the car. It was only my 5th day away from home and I was still very jetlagged and having a hell of a time waking up early in the morning. Thing is our ferry was not coming back from Mykines until like 6pm. Do you see where this is going? LOL. SO, I then called the car rental company from the bus stop on the way to the ferry terminal, from my American T-Mobile phone, to let them know I was not going to be able to pick up the car until like 6pm, so they could arrange someone to be there. That phone call probably cost me at least $20 as well.

SO – after ALL OF THAT!!, I ended up having to pay the 300 Krone ($47) late fee ANYWAY. Oh the joys of travel and lack of proper planning. This kind of crap happens to me all the time. You’d think by now I would plan better and keep track of timings and figure out logistics but who has time for that? Ha. I have another very costly car rental horror story from the previous week in Iceland but I’ll save that for my Iceland post.

Anyway the car was great as previously mentioned so I was happy about that at least. Our accommodation for the first 2 nights was at a place called Kristjanshavn in the village of Midvagur (the one 8 minutes from the airport) and was actually a caravan! Like an old camper van from the 70’s. Haha. The kind you pull behind a vehicle. When I booked all this stuff, the only options were a caravan, a hostel dorm, or stuff that was like completely unreasonably expensive. So I opted for the caravan, which was 890 Krone for 2 nights, like $70/night. Cheap for the Faroes. I like staying in unusual types of accommodations from time to time anyway. Windmills, boats….I hope to stay in an igloo, treehouse, castle and cave at some point too! There were 2 caravans parked on the property which were an afterthought of an already established guesthouse of actual rooms in 3 buildings surrounding a nice wooden sun deck, and the whole property was situated right in a beautiful little harbor with lots of small boats. The caravan had a pretty good sized table and seating area in the front, a sink, a gas burner, kettle, heaters, and 2 beds in the back. Since the caravan did not have a bathroom, there was one in the adjacent building which also had a couch and table and chairs to chill in a larger space, which we did. On the second day though, it was pretty stuffy inside the camper so I went to open the large window on the front of the camper, which was plastic, and when I did, the whole thing just fell right off on the outside and the corner broke off in several shards. Oops! The lock on the door was also a big pain to lock and unlock. Haha. Oh and the roll down shade next to my bed would fall off whenever I tried to raise or lower it. Regardless it was a decent and comfortable place to sleep and kind of amusing that everything was so shoddy and falling apart. We laughed about it all. The guy  running the place was super nice though and told us when we arrived that the caravans were a new addition to the property and kind of experimental I guess. He also was very nice about the broken window and said not to worry about it. So that was a relief! I felt really bad about that. Anyway, I would definitely recommend the property to anyone needing accommodation near the airport, but would stay in one of the rooms rather than one of the caravans. It’s also a convenient place to stay if you are going to Mykines island, which is an absolute MUST for visiting the Faroes. More on that in my next post, time for bed!

Here is a slideshow of  photos pertaining to this post

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Mt. Fuji

We spent our last week in Japan in the Mt. Fuji area. We had originally planned on staying in Hakone for 3 nights and Fujiyoshida 3 nights, but we ended up leaving Hakone after just one night because I don’t know what I was thinking when I booked a capsule hotel there. The first night we arrived at the hotel in Hakone they actually had a private room available so we went ahead and took that. The next 2 nights however all they had was the “capsule room” which we had booked..again I don’t know what I was thinking when I booked it, I guess I did because it had good reviews. Anyway we went and took a look at the room and said no way. It was literally a room with 8 raw plywood boxes the size of a queen size bed and about 4 feet high, stacked on top of each other. Well, 4 on the bottom and 4 on top. The boxes had no ventilation except a very small fan in the wall of each one, and the room smelled very strongly of wood (think home depot lumber section) since the wood was not painted or coated with anything. It was very weird and I would have felt very claustrophobic and stuffy in there. Not to mention we have to stay up very late working and I think everyone would hear us typing away on our computers so we passed on it.  Luckily the hotel staff gave us a refund for at least one of the nights. Capsule hotels are very common in Japan but I think this one is a bit unusual as far as capsule hotels go.


the “capsule hotel” in Hakone

The main reason I wanted to go to Hakone was to go to the hot spring resort there called Yunessun. So after we picked up a rental car and packed up our things from the hotel, we went to this hot spring place before heading up to Fujiyoshida.

I think I had first heard of the Yunessun hot spring water park when I saw this article about a year ago about how you can “bathe in ramen” in Japan. I immediately noted it down for our upcoming trip to Japan as a place definitely not to miss. And we didn’t! However, when we arrived, to my extreme disappointment we found that the ramen baths had been replaced by….pancake syrup baths!! Having been in Japan for over a month already, somehow we were not surprised by this bizarre twist of events. Japan never ceases to amaze with unexpected and strange things around every turn.


the pancake syrup bath, complete with giant pancakes hanging overhead

This spa themed water park (I don’t even really know what to call it) is a huge building which has several different rooms with different baths/pools of different food and drink things, and all of them are very hot. Aside from the pancake syrup one they had coffee (which they had a giant coffee brewer beside the pool where they brewed the coffee and dumped it in every so often), red wine,  Japanese sake (rice wine), and green tea. All of them were diluted of course and we took a swim (or a sit) in all of them, some were bigger than others. The coffee one was our favorite, it smelled really good. It was however a bit strange being in a pool of dark brown water. Haha

The pancake syrup bath I’m pretty sure was sponsored by and was kind of an interactive advertisement for the pancake mix and syrup company. They had some times written on the wall near it, so we decided to come back to that bath at one of the times to see what happened then. And it did not disappoint! Just about everyone in the spa showed up for it and all three of the syrup baths were full. Then a Japanese guy came out with several bottles of pancake syrup…and walked around to each tub squirting the syrup all over everyone and urging us to rub it all over our bodies, so we gladly participated in that, it was really hilarious. There was no English spoken, just a lot of laughing.


the hot coffee pool

They also had an outside area with more big pools of hot water, a waterfall, a fountain, a cave, and a waterslide! I thought a super hot water slide outside in cold weather (about 50 degrees Fahrenheit/10 Celsius) was really awesome! It was cool to sit outside in the rain while sitting in the steaming hot water too. We really enjoyed this place a lot. Especially since we went on a week day afternoon and there were no more than 30 people in the whole place. I think it would have been a lot less enjoyable if it were packed full of people. I have included the rest of the photos of this place in the slideshow at the end of the post.


one of the hot outdoor pools complete with a hot waterfall


We left the hot spring park in the late afternoon and headed up to Fujiyoshida in our tiny rental car, it took about 2 hours to get there. Hakone is southeast of Mt. Fuji and Fujiyoshida is north east of Fuji, and very close to the volcano itself. We arrived after dark and checked into a hostel run by a cheerful middle aged American guy. We had a windowless but good sized room with traditional Japanese beds (futon mats on the floor), and shared bathrooms with the rest of the hostel. It didn’t seem like many other people were staying there though so it was usually quiet and we had a pretty enjoyable and peaceful time there.

The next morning we got up and drove to Churido Pagoda which is a famous spot to see and photograph Mt. Fuji framed by cherry blossoms and along side the beautiful red pagoda. You have to walk up quite a steep and high hill either by steps or a long and winding road to get to the top to the best viewing point. It was a very tiring hike up (we took the stairs up and the road back down) but the view once at the top was spectacular. We couldn’t have come at a better time of the year, we had both the cherry blossoms in full bloom and Fuji was still capped with snow.


one of my favorite shots of Fuji with the pagoda and cherry blossoms

This day, like most, it was pretty cloudy, but Fuji was at least still completely visible. Many days we heard that it’s completely covered in clouds. Since we were staying for 5 days in Fujiyoshida we figured we’d get at least one clear day, and a couple of days later it happened! So we went back to the pagoda for round two of photos. And they were even more beautiful than the first day!


the second time we went back to Churido Pagoda we had a beautiful blue sky!

For some reason, even on completely cloudless days, as you can see in the above photo, small clouds are constantly forming around the top of the volcano. It sometimes appears that it’s steam coming from the crater, but it’s just clouds. I read about it at the time but I forget what causes this phenomenon.

Fujiyoshida and the Churido Pagoda are in the “Fuji Five Lakes” area which is the area to the north of Mt. Fuji and is about 3000 feet/1000 meters above sea level elevation. We spent a couple of days driving around the lakes, and got some really nice views of Fuji from those spots as well.


me in front of one of the lakes on the north side of Fuji

One day we visited Oshino Hakkai village which is also in the Fuji Five Lakes region. Oshino Hakkai means “eight springs” and those eight springs are around this village. There is a small entrance fee to walk through the village which has a bunch of thatch roof farmhouses. Each one is like a mini museum with different things like farming tools, samurai armor and weapons, pottery and paintings, and there was a water wheel mill as well.  The village had really great views of Fuji too!


One of the thatch roof farmhouses at Oshino Hakkai village with Fuji in the background

Another interesting thing to do in the Fuji area is visiting Aokigahara, better known as the Suicide Forest. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and this forest is allegedly one of the top 3 suicide spots in the world (the other two are the Golden Gate Bridge, and some bridge in China). We read that around 200 people per year enter the forest and commit suicide usually by hanging or drug overdose.


This forest is naturally extremely creepy. It’s just at the base of Mt. Fuji, so the entire forest is growing on a lava bed. Due to this, most of the tree roots are above ground. The forest is very dense so it’s just a big tangle of trees and vines and roots. Its also very dark in some places due to the density of the trees. Very very creepy. We read online about the best(?) area to take a walk through the forest, if you wanted to maybe see…ya know…bodies. Apparently the government only does a sweep of the forest once a year to remove the bodies, so at any given time there are dozens of human remains scattered throughout the forest.

I REALLY did NOT want to see any dead bodies, it really would have freaked me out, but I really didn’t think we actually would, so we decided to go for a walk down the “no entry” trail, which is apparently the spot where people seeking to end their life enter the forest, since it’s off the beaten path and you are less likely to run into other people.


inside the suicide forest

We saw a lot of colored tape strung up while we were in the middle of the forest and later read that people who REALLY want to explore off-path in the forest will tie the tape to a tree on the path so that they can get back to the path. Otherwise you’d never find your way out. We also read that GPS doesn’t really work properly in the forest either due to the high iron content in the lava bed the forest is growing on.

Anyway it was a really interesting walk for a couple of hours and I’m glad we went but I’m glad we didn’t come across anything more than a dead umbrella!


the parking lot at Fuji Fifth Station with the summit hidden by clouds

The last thing we did in the Fuji area was to visit Mt. Fuji Fifth Station which is the highest point you can drive up Mt. Fuji. There are some shops and a restaurant and a lot of tourists. The elevation at this spot is 7562 feet/2305 meters.  Mt. Fuji itself is 12378 feet/3773 meters high. Many people who don’t want to hike Fuji from the bottom will start at this point. On a clear day you would have a very good view of the summit from here. However the day we went it was very cloudy by the time we got up there, so we couldn’t see much, but we got some great photos with the clouds in the trees!


me at Fuji Fifth Station in the cloudy trees

One more cool thing was that the lava rocks on fuji are all very colorful! Different shades of brown, gray, red, pink and purple! I wasn’t expecting that! I suppose its from a mixture of a lot of different minerals.


I think that about wraps up my stories of Mt. Fuji and actually all of Japan that I visited. I can’t wait to go back again and visit some other places there.

Next up I will be writing about Thailand, Nepal, and Bali – which are the three places we have been since we left Japan. I will try to catch up soon! For now, enjoy the slideshow of a bunch more photos related to this post.

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Hiroshima, Japan

After spending a month in Osaka, we took a several hours bus ride down to Hiroshima where we booked an Airbnb apartment for one week. It was a pretty small apartment, but bigger than the one in Tokyo, and was close to the city center. We had a tram stop right outside the front door so that was super helpful to get around.

Unlike most major Japanese cities, Hiroshima does not have a subway system. Instead it has an extensive system of streetcars (trams). Some are sleek and modern and some are fifty years old. Below is a photo of one of the older ones. It costs about $1.50 USD to ride them, and they come about every 10 minutes at each stop. It was a pretty efficient way to get around the city.


Our apartment was only a few stops away from Peace Memorial Park which is the main place most tourists want to see when visiting Hiroshima. It is where most of the memorials are related to the Atomic Bomb that was dropped on the City on August 6, 1945. It is a very big and beautiful park and the cherry blossoms were in full bloom when we were there so that was really nice.

The first thing you see when you get off the tram at the park is the skeletal remains of a building named the “Atomic Bomb Dome”. The bomb exploded almost directly over this building and the glass dome shattered and everyone inside was killed instantly. It’s a pretty eerie sight and a stark reminder of the past.


the Atomic Bomb Dome


Continuing on through the park there are many memorials. Another one is the flame of peace which rests in the center of a sculpture meant to look like two hands pressed together at the wrists with the palms pointing towards the sky. The flame was first lit in 1964 and has been burning ever since. The mission is to have it remain lit until all the nuclear bombs in the world are destroyed.


“The Flame of Peace” can be seen in in the center of this monument. The building in the background is the Peace Memorial Museum.


Another memorial in the park is the Childrens Peace Monument.  It was dedicated to all the children killed in the bombing as well as to a young girl named Sadako Sasaki who died of leukemia ten years after the atomic bombing. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish by the gods. She did fold the one thousand paper cranes but she died at the age of 12 after an eight month struggle with the disease. Until this day people from all over the world send millions of paper cranes each year, many of which are displayed in the glass cases around the monument. The origami paper cranes are a symbol of peace.


The Children’s Peace Monument


The museum is the main point of interest in the park, as it contains a lot of information about the bombing. We rented audioguides which I would recommend if you visit, it will give you a lot more information about the artifacts you will see related to the bombing.


a nuclear shadow from a person who was sitting on these steps when the blast happened

There were a lot of extremely graphic and disturbing photos, and items which were melted during the blast, like bicycles and glass jars. One thing at the museum which I found particularly interesting was a “nuclear shadow” which they removed from a building outside to preserve behind glass. These nuclear shadows occurred because the radiation bleached anything it came into contact with, especially concrete. If there was a person or any solid object in the way, it created a “shadow” on the background of that person or object. This museum was definitely informative and interesting but of course also very shocking and depressing. Knowing that these kind of bombs still exist today in many countries and may one day be used again is incomprehensible after seeing the devastation and suffering they caused not only at the moment it happened but for many years after.


one of the many artifacts of the bombing on display at the museum


A really nice day trip that we took from Hiroshima was to the island of Miyajima. I previously wrote about the deer at Miyajima in my post about all the animal experiences in Japan. Other than the deer, it’s a really beautiful island with an iconic torii gate in the water. The day we went unfortunately the tide was out so there were hundreds of people walking around the gate. I would have rather the tide been high to get a photo of the gate “floating” in the water, but oh well, next time! It was cool to walk around in the sand around the gate anyway I guess. We stayed at Miyajima Island all afternoon walking around feeding the deer and exploring smaller temples and taking photos. It was a very enjoyable day and very easy to get to as the tram took us directly from outside our house to the ferry terminal, I think it took a little over an hour and then the ferry ride was not very long.


The torii gate of Miyajima at sunset after most of the people had dispersed

Another day trip that can be easily done from Hiroshima is to “bunny island” which I previously wrote about here in my post about animal experiences in Japan.

Overall Hiroshima is a great place to visit. Many people just go there on a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto as you can get there in a couple hours on the bullet train, see everything in the park, and then leave. I’m glad we had a leisurely week there though and had time to see the park and do two big day trips and hang out in arcades and eat lots of good food.

I will try to make my last Japan post in the next few days about our final week in Japan in the beautiful Mt. Fuji area.


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Kyoto, Japan


We had a wonderful 7 weeks in Japan and are looking back to going back sometime. Right now we are on the island of Koh Lanta, Thailand, for one month, but I will write about that later. I will be making three final posts about Japan including this one – Kyoto. The other two will be about Hiroshima and Mt. Fuji – where we spent our last two weeks in Japan. I was going to originally make one post about all three places but I figured that was way too overwhelming (for both me and the reader probably) so I’m splitting it into three smaller posts (which are probably still going to be long-winded).

Kyoto is in central japan and was one of the places i was most looking forward to visiting. It is only 30 minutes from Osaka by train, and we stayed in Osaka for 1 month, so we went a few times.

Kyoto was completely spared from the WWII destruction so it is one of the best preserved cities in Japan with 1,600 buddhist temples and 400 shinto shrines, as well as many beautiful palaces and gardens. The mostly wooden architecture of the city is all original as well and very beautiful and interesting to walk around.


one of the streets of the Gion neighborhood of Kyoto

One of the places I most wanted to visit in Kyoto was the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Unfortunately we went on a weekend afternoon and there were SO many people there. I knew it would be crowded but there were even more people than I’d imagined. It was still very nice though and we were glad we went. We had planned on getting a hotel in Kyoto at some point so that we could get up and go to the bamboo grove at sunrise, but it was peak season with the cherry blossoms and whatnot, that all the hotels were booked, so that did not happen. On my next trip to Japan I will definitely be staying in Kyoto for at least a few days to get this shot without any people in it! Haha


the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove on a Saturday afternoon

Another place that was on my must see list was the Fushimi Inari Shrine which is one of the most important shinto shrines in Kyoto. Inari is the shinto god of rice, and foxes are thought to be the messengers of Inari, so there are hundreds, maybe thousands of fox statues all around the grounds of the shrine.



one of the hundreds of small shrines with fox statues

The main draw to the shrine are the thousands of red torii gates of various sizes that cover the walkways that go all the way to the top of a mountain. Each gate has Japanese writing on it on one side, which is the name of the donor and the date of donation. The smallest gates (around 10 feet tall) cost 400,000 yen donation (around $3,500 USD) and the larger ones that are up to around 20 feet tall, are obviously much much more expensive.


I believe these are some of the largest torii gates at Inari Shrine

The most photographed and iconic gates at this shrine however, are the smallest ones, which there are two rows of, side by side, one for each direction. They come after these very large ones, and are what you pass through before you start the hike up the mountain. The first time we visited this shrine, there were SO MANY PEOPLE walking through the small gates, that they were shuffling and hardly moving, so we actually walked on the outside and at that point decided to come back another day on the first train in the morning from Osaka to arrive around sunrise before anyone else was there. So that’s what we did, and thats when I took the above and below photos with no people. You can see photos with all the crowds in the slideshow at the end of this post for comparison.


This is one of my favorite photos of my entire trip to Japan

For people who can’t afford the 400 thousand yen for one of the smallest walkway torii gates, there are many much smaller options as you can see in the photo below, that can be purchased for a small amount of money and placed at one of the hundreds of smaller shrine areas within the massive Inari shrine grounds.


Another mini shrine of mini gates at Inari 


We work online late at night so the night before we took the first train to the Inari shrine, we didn’t sleep at all. We normally would work late and go to bed around 5am, but this morning we were walking to the train station at 5am and ended up not getting back home and to sleep until around 11am. Even though we were extremely tired, it was worth the trip to this beautiful place to get some amazing photos and have a peaceful and enjoyable time in an otherwise overcrowded place at any other time during normal daytime hours. I would highly recommend to anyone visiting here to do the same – stay in Kyoto and get up and go as early as possible as the shrine is open to the public 24 hours a day.


bamboo grove at Inari shrine

One more thing I forgot to mention was that we wandered off the path and discovered another beautiful (and empty!) bamboo grove beside the Inari shrine. Smaller than the Arashiyama grove, but still really nice so we spent a while in there taking photos.



Tourists in geisha costumes in the Gion neighborhood of Kyoto

Another thing people go to to Kyoto to (try to) see are geishas.  We quickly realized that many many young girls (a few older ones too) like go to Kyoto and dress up as geishas, in the traditional kimonos and wooden flipflops with socks, and walk around and take photos of each other. They were literally everywhere, especially at the bamboo forest and the Inari shrine areas. Basically anywhere with something interesting to take a photo standing in front of. Kimono rentals are a good business to be in in Kyoto!


the only real geisha we saw while in Japan

Here however, you see an actual geisha! We spotted her up in a window while strolling around the small streets of Gion. A small crowd eventually gathered and then she and a man inside the room rolled down the blinds. I whipped out my paparazzi lens before they put the blinds down though, and a closeup photo I got of her confirmed that she was a real geisha (very elaborate makeup and wig, etc.).  You can see that photo in the slideshow at the end of this post.

Geishas have been around for a long time and their roles have changed over time. From what I understand, long ago they used to be prostitutes but nowadays they hold a very high social status and are entertainers and hostesses for the very rich and elite. They are pretty rare to see (so we got lucky!) and you can only be introduced to one by an existing client. They are trained sometimes from a very young age in the arts, like dancing and playing musical instruments, as well as conversation and games.

Kyoto has so many amazing things and I wish we had more time to explore it, but now I’ll still have a lot more things to see there when I go back! And unfortunately we were in Kyoto just a little bit too early for the cherry blossoms, so I hope to go back there during that time next time. We saw plenty of blooming cherry blossoms in other parts of Japan though, especially Mt. Fuji!

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The Many Animal Experiences of Japan

One of my favorite things about Japan has been the abundance of animal related activities everywhere we go..and over the past more than 6 weeks we have covered plenty of them! I previously wrote about the snow monkeys which was the first thing we did in Japan and I still think was my favorite. Since then we have met, pet, and fed so many other animals!

The Deer of Nara Park and Miyajima Island 

From Osaka there are many easy and fun day trips, and Nara Park is one of them. It’s less than an hour to get there on the train, and only a very short walk from the train station when you arrive until you start being greeted by dozens of cute and curious deer.


the deer hanging out at the entrance of the park

It’s actually encouraged to feed the deer at this park, as there are vendors selling “deer crackers” all over the place. We however came prepared with a lot of apples, which the deer went CRAZY for. So much so that we had to go find a store to buy more! We brought a butterknife with us that we used to chop them up, and I also bought a bag of nuts, and some of the deer crackers. Needless to say we were pretty popular with the deer! I don’t think they get fed apples very often so they were following us around and really would not leave us alone because they wanted more apples! They weren’t too aggressive though, just persistent. It was pretty hilarious. So I wrote a review of the park on Trip Advisor telling people : TAKE APPLES!


we each had a bag full of apple chunks, “deer crackers” and nuts

Nara Park is huge so we walked around for a few hours feeding the deer, and we also visited a few different temples and shrines in the area which were pretty impressive as well. It was a really great day and one of the deer even let me take a selfie with her! 🙂


Now the deer at Miyajima Island were a different story! Miyajima Island is a day trip that we did from Hiroshima a short distance away where we also heard there were deer. So naturally we thought “oh! we have to take apples with us again!”..so we did, but had a bit of a different experience…LOL

We exited the ferry terminal and immediately saw several deer. I took out an apple and a folding knife and started to cut the apple but the deer were like, immediately on top of me. So I put the knife away to avoid any accidents and just started taking bites out of the apples and giving it to the deer. Again, they went crazy for the apples. Soon I had several deer around me being very aggressive to the point that I was having to walk around backwards very quickly while feeding them because they were being very pushy and jumping up on their hind legs. Then they got impatient because I could not feed them all fast enough and three of them bit me! On the stomach! Through my shirt! (One of them left a pretty nasty mark too!). I was still laughing through it all though and about 20 people had gathered around to watch this crazy woman feeding the deer. I gotta see if any of those videos end up on YouTube! Finally after a few apples we got out of there.

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when things were beginning to get outta hand..

We walked away from that area and through the town along the water towards the Itsukushima Shrine which is the main reason people go to Miyajima island, and which is known worldwide for its iconic “floating” torii gate. Unfortunately it was low tide when we were there and there were tons of people walking around under the gate so we were not able to get the photo of it in the water. Oh well, next time.


The floating (well not at this moment) torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine

We were exploring around the island and saw a few more deer here and there which were more friendly and some were even timid. We noticed that they loved eating the cherry blossom flowers which are now starting to fall of the trees. The flowers were pretty spread out though so gathered up handfuls of the flowers and helped them out a little 🙂


feeding the deer fallen cherry blossom flowers

After we watched the sun set over the mountains and sea we were walking back to the ferry terminal and passed by a beach where a few deer were hanging out, so we stopped and fed them the last of our apples and took a few cute photos of them..because how often do you see deer on a beach?!


Oh, one more thing, towards the end of the day when we were walking around the island we noticed a sign in a very inconspicuous place that said not to feed the deer! OOPS!! We had no idea, given that its encouraged to feed the deer in Nara. Oh well.

Capybara in Osaka

Japan has this weird thing with Capybaras, which are the largest rodent in the world and native to South America. They are also the world’s most chill and friendly animal ever, and are literally friends with every species of animal.  Japan has several petting zoos all over the country with capybaras- and why wouldn’t you?! Given that they are such nice animals. I’ve always wanted to meet one, and finally I got to, in Osaka. One day I went to the Osaka aquarium and noticed a sign next door that said something about a petting zoo and had a photo of a capybara. So we went back the next day and…


He (or she?) was super friendly as I expected and we had a great time hanging out. I fed him some leaves too, that they were selling for the animals. This actual petting zoo or whatever you want to call it was not all that nice though, first of all it was in a freakin’ shopping mall, not even outside. The first area had guinea pigs, rabbits and tortoises. Then you go through another door and there were dogs, cats, AND A HUGE PIG. Totally random. The pig kept trying to sit in people’s laps, it was pretty funny. Then through the third door was the “exotic” room with one capybara, a few small kangaroos, an alpaca, and some other large-ish rodent type things. Oh and a couple of owls too?? All in one big room with wood floors. It was pretty weird. I was glad to finally meet a capybara but I was a little sad for him and the other animals being indoors. Hopefully they rotate them out onto a farm or something.


feeding the other cute giant rodent critters..you can see the room better in this photo


Cat Cafe in Hiroshima

We FINALLY went to a cat cafe in Hiroshima after not going to one the first 5ish weeks we were in Japan. We kept putting it off because they were just everywhere and we could go to one at any time. I found one with good reviews in Hiroshima though, and we had plenty of time to kill there so we went on a Wednesday late afternoon about an hour before they were closing up. It was 1200 yen (about $10 USD) for one hour and one drink. We were the only ones there and the two women running the place spoke no english. Finally though they got us sat down and..we had come prepared…with cat nip spray…yes that’s a thing! and you should definitely douse yourself in it the next time you go to a cat cafe! LOL..we did not expect the cats to be so responsive to the cat nip spray which we sprayed on our clothes, and I think the ladies running the place were a bit confused as to why all the previously sleeping cats were suddenly circling us like sharks. It was so funny! So yeah we got to pet a lot of cats!



Charles the jerk (but very cute) munchkin cat

This cat cafe was cool because they had a lot of rare kinds of cats that I’d not seen before, like munchkin cats (very very short legs), norwegian forest cats, ragdoll cats, and scottish fold cats. They were all very cute and most were friendly, but a few of them like the gray and white munchkin  was being a jerk to the other cats and kept swatting and hissing at them. I guess that happens when you have 20 cats in a cafe the size of a one bedroom apartment. I think they had about 8 too many cats in there, but most of them seemed content.


a “scottish fold” cat, named that for their folded ears. this one reminded me of puss in boots from the Shrek movie. so cute


Bunny Island (Okunoshima)

Last but not least – bunny island! Another place I’d been wanting to go to for years, ever since I saw videos on YouTube of the place. It was also a day trip from Hiroshima. A bit far though, almost 3 hours to get there because you have to take a couple different trains and a ferry. Anyway we arrived around 3:30pm and as soon as we stepped off the ferry we could see all the bunnies running all around. It’s also encouraged to feed them here, and they specifically tell people to bring fresh fruits and veggies or proper rabbit food for them, so we went to a pet store and bought 3 kilos of rabbit food pellets which were not cheap – about $30. I think they were very high quality delicious pellets because the rabbits really enjoyed them! Anyway we also got 2 bags of carrots at the supermarket which I cut up before we left. Those were very popular as well.   A lot of other people there were feeding them lettuce and other produce.


The bunnies in the grassy area right when you get off the ferry

This island is pretty big and we walked around it for a few hours feeding all the bunnies. I was really glad to see water bowls for the bunnies everywhere with fresh water in them. Most of the bunnies were pretty friendly and didn’t mind if you pet them but others didn’t really want to be touched. We found that the orange ones were most friendly for some reason.


me feeding a bunny friend a carrot stick

There are a few different theories of how the bunnies ended up on this island -which was used a lot in the war- but no one knows for sure. There didn’t appear to be a lot going on on the island presently, there was a huge resort but it didn’t look very busy. The ferry had about 100 people on it and several cars though, so something was going on maybe on another part of the island where we didn’t go. The island itself and the surrounding area was really beautiful though, very clear water, nice beaches, other mountainous islands in the distance.


there were thousands of little pits dug all over the island that the bunnies were digging and laying in – so cute

When we went to bunny island we were expecting a lot more bunnies all in one spot and hoping to recreate this video..haha…but the bunnies were all pretty spread out. I tried at one point to herd a bunch of them into one spot, but it was like herding cats. It was not happening at all. I think maybe if you go first thing in the morning when they are all hungry you could get 20+ of them to come up to you at one time but we got there in the afternoon and they’d been eating all day long and most of them were not hungry and just wanted to lay around, so oh well. We still had a wonderful time on bunny island!


some friends sharing some delicious bunny food!




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Random interesting and weird Japanese things

Japan is full of weird and wacky things that I have been accumulating notes about so I figured I’d write about all of them in one big post!

Food Stuff!

Everyone knows that Japan has a lot of great food like sushi, ramen and kobe steak, but they also have a lot of very strange snack foods and candy! One well known candy that Japan is known for having a lot of unusual flavors of are KitKats. You can find a lot of crazy flavors such as Purple Sweet Potato flavor, Red Bean Sandwich flavor, Flan flavored, Green Tea flavored (which I tried in Thailand last year, super gross), and even Japanese Sake flavored (fermented rice wine). We bought a bag of the flan and sake flavored ones and they are ALRIGHT but definitely strange tasting and I probably would not buy agin. The only one that I would buy again is one that has nuts and berries pressed into the tops of the KitKat bars. Those ones are actually really tasty. I have included photos of all the weird flavors in the slideshow at the end of the post.


Red Bean Sandwich Flavored KitKats

Sweet Potato Ice Cream is a thing here as well that I see quite often.  I can’t even begin to imagine what sweet potato would taste like as an ice cream flavor and I’m not sure I want to find out. Green tea ice cream is also quite common in Japan. While I enjoy drinking green tea, I have never had any green tea flavored food that I thought tasted good.


Vending Machines!

Japan has over 5 and a half million vending machines, and it’s not hard to believe once you’ve had a walk around any city. They are on almost every corner, and sometimes there will be a row of like, 10 of them. Our airbnb in Tokyo had about 12 vending machines within 50 feet of the front door of our building, which was awesome. There are some with snacks and ice cream, etc, but the most common vending machine are just drinks, both hot and cold. Most have a variety of different kinds of teas, juices, and a lot of coffee, not a lot of soda or carbonated drinks. Most are around 100-150 Yen (so around $1 USD more or less). One of my favorites is hot lemon tea which comes in a bottle. Really yummy and doubles as a hand warmer when walking around outside when it’s really cold! There is also an iced apple tea by Lipton which is delicious.


contents of a drink vending machine. the first two rows have a blue label underneath noting that they are cold, and the bottom row is red, noting that they are hot drinks.


corn drink in a vending machine

                                                                                                                                                                  Another thing I see quite often in vending machines that is super weird are things like a can of hot corn…juice..stuff? As well as a hot red bean drink, and I even saw one that was some kind of hot onion drink. I’m thinking they are some kind of a soup more than a beverage, but they are definitely in a beverage type drinking can. Maybe I’ll try one some day and find out.

Beer and sake vending machines are also a thing, as well as dry ice vending machines – there’s one at our local supermarket.

Oh – one other thing – many restaurants, especially fast food type restaurants, work in a strange way. They have a vending machine out front with a lot of different selections. You put your money in and make your selection, and it spits out a ticket with your order on it, which you take inside and hand to someone who brings you your food. Pretty good idea I think.

Capsule Toy Machines

“Capsule toy” machines are very common and plentiful. These are similar to quarter machines in the US where you get a small toy in a plastic bubble but these cost on average 200-300 Yen each ($2-ish dollars). The toys in the machines are mostly small plastic figurines, one common one I see are figures of a lady in different positions, which is for hanging on the side of a drink cup. I don’t get it. But I got one. Haha.


These capsule toy machines aren’t ever just in a group of 4 or so like you’d see in other countries, ohh no, here there are at least 50 or more of them in each place. I think the best/most funny capsule toy machines I’ve seen yet had hats for small dogs, and another one had miniature toilet paper fixtures (photos of those in slideshow).


capsule toy vending machines

Arcades and Pachinko

Arcades are everywhere here too. The Japanese love their arcades. Some are even open 24 hours. Most arcades have a lot of the normal video games, and they also have dozens of claw machines, which contain of course a lot of stuffed animals – some have a single, huge stuffed animal which is hanging by just the tag which is wedged between two parallel bars, and all you have to do is use the claw to unhook the tag and the whole thing falls down. It looks easy but we have never seen anyone actually get one. Many claw machines also contain all kinds of food items.


claw machines

There is an EXTREMELY popular game here called Pachinko. This game is for adults and usually in a casino type place. These places are also VERY smoky because everyone is just sitting playing this game like zombies while chain smoking. We went and played one day thinking it must be pretty exciting because pachinko parlors are always packed full. But disappointingly it turned out to be a really lame and boring game. Basically all you do is turn a knob on the right side of the machine which controls the speed at which small metal balls are launched from the bottom to the top of the machine thru a channel on the left side, at which point they fall down through a series of metal pins. The objective is to get them to go into a single hole in the bottom center of the machine. The thing is, there is no way that the velocity at which the balls are launched at all affects whether or not they are going to fall into the hole at the bottom, once they make it there. So it is a completely skill-less game. But I guess the same could be said about slot machines. I suppose people play pachinko to possibly win money, but with any casino game most people are probably just losing it.


Ran playing pachinko in Tokyo for the first and last time

Our favorite arcade game here so far is what we call the “coin pusher” game. I don’t know what it’s actually called. But it DOES involve some level of skill. One day we got sucked into playing this game for over an hour and put about $20 into it, which we eventually lost but we still had an exciting time. Most of you have probably seen or played this game before. You have to put coins into a slot which roll down the arms onto the upper platform, and there is a vertical wall thing that goes back and forth pushing the coins forward. The idea is to strategically place the coins so that a lot more coins get pushed over the edge in the front and fall out to you. Pretty fun game.


the “coin pusher” game that I love


Most people know that Japan has some pretty high tech toilets. And if you don’t, you are about to learn about them! One thing I was pleasantly surprised to find out about many Japanese toilets is that they have HEATED SEATS! Which as you can imagine is a wonderful thing to sit down onto in the winter. Even most public toilets have heated seats. Most toilets in Japan also have a control panel which is either on the side of the seat, or on the wall beside the toilet. The control panel has many functions including various water sprayers, water pressure, water temperature, a button to make a flushing sound without actually flushing, all kinds of fun stuff. I’ve heard that some even talk to you, but I’ve not used one of those yet. All I know is I’m definitely going to miss the hot toilet seats when I leave here! Not sure why the heated toilet seat hasn’t caught on in the rest of the world, especially the Arctic!


example of a Japanese toilet control panel 

Well I think that about sums it up for this post. I still have a lot more to write about so I will continue later this week! For now you can enjoy the slideshow of randomness.

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The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani were a big highlight of our time in Japan so far. It’s a place I have been wanting to go for years since monkeys are one of my favorite animals, and it did not disappoint. It was quite a trek to get there from Tokyo and so we decided to spend a night there instead of doing a really long rushed exhausting day trip.

bullet train

the bullet train has an interesting design

We set out from Tokyo in the early afternoon on our way to Nagano which is about 200 miles northwest of Tokyo, takes about an hour and a half on the bullet train, and costs 8200 Yen, or about $70 USD. When we arrived at Nagano station we actually met up with a really nice Japanese couple – Mariko and Taichi – who are friends of my friend Dustin and just happen to now live in Nagano. He put me in touch with them since they are super nice and big world travelers themselves and they were happy to spend the afternoon with us since it was Sunday. They drove us to a nearby village called Obuse which was super cute and famous for ‘marron’ which are sweet chestnuts. There were lots of shops selling lots of different sweets and things made from the chestnuts, which were really delicious! It was a really cool little side trip and we had a really nice time with them.


Mariko, Taichi, Ran, and me

After our stroll around Obuse we said goodbye to our new friends and took a local train for about 30 minutes to the town of Yamanouchi which is famous for its several hot springs bath houses.  It’s very close to the Snow Monkey park and also to some ski resorts so there are many hotels there, but not much else except beautiful scenery – lots of huge snow covered mountains. We stayed in a hotel with traditional tatami style rooms – the kind with the straw floor mats and paper walls where you sit and sleep on the floor. These types of rooms can be extremely expensive and luxurious but since we were not going to be spending much time there we opted for a less expensive one that was a bit dated, but it was still cool. We arrived in the evening and pretty much just fell asleep when we got there due to our jetlag and screwy sleep schedule so we didn’t go in the hot springs unfortunately.


our tatami room in Yamanouchi town

The next morning, we woke up early and went to the snow monkey park to get there when it opened because that’s when you are more likely to see more monkeys sitting in the onsen (the hot spring). Cars can’t go very far so you get dropped off at a certain point and then have to walk for 30-40 minutes to get to where the monkeys are. It’s a nice walk on a path through a forest with lots of snow but the walkway was covered in ice most of the way which made things a bit tricky.


the long icy path through the forest to the snow monkeys

When we arrived to the hot spring area, there were monkeys everywhere! There were only a couple of them actually sitting in the hot spring, most of them (there were at least 100), were foraging around in the snow for food. The monkeys are fed daily by the park rangers. The feeding has the purpose of prolonging observation by making the monkeys come to Jigokudani for the food. If there was no feeding, the monkeys would just go to random places in the forest and that would make it difficult to keep track of them. It also keeps the monkeys away up to a certain extent from the farmlands, thus it also keeps the monkeys a bit safer from angry farmers. To give extra incentive to coming to Jigokudani, the food given to the monkeys is just a little bit nicer than the food they generally find in the forest, but not nice enough to pull them away from nature completely. They are fed soy beans, barley, or apples depending on the weather and season. (source)


the snow monkeys having their breakfast

Tourists are not allowed to feed the monkeys but the monkeys are very sneaky and if they catch a glimpse of any food in someone’s bag, they will definitely grab it. We saw a guy open his backpack which was sitting on the ground, and one of the monkeys spotted a banana in a plastic bag and quickly grabbed it. The guy was quick and also grabbed it and they had a tug of war for a moment before he let the monkey have it probably in fear of being bitten, and the monkey ran up a hill and enjoyed the banana. It was pretty funny.


the banana thief!

We hung out for about 3 hours and I took over 600 photos of the monkeys! They were so cute sitting in the water, and sitting on the side of the pool grooming each other, hugging, just hanging out relaxing and not caring that dozens of people had cameras pointed at them. They were completely indifferent to all the people around, it was really cool. I only wish I was there  earlier in the season when there are dozens of monkeys all sitting in the hot spring together. On this day there were only 2 or 3 in the water at any given time. It was still a pretty amazing day and we were so glad we went, it was definitely worth the long trip to get there. I will leave you with a slideshow of some of my favorite photos of the monkeys!

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I’ve decided to start travel blogging again and what better place to begin than Japan! We are currently on the Shinkansen – more commonly known as the bullet train, which travels at speeds of up to 200MPH – heading north from Tokyo to Nagano prefecture to see the famous snow monkeys, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. You’ve probably seen photos of them sitting in the hot springs with snow on their heads. So you’ll have to wait until my next post to get a report on that!

We arrived to Tokyo a couple of days ago after a long and exhausting journey crossing 15 time zones in a week which involved me sleeping in a different place every night for 8 nights including 2 overnight flights, a hotel in London and a hotel – more like a tiny room – in the Moscow airport. Needless to say we are still completely dazed from that and have been sleeping 3 to 5 hours at a time at completely random times. Last night we woke up and went out at 3am for sushi and arcade games because we couldn’t sleep. Good thing Tokyo has lots of things open at all hours! We even tried to go bowling at 330am but all 16 lanes were full.


Shinjuku at night – so bright!

The city of Tokyo is pretty amazing and we are really loving it. You could never get bored here because there is just so much to see and do. It’s so big and shiny and bright and even the people are interesting looking and have a type of fashion not really seen anywhere else. The only downside of Tokyo is that it is extremely expensive (for example this train we are on right now which is only a 1 hour and a half journey, cost 8,200 Yen, or $71 USD). It is also extremely crowded, being a city of 13 million. You can see just how crowded it is here from this photo I took yesterday after walking down this street in the neighborhood of Harajuku.


Takeshita Street in Harajuku, Tokyo


20170305_134006-01Another interesting thing about Tokyo is that smoking is NOT allowed OUTSIDE. Which is great right? This means no one throwing cigarette butts on the street – in fact, it is SO incredibly clean here that I’ve never seen as much as a single piece of trash on the street in Tokyo, which is pretty amazing for such a huge and crowded city. What happens though when you can’t smoke outside?  That’s right – everyone smokes INSIDE. Even in restaurants. Which is of course really, really gross. This is the one thing that I seriously dislike about this city, but, what can you do. Everywhere has its positives and negatives.


dsc01524The Japanese also love animals! Since most people can not have pets of their own due to tiny living spaces, there are a LOT of cat cafes! I think we have seen about 5 in just the two days we have been here so far. We have not yet been into one yet – but we are planning on it! Aside from cat cafes there are also dog cafes, and believe it or not – even hedgehog cafes, OWL cafes, snake cafes, bunny cafes, and more. You pay a fixed amount for a fixed amount of time and there are usually drinks available as well. I’m not sure how I feel about these exotic animal cafes though, I kinda 17017113_10158171657915062_1435465356067753644_ofeel bad for the animals being handled constantly and I don’t think owls of all things should be kept in a damn cafe so I don’t really want to go there. We did go to the hedgehog cafe though, which was 1630 Yen per person (about $14) for 30 minutes including a little container of live worms to feed to the hedgehogs. They sit you  down at stools with a big sawed in half barrel with 4 hedgehogs in it. You get a pair of gloves to wear so you can pick them up without being poked – you are allowed to pick them up without the gloves if you want, but you risk being poked or bitten. They really loved the live worms and it was funny to watch them eat them. I felt bad picking them up because I am sure they are tired of  so we didn’t pick them up too much. Other than that stuff there are many other animal experiences in Japan such as the snow monkeys that I mentioned that we will be seeing tomorrow, there is a place called Fox Village up north near Fukushima that looks really cute that I’d love to visit, as well as bunny island, and a few capybara petting zoos. I will eventually get around to all of those places!

I am really looking forward to the next month here and all the wacky things we are going to do like sit in a bowl of ramen – yes, really! Haha