Weekly Photo Challenge: The Road Taken

I’ve been lucky to take many different roads in life, especially when traveling. One of my favorite trips was to Japan, a place that I would love to re-visit now that I’m older, have a better camera, somewhat more disposable income (no more living off of convenience store nigiri!), and have some kids to hopefully share the joy of traveling with.

One of the things I found most fascinating about Japan was the attention to detail. Something that might be considered rather mundane and pedestrian is suddenly elevated to art when you pay attention to it. Such as… manhole covers!

Tell me the truth now, do you normally pay attention to what you’re stepping on when you’re walking on the road? It amazed me that the cities would do something like decorative manhole covers, which seems like something that no one would even notice on a regular basis. I thought it was a random occurrence, but as I visited different cities throughout Japan it looked like each district in each city had their own representative cover. Pretty cool, I thought!

DSCF6492This cherry blossom (sakura) manhole cover was in Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo. Notice also my shiny flats, which were at the HEIGHT of fashion back in the day, I swear.

DSCF7735Isn’t this pretty? This is from the Fukushima district of Osaka. I’m guessing it’s Osaka castle?

DSCF7833If you’ve ever been to Nara, you know that they’re famous for their deer!

DSCF8063Lastly, this cover is from Himeji, famous for the Himeji Castle. They say the white castle resembles a white heron in flight, so that theme is represented in the white birds on the cover. Pretty cool, eh?

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Ornate

This week, our challenge is to post about something ornate, something elaborate and over the top. The first thing I thought of was Japan! Now some people may think of Japan and envision serene bamboo groves, tranquil hot springs and minimalist decor, perhaps the spare elegance of a perfectly pruned bonsai or beautifully arranged ikebana. But let us not forget that Japan is also the country that brought us hyperactive anime, crazy girl groups like Morning Musume and AKB 48 (you need to see some of their costumes…), and IRON CHEF! Nothing’s quite as over the top a man in a gaudy cape biting audibly into a crunchy yellow pepper.

I’m talking about the Japanese version of course… not the American one with Alton Brown!

In any case. Japan has a strong sense of the ornate… here’s some proof!

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Sooo this is obviously a pretty old picture since it’s (gasp!) a flip phone! But look how extremely bedazzled it is! If I had this phone in my bag all the pretty decorations would be knocked off in a day!

DSCF7513Japan is also famous for using plastic replicas of the food they serve inside. These are super delicious looking representations of parfaits – literally over the top with creamy and fruity goodness!

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If you’re thinking of elaborate and ornate, then a maiko’s (apprentice geisha) getup definitely fits the bill! Starting from the makeup (a lot more than just slapping white face makeup on, need to highlight the eyes and define the brows), and then to the multiple layers of clothing, with just the top robe and the obi (huge belt and bow) as the ending! And can’t forget the hair either! Although this is just a wig, imagine the time and effort it would take to put your hair up like this…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unique

This week at the Daily Post, we are challenged to find something that means unique to us! For me, one of the most unique places I’ve visited is Japan. I’ve always been interested in Japanese culture and language (I took three years in college, of course all that has atrophied now… 仕方ないね。。) and I really enjoyed my visit there! Someday I will be back, but until then I can remember Japan fondly through my pictures.

Uniquely Japanese

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Back when I visited Japan, flip phones were DA BOMB! Also, the phrase “da bomb” and “phat” were in! So that kind of shows how long ago this was. Anyway, what’s the fun in having the coolest flip phone if everyone else has the same one? Of course you need to personalize it and bling it out like this crazy phone right over here. This was taken at the Tokyu Hands craft store – a real haven for crafty sorts with so many different departments that one can find anything they want! Including kits to bedazzle your phone.

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An advertisement for Mos Burger, a popular burger chain in Japan. I believe they are advertising a new “doo-na-tsu baa-gaa” – Donut Burger! With wasabi sauce perhaps. That is just so weird. But it looks strangely tasty…

DSCF7953Deer in the Japanese city of Nara! Within a certain area, there are wild sika deer roaming who are considered sacred and therefore it is illegal to hunt them. This would probably set all the hunters I know twitching with anticipation, but these deer are crazy bold and not shy at all. The sight of food will have them trailing you around for hours. Adorable but kinda dirty!

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In Osaka (and now Tokyo too I hear) they have a very important museum for a very important Japanese innovator and businessman. Of course, I speak of no one less than Momofuku Ando, the inventor of ramen! This staple of college diet is popular worldwide now – I love me some cup noodle! And there is the man himself, immortalized on a pedestal of cup noodle and brandishing a package of ramen. Glorious!

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These sushi are a real mouth-tease – they’re not edible but actually made of chirashi silk, painstakingly stitched together and then stuffed to resemble the real deal. They are amazing and look great but also bring up the question – do people really buy silk sushi to display in their homes?

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In Kyoto we got the chance to dress up as geisha and of course take lots of glamour shots! It was definitely a unique and surreal experience to get the makeup done and put on the multi-layered kimono, with the heavy obi – these things are seriously heavy and somewhat unwieldy! I loved getting to pick out the kimono though – it felt like I was wearing a rainbow!

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Sleeping on a futon in a tatami mat room in Hakone, Japan. This ryokan (small inn) also had their own hot spring! Hot springs are a must do in Japan. It’s a totally different experience… because you are naked! And that’s definitely unique because I am not used to being naked in front of total strangers.

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Only in Japan would you have an adorable mascot of an egg… a partially eaten one at that. Along with his eponymous buddy Hello Kitty, Owakudani egg extols the virtues of eating one of their special boiled eggs, boiled in the sulfurous hot springs of Owakudani and “guaranteed” to extend your life!

Travel theme: Circles

When I read these week’s travel theme at Where’s my backpack? …. Immediately the “Circle of Life” song from the Lion King got stuck in my head – and now it’s playing on repeat. Damn it Elton John! Great movie of course… I miss the golden age of Disney!

Circles are everywhere – and when I look through my pictures, especially prevalent when I’m eating because of all the plates! So I had to make a conscious effort not to put any food pictures, although my mouse finger was itchy from it. I decided to restrict myself to circles from one particular trip, and therefore I present to you…

Various Circles of JAPAN!

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On an epic trip through Asia, one of our stops was Japan, where my best friend and I would spend 1.5 weeks shinkansen-ing it to various cities. Our first stop was to Tokyo, where we stayed in the Asakusa area. While we were exploring the area, I was struck by the really cool and pretty manhole covers – such a change from the extremely industrial and gritty covers of NYC.  Little did I know, this would be a theme of our Japan trip. And that is my shoe in the bottom – I managed to wear flats every day of our six week trip – minus the day that I wore sneakers for the Great Wall. Phew.

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In Tokyo, there’s an artificial island called Odaiba where they have all sorts of cool stuff, like this colorful Ferris wheel. I loved the pretty rainbow colors of the little cars… they also had these “Crystal” containers where the whole car was made of glass or really strong clear plastic – scary! We were fine in our normal one. In Odaiba they also had a huge Gundam statue! Which we sadly did not see. We did however get to relax at the onsen – Oedo Onsen Monogatari, where we got to don Yukata and live out our Japanese anime girl fantasies.

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Another city, another totally awesome manhole cover! This was in Osaka – and as a disclaimer, not all the manhole covers are this intricate. Most of them are not colored – but this was just special. For tourists?

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And of course in Osaka, you MUST visit the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. Yes you did read that correctly… they have a RAMEN MUSEUM! This is worth a trip to Japan by itself, because within this wondrous building you get to create your own Cup-A-Noodle, complete with decorating the cup and choosing which toppings to put in. Afterwards they even put it through a machine to seal it into a puffed up bag so it doesn’t get crushed in your suitcase when you travel back home. The Japanese think of everything! We also got to make our own ramen and walk through the tunnel timeline of ramen. It was trascendent.

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Here we are in Nara – with the in?famous Nara deer depicted on the manhole cover. For those of you who are unaware, the deer in Nara are protected and therefore are super bold and will come up to you if they think you have food. All the souvenirs in Nara are deer related – deer keychains, phonestraps, and delicious mochi that are playfully called deer droppings. At least I thought it was mochi…

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This is for Himeji – a city famous for its beautiful white castle which is often called White Egret castle because it looks like white birds about to take flight. Therefore the birds on the  manhole cover! While I can’t say that the castle looked like it would be flying off anytime soon, it was definitely a beautiful construction and had a gorgeous garden for meandering through.

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At Himeji Castle, a tower depicts many of the crests of the clans within the area. I would love to have a crest for myself!

Travel theme: Mystical

What mysterious photo challenge has Ailsa whipped up at Where’s my backpack? Why, a mystical one of course! This week we’ll be celebrating all things dreamlike and ethereal. It’s interesting how a scene that seems utterly innocuous in normal daylight transforms into a magical one with some fog, or with a blanket of snow. Suddenly even the familiar becomes shrouded and obscure, unfamiliar and otherworldly.


These ruins are from a family trip to Greece several years back. We had the opportunity to explore some of the ruins on the hillsides of Delphi. Because it was wintertime, a few flurries of snow were falling – totally incongruous with the bright green grass that was still thriving. Standing in the bones of a civilization with the grand mountains ahead and the snow melting on our faces, it definitely felt like a mystical moment!


Also from our trip to Greece, we visited these amazing clifftop monasteries that are literally perched on pillars of stone, like the one seen above. These monasteries were definitely isolated, a good way for monks to focus on their prayers and shut out the sinful world outside. They used a rope-and-pulley system to transport goods from down below to their monasteries up in the sky. From such a high point, I’m sure they felt closer to heaven.


These next few pictures are from a trip to Japan. While exploring the area around Hakone, we walked through a moody forest with just a shaft of sunlight streaming through.


The sulfurous hot springs of Owakudani in Hakone. The rocky, desolate ground, releasing plumes of smelly steam, stand in stark contrast to the bright green hills in the background. It’s said that if you eat an egg boiled in the spring you will add seven years to your life!


A bamboo walkway in Kyoto, Japan. There’s such a mystery in wondering where the path leads, and also a feeling of serenity – like you could walk along this path for hours just admiring your surroundings.


The start of a long line of torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. Walking through the gates is a mystical experience – the journey from the beginning to end feels almost transformative. A torii gate is supposed to separate the normal from the sacred – and with thousands of gates at this shrine there’s a lot to be held sacred here.

Travel Theme: On Display

Hmm when I saw this week’s travel theme on Where’s my backpack? my mind went haywire thinking about all the different things I’ve seen in shops. Actually, what really came to mind was food because I find myself drawn to farmer’s markets and I love photographing gorgeous produce. Is that weird? In any case, I went through my sorta more exotic trips to find some more typical store items… it was nice, remembering past trips. Also, I like taking pictures of items because I feel like I have it, even though I didn’t buy it! Which I think is sometimes why storeowners discourage photography.

I know there’s still a lot of pictures, but I actually cut it down a lot…. Without further ado!

idol fans in Japan. that’s right, they print out boy band member’s faces on fans… to cool them off cuz the guys get them so hot. I recognize two guys from Arashi, do you see them?!

 

adorable mini erasers in Japan that look good enough to eat!

 

for however much yen, you can bling your phone to look like this! you can tell it’s a older photo cuz it’s a flip phone haha.

beautifully displayed and carefully ribboned melons. if you see the price ranges they can go up to 8k yen, which is about 100 bucks. 100 bucks for a melon! damn.

in a Chinese supermarket, selling rosebuds to make tea. Currency exchange rate is about 6 RMB to a dollar.

an elaborate ruby necklace in a Shanghai storefront

 

traditional Chinese paper cutting! Very elaborate and impressive.

lucha libre masks in Mexico. I still regret not buying one!

 

cool ceramic skulls in Mexico. I bought a bunch of these as souvenirs… and ended up putting them all around the apt instead!

 

pocketwatches from a street festival in NYC this weekend

 

a Michelle Obama shopping bag in NYC. She is, after all, the First Lady of Fabulous!