Japan Trip Highlights – Part 3

August 5, 2015


As I reflect back on our trip to Japan, I realize how much the experience has influenced me. Not just in how I constantly want to eat Japanese food now and how I’ve even begun to cook Japanese recipes (I never cook)!

Honestly, the trip was eye-opening into how Japanese culture holds great respect for harmony and striving for the ideal, for “the greater good.”

And maybe I’m looking into my experience through love goggles and I’m waxing poetical about a Japanese culture that I want to be true so I invented it in my head.

Maybe the only way to find out is to actually just live there for a few years (yes please)!


But in any case, I am very happy to take away something that has embedded itself into my spirit.

So without further ado, here is the third part of our Japan Trip Highlights!


We made it back to Tokyo right before our JR rail passes expired.

A word about the bullet trains

Bullet Train

I was very impressed.

Not only because the trains travel at dizzying speeds. I was blown away at how they arrive and leave exactly on. the. dot. of when they’re supposed to.

It helps that people line up patiently instead of elbowing and fighting their way to get inside. A telltale sign of a civilized society!

We didn’t know this the first time we took the train, so we cut our way to the front.

Then when we saw the line of people quietly waiting behind us, we realized we were the a$$holes.


We stayed at the Park Hotel Tokyo which features rooms painted by various artists.

The view from our hotel was spectacular, especially at night.


Our other lost in translation moment happened while we were wandering in Shinbashi, where businessmen go to eat and drink after work with their colleagues.



We were starving and desperate and couldn’t find a single restaurant with any english at all on their menu.

So we resorted to our trusty strategy of pointing and making noises. And it worked!

Other highlights

  • We welcomed the rain that came the following day. Up until then we had been lucky to have warm, sunny weather.
  • Our last full day in Tokyo was dedicated to shopping. I purchased a set of hand-made makeup brushes I’d been coveting and a pair of wide-legged culottes that have been popular in Japan and are now just starting to make their appearance here.


  • We met up with a family friend in Roppongi Hills. After a delicious lunch together, we enjoyed chatting and having coffee at a Starbucks. Matcha tea latte at a Japanese Starbucks is the real deal.
  • At night walkings along the high lines of Shiodome, I spotted a cat! Of course, I tried to throw a piece of food at it but it ran away. Then as we walked a little bit further we heard a bunch of meowing kittens hidden in some bushes. Which drove me into a frenzy.



This was our last day in Japan! And it was perfect…


Kamakura is a cute little beach town just south of Tokyo.

It makes me think of the beachy area where we live right now in San Francisco. Except Kamakura is probably not as prone to foggy weather.

If I lived in Japan, I would probably live in Kamakura.


While walking around, I couldn’t help but notice a slight obsession with all things California. Which I thought was cute 😉

There are surfers paddling around the beach and many of the restaurants feature California cuisine.

We even ate tacos! All I’m gonna say about that is: Nice try.


We visited the Daibutsu / Big Buddha statue. This enormous statue used to be housed inside a temple until an earthquake destroyed the temple.

Now he’s just out in the open. I guess the big guy wanted some fresh air.


For the equivalent of 25 cents you can go inside the Big Buddha and have a look around.

Lunch for me was the perfect summer vegetable soup with chicken. I would eat this everyday!


And of course… but of course… we had tea time.


Then for dinner, we met up with a friend who I had known from our days living in Cameroon. We had been Peace Corps volunteers and she had been a JICA volunteer who came on around the same time that we did.

The last time I saw her, we were hanging out at a bar in Yaoundé!

It was surreal to meet up with her and laugh about the funny things that happen only in Cameroon, all the while speaking French to each other. Je te dis que eh!

We drove to a nearby island, tried to find snacks made of baby octopus, watched the sun set, spotted a bunch of cats, had oden for dinner and drinks at a traditional place where you eat yakitori while standing up.

We met some very interesting local people, particularly this one guy who was a musician and introduced himself as the “King of Shocking” which if I understood him correctly was also a play on the word “erection?”

On this night which was our last, I got to fulfill my one true wish of singing karaoke!

And if I could have, I would have stayed up all night singing.

Crooning to Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady” was a fitting way to end the evening right before catching the last train back to Tokyo.



One of the most captivating experiences I had in Japan was sitting in a tea ceremony in Kyoto.


One of our friends arranged for us to have a tea ceremony at WA Experience Kafu.

Kafu is a cultural center that holds lessons on traditional practices such as calligraphy, kabuki, and traditional Japanese cooking.


Kimi, the lady who performed the ceremony, was very friendly and explained different aspects of the ceremony in english.

What I learned delighted me.

Tea ceremony is “meditation in motion.”

While you enjoy a simple cup of tea, you are also meditating on harmony with those around you, harmony with nature and even with the objects that you use to perform the ceremony such as the cups, the bamboo spoon, the whisk and the water.

The matcha by the way is quite strong, so you must enjoy a little sweet treat before you drink the tea. On this day, we got to enjoy a cooling summer sweet.


When it comes to the details of the ceremony, no detail is too small to be appreciated.

From the motion of whisking the tea, the hypnotic sound of fabric ritualistically dropped on the floor, the way the “front” of the bowl faces before, during and after you drink, even the pattern that the matcha foam leaves behind after you drink it up. Everything has significance.

There are many styles of performing tea ceremony. Kimi has been learning and practicing under a grand master for years. And the style that she performs is one that had been handed down through generations of samurai.

Sadly, tea ceremony, like calligraphy and kabuki is becoming a lost art.


At the closing of the ceremony, Kimi’s final touch was to refill the pot with water in honor of the next person who will use it.

If everyone thought and acted like that, I think we could probably save humanity.


If you are in Kyoto and are interested in sitting in a tea ceremony, I would highly recommend having it done at KAFU.

The experience felt more like a private ceremony since it was just Oliver and me sitting in that day.

As I mentioned previously, we left the tea ceremony feeling refreshed, relaxed and at one with the universe.

A feeling all too fleeting.

8 thoughts on “Japan Trip Highlights – Part 3

  1. Alison Harriman

    I would love to visit Japan. It has a fascinating history and is one of my favourite places to read about. I have a number of friends who have visited the country and all of them loved it.

    Thanks for the birthday wishes too Kareen!


    1. Kareen

      Japan’s history really fascinates me too. I love the blend of tradition and modernity. Culturally, it’s a very unique place to visit. I hope when you get to visit you’ll tell me what you think of it.

  2. Helga Weber

    I think that if I ever visit Japan, I will never want to leave. It’s my boyfriend’s favorite place and we were supposed to visit last year (flights were booked) but I wasn’t able to save up for the actual trip so we just cancelled. SO MUCH REGRET.

    Ugh, I really want to go. 🙁

    1. Kareen

      Sadness! But that doesn’t mean you’ll never ever get to go. You do really have to save up for it though cuz once you are there, man it is expensive. Has Joey been to Japan then? I bet he could get gigs dj’ing at a club or something 😉

  3. Jhanz

    Japan is sooooo beautiful!!! It’s still one of my dream destinations and I promise myself to save up so I can visit soon (hopefully MAYBE next year, it depends haha!)

  4. Angel

    I also go batshit crazy over cats anywhere I go. It might even be borderline weird at times but I just love them kitties. And you should definitely visit Philippines if you want to sing Karaoke! Karaoke restaurants are all over the place.


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