Because my sister and I drove past an airport while driving from Philadelphia to the Maryland Coast and saw this airplane take off, and it seemed like a secret government thing and maybe the idea of an awesome novel or something. It’s a cargo airline by the way.
ashmolean museum – Google Search
Because on that same trip, my sister mentioned this museum in Oxford to me, and I really want to go. Just in case I can actually make it in the next ten years, this tab is open on my phone so I don’t forget about it.
Table 19 (2017) – IMDb
Because I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of this movie when I heard it about it the year it came out. And I can never think of movies to watch when I want to sit down and watch a movie. Still haven’t watched it 10 months later.
explorers movie – Google Search
Because remember that movie with those ridiculous aliens? It suddenly came to mind, and I want to watch it again if I can find it somewhere. When I watched it as a kid, I thought I’d be like those kids when I grew up.
cat’s cradle – google search.
Because at 30 I did not know what a cat’s cradle is. Seroiusly.
lightning and thunder song – google search.
Because I heard a song on the radio that made me feel pumped up, and I thought it would be a good soundtrack for writing so I don’t fall into self-loathing despair.
Is Peter Van Houten’s ‘Imperial Affliction’ a Real Book? – Bustle
Because, obviously, I was reading The Fault in Our Stars.
bonnie raitt songs – Google Search
Because I was in a bar in Tokyo where the sixty-year-old Japanese artist/bar owner was talking to another woman from San Francisco about how much they both loved Bonnie Raitt, and I wanted to make sure I’d listen to some of her songs. I still haven’t five months later.
toyota alphard – Google Search
Because have you ever heard of a Toyota Alphard? The Uber driver that picked us up from our AirBnB in Tokyo to go the train station was driving this bizarre-looking car that I had never heard of, and I felt like I had come across secret information I did not want to forgot. This tab is supposed to be an enlightened daily reminder of all the things I don’t know that exist in other countries.
anton chekhov – google search
Because he is one of the many classic writers I need to read, and this tab is my near-daily passive aggressive reminder of my failure as a sophisticated reader and worldly, educated person.
508 canal street – Google Search
Because while sitting on a Bolt Bus in lower Manhattan, I saw this sign at a stop light and caught a glimpse of some kind of history I wanted to look up. I immediately opened a tab and typed it in so I wouldn’t forget to look into it. I still haven’t read the search results, ten months later.
whisky gogo – Google Search
Because Whisky a Go Go is apparently a historic music spot in LA that I should check really out one day.
standing split – Google Search
Because I aspire to be able to do a standing split in 2018 and having this tab open will get me closer to that.
Bio of a literary agent
Because one day I’ll get around to querying my next book proposal, and what if this random person I came across is “the one.”
Because I pretend not to use email on my phone and refuse to download the app on principle, but really can’t go a day without checking email on my phone.
I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about my trip to Japan ever since getting back home 10 days ago. I’ve had an overwhelmed feeling of not knowing where to begin, because there is SO much to describe. A lot of what I experienced there also feels abstract—experiences I need to digest slowly over time.
There is a moment on certain trips where you feel your world open up and widen. I had never been anywhere in East Asia (although while I was there, I kept wondering why we refer to it as “the East” when it’s actually West of a lot of people, including me here in California. It was a reminder of the Eurocentric mapping of the world, and how we need to consider that when we think about travel and our place on the earth).
It was my second day in Tokyo, as we walked through the lovely Harajuku neighborhood (my favorite spot in the city), that I felt my world get much, much bigger. That is one of the main points of and takeaways from travel: perspective on the scale of our lives and worries. (I wrote about this a bit a couple of years ago).
Here are some other specific lessons, takeaways and surprises from our 9 days in Japan; included below are some must-try restaurants and my opinion of the best sites to visit.
There is so much to share about food, but the main headline is: PORK! Before this trip, I thought of Japanese food as mostly sushi and ramen. However, during this trip, I discovered the huge role of pork in Japanese cuisine and the variations in cooking it from yakitori (skewers), gyoza (dumplings) and tonkatsu (deep fried).
Must-try restuarants in Tokyo for each of these are:
Jomon in the Rappongi neighborhood for skewers
Harajuku Gyoza-Ro for dumplings
Tonkatsu Tonki in the Meouro neighborhood for fried pork
It isn’t all sake in Japan. Again, this was a good reminder to me of how stereotypes are formed. We went to several places that were just about meat and beer. And again, it wasn’t the better-known Sapporo that was my favorite, but Asahi draft. So wonderfully dry and delicious. And check out this amazing contraption too:
We’ve all heard a lot about the Spring cherry blossom season in Japan, but not so much about fall there, which is spectacular–especially in the temple gardens throughout Kyoto. Many of them are planted with each season in mind.
On our train rides from Tokyo to Kyoto and beyond, I saw my first persimmon tree. I had seen persimmons before, but never the skeletal black tree carrying them in peak season in the fall. We were on the train for 5 hours one day. There were various spots of cloud throughout the trip. The black trees with the bright orange fruit dotting them would pop out of the landscape of rice fields and small towns.
A friend of mine who taught English in Japan for a couple of years had written about persimmons with great love, and they have been a source of inspiration for art and poetry for centuries. I found this lovely little haiku book in English in a small used bookstore near the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove just outside of Kyoto City. It was put together by a collective of Japanese and Foreign writers. It felt like finding treasure: Something I could only discover in a small bookstore in a certain area in the world.
Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
This is a magical place you must see if you travel to Japan. I hadn’t heard of it before, but now it ranks in my mind as one the grandest monuments I’ve seen. We got to Kyoto in the early afternoon and had time to tackle one place that day. The lady at the information stand in the train station near our Airbnb suggested we head there. We got there at around 3pm, which was perfect timing because that meant we were climbing the mystical mountain through dusk and sunset.
You have to do the whole climb and descent if you can. At the base, I was disappointed by just how crowded it was, feeling that the amount of people clogging the temple was taking away from the experience–especially because everyone kept stopping to take pictures of themselves in the red arches. But the higher we went, the fewer people we saw. As we got closer to the top, we were completely alone for long stretches, and that’s when the mystery and spirituality of the place really seeped into my bones.
I especially loved these beautiful, moss-covered, eerie old graveyards that we began to encounter at the top of the hill. You feel the full force of time and history while walking around in them. There was nobody but my husband and I around, and the silence of the forest the shrine weaves through.
This might seem like a weird one, but wherever we went, we kept seeing examples of the obvious failings of what was clearly the use of Google Translate (or similar internet applications). Something was clearly getting lost in the literal translation from Japanese characters to English… I found this fascinating (and admittedly, hilarious).
Locks on the train for luggage:
In so many of the shops we went into, books were used as props for the clothes. I found this very interesting.
Dried/jerkied fish things:
(I was not brave enough to try any of these)
I don’t have much to say here except to share how big coffee is in Japan, and that it’s worth trying all the small coffee shops. Two favorites in Tokyo: Mojo Coffee and Turret Coffee near the famous Tsukiji Fish market.
The name is inspired by the turrets used to transport huge crates of fish in the huge market:
Rice Pound Cake
This amazing rice pound cake was one of my favorite things on the trip, not too sweet and the perfect texture. We tried it first in the small onsen (hot springs) town of Kinosaki, and it was amazing. (Also it was the best one we had on the trip because it was a small bakery, not a prepackaged cake. So I was really reminded of how nothing can replace fresh baked goods!)
The Path of Philosophy
I loved the story behind the name of the Path of Philosophy. It is so called because a Kyoto philosophy professor took the walk every single day to contemplate the world, universe, and our place in it.
My favorite thing about the path was finding this little storefront managed by a man in his seventies who informed us that all the cakes they offered were made by his wife that day.
When I’m travelling, what always strikes me the most are the different lives going on at the same time as mine, in different places. People I’ve never heard about or think of. I’m always delighted to meet these strangers. It feels like they’re from a parallel universe (something I’m writing a longer essay about, actually).
Like this woman in her sixties who owns a small bar in the Golden Gai of Tokyo. She is an artist by day, has two sons, and you can see her imprint all over the bar with posters and various installations. I loved her green-and-purple-dyed hair, and I sat there imagining what her life was and is, while people from San Francisco talked loudly around me. She was leaning against the bar listening (she did speak English), smoking, and reading this book.
This was something we saw a sign for on the very first night there at a random festival we came across. The pictures on the stands were basically of crispy brown fries cut really long. We were headed to dinner so we didn’t try any. For the rest of the week, my husband was searching for them everywhere, desperate to try them because of this episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. Gladwell describes the difference between the fries we now know, cooked in vegetable oil, and the fries McDonald’s used to make, cooked in animal fat. On our very last day, in our very last hour in Tokyo, we finally stumbled on a stand that sold “long potatoes.”
I can attest that Gladwell is absolutely right. You haven’t tried fries until you’ve tried them cooked in lard. (Everything in moderation, right?) Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, both crunchy and melting in your mouth.