Akiyoshidai Cave – Japan Travel (Guest Post)

On Saturday morning, the Cooper family and I loaded into the family car and drove from Hiroshima for about 2 hours to the Akiyoshidai Cave, Japan’s largest and longest limestone cave. After a short break at a gas station, we made it to the Akiyoshidai Cave! Or at least the parking lot relatively close to the Akiyoshidai Cave.

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Akiyoshidai is yet another cool place that I didn’t get to see in person. Take a look at my friend’s recollections. Please take a look at the original post to see all the photos! https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/akiyoshidai-cave/

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

Rachel Kitai is a traveler and an artist, see her work here: http://rachelkitai.com/

On Saturday morning, the Cooper family and I loaded into the family car and drove from Hiroshima for about 2 hours to the Akiyoshidai Cave, Japan’s largest and longest limestone cave. After a short break at a gas station, we made it to the Akiyoshidai Cave! Or at least the parking lot relatively close to the Akiyoshidai Cave.

After we parked, there was a long walkway of sorts lined with shops on either side. These shops were full of rocks, gems, magnets, keychains, phone bangles, and more. There was one restaurant with a display of their food in display cases and an ice cream shop. The ice cream shops sell primarily one ice cream flavor with and then you choose what kind of syrup flavor or jimmies you want on top. At the end of this walkway was the ticket booth to buy the tickets to the cave.

We walked the 1 km of the cave and came up the other side after a very long flight of stairs. In reality, the entire cave is 9 km long but only 1 km is actually open to the public.

Unfortunately, I had to go to the bathroom and the bathroom on the other side was actually a bunch of holes in the ground. I really wish I had googled how to use those types of bathrooms online or that they kept a how-to pamphlet in the stalls. Regardless, I figured it out and I peed in a squat toilet. Unfortunately (again), there was no soap or paper towels and I was not prepared as I normally was with hand sanitizer. Whatever – life goes on; I survived. And we made our trek out and above the cave to get back to the parking lot.

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To Japan (Guest Post)

On Sunday, March 01, I stood next to my husband as we waited for the bus. It was early and his eyes were still squinting at everything as he wasn’t fully awake yet. I squeezed his hand in the cold, feeling the warmth. My stomach felt like it was in my throat with nervous energy. The bus for the airport pulled up and I shoved my way through the crowd of people squeezing through the doors…

Today, I will travel to Japan after dreaming about it for years! I won’t have time to write about it until a few weeks later, so let me share a blog post written by a dear friend about her journey to Japan a few years ago.

On Sunday, March 1st, I stood next to my husband as we waited for the bus. It was early and his eyes were still squinting at everything as he wasn’t fully awake yet. I squeezed his hand in the cold, feeling the warmth. My stomach felt like it was in my throat with nervous energy. The bus for the airport pulled up and I shoved my way through the crowd of people squeezing through the doors. I grabbed a support pole and turned in time to see him standing alone outside as the bus pulled away. I stared out the window on the way to the airport and took deep breaths as I forced myself to hold back the tears.

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post, as well as more pictures, here: https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/to-japan/

Rachel Kitai is a traveler and an artist, check out her art here: http://rachelkitai.com/

The Prague airport is one of the easiest and relaxed airports I have ever been through; it’s also one of the smallest. With my carry-on bag and purse I was through security in less than 5 minutes. No taking off my shoes. No pat-downs. No mean glances or rude comments. I made my through the airport, grabbing a pastry on my way to the gate on the other side of the small airport.

About 2 hours later, I was in Amsterdam. With only a 3-hour layover, I focused completely on getting to my gate. My stomach was churning with the thought of missing my flight or being delayed in any way. I followed sign after sign, walking quickly pulling my bright pink bag behind me. After 20 minutes of walking, I got to a series of windows/booths. I took out my passport and waited in line for my turn.

When I got to the front of the line, the passport agent squinted at my passport and I handed him my biometric card which shows that I have gone through the mess that is getting a visa to work in live in the Czech Republic. He stared at both for a long while before saying, “You know this is about to expire, right?” Before I could respond and explain that I know and that I’m a good citizen of the world with plans to follow all the rules and renew it when I got back from my trip, he had stamped my passport and handed it back to me, calling the next person in line and ushering me on my way.

Still doing my best to follow the signs to my gate, I turned left and followed the crowd down a flight of stairs and through a hallway to a very huge crowd waiting in a series of lines. After 30 minutes, I finally made my way to the front of the line, only to be told that I had been waiting in line with people trying to exit the airport. I had apparently followed the wrong signs. Shoving my way through the crowd, down the hallway, and up the flight of stairs, I saw my error. With all of the construction in that one area the hallway I was supposed to walk down was partially obstructed. Sighing in relief, I continued my way down and through the airport.

I eventually made my way to the gate which had it’s own set of security and metal detectors. I waited in line with a large number of Asian people. It’s safe to say I was the tallest person in line. 30 minutes later, we were allowed to go through the security for this gate which felt like a miniature version of the one I went through earlier that day. The security for this gate was significantly more strict than the security in the Prague airport. I had to take off my belt and shoes. In addition, I had to take every single electronic device and cord out of my bags and into it’s own bin.

After another 30 minutes of waiting, they were finally boarding. Knowing that this was a 10 hour flight, I had chosen an aisle seat ahead of time so that I could get out and stretch my legs with ease. I didn’t want to constantly ask my seat-mates to move simply because I develop spontaneous restless leg syndrome on planes. Unfortunately, this notion did not deter the two women sitting next to me in the middle and window seats. Clearly a mother and daughter duo, I had no success at falling asleep or even making it through a full movie as they were asking to get out every 1-2 hours.

I don’t remember all that I watched or did on the plane for those 10 hours but I do remember watching You’re Not You with Hillary Swank and Emmy Rossum. I remember this primarily because of how much I was crying. If you don’t know, the movie is about a successful pianist that develops ALS and the dysfunctional college student that ends up taking care of her. Super emotional. I mean, me. Well, the movie did have its moments but my reactions were merely exacerbated by how I was feeling being separated from my husband. In a nutshell, it was a salt-waterfall down my face for a solid 2 hours.

At one point, I was fed. The airline gave each person two options: A Western option and an Eastern option. Before I tell you which option I chose, I actually re-read a lot of my blog posts recently and I noticed one thing in particular: I force myself to try new foods quite often. More often than not, the meal is only okay and I don’t eat half of it because I don’t like a particular spice or sauce but despite this, I try it and then I continue to try new things. I asked the flight attendant to describe the dishes to me and I foolishly chose the Eastern dish. In the moment, I was proud of myself as the Asian flight attendant raised his eyebrows and nodded in surprise. I thought that he thought, “Wow, the white girl is trying the Eastern dish. Impressive.” Smiling, he handed me the Eastern dish, which I only ate 1/2 of. Now, I say I foolishly chose the Eastern option not because it was bad or unpleasant but because I am a notoriously picky eater and I was on a 10 hour flight without many other food options, if any at all.

At 12:35pm on Monday, March 1st, I landed in Fukuoka, Japan. Before exiting the plane, everyone was handed a small document and I was clueless. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with that document or where I was supposed to go. I had done research before traveling but I didn’t see anything about having to fill out any special document or have any information prepared. Plus, as I only had a 3.5 hour layover before going to Osaka, my stomach was in my throat again.

I followed the massive amount of people and waited in line and then did my best to fill out the document which was confusing and unclear. In fact, I ended up grabbing extra copies and filling it out three different times. When it was my turn to talk with the customs/documents people, I clearly screwed something up. The agent did not speak English well or at all and she was very adamant about having the address where I was staying. I kept on saying that I was staying with my sister in Osaka and I didn’t know her address or what hotel we were staying in. I wrote down half of her address in Hiroshima from what I remembered but it was probably wrong and not all there and not in Japanese. She asked for my sister’s phone number and I nearly threw up my hands in despair. How was I supposed to know any of this information! Two agents ended up coming over and saying very softly that it was okay this time but I needed to be prepared next time. After a firm finger wagging, Japan became the second country after the Czech Republic to get my fingerprints. That’s right the good ol’ US of A doesn’t even have my fingerprints. With that and a photograph, I was given a 90 day tourist visa.

I walked down a hallway, and then down an escalator to another section where I had to wait in line for something that I didn’t know anything about or understand. I grabbed a form and started to fill it out as I slowly made my way to the front. The customs agent looked at my form and my bag and my face before he spoke words that were so soft and low it was as if he was whispering in a movie theater located inside of a testing center inside of a library. After asking him to repeat himself three times with no success I decided to nod my head which satisfied him and then he gave me my passport and bag and let me go.

After this, I had to take a bus completely around the entirety of the airport. I had entered in the international terminal and I needed to go to the domestic terminal so that I could fly to Osaka and that required a 20 minute bus ride around the entirety of the airport. I hoped and I prayed that I was on the right bus going to the right place and I guess I was because I got there. I entered the domestic terminal, found my check-in area and waited in a long line so that I could send my bag through an x-ray machine again. Apparently, the airplane was SO small, that they had to check my bag. It was just way too big to fit in the overhead section of plane.

After this, I made my way upstairs so I could go through security. This security looked like it was from the 1970s. It was both bulky and really small. All of the baskets were way too small. I had to put every single item into it’s own bin and even then, they were all too small., I had to scan my ticket at an electronic point and I apparently scanned the wrong bar code because it flashed red and someone had to come to help me. After going through security, I made my way to what I thought was my gate which looked like saloon doors in front of a large hallway next to a bunch of shops. I bought a sandwich from one of those shops and sat down to wait. After 30 minutes or so, I made friends with a German and we went to the saloon doors to ask if we were supposed to do something. Apparently, we were just supposed to know that we had to walk up and scan our ticket to go through the saloon doors and through a hallway and down some stairs to enter a shuttle to take us to our plane.

One hour and 20 minutes later I was in Osaka, Japan.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Japan (Guest Post)

The Children’s Peace Monument (just below) was built in dedication to all the children who died as a result of the bombing. The sculpture is based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki (佐々木禎子), a young girl who died after the bombing due to radiation. She truly believed that if she folded 1,000 cranes, then she would be healed…

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

One last post from Rachel Kitai about Japan. Please visit her blog to read more about her travels in Japan, Europe and the USA the original post also has some beautiful photos: https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/02/hiroshima-peace-memorial-park/

Rachel is a traveler and artist, please see her art here: http://rachelkitai.com/

After visiting the Hiroshima Castle, we biked over to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The Coopers started by playing a game of keep-away while I photographed them and kept an eye on Alex.

Once we were finished playing, jumping across rocks, and building imaginary forts, we made our way to the center of the Peace Park. Our first stop was the A-Bomb Dome, also named the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Before the bombing, this area was a thriving commercial area and this building, the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, was the only building in the area that remained standing after the bombing. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s currently being audited/checked to ensure that it’s not structurally unsafe. Apparently, four years to the day after the bombing, it was decided to make the downtown area a peace memorial instead of redeveloping it.

There are several other memorials/statues in the area in honor of specific groups of people. The Children’s Peace Monument (just below) was built in dedication to all the children who died as a result of the bombing. The sculpture is based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki (佐々木禎子), a young girl who died after the bombing due to radiation. She truly believed that if she folded 1,000 cranes, then she would be healed. Around the statue were thousands and thousands of folded paper cranes. Children from all around the world send their folded paper cranes. There were several clear plastic boxes stuffed full of cranes. It was beautiful. I was so mesmerized that I forgot to take a picture. Sorry, guys.

The monument below is the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students. Around that time, thousands of students were “mobilized” to help with the war effort by completing primarily factory work. This was built to honor nearly 7,000 of those mobilized students that were killed in the bombings.

Pictured below is the Memorial Cenotaph. It is made entirely of concrete and has the names of every person who was killed by the bombing. If you look in the center of the picture, below the arch, you can see the Peace Flame (eternally lit) and the A-Bomb Dome. Written on a plaque in front of this arch is “安らかに眠って下さい 過ちは 繰返しませぬから” which was translated as “Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil.”

While thoroughly exploring the area, Aly and I each sipped on a Fuzzy Navel. When finished, we went to an underground shopping center to eat an amazing lunch/dinner. We started the meal with a huge mountain of a salad topped with a perfectly poached egg. Aly and Will weren’t fans of poached eggs so I scooped that off the top and ate my salad drenched in the delicious yolk of an amazingly tasty egg. Then, we ordered a bunch of stuff and shared it between all of us – a seafood pizza with pesto, an amazingly good Japanese bento box, and some other stuff that is clearly being overshadowed by that poached egg and seafood pizza. It was so good ya’ll.

After eating our fill, we biked home in the dark. It was so lovely. While biking, we were singing “I got my tight pants on..” but a few minutes into it, I changed the lyrics so that it was Wyatt wearing the tight pants. “Everybody sees Wyatt in his tight pants. He’s got his tight pants. He’s got his tight pants on.” Wyatt giggled non-stop. I was kinda scared he was going to fall off his bike. He kept on trying to sing, “Aunt Rachel has tight pants…” which just didn’t work but A for effort, Wyatt.

Aly and I went to a grocery store while the boys went back to the Cooper home and it. was. glorious. Czechs aren’t really into snacks… well, they are but it’s just chocolate and candy; Like, it’s impossible to find decent crackers anywhere. I’m way more into the savory. This store had so many savory snacks. I wanted to buy them all. They had so much seafood, guys! SO MUCH. And it actually looked good. I miss good seafood – not ridiculously puny shrimp that look like they layed out in the sun for too long but huge prawns. That’s right, they were so big they have to be called something different. And scallops and lobster and such beautiful goodness. I think I bought only one or two snacks though. And then we biked home with grocery bags hanging from our handlebars.

Train to Tokyo, Japan Travel (Guest Post)

The train from Osaka to Tokyo is about 4 hours. We ended up taking a train from Osaka to Tokyo and then from Tokyo to Hiroshima a few days after that. My point is that we had an odd experience on the train but I don’t recall on which train ride it happened. I’m pretty sure it was on the train ride from Osaka to Tokyo…

I will only be in Japan for 5 days and there’s only so much I can see. Luckily, my friend saw so much on her trip a few years ago. Hopefully, her posts will fill in the gaps of mine!

The train from Osaka to Tokyo is about 4 hours. We ended up taking a train from Osaka to Tokyo and then from Tokyo to Hiroshima a few days after that. My point is that we had an odd experience on the train but I don’t recall on which train ride it happened. I’m pretty sure it was on the train ride from Osaka to Tokyo…

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post, and more photos of Mt. Fuji here: https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/23/train-to-tokyo/

Rachel Kitai is a traveler and artist, check out her work here: http://rachelkitai.com/

Regardless, Aly tried to make it clear to the attendant at the ticket counter that we wanted to be seated in one row together but it seemed like he misunderstood as he ended up giving us assigned seats to the middle seat of 3 separate rows. Not very convenient considering we had an eight year old, 2 adults, and a baby in a stroller. It’s not like I was helping as I was busy getting everyone donuts from Krispy Kreme (I’m such a good sister/Aunt, right?). If we all sat in one row, it would have been completely okay because we could have just wedged the stroller in front of us taking up the entire row.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. We decided to sit in one row regardless but after a stop or two, people started coming on the train and looking for their assigned seats. I moved to my seat (middle seat of the row in front of Aly) and I told Aly to stay put regardless of what anyone said. Having lived in Japan (and Asia), she is much more sensitive to the culture and customs, one of which is a strict adherence to rules and seat assignments. I, on the other hand, just didn’t care. So, when someone came on the train asking to sit in the window seat where Wyatt was sitting (since that was his assigned seat), Aly graciously moved the stroller out with the full intention of standing in the hallway of the train near the bathrooms for the rest of the train tide. While she was doing this, I was essentially guilting this poor Japanese businessman into sitting in Wyatt’s assigned seat (the middle seat of the row behind us) instead. Thankfully, after chatting away with no real indication that he spoke English, understood what I was saying, or even cared, my guilting worked and he motioned for Aly and Wyatt to sit in the row together with the stroller in front of their feet. Isn’t that nice? Thanks, random Japanese businessman!

Once that entire incident was settled, I spent the rest of the train ride alternating between reading a book on my Kindle (Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers) and staring out the window taking photos. Luckily Aly was paying attention on the train ride because all of a sudden she tapped me from behind and motioned to the other side of the train where I could see that we were passing Mount Fuji. How gorgeous is this mountain?

That night, one of Aly’s awesome friends met us at the Tokyo train station with her daughter. I really really really wish I had taken some photos of the train station and of the downtown area. It was dusk by that time but it was so beautiful. Please Google “Tokyo Train Station” and you will be immensely surprised and confused at its stark contrast in comparison to the modern skyscrapers surrounding it. Man, the streets were crazy busy! Like SO SO busy. In general, Tokyo was insane. I mean, it’s the most populous city in the world with 38 million people living in this place. My country/suburb girl instincts wanted me to run away to the beautiful countryside and be a hermit! So many people. Generally speaking, I’m quite good with maneuvering through crowds but this was just unacceptable. I had never truly known or felt the real meaning of “packed like sardines” until I went to Tokyo. I can’t even tell you how arduous and weird and slightly terrifying it was to cross a street at an intersection with 150 people behind you and 150 people in front of you. It’s like riding a wave that’s smashing into another wave.

Moving on… we all went to this cool shopping center/business building that had a number of restaurants on the 5th or 6th floor. We took the elevator up and ate some amazing authentic Japanese food – soba noodles, tempura shrimp, and tempura vegetables. Also, I ate the whole meal with chopsticks. Go ahead, be impressed.

After the meal we went to and checked into our hotel. The two receptionists were quite taken with Alex (~1 year old). They kept on smiling and waving at him. Related side note, the elevators in Japan have no sensors whatsoever. They will most definitely close on you and move while you are stuck in the door. Now, Alex was out of the stroller and we had entered the elevator with some difficulty as the door kept trying to close on the stroller and then me and then Aly and then one of the suitcases. We had gotten in and the elevator door just began to close when Alex bolted for the gap. You should have seen the look on the receptionist’s faces: sheer terror. Thankfully, Aly has lightning fast reflexes and scooped up Alex in time. However, I will always remember the look on those two girls’ faces. So hilarious.

Hiroshima Castle – Japan Travel (Guest Post)

Our Sunday officially started with a bike ride to Hiroshima Castle, only a few blocks away from the Cooper home. It was so refreshing to ride a bike again. Hiroshima, the city, is actually quite flat and it’s easy to get around on a bike even if you’re out of practice (like me).

Not being able to visit Hiroshima was one of my biggest regrets. Take a look at Rachel’s original post for gorgeous photos of the Hiroshima Castle! https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/hiroshima-castle/

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

Rachel Kitai is a traveler and artist, check out her art here: http://rachelkitai.com/

Our Sunday officially started with a bike ride to Hiroshima Castle, only a few blocks away from the Cooper home. It was so refreshing to ride a bike again. Hiroshima, the city, is actually quite flat and it’s easy to get around on a bike even if you’re out of practice (like me).

The entire Cooper family rode our bikes to the castle and then Aly and I went up and around to view all the displays. One floor alone was just about the evolution of toilets in Japan. That was…fascinating. Another floor described the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima and I was extremely impressed by how…diplomatic the English text was. I don’t mean “diplomatic” in a bad or negative way. The tone of the text was just very factual without any judgment. They literally just said exactly what happened and how it happened and how it affected everyone else. I was so very impressed.

Japanese Delicacies: Seafood Pancakes (Okonomiyaki)

Japan combines seafood with pancakes and makes the world a happier, fuller place!

When you’re out in the middle of Tokyo looking for a place to eat before a crazy robot-fighting show, there are just way too many options. We walked into a random place and found ourselves sitting at tables set up with chopsticks, variously sized scraping tools and a large hot plate in the middle. For just 1,200 JPY per person, we could eat as many Okonomiyaki as we could!

Just a few weeks ago I started writing about eating pancakes from around the world! First I wrote about Chinese za liang jian bing, then about Thai Roti and as soon as I found out about Japanese Okonomiyaki, I knew I had to try them. I just didn’t realize that I would stumble upon them on my first night in Tokyo!

Okonomiyaki can be made from a variety of ingredients varying from chicken and pork belly to cheese to a myriad of seafood including: tuna, squid, shrimp and octopus! At this particular restaurant, the waiters brought plates of chopped up ingredients right to our table, mixed them and prepared the pancakes right in front of us in the hotplate (called a “teppan”).

The batter is made out of flour, grated yam (nagaimo), water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage. The main ingredients vary and apparently can even include mochi! Once they are sufficiently fried, they are decorated with sauces: okonomiyaki (similar to Worcestershire) and mayonnaise. The final touch is a sprinkle of aonori (seaweed flakes) and katsuobushi (soked-tuna flakes).

This Japanese delicacy is traditionally from Kansai and Hiroshima, although today it can be enjoyed anywhere in Japan. We tried it in Tokyo, where it is smaller in size than in Southern Japan. Although Okonomiyaki is considered a pancake, it is frequently compared to an omelet or a Japanese pizza. This pancake is definitely more filling than it’s Chinese or Thai alternatives, but maybe that’s just because I ate so many at the all-you-can-eat restaurant!

Sexist Sushi in Japan is Awesome… for Women!

Sushi is probably my favorite thing in the world and Japan is the best place to eat it. Since I can never get enough, I’ve been researching all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants in Tokyo. Turns out that most restaurants have different prices for men and women when it comes to all-you-can-eat menus. Women pay up to 2,000 JPY ($17) less!

With apologies to any feminists reading this, but realistically speaking the average man is stronger, faster and eats more than the average woman. If you can come to terms with this fact, then it’s not at all sexist to make all you can eat food cheaper for women. Is it? Although I admit to eating more sushi than any person should, my husband still manages to eat more. So he should pay more!

Now let’s factor in salary… unfortunately, it is still a common practice to pay women less than men. In the US specifically, statistics show that women made 80 cents for every dollar made by a man in 2015. You can read more about that here. Anyways, this makes the wage gap 20%. Now lets take another look at those sushi prices…

Tsukiji Tama Sushi is located in Ginza, a town known for it’s fresh sushi made with high quality ingredients. They offer all-you-can-eat sushi for “couples”: women pay 7,000 JPY, a man and a woman pay 8,000 JPY and two men pay 9,000 JPY.

9,000 JPY is about 78 USD so 7,000 JPY is 61 USD. That makes it almost 22% less for women! Coincidence? Probably. But it’s still awesome! Although if we get really technical and add the wage gap to the fact that women eat less than men, then women should be paying at least 40% less…

Personally, I’m happy to take while I can get. While the rest of you argue about inequality and food prices for women, I’ll be in Tokyo paying 20% less to stuff my face with sushi.

SMLXL