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I Love Japan

I am hereby officially proposing a new flag for this great country.

Out with the old…

And in with the new…

Japan is the most efficient, the most clean, the most organized, the most advanced, the most polite, and the downright coolest country I’ve ever been to. I wanna have it’s baby!

One of the most awesome districts of Tokyo is the Shibuya district, which you may recognize from the movie Lost In Translation. An estimated 1 million people cross through this pedestrian scramble each day.

By my estimation Shibuya has to be the largest shopping district in the world. Now I’m not what you would call a shopoholic by any means, but I do appreciate creative and colorful advertising if it’s done right. Shibuya certainly has some of the largest, and most colorful advertising I’ve ever laid eyes on. It makes the billboards of Los Angeles look like a dump.

And the Japanese just LOVE their cartoons and weird animated characters.

I swear Peter Pan must have been inspired by a Japanese person. It seems like they never want to grow up. It’s no wonder they are so youthful and energetic and happy!

Melrose Ave. in LA has nothing on the building facades in Shibuya.

I don’t know what it is. But it’s impressive for a store front.

And that’s just the outside. They cut no corners in designing the interiors of stores either.

It’s this sort of creativity that allows huge corporate brands like McDonalds to take chances and think outside of the box. The results are often clever and witty. In this example, they go with the Less Is More mantra and do away with all branding. No famous golden arches. No Ronald McDonald clown. Just “Quarter Pounder” in red writing on a black truck. I’m not a McDonaldsoholic either, but I appreciate their willingness to experiment. It’s fun! Simple. Effective. Different.

The purpose of my trip to Shibuya today was to try and locate a store I had been to last year. It was part automat, part clothing store. I didn’t know the name, or the address. So all I could do was retrace my footsteps from memory.

Once I found the sports complex I knew I was headed in the right direction.

All I had to do was walk past the tower…

…past the swimming pool building…

…past the courtyard…

…and right over the bridge, I would be dropped off right near Harajuku St. This is one of the funkiest streets in all of Japan. So many unique individuals all with their own personal style.

Everything goes here. Nothing is too crazy. Experimentation is strongly encouraged.

Once I found the memorable “WHAT!?” wall I knew I was getting close.

Just around the corner would be the geometric glass Audi building…

…and just down the street a couple blocks was the shirt store I was looking for!

The cool thing about this store is that only one of each of the t-shirts they have for sale is on the clothing racks pictured above. If you like a shirt, you look at the tag on the shirt for a map of the store. It will tell you which floor your shirt is on, and which wall to find it on. You make a mental note of the shirt style number, and then you go look for that code along the wall where the map pointed you to. The walls are lined with shelves of LED numbers that coorespond to the shirt style numbers. Once you find your number, you pull the clear round tube with red screw-on top off the shelf for your desired size.  All of the shirts are custom designs by local Japanese designers. It sort of turns shopping into a little game and helps to put just a little bit of ‘oholic’ in even the most non-shopolholics. Fun. Clever. Unique.

With my mission accomplished and a couple of new t-shirts in my bag, I popped into a little resteraunt. They too had a unique purchasing system. You pre-pay for your meal at a little vending machine that spits out a ticket very much like a train ticket dispenser. You then hand the ticket to the lady behind the counter and they prepare your meal for you. Simple. Efficient. Tasty.

Everything about this country is so much fun! I love everything about it! So as you can imagine, it is with great sadness that we must bring our Japan stay to an end. I love this country. I will be back soon Japan! I’ll miss you!

Location, Location, Location

We’ll we’re back in Tokyo. One of the greatest cities on earth! Yesterday we checked into the Prince Hotel, and scored a sweet view from our room of the Tokyo Tower off in the distance.

Today our friend Kana met up with us to go explore the grounds of the Tokyo Imperial Palace.

Located smack dab in the middle of the bustling city of Tokyo…

…the palace grounds cover 3.41 square kilometers and at one time the real estate had a value greater than that of all the real estate in the entire state of California!

Like so many other palaces in Japan, the grounds are surrounded by a giant moat filled with glass like water.

Unfortunately the actual palace building itself was destroyed by fires, earthquakes, and human destruction to make way for other buildings. Fortunately, there are still some great gardens…

…and ponds to walk through…

…and to sit and ponder by.

After leaving the palace grounds I randomly stumbled across the Marunouchi Gallery, which had a really cool space photo exhibit by the photographer Vincent Fournier. Below are a few photographs from the collection.

After warming up in the gallery for a few minutes we hopped on the train at Tokyo station back to Shinagawa station so that we could meet up with Jay’s dad for dinner who just happened to be in town on a business trip.

After dinner it was back to the hotel.

Hiroshima -> Hatsukaichi -> Itsukushima (f.k.a. Miyajima)

On the island of Japan…
In the prefecture of Hiroshima…
Is a city by the name of Hatsukaichi.
In this city is the island of Itsukushima.
It was this island (popularly called Miyajima) where we took a ferry out to today.

And it was on this island, just a few meters off the shore where the most famous Shinto shrine exists.

During high tide, the Itsukushima Shrine appears to be floating in the bay.

And during low tide you can walk past the friendly deers on the island…

Right up to the base of the torii.

And you can sit on the edge of the shrine on stilts…

…and watch as the water recedes back into the ocean.

That process of course can take several hours. So instead of watching paint dry, we instead choose to take the more challenging hike of the island and walk 2.8km to the top of Mt. Misen.

First a little meditation…

… to ensure out safe travels up the rocky mountainside.

And then it was off through the rainbow colored trees…

…full of multi-colored leaves.

It was a hike that took us almost vertically straight up the side of the mountain. But as they say “no pain, no gain.” And gain we did. As we gained more and more altitude, the views became more and more breathtaking.

Once we reached the top of the mountain at 535meters above sea level, we took it one step further. We found the tallest boulder we could find… and climbed to the top of that to celebrate our accomplishment…

…and to enjoy the view…

From way up above, we could check the tide levels way down below…

…in order to time our decent back down the mountain, and back to the ferry, back to Hiroshima, and then back to Tokyo later that night.

The experiences we had in Southern japan were remarkable, further cementing Japan’s place in my top 5 countries in the world. It’s definitely a must see, and I know I for one will be coming back.

Hiroshima Is Heavy

WHOA! This city is powerful.

We arrived here in Hiroshima this afternoon on the Shinkansen high-speed train from Osaka. We quickly dropped our bags off at the hostel and then headed out on the tram to visit ground zero. The Atomic Bomb Dome.

The former HPIPH (Hiroshima Prefecture Industrial Promotion Hall) is one of the last remaining buildings from that fateful day on August 6th, 1945. On that morning, at 8:15 in the morning, as people were on their way to work, and children on their way to school, the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb ever to be used in the history of humankind. The a-bomb detonated about 600 meters above the HPIPH, and consequently vaporized everything in the radius of the blast.

What remains of the building…

…has been preserved in the same state as immediately after the bombing, now serving as a reminder of nuclear devastation…

…a symbol of hope for world peace and elimination of all nuclear weapons.

Across the river from the dome is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park which has a variety of monuments and memorials to help us all remember the impact of the decision to drop the bomb.

The Memorial Cenotaph has the names of all the people killed by the bomb. The Cenotaph carries the epitaph, “Repose ye in Peace, for the error shall not be repeated.”

Through the monuments arch you can see the Peace Flame…

The most jaw dropping memorial had to be the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound.

That grass-covered knoll contains the ashes of 70,000 unidentified victims of the bomb.

Seventy-thousand human beings incinerated in a matter of seconds.
Seventy-thousand mothers, fathers and children.



No words can describe the lump in your throat or the knot in your stomach as you stand there just trying to imagine what it was like on that clear August day.

Behind the Peace Flame is the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The museum exhibit presents the facts of the atomic bombing, with the aim of contributing to the abolition of nuclear weapons throughout the world, and to achieve world peace. As one might expect, the sights in the museum are gut wrenching. Some of the display cases show clothing, watches, hair, and other personal affects worn by victims of the bomb including several watches that have stopped working at 8:15am. Towards the end of the exhibit is when it really gets emotional as you see piece after piece of scorched childrens clothes, and toys, and lunch box tins that are charred beyond recognition.

Again, no words can fully describe this experience but perhaps the thousands upon thousands of origami cranes next to the Children’s Peace Monument can help to sum it up.

Despite the atrocities that took place in this city, they people of Hiroshima of risen above it all and have taken it upon themselves to shown us all what is really important in this world, and what it means to be a human being on this planet.

Thanks Hiroshima!

Another Day Another Train

The railway system in Japan is above and beyond any other mode of public transportation I’ve ever experienced. Highly efficient. Highly reliable. And high-speed bullet trains!

It has become very clear on my travels that one of the defining factors in what separate an decent city from an excellent city is the train system. All of my favorite cities thus far have had great train systems… Barcelona, Berlin, Vienna, Athens, Budapest, and of course the entire country of Japan.

The train picture above is taking us 330 kimometers south from Osaka to Heroshima, and the entire trip will last just over an hour. I love flying, but unless I’m the pilot, trains are now my preferred method of travel.

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