Travel Friends are Forever

Anyone who has read this website before knows how much I extoll the virtues of solo travel and how positive those journeys can be. Those values must not be forgotten but today I am going to focus on something even more important than the solo travel experience: the travel friend everyone needs to have.

Travel is the only expense that makes you richer. Sometimes you get even richer from travel if you can go with your good friends.

My best travel friend in the world also happens to be one of my best friends from my hometown. Our quest for adventure and sightseeing has taken us to many spectacular places where we have seen amazing things and participated in many unforgettable events.

It all started on a rainy Wednesday morning in central Pennsylvania when my friend Andrew and his brother, David, picked me up for what would end up being an eventful day in Lafayette Square at the inaugural Tax Day Tea Party in Washington, D.C. The whole experience set the wheels in motion for a friendship that has led us to more than 15 states, three Canadian provinces, and two (soon to be four) countries in North America (and Asia).

From that moment onward, we began to take weekend trips to see different places in our part of the country. Often times we traveled in his Mazda to the historic triangle between Harper’s Ferry, WV, Antietam, MD, and Washington, D.C., to celebrate Memorial Day. One time we made a wrong turn and decided to stop at a special place on a state road where West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia all converged into one point on the banks of the Potomac. DSC01461

The sights and sounds that day in the Mid Atlantic were amazing.

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As we continued to travel and make long hauls of weekends, we realized that we had something few friends have when it comes to travel: chemistry. Anyone who travels a lot knows how hard it is to find a friend who has the same travel interests and travel style. Pace, interests, and reasons are often irreconcilable differences when it comes to choosing the people with whom you want to travel.

We both love roadside attractions, a very fast pace, history, and taking a ridiculous amount of photos. As a result, we began to plan an unforgettable road trip during the summer of 2012 from Central Pennsylvania to Ft. Ticonderoga and then to St. John’s, New Brunswick, Canada, by way of Montreal and Quebec City. After that, this 2000-plus mile road trip would meander down the East Coast with stops at Acadia National Park and some other historical landmarks on our way home. With all these stops and all that distance, you would think that we would do it all in about a week or two, right?

Not us. We did it all in a span of only five days. We loaded up his Subaru and were on our way to Canada, for better or worse. DSC08147

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After many scenic stops, some ridiculous encounters with fellow travelers and locals, an interesting cab ride in Montreal, and an all-night drive between Montreal and Quebec City, we made it to New Brunswick where we met our match the following night. After taking in the beautiful cliffs at Fundy National Park, we were on our way back to the United States to hopefully camp for the night at Acadia National Park.

Andrew and I at Fundy National Park, New Brunswick, Canada, ca. 2013.
Andrew and I at Fundy National Park, New Brunswick, Canada, ca. 2013.

Horribly foggy conditions engulfed our vehicle in northern Maine and led us to drive at speeds of 15 miles an hour all night down back roads along the Maine coast to find the nearest hotel to stop for the night. We stopped at a bar to ask for directions and watched a Red Sox game with some locals who let us know that we were decidedly unwelcome. After that, we got back on the road and headed down the road with a brief stop until making it to Acadia National Park in the morning. Even though it was so stressful, we both knew more trips had to be done following an experience like that.

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We just never knew when it could happen.

As luck would have it, my vacation time from my job in Japan allowed us to meet up last summer (2014) for another high octane road trip across America, this time to St. Louis and back (via Chicago and Cincinnati).

Totaling over 1700 miles, this trip would be on more familiar territory (we both had extensive travel experience in the Midwest), but would not be short on energy or excitement. Posing with Touchdown Jesus in South Bend, Indiana, eating White Castle, seeing lightning strike the Sears Tower, meeting Swedes in Chicago, and seeing my aunt in Cincinnati all accented what was another amazing trip to one more of America’s great landmarks.

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The most remarkable thing about it is this: throughout all of our travels, we have never had a bitter dispute or bickered to the point where we were not speaking to each other, even for a few hours. Each time we have hit the road and traveled, it has been enjoyable and memorable no matter where we were in North America.

We were resided to the fact that that journey was probably our last one together as I returned to Japan and he returned to school in the United States.

As we all know, life often takes unexpected twists and Andrew and his brother are about to board a plane to come see me in Japan. During the three weeks they are in Japan, we will traverse Japanese cities and countryside and even take a jaunt to Seoul, South Korea, to get an authentic experience in the city with some of my Korean friends.

Who ever would have thought that two boys from small town USA would end up see so much of the world together in such a short period of time? Some things bring people together and help forge friendships for life.

For me, travel certainly is one of them.

I know as soon as I meet them at the arrivals gate at Kansai International Airport on Wednesday, the good times will roll again in Japan like we never missed a beat.

Travel friends and the memories you make with them will be a topic of conversation between you all until the day you pass. Get out there and travel and bring a seasoned friend with you from time to time.

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Sumida Park – Tokyo Sky Tree and Sakura

One of Japan’s most famous symbols around the world is the cherry blossom. Between the end of March and the beginning of April each year, many varieties of trees open up their blossoms and reach full bloom. These cherry blossom trees are popular all throughout Japan and Tokyo is no exception. With many famous gardens and parks boasting wide varieties of flowering plants, there is no better place to check out the yearly sakura blossoms.

Let’s take a walk together to see Sumida Park, a good site to see Tokyo’s cherry blossoms. Nestled up against the Sumida River, there are many scenic photographic opportunities.

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After waking up early on Saturday, I was off to Kuritsu Sumida Park in the heart of Tokyo, right across the river from the famed Sky Tree. At this park, some varieties of trees were in full bloom while others were just beginning to bloom. I was not alone as many tourists and Japanese alike came to the park to check out the blossoms on this warm late March morning.  Sky Tree and hoards of Japanese enjoying their annual hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties made for an interesting start to the day.

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Above the walkway, many lanterns hung from wires and the trees. These pink and yellow lanterns sponsored by Asahi Beer were an interesting site and similar to the lanterns I observed last year in Nakameguro during night time cherry blossom viewing.

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Other lamps also were on the site, this one from Asakusa Station. DSC02058

As I continued down the walkway, many people gathered around (and under) a tree which was nearing full bloom.

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Albeit cloudy, there were ample opportunities to frame Sky Tree with the season’s blossoms.

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After walking for a few more minutes, I reached the north side of the park where a weeping cherry tree was already in full bloom. Surrounded at its base by some yellow flowers, this tree stood out from the rest in the park.

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After backtracking to the train station, the next stop along the way was Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens (小石川後楽園), right across the street from Tokyo Dome. Many beautiful sites were waiting for me. As I write the article, it is still hard for me to believe how this garden exists in the middle of Tokyo right next to such a huge sports complex.

The weeping cherry trees were already in full bloom compared to the trees at Sumida Park.

Sumida Park is one of many good places to see Tokyo’s cherry trees come to full bloom each March/April. More info coming on other places I visited in Tokyo last weekend.

Kimono in Tokyo: A Photographic Account

This weekend I trekked to Tokyo to see the gorgeous cherry blossoms open throughout the city. The opening of the blossoms and the changing of the seasons are very symbolic in Japan.

During this time of year, there are many special ceremonies and cultural events. One of them is called ohanami (お花見), where friends, family, or groups of people will lie out a tarp and enjoy food and drinks under the blossoming cherry trees. While most people will wear normal clothes, some Japanese wear traditional clothing for this traditional event.

It was interesting to see traditional Japanese clothing and traditional Japanese events happen in one of the world’s most modern cities this weekend. Here is a photographic essay documenting what I saw this weekend at various parks and shrines across the city.

Saturday started off at the famous Asakusa Shrine where hoards of Japanese and tourists alike assembled to take in one of Japan’s most famous sites. While incense burned, two women walked through the crowd on their way to pray at the shrine. Their brightly colored kimono stood out from the rest of the crowd.

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From here, I continued onward to another famous park in Tokyo, Kuritsu Sumida Park, directly across the river from Tokyo Sky Tree, Japan’s tallest building. Along the river, children played, families took a stroll in the warm morning and afternoon breeze, and many people enjoyed hanami. Amongst the mayhem there were many kimono and many beautiful cherry blossoms. Almost as soon as I arrived, this image of a woman and her daughter caught my eye. Their kimono were beautiful!

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As I continued down the walkway, more Kimono were visible. Friends and family alike were dressed up for this special occasion.

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Some younger girls in kimono were even interviewed for a television program.

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From here, I went to a few more parks and gardens, namely Shinjuku Gardens and Koishikawa Botanical Gardens, but there were no kimono, just countless beautiful flowers. After these stops I stopped at Kita no Maru Park and encountered a few more women wearing kimono.

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The day was waining but spirits were high. One more stop remained on my itinerary.  The last stop of the day proved to have the day’s best imagery.

One of Japan’s most famous and most controversial sites is Yusukuni Shrine, which is the shrine dedicated to Japan’s war dead. The shrine in the heart of the Chiyoda Ward offers some of Tokyo’s best cherry blossom viewing opportunities. After a long walk through a massive festival with live bands and street food, I arrived at the shrine to see some of the flowers. On the right, something special caught my eye.

Japanese men and women were dressed in traditional clothing performing a special dance inside the shrine grounds. I stood there and watched it for over 20 minutes. Here is what I saw.

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Three women were dressed in beautiful kimono and performed synchronized dances while a traditional Japanese band strummed shamisen and beat taiko drums. It was an interesting sight to behold and I will be uploading a video at a later point.

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As the performance closed and daylight wained, I had one more chance encounter with a kimono. Through the sunset and the cherry trees, this woman’s kimono stuck out from the rest of the crowd.

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Inside Shinjuku’s Secret, Silent, Alleys

Shinjuku is the place where many Japanese dreams are born: bustling city streets, crowded train stations, and exciting nightclubs make this a destination neighborhood for Tokyo tourists with a wide array of interests. The crowded intersections and busy streets offer a portal into the world of what many Westerners think Tokyo is when they arrive in Japan for the first time. While the glitz and glam of glittering storefronts and bright lights has an allure all its own, inside this lively neighborhood is one of my favorite places in all of Tokyo, called Omoideyokochou (思いで横丁).

Venturing down “memory lane” or “memory alley” (as the Japanese translates directly to English), these quiet alleys reveal a different, more traditional look into Japan, mere paces from JR Shinjuku Station. The average tourist walks right by these alleys and misses out on a chance to experience a different Japan. This is a place where neon lights are replaced by glowing lanterns and where loudspeakers are replaced by shopkeepers enticing passersby to sit down for a beer and some yakitori at their shop.

When I lived in Tokyo four years ago, even I never heard of this place. I was turned onto it two years ago when I read an article (in Japanese) about the hidden spots and destinations inside Tokyo. It boasted of the “retro feel” of the “Showa-era streets”. Once I read about Omoideyokocho, I knew I had to check it out.

That was two years ago and now I always make this place my first stop when I get off the airplane or the Shinkansen in Tokyo. It always sets the tone for my weekend in the city. Join me for a journey into Shinjuku’s secret alleys.

After exiting JR Shinjuku Station (Yamanote Line) and walking down the main road for a bit, be sure to look for the bright green signs and the yellow script which say 思いで横丁. They are very easy to miss in the confusion that is Shinjuku, but you should be looking to your left.

If you are taking another train, be sure to cross under the Yamanote tracks. After that, you will make a hard left turn and the west entrance (西口) will be in front of you. In the springtime, look for the cherry blossoms hanging underneath the sign. In the fall, there will be autumnal leaves draped from the same area.

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As soon as you start your journey down these alleys, you will realize how different it is compared to the rest of Shinjuku. First and foremost, it is relatively quiet. Aside from the occasional conversation, rumblings of a passing train, or shopkeepers calling would-be passengers, the other sounds of Tokyo are nonexistent.

One of my favorite parts of Omoideyokocho is the lack of neon lights. They are replaced with glowing, traditional Japanese lanterns which spell out what each shop offers: yakitori, kushikatsu, izakaya-style fare, etc. On the typical evening, these streets will be filled with Japanese salarymen and Tokyo residents heading to their favorite watering hall after a hard day’s work. This photo perfectly captures the atmosphere in Omoideyokocho on a typical evening.

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Incandescent bulbs and lanterns illuminate the narrow alleys where you will definitely bump shoulders with Japanese of all stripes as you look for your preferred dining location. Men standing and waiting for their favorite hot bowl of ramen, the smell of grilling meat, Japanese oden, and the city streets will trigger your appetite, so be ready. Somehow full stomachs become empty as you pass down these streets.

I recommend walking through the alleys a few times to get a glimpse at all the restaurants and bars here so you know where you want to start your evening. Most likely, you will hit a few different izakaya on this street before moving on to the lively Shinjuku streets. It seems like each place offers the same food, but they are different! Trust me!

Once you choose your favorite izakaya, it is time to sit down and start chatting up the locals as you wait for your order. Don’t be intimidated if you cannot speak Japanese or read the menu.

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Many of the Japanese people in these shops will help you order or offer their suggestions for what you should get. I speak Japanese so it isn’t a problem for me, but do not be afraid. Lots of times, Japanese patrons will try to speak with you and ask you what you think about Japan. Just step into the shop with a smile. Going to a place like this gives you a great opportunity to meet locals and maybe learn a Japanese phrase or two as you start your journey here.

On Friday night, I spoke with a man who studied for a semester at Penn State (Pennsylvania, USA) and another man who had been to the Grand Canyon two different times. You never know who you are going to meet. After the chatting and self-introductions finish, it is time to eat.

While you may be use to wide and spacious restaurants in your home country, do not expect that type of an environment on this street. Expect small places (often only room for ten to fifteen people) and expect to be seated shoulder-to-shoulder with other patrons, often bumping shoulders and exchanging pleasantries. The narrow counters offer an interesting atmosphere where the store owners make your food right in front of you.

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Be sure to order a few different items on the menu so you have a continuous stream of food coming your way. Couple that with an Asahi beer and you are set for at least thirty minutes of excitement and fun inside of Shinjuku’s secret and silent alleys.

Once you are finished, you can go out into the madness that is the nearby Kabuki-cho, or you can head off to another secluded part of Tokyo like Golden Gai, where hundreds of bars await both locals and tourists alike.

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While most people come to Tokyo to experience the world’s largest city and some of the world’s finest gardens and parks, it would behoove you to stop by Omoideyokocho and enjoy a glimpse into a quieter, more traditional Tokyo.

Trails Through Tokyo

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a great time with my friends in Tokyo last weekend. It was definitely needed to get my mind off of issues I was having both in Japan and back home in the United States. Do you ever have a weekend that just magically comes together and makes for an unforgettable time for everyone involved? It seems like that happens to me each time I take the Shinkansen or the plane back to Tokyo. It seems like every time I hear the harmonious melodies emanating from the Yamanote Train encircling Tokyo, all is right in the world.

After our night out in Shinjuku, my friend and I woke up rather early on Saturday for another day of sightseeing at some of my favorite spots in Tokyo. While it had been nearly three years since I had visited some of these places, it is amazing how small shops and memories come back to you when you are back in a familiar environment, regardless of how long the lag time is. First up on the list was my old neighborhood in Tokyo, Jiyugaoka.

This neighborhood is well known as one of the ritziest and most elite neighborhoods in all of the city, and for good reason. The boutiques, bakeries, and designer stores are abundant. Here there are any gardens and the streets are narrow near the station. I love this neighborhood. The only catch is that I lived in a dorm here, not an apartment. You can get a feeling for the neighborhood as soon as you step out of the station. The fashion-conscious japanese take their fashion very serious in Jiyugaoka. Here’s how the station looked on Saturday afternoon in the sunlight, as the hats umbrellas, and skirts were a sight to behold.

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As we exited the station, all the sights, sounds, and smells of the area triggered long lost memories to return. Acting on a spur of the moment impulse, my friend and I ventured to my old dorm building, somewhat off the beaten path, about ten minutes walk from the station. I was pleased that the gardens remained even though the tenants had changed. One of the nice memories of living where I did was picking up fresh vegetables from the garden each night as I walked home. Those veggies would be setting on a slab with a change can right next to the road. Always on the honor system, it would pick up radishes and onions for the evening’s dinners…

Following some more touring of the neighborhood and a quick stop for coffee, we were back on the Toyoko Train and headed to another favorite spots of mine: Shibuya Square. I changed trains every day in Shibuya Station and I still don’t know how I mastered the maze of corridors and halls that make up one Tokyo’s busiest stations. After a few wrong turns, we made it to the world’s busiest pedestrian crosswalk. As Japanese pop music came from the stores and people bustled to-and-fro, I again felt at home in the busiest city on the planet. After some sightseeing and a little shopping, we were off to some more nice places along the JR line: Takeshita Street and Shinjuku Gardens.

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First up was Takeshita Street, known for its bustling shopping streets and unique stores. We spent time there and marveled at all the different types of people that pass through there in a matter of minutes. From the foreigners to the otaku to the businessmen on their way to their next appointment, there are so many different types of people in this neighborhood. Lest I forget, there were also many, many camera-wielding tourists. After some ice cream on a storefront stoop, we were off to Shinjuku Gardens via Omodesanto.

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I thought Shinjuku Gardens would be a fitting place to end our day excursions because of the sheer number of beautiful scenes and benches on Jericho be could rest. Tokyo is very walkable, depending on where you get off the train, but a day of walking and people watching certainly takes it’s toll on you. In Shinjuku Gardens, we marveled at the ornate setup of the foliage and took time to watch the carp and koi swim through exquisite ponds while we also looked at beautifully pruned bushes and shrubs. While I must say the towering buildings in the background give a nice touch of modernity to the park in the summer, the best time to come to the gardens is during the cherry blossom season, often in the first week of April.

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After a few hours here, we wrapped up our tour and headed back to our hotel to take a nap before meeting some of my friends later in the evening. More on that one, later.

In Japanese, there is a word for dear or missed memories, and it happens to be one of my favorite Japanese words: 懐かしい. (Pronounced natsukashi.) Days like this in Tokyo remind me why I love the city so much and why it it is important to live in the moment whenever you are doing something. No one would have predicted the 3/11 earthquake nor how quickly I would have had to return after such a disaster, but I was able to relive better times in Tokyo with one of my dear friends from language on a beautiful, yet scorching, Saturday in Tokyo.

I finish this entry with a photo of the station board in Jiyugaoka. It is very 懐かしい for me.

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Quiescence in Tokyo

Most of us have a place or two somewhere on the planet where we can either sit down and relax or bring ourselves to a state of quiescence rather easily. This is a place where the world slows down, our mind clears, and we can rediscover ourselves in the midst of our daily trials and tribulations. For most people like me with a  rural upbringing, there is no place like our grandmother’s back porch or our backyard at home.

While both of those places provide so much respite and relaxation for me, there is one place in the world where everything truly comes to a stop and where clarity returns: Tokyo.

This might sound far fetched tom some, especially as I would be a foreigner in the world’s largest and most bustling city, but for some reason I feel as at home in Tokyo as I do amidst the rolling hills, corn fields, and quaint small town streets of my hometown. Tokyo provides me a sense of anonymity and clarity amongst the tens of millions of Japanese bustling through their daily lives on the JR trains and busses that traverse every corner of the 23 wards.

This weekend provided me a rare sense of clarity and quiescence in no other place but Tokyo. I would like to share my story.

As readers of this blog know, this is my second time living in Japan, both times separated by about two and a half years and the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Life in Kansai (western Japan) is good, but I have recently been troubled by some personal problems along with a sense of complacency with my living situation. That is never a good thing.

My friend from language school informed me that he was moving to Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo, for another immersion language program and invited me to spend the weekend with him  to rekindle old memories and meet some of my friends in Tokyo. I could not turn down such an invitation and quickly hopped aboard the Shinkansen on Friday night after work to head to the big city. As expected, Shinagawa Station in Tokyo was packed, but this time I was not annoyed in the slightest. I looked forward to brushing shoulders with the salarymen on their way home and the other young people on their way out for the night.

Salarymen descend to the Yamanote Train at Shinagawa Station. (c) erikabroad.com
Salarymen descend to the Yamanote Train at Shinagawa Station. (c) erikabroad.com

After meeting up at our hotel in Shinjuku, I became a tour guide of sorts, taking him to and fro throughout Shinjuku’s back alleys and less-traveled streets. First up on the list was a place called 思いで横丁 (omoideyokocho) , which translates walking down memory road. This is one of my favorite spots in Tokyo, where each and every vendor sells yakitori and you go from store to store, getting your favorite skewers and noodle dishes as the night goes on.

Yakitori Shops line the streets of this alley in Shinjuku.
Yakitori Shops line the streets of this alley in Shinjuku.

As we walked from our hotel room to the yakitori streets, light rain started to fall and changed the entire atmosphere of an unbearable and hot Tokyo afternoon to a more comfortable, bustling Tokyo evening. Quickly the umbrellas came out and all the lights and signs from the storefronts quickly glistened off the streets and from the puddles. It was a great evening. My friend and I went from store to store, sampling our favorite yakitori while also making new friends along the way. We even helped someone set an alarm on their phone in English! It seemed on these streets that the enoki bacon and Sapporo tasted better than anywhere else in all of Japan.

From there, we went on to another area of Shinjuku, called Golden Gai. This area is famous for the amount of small bars packed onto the small city alleys. The bars often only seat between four and ten people, so the seating is premium, as is the experience. We had a few drinks at some of the establishments and enjoyed chats about everything from Japanese baseball players in America to forcing people to give their self-introductions in English. These kinds of evenings are my favorite, as my friend and I became a little less foreign for one night as we interacted with the Japanese, in Japanese.

We walked back to our hotel and settled down for what we thought would be a good night’s sleep to prepare for another day on our feet in Tokyo, but Mother Nature had an issue with that– an earthquake woke me up around 4:00am in true Tokyo fashion.

This was a perfect night in Tokyo for my friend and I. Little did I know, but tomorrow would have even more in store.

The Kobe Luminarie – A Pearl of Western Japan

Certain places are always at the top of the list when it comes to travel and visiting Japan. Kyoto, Tokyo, Hokkaido, Okinawa, Osaka, and a few others are always mentioned as unique places to go or places to go during different times of the year to take in festivals or local cuisine. One town, Kobe, must be on you “to visit” list if you come to Japan in the winter. It is a beautiful place with such a unique history of interactions with the West, different architecture, and some historical gems, but one thing sets it apart from the rest of Kansai: the Kobe Luminarie. 

Last evening, I joined two old friends from Philadelphia and headed down to see the Kobe Luminarie, located in the central district of the port city. From the beginning, it was evident that the event would be a sight to behold for all. This was my first time to the Luminarie. It was even the first time for my friend that lived in Kobe several years ago. We were so excited for the event and the brisk cold could not dampen our expectations. Traffic was stopped in many different places in the city to make way for pedestrians heading waiting to see the Luminarie. Even the path heading to the Luminarie itself was lit with grandeur. I was a little homesick at this point, as the main street in my hometown lights its trees in a similar fashion. 

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After a few more minutes of walking, we turned a corner, and off in the distance we could see the front gate to the Luminarie. It was truly remarkable! The twinkling lights, the bright colors, and the gasps and gawking of other visitors was very memorable. I stopped to take a few photos, as well. Here’s the first glimpse of the gate. 

After a few more minutes of walking, we turned a corner, and off in the distance we could see the front gate to the Luminarie. It was truly remarkable! The twinkling lights, the bright colors, and the gasps and gawking of other visitors was very memorable. I stopped to take a few photos, as well. Here’s the first glimpse of the gate. 

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As we neared the street shrouded in lights, even more interesting things came to light. Western-inspired Latin music plated through speakers, helping lead the tour of the Luminarie. The meaning and importance of both the Luminarie and music goes much deeper than the casual observer would know. Following the Kobe Earthquake of 1995, the Luminarie was established as a memorial of those that lost their lives in the devastating earthquake. The musical scores all centered around the theme of “light” and “continuation” towards a better and brighter future. The luminarie and music had quite the harmonious relationship as you approached the first segment of the Luminarie. 

After taking a few more photos, we entered the first segment of the Italian-built Luminarie. The lights lined the street for several hundred yards and helped create a unique scene in an urban center like Kobe. I certainly did not feel like I was in Japan during this whole adventure. All the while, one of the friend with me on this adventure told me that one of his family members was singing in the musical group which sang the official songs for the event!Image

After traversing the twinkling walkway, we made our way to what can only be described as a beautiful cathedral of light and sound. The next structure in the Luminarie appeared, to me, as a church-like memorial and work of art. European-inspired classical Latin music played in the vicinity and I felt like I was back in the streets of Montreal or Quebec City. Many fellow visitors had a similar sense of admiration when we approached the second component of the Luminarie structure. I have included a few photos of my favorite part of the Luminarie.

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As more elegant music played and the smells of fresh yakitori filled the air, we passed by the final exhibition in the Kobe Luminarie, a much more colorful and modern-looking work of art. 

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Other places in Kansai have Luminaries and light shows, but none can compare to the display in Kobe. The meaning and importance of the Luminarie coupled with its meticulous setup and musical integration make it an absolute must-see for those of you who may be in Japan next winter, before Christmas. Sharing this moment with two of my friends also helps make it memorable for me. 

The Kobe Luminarie is truly a pearl on the necklace of Western Japan. 

All images (c) 2013, Erik Jacobs. erikabroad.com

Reflections on Tokyo

Greetings, everyone. I am sorry it has been so long since I have posted on my website, but it has been for good reason. Over the past two weeks, I have been in the process of moving to Japan and have been without internet, telephone, cell phone, or other means of communication for quite a while. I finally have access to a cell phone and thought it was important that I post on here now that I have a little bit of free time. 

Last week, I had orientation in Tokyo for three days to prepare me for the work I will be doing in Kobe-shi for at least the next year. It was a very insightful event where I learned a ton about Japanese schools and the job I will be doing in just a few weeks. More than that, I made new friends and caught up with some old friends of mine from Tokyo in my free time. Nothing really beats that type of experience. Lots of Australians are also on this program, so it is interesting to discuss the differences between Australian and American English while bonding over what surely will be an unforgettable experience both living and working in Japan. 

On my second night in Tokyo, I met up with an old friend and ate some yakitori and enjoyed a few Pocari sour drinks, all in Japanese. Neither of us could believe it had been two years since I was in Japan but we both could not believe that I did not speak Japanese at that time. The rain that evening as we went back to Shibuya Station on the Yamanote Train really brought back memories for me; strolling through an elusive Tokyo before the 2011 earthquake. I’ve attached a picture to give you a feel of how great Shibuya square looked as we strolled back to the station. More photos and posts to come as time permits.