LEARNING TO LET GO

Learning to let go has been a goal of mine in the recent years. Going through hell and back has not only shaped me, but has taught me to grow as a person. During this time I learned to never let someone else take control of my life. I have seen that tomorrow will always bring change, whether it be good or bad. The ultimate lesson though came in the shape of letting go of people (or situations) that were toxic to my well being.

The RiSE Lantern Festival actually took place this past weekend in the Mojave Dessert. The location was rather unspecific but sits about 30 miles outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. This trip was actually a spur of the moment decision for a friend and I. Nonetheless, fueled by our desire to let go (and the chance to wish upon a star), we made the drive out from Los Angeles with no plan and no where to stay.

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Since we had a long 5-6 hour drive ahead of us, we quickly fueled up with some avocado toast from Blacktop Coffee. It definitely feels as though avocado toast is synonymous for Californians. You can find a variant of it at almost every brunch location in DTLA.

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Ran into very little traffic on the 10 freeway since we left in the morning. Made a mad dash to a hotel in Las Vegas to where our tickets were being will-called. I thought it was a little strange that the tickets were at a separate location, but things always seem to have a way of working itself out. Thankfully we stopped for the hard copy or else we likely would have been turned away! (You need the bottom tab to collect your two lanterns, mat and pen!)

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Read some reviews from the previous year that stated parking would be a nightmare. The event started around 4pm and we arrived around 5pm. Getting there early actually worked out to our advantage since we were sent back to the car to put our blankets away. (You can basically bring yourself, a camera/phone, a jacket and some water!) The festival grounds are actually a good 15-20 minute walk from the parking lot so come prepared.

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After what seemed like an eternity of walking back and forth, we finally reached our destination. It was a relief to see this sign inviting us in. From this point we found something to eat (which took forever), collected our materials and got to writing. I will say that laying on a small mat in the desert is not ideal. I definitely inhaled/rolled in enough dirt for a lifetime. The ground also gets really cold as the sun sets so come prepared with warm clothing.

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The excitement didn’t actually hit me until the first release of lanterns took place. For a lack of better words it was surreal. It looked exactly like the scene from Disney’s Tangled. Though I almost caught fire a few times to low flying lanterns and nearly burned my “dreams,” I realized once more that nothing beats the power of positive vibes. As cliche as it sounds, it was impossible to be in foul mood surrounded by such happiness.

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At the end of the night, we decided to just drive home rather than looking for a place to stay. We left the event around 9:30pm (ends at 10pm) and was surprised to find ourselves out of the lot in less than 30 minutes. Was 12 hours of driving worth it? Definitely! All in all this experience is one for the books and I hope to return in the years to come. Sometimes all we need is a little reminder that magic still exists. Thank you RiSE.

KIJITEI HOEISO RYOKAN

Sometimes I find myself needing a vacation while I’m on vacation. Uhh… Bear with me on that thought before you brush me off as insane. Japan is such an amazing country, and there’s honestly never a dull moment. You are literally always on the go because there is so much to do and see. So what better way to unwind, then to stay at a ryokan and relax in some hot springs.

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn and can be found all over Japan. They’re not as common in the city, but there are tons of ryokans just a short train ride away. Japan also has an amazing public transportation system, so most places are very accessible.

Here’s a quick shout out to the shinkansen (bullet train) for getting me from one place to another so quickly. The shinkansen travels at about 160 mph (257 km/h) so I got to Hakone from Kyoto in under 3 hours. (It would have taken 6 hours by car!)

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Nonetheless, a 3 hour train ride is still quite a bit of time so it’s important to stock up on some food/snacks for the trip. My choice for the day? This amazing bento box that I purchased in Kyoto Station. There’s actually a ton of different bentos you can choose from. I’m super indecisive so I spent at least half hour trying to decide.

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Dozed off on the train and woke up at my destination. Hello Hakone, you were everything I imagined and more! The area does feel extremely rural in comparison to Kyoto and Tokyo. But fear not, because Hakone is a very popular tourist destination. They are quite famous for their onsens (hot springs) so you will see visitors from all over the world.

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There seems to be an ice cream stand around every corner in Japan. Every day is a cheat day when you’re on vacation right? So I absolutely must eat ice cream every chance I get! Okay fine… I didn’t eat ice cream every day, but I definitely ate my weights worth in mentaiko onigiri (rice ball).

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There’s actually a bus that will take you to your designated ryokan. The buses are located right outside of Hakone Station, so no need to worry about transportation. Finally arrived at Kijitei Hoeiso after a series of never-ending winding roads. I am also happy to report that I did not throw up on anyone due to motion sickness.

The view from the ryokan was truly something else! Most ryokans in Hakone have onsens for guest use. It’s actually customary in Japan to enter an onsen fully nude (there are separate hot springs for men and women). The water is supposed to cleanse you, so you don’t want to contaminate it by bringing “foreign” objects in. The lush backdrop may be aesthetically pleasing, but it also serves as a form of privacy since onsens are outdoors.

Still not comfortable getting naked with strangers? Well fear not, because Kijitei Hoeiso lets you book their onsens for private use. I definitely took advantage of this and spent an amazing 30 minutes just relaxing in the hot spring.

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Ryokans take pride in tradition, so I was immediately served some matcha (green tea) with azuki (red bean) snacks upon arrival. Let me start by saying the rooms at Kijitei Hoeiso are huge! The room in the photo houses your dining table and is later partitioned off to create the bedroom. Keeping true to Japanese tradition, the beds are actually kakebutons (floor futon) which are surprisingly comfortable.

Next to the main room was a small living room with couches, a coffee table and a mini fridge. There was also a very nice balcony, a private entryway, and a huge bathroom with a giant tub.

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In the evening, a traditional kaiseki (multi-course) dinner is served in your room. To say I was spoiled during my stay is an understatement. Each of the dishes were super detail oriented and delicate. This surprisingly turned out to be my favorite meal of the trip!

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The meal is compromised of small courses that included sashimi, seafood, mozuku (seaweed), pork, vegetables, eggs and so much more…You definitely get your moneys worth when staying at a ryokan since breakfast and dinner are usually included.

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Dinner even came with this cute little bowl of udon that had a little flame under it to keep it warm. This particular dish is quite simple, and yet I can safely say that this is probably my favorite udon. Can someone please teach me how to make the noodles and broth?

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The meal also includes yakiniku (grilled meat) for those of you who can’t live without meat. Your server will bring out a small personal stone grill for you to cook on. They’ve pretty much thought of everything to put it simply.

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There’s always room for dessert right? Answer is definitely yes since this is probably the sweetest cantaloupe I have ever had. Oh and next to it is another little surprise wrapped up in a bamboo leaf.

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Low and behold the mysterious looking surprise! Turned out to be clear mochi filled with a sweet paste (possibly vanilla). I’ve had tons of mochi in my life, but clear mochi was definitely a first for me. The overall meal was spectacular and included foods not commonly served in modern restaurants.

I would definitely recommend Kijitei Hoeiso or any ryokan if you are looking to time travel. Photos of breakfast at Kijitei and Hakone to come soon!

Thanks for reliving Japan with me!

YAKITORI

Best part of traveling? Eating all the good foods without feeling guilty! The word “diet” does not formally exist in my vocabulary… It took me around 24 hours to finally get to Tokyo, so I really just wanted to pass out the first night. Fortunately I dragged myself out for snacks and stumbled upon an amazing yakitori restaurant!

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Assorted Yakitori

元祖串八珍 茅場町店 (Ganso Yakitori Kushi Hacchin) is a small yakitori place located in Chuo, Tokyo. Honestly, not even 100% sure that I got the correct name of the restaurant… Forgive me, I actually can’t read any Japanese and I was super tired and hungry.

Yakitori nonetheless can be found all over Japan (and even in the States). It’s usually regarded as drinking food, so imagine beer + skewers. Match made in heaven? I think so!

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Assorted Yakitori

The skewers have a lot of variation when it comes to types of meat. Popular items include sunagimo (chicken gizzards), hatsu (chicken heart), and tons of parts of a chicken that you probably thought were inedible…

Wait wait! Don’t run away! There are of course more common meats that are just as delicious (and not as frightening). Pictured above is butabara (pork belly), gyutan (beef tongue), negima (chicken + green onion), and nankotsu (chicken cartilage + green onion).

Assorted Yakitori (Chicken)

Chicken is very common in yakitori and makes up the majority of the menu. The skewers are usually cooked on a charcoal grill and are made to order. Most places in Japan even have bar seating so that you may watch your food being prepared. Just imagine a sushi bar, but with skewers rather than raw fish.

Assorted Yakitori

Here we have tsukune (chicken meatball), more nonkotsu, and quail eggs. I went all out if you couldn’t tell. But most skewers were only 100¥ ($1 USD)! How can you resist such amazing prices?! The answer = YOU CAN NOT!

Here are a few of my favorites for you:

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Tsukune (Chicken Meatball)

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Tsukune (Chicken Meatball)

I usually don’t like chicken very much… But I will devour it in seconds if you smash it onto a stick! Tsukune is usually covered in a tare sauce which is very similar to teriyaki sauce.

I highly recommend trying tsukune since it’s delicious (obviously) and a “safer” choice. If you’re feeling brave, then I dare you to try the more adventurous parts of the chicken. (It’s edible, I promise!)

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Tamagoyaki (Grilled Egg)

Tamagoyaki (or “grilled egg”) is an absolute must try when visiting Japan. This cost about 300¥ ($3 USD) and was the highlight of my meal. I must admit that this might be the BEST tamagoyaki I have ever had! You can trust me on this one, I eat tamagoyaki every chance I get.

Butabara (Pork Belly)

Another classic is butabara or better known as pork belly. I usually ask for this shio (or “with salt”). No lie, I probably ate like 3-4 of these that night…

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Gyutan (Beef Tongue)

Last but not least, gyutan or beef tongue. I realize this is not very commonly served in the United States, and I’m sure a lot of you are cringing at the idea of this. The texture is a little chewy, but it’s amazing when prepared correctly.

This wraps up my (unnecessarily long) post on yakitori. Hope you guys enjoyed it!

ASAKUSA

Happy Monday everyone!
Continuing with more photos from Japan! The evening of my first day consisted of exploring Asakusa, Tokyo. This district houses the famous Buddhist temple, Sensō-ji. This particular temple is actually the oldest in Tokyo! It was interesting to see how the Japanese preserved this site and then built this marvelous city around it.

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Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

This was the “entrance” area that led to a never-ending row of souvenir shops and eventually Sensō-ji. This is a more popular tourist area in Tokyo, so expect to see tons and tons of people (even in the evening). The shops/street vendors close around sunset, so come early if you plan on purchasing knick knacks to bring back home.

Sensō-ji (Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan)

The day I visited was unfortunately overcast and rainy, so my photos came out a little dark/grey.  Japan does have a typhoon season, so don’t forget to check the weather before booking a trip.

Sensō-ji (Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan)

The temple is actually quite breathtaking in real life. Sensō-ji is still a place of worship to many individuals. As beautiful (and photogenic) as it is, I always remind myself to be mindful of the local culture. I would highly recommend doing some research before traveling to Japan. The country has an extremely rich history.

Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

I chanced upon this cute restaurant while exploring the back streets of Asakusa. They were unfortunately full for the night, so I just snapped a picture and went on my way.

Tokyo Skytree

A much better photo of Tokyo Skytree during sundown. This was unfortunately as close as I got… This structure is actually the tallest building in Tokyo. They also have a special edition of Tokyo Banana that can only be purchased there. I definitely missed out!

Candied Yam

Would you believe me if I told you that the display was actually fake? It’s okay, I wouldn’t believe me either… They were however indeed just replicas!

Candied Yam with Sesame Seeds

I think it should be illegal to travel to Asia and not eat street food! It really adds to the experience in my personal opinion. Candied yams (pictured above) hold a very special place in my heart. They were a huge part of my childhood, so I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

Each street in Tokyo held a new surprise of sorts. It was interesting to see how modern yet preserved the city was.

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The “mandatory” wasting time in the bathroom photo… Is this what girls do in the bathroom?! The world may never know…

Taiyaki

Taiyaki or fish-shaped cake filled with red bean. There are many options for fillings, but the classic is generally red bean. (There’s also no fish/seafood involved if you were wondering!) Super good and an absolute must! Make sure to snag one that is freshly made.

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Final shot for the night right before I walked down to the subway station. This concludes the first day in Tokyo. Hope you guys are enjoying the photos.

As always, thanks for reading!

WELCOME TO TOKYO

Hello hello everyone!
Back with photos from the first day of my Japan trip. Tons and tons of photos to come, so please bear with me! I must say that 10 days in Japan was definitely not enough time. Here are photos from the east side of Tokyo.

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Chuo, Tokyo, Japan

My Airbnb was located in Chuo which was within walking distance of the Tsukiji Fish Market. It was also a short train ride away from Ueno, Ginza and Asakusa. I would definitely recommend Chuo if you are looking for a more relaxed area. Public transportation is amazing in Tokyo, so no need to worry about getting from place to place or being too far.

Chuo, Tokyo, Japan

Failed selfie attempt with Tokyo Skytree in the background!

 

TSUKIJI

Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo, Japan

Welcome to the chaos that is Tsukiji Fish Market. Personal space does not exist here! On a side note for those of you planning a trip to Japan, Tsukiji will be moved by the end of the year. This relocation is in preparation of the heavy tourism that is expected with the upcoming winter Olympics.

White Ichigo (Strawberry)

Forgot to take a close up photo of the white ichigo (strawberry) before I devoured them… oops! They have a rather high price tag, but they are definitely worth trying.

Ichigo (Strawberry)

The ichigo in Japan definitely reminds of strawberries I had a few years back in Korea. Why do strawberries in the States not look/taste like these?

Tamago Stand

Tamagoyaki

Absolutely can not travel to Japan and not eat Tamago right? Right! Checked this off my todo list immediately! Love that they give you this cute little fork/knife to eat it with.

Mentaiko

Mentaiko (or spicy cod roe) selling for super super cheap!

Skewers

No fish market would be complete without seafood skewers!

Tuna + Toro

Varying cuts of tuna/toro! Unfortunately the photo came out very red. They were definitely more vivid in person! I wish I could have devoured all of this…

Uni + Ikura + Tuna Bowl

Found myself at a small sushi restaurant for an early lunch! I ordered the Uni+Ikura+Tuna Bowl! Was actually taken aback with how fresh everything was! (Tastes 10x better than most “fresh” fish I find back home!)

Chirashi

This was the Chirashi which came with more variation! If you’re ever worried about finding fresh sushi/sashimi in Japan, you can stop now. I literally walked in to the first sushi restaurant I chanced upon and was not disappointed.

Lobsters

Strange looking little lobsters in Japan. (This particular photo was more for my personal amusement!)

Toro Sushi

Fattiest tuna I could find for only 600 ¥ (or about $6 USD). Should have ate ALL the toro when I had the chance!

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Tsukiji Fish Market

Secretly super tired at 12pm… Be prepared to do tons and tons of walking and exploring when in Japan.

Pineapples

Came across these gorgeous pineapples while wandering the city. I’m sure it tasted heavenly. Unfortunately it would have been a little awkward touring the city with a pineapple, so I didn’t buy it. So many regrets!

 

GINZA

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Laduree

Laduree

Found my favorite patisserie in Ginza. Laduree is my favorite when it comes to macaroons. This is actually a very famous French patisserie that seems to have locations everywhere except Los Angeles. I’m still waiting guys…

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Rose Macaroon

My absolute favorite are the rose flavored macaroons. Raspberry takes a very close second though. Yes, they can be quite pricey… but they’re totally worth trying at least once.

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Ginza, Tokyo, Japan

Wandered around Ginza and found this view from the top floor of G.Itoya. You will love G.Itoya if you love stationery! I believe there were around 5-7 floors. Ended the afternoon in Ginza and went back to the apartment for a nap. I blame jet lag!

Photos to be continued soon. Hope you guys enjoyed the post!

CANON G7X 

 

Canon g7x

As stated in the previous post, I recently got a new camera! I’ve had the Canon g7x for about a month and a half now, and so far I’m loving it. Slowly weaning myself from my iPhone’s camera. (Though I will admit the iPhone is much easier for quick shots!)

The built in wifi function is also super useful, and allows me to quickly connect and upload photos directly from my camera to my phone. (This allows me to upload nicer photos to my Instagram/Facebook whilst on the run!)

The photo quality and depth of field is fantastic, though I am obviously not a professional in any way. Part of me regrets not investing in this sooner! Here are some sample shots…

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Bear Whistle from Whistler, BC

The only “problem” I have with the camera is its size. A part of me wishes the camera was pocket-sized … But honestly, the size is quite nice in comparison to most DSLRs on the market! (My neck doesn’t feel like it’s going to snap at the end of the day which is a huge win!)

As to not bore you with camera shots, here’s another fantastic place to eat in DTLA!


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“16-piece with Lobster” from Kazunori

Kazunori is very similar to Sugarfish, but focuses solely on rolls! I would have to say Kazunori has a more casual atmosphere and is a great place to grab lunch. Ordering togo will get you this beautiful box of cut rolls (AKA heaven in a box)! Dining in generally consists of hand rolls and not cut rolls!

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Kazunori

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Kazunori

Pictured above is two of their “16-piece with Lobster” from their togo menu. I added an extra yellowtail roll because I can never resist more sushi! This set also includes toro, cucumber, blue crab, and lobster. Currently drooling while staring at the photos right now. (These shots were also taken by my Canon g7x to clarify!)

That’s all for now! Be back soon with tons of Japan photos!