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.

Processed with VSCO with c3 preset

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.

rise1

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!)

rise2

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.

Processed with VSCO with k2 preset

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.

rise3

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.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

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!)

IMG_3159

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.

IMG_3165

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.

IMG_3170

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).

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

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.

IMG_3176

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.

IMG_3180

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!

IMG_3194

IMG_3197

IMG_3201

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.

IMG_3219

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?

IMG_3222

IMG_3223

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.

IMG_3228

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.

IMG_3231

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!

MONKEYING AROUND

It’s been a while since I’ve updated so…
Here are some long overdue photos from Kyoto. Made my way out to the Arashiyama (Bamboo Forest) area in hopes of seeing some bamboo, but only had enough time for the Iwatayama Monkey Park.

The Monkey Park entrance is pretty hidden and I had to ask for directions on multiple occasions. Kyoto turned out to be quite an interesting city. On one end was Fushimi Inari-taisha, and on the other was this nearly unscathed landscape. But what if you don’t like nature? Well, no worries because you can easily stay in downtown Kyoto and go shopping instead.

IMG_3078

Kyoto, Japan

Chanced upon this river while looking for the Iwatayama Monkey Park. It was very surreal to see since the LA River isn’t much of a river… Actually it’s completely dry… I’ve driven by it nearly every day for the past year and have yet to see any water.

IMG_0916

Kyoto, Japan

Wandered around aimlessly because I’m directionally challenged… More shots of the river since I am envious of those who get to live beside it. I imagine there are tons of mosquitos here. Would I survive all the bites? The answer is probably not since I am usually mosquito bate…

IMG_3079

Iwatayama Monkey Park

Finally found the very well hidden entrance to Iwatayama. The cost to enter is 550¥ or around $5.50 USD. Be ready for the 15-20 minute hike up these stairs and bring water! I was given fair warning, but I definitely was not expecting such a steep hike. There’s a little rest stop about half way through in case you need a break.

Here’s a map of the park from the official Iwatayama website. Pretty sure I ended up taking the long way since I remember walking through the playground… Definitely didn’t notice the fork in the road…

IMG_0919

View from Iwatayama Monkey Park

This is the view you are greeted with after your unexpected workout. It was totally worth it in my personal opinion because…

IMG_0921

Japanese Macaque

You get to see the adorable Japanese Macaque (or Snow Monkey) in their natural habitat. They are actually not caged at all in the park. In an odd turn of events, it is the humans that are asked to step inside the “cage.”

IMG_0922

Japanese Macaque

You don’t have to enter the caged area, but there are strict rules to follow. I believe you are not to engage the monkeys or make eye contact with them outside of the designated area. On the plus side, you can purchase fruits for 100¥ ($1 USD) and feed them from inside the enclosure.

IMG_0923

Japanese Macaque

I was told that the best time to come is right when they open at 9:00am. This ensures that the monkeys will be hungry and eager to take your snacks. They’re definitely not afraid of humans and will gladly grab the food from your hands. Some pointed out that they can be a little aggressive, but I found them to be quite pleasant.

IMG_0924

Japanese Macaque at Iwatayama

There are tons and tons of Macaque in this area, so you will definitely see some if you visit. It seems as though this particular Macaque was busy pondering his/her life.

IMG_0926

Japanese Macaque + Banana

You may even come across a young Macaque eating a banana if you’re lucky. Yes, they apparently do eat bananas and are quite good at peeling them on their own.

IMG_0927

Baby Japanese Macaque

There are also baby Macaques depending on the time of the year! They are super super small and adorable. The babies however are definitely more timid and do not approach the feeding station.

IMG_0929

Sightseeing Japanese Macaque

If you didn’t believe monkeys were curious before, then you must after seeing this photo. Monkey see, monkey do right? Pretty sure it doesn’t get any cuter than this.

IMG_0931

Iwatayama Monkey Park

Okay, enough monkey business! Pun definitely intended haha… The hike down is definitely more pleasant than the way up. I couldn’t help but notice this tree with little plants growing all over the roots. It reminded me of a scene from Hayao Miyazaki’s, “Princess Mononoke.”

Please go watch the movie if you have never heard of it before. Actually any Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film is amazing, so I’m going to recommend watching all of them! His animations are amazing so I promise you won’t regret it.

Thanks for tuning in and reading my nonsense! I’ll be back soon!

FUSHIMI INARI-TAISHA

I normally don’t fancy grape soda but…
This saved my life as I trekked through the suburbs of Kyoto for 40 minutes in search of my Airbnb. Since I was moving from Tokyo to Kyoto, I had all my luggage with me and the weather was a “pleasant” 85°F (30°C)… Okay so I will admit that it wasn’t super hot out, but the humidity definitely did not help.

IMG_0438

Fanta Grape

Mistakenly got off at the “nearest” station to the Airbnb, then ended up walking in circles through the suburbs of Kyoto. To add insult to injury, I found a train station right behind the apartment… FAIL!

Japan can be very tricky to maneuver at times. There are tons of local trains and a lot of transfers involved, so ask for directions if you are even the slightest bit unsure. Google Maps is also super reliable and got me to my destination 99% of the time. Deducting 1% since it insisted on making me walk to my apartment.

But enough about me being lost in Kyoto, today’s post is on…

IMG_0385

Entrance to Fushimi Inari-taisha

Fushimi Inari-taisha, a Japanese Shinto shrine (not Buddhist) dedicated to Inari kami. Who is Inari and what is kami you ask? A kami is the spirit in Shinto religion, and Inari is the kami (spirit) of fertility, rice, sake, tea and foxes.

I arrived very close to golden hour, so I couldn’t really see the camera screen… (Another problem with the Canon G7x is the “missing” viewfinder!) I apologize for the oddly out of center image. I was likely focusing on the torii gate and not the main shrine…

IMG_0386

Kitsune (Fox)

One of the two foxes (kitsune) at the entrance of the shrine. Inari is the kami of foxes, so shrines dedicated to Inari will have foxes at the main entrance.

Kitsune is seen as Inari’s messenger, so many will bring the fox offerings. What is an example of a famous offering? Inari sushi, which is cleverly shaped to have two ears like a fox. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google it and be amazed.

IMG_0387

Mini Torii Gates with Wishes

IMG_0388

Mini Torii Gates

Hundreds of wishes written on miniature torii gates can be found throughout the shrine.

IMG_0389

Messages for Kitsune

The shrine also offered fox shaped charms for writing messages/wishes. The fox charms also allows you to draw in your own face. Now you can make wishes and be creative at the same time. Sounds like a double win in my book!

IMG_0390

Fushimi Inari-taisha

IMG_0392

Fushimi Inari-taisha

I grew a little impatient waiting for everyone to take their pictures… I did however find this trail that led me slightly above the torii gates, so I snapped some shots of the exterior.

IMG_0383

Fushimi Inari-taisha

Why take a photo inside the walkway, when you can take a photo from above… This is how impatient I can be.

IMG_0393

Fushimi Inari-taisha

Not really sure what this was supposed to be… I did all my research before traveling to Japan, but this left me stumped! HAHAHA get it?! Okay, no more tree puns…

IMG_0395

Fushimi Inari-taisha

And finally… a nearly empty photo of the famous torii gates found at Fushimi Inari-taisha. There are an estimated 10,000 torii gates at this shrine. Another fun fact? Each torii gate is actually a donation from a Japanese business in hopes of good fortune.

IMG_0398

Fushimi Inari-taisha

Another gorgeous scene as I made my way back down. I’m convinced that everything in Japan looks better. Unfortunately we did not make it to the top of the trail and back. I was told this takes a few hours, so come prepared if this is your goal.

IMG_0403

Takoyaki

Takoyaki purchased from a street cart outside of the shrine. What is this you may ask? Well takoyaki is a wheat-flour snack filled with chopped up octopus. It is then topped with mayonnaise and bonita (fish) flakes. I would recommend steering clear of this snack if you are not a fan of seafood/octopus!

On a side note, takoyaki can be found all over Japan (not just Kyoto) and is probably one of the most common street foods. I know it sounds a little strange, but it’s actually quite yummy.

IMG_0405

Taro Ice Cream + Silken Tofu

Best way to end a post? Ice cream! This was a scoop of taro ice cream topped with silken tofu soft serve. I will admit that I cringed at the idea of tofu soft serve at first, but the texture turned out to be creamy and perfect. I guess you should never judge a book by its cover, or in this case its ingredients.

Thanks for checking in loves. To be continued soon!

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!

img_0227

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!

img_9387

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:

img_0231

Tsukune (Chicken Meatball)

img_0232

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!)

img_0233

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…

img_0228

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.

img_0174-2

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.

Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

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.

Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

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!