Category Archives: Japan

Japan -Part III-

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Okay, this is the third and final post about Japan, and it’ll be a little different than any of my other posts. For one, it will almost be completely composed of pictures of me and my travel buddies, and as many interesting Japan stories as I can remember.

Photo credit/model credit goes to my cousins Ali Al Omar and Tarik Sharif, and sister Noor Hason. 

Item One: The Cities

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We definitely hit some of the more popular cities in Japan, and it showed. It was frequently a bustling scene with large crowds and lots of people. I think people typically associate this imagery with Tokyo, but we experienced it in Osaka and Kyoto as well.

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People generally seemed to be in a hurry to get to their destination. Although we avoided the metro during rush hour, it still got pretty crowded. However, regardless of how busy it got, people were generally very respectful, quiet, and kept to themselves.

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You see the face mask regularly and cousin Tarik decided to join the trend. I’m not sure if those that wear them are trying to avoid getting sick, or if they are sick and are taking care not to get everyone else sick. Regardless, the facemask fashion scene was prevalent, and you could get different colors and patterns at the local shops.

Item Two: The Food

My perspective on Japanese food might be skewed as I don’t eat pork and a large part of Japanese cuisine (from what we experienced) was pork. On top of that, we didn’t put a lot of effort into finding the best spots to eat or making reservations (something I would recommend people do if cuisine is an emphasis for their trip). We did go to many different types of restaurants ranging in price and formality, but for the most part I felt Japanese street food was THE BEST.

Evidence as follows:

1- Matcha Ice Cream

2- Fried Goodies on Sticks

3- Onigiri

4- See items 1 through 3

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In Tokyo Disneyland they take popcorn to another level. There are MANY different flavors of popcorn and it is a large part of Tokyo Disneyland Culture. The locations of the popcorn stands where you can find each flavor are marked on the official park map. Flavors included things like chocolate, blueberry, caramel, and my personal favorite curry.

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We maybe had some issues with language barrier at times, and when you have dietary restrictions it can be an issue. For example, I accidentally ordered a non-alcoholic beer in Tokyo Disneyland. If I had known any Japanese, this could have been avoided. If I hadn’t assumed everything on the kid friendly part of the drink menu was soda pop, I probably would have been able to order a melon soda or even just a regular coke. Instead I picked the one item I didn’t immediately recognize for the sake of being adventurous… You live and you learn.

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Look at that mountain of cotton candy. It is beautiful, it is instagrammable, it is more sugar than any one person should have. We managed to have a few in the group (3 mountains of cotton candy for 4 people). But this transitions nicely to the next item…

Item Three: The Cuteness

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I’m not sure what it is about Japanese Culture, but “Cuteness” is very important. I have never seen as much cute stuff as I did in Japan. Food was cute. Corporate mascots were cute. Train safety signs were cute. EVERYTHING WAS CUTE.

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We even had the chance to use a Japanese photo booth in one of the arcades. It is essentially the OG snapchat filter photobooth that makes things “cute”. They instruct you on how to pose in the photo booth, then you move to the next booth to decorate your images.

(By what standard they are judging cute I really don’t know… I would call these “creepy” more than “cute”)

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Item Four: Japanese Heritage

I’m calling this Japanese heritage, but in a lot of ways it is just tourist stuff. Example: samurai swords. There is something historically significant about samurai swords. But I don’t know that many average Japanese people own them. However, everywhere you’d expect to see tourists, samurai swords aren’t far away.

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Same goes for tatami mats. I didn’t get a strong understanding of whether tatami mats are prevalent in the average japanese home, but 2/3 airbnb’s we stayed in had them, and to be honest that was a major factor in selecting our lodging.

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Kyoto, being the more historically rich city, was full of these culturally/historically/Japanese-whatever-y things. People would be wandering the city in traditional Japanese clothing that they rent from local stores. Even Japanese tourists from other parts of Japan were participating in this experience.

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Item Five: Big Man, Small City

Cities in Japan were large. But in terms of scale they are very… intimate? I’m not sure that is the word I’m looking to use, but follow this train of thought. Even by American standards I am a large man. I’m 6′ 3″ and I weigh more than you can count on two hands. So even at home I find myself in situations were I am “too big”. Now imagine being in a country where you are at least a full head height over the average population and can see down the street where most people are drowning in a crowd.

You can imagine that size differential impacts you in certain ways. 

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I don’t have many examples to show of this. But a good one is the following story:

While at Tokyo Disneyland, we were rushing to get in line for a small roller coaster. There was a nice young Japanese lady working the front of the line whose role is typically to guid people to the correct line and ensure that children are tall enough to ride. This nice young lady stopped me and pointed towards the height measuring station. We all laughed assuming it was a cute Disney employee joke. Of course I’m tall enough to ride. The issue was, I was almost TOO TALL TO RIDE.

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Item Six: Japanglish

We saw more examples of this that we didn’t necessarily photograph, but Japanglish is a real phenomena that was usually pretty funny. Japanglish is essentially strange uses of the English language that don’t really make sense, mis-spellings, and in general odd phrases. Examples:

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I do love bread, but why is that on a mug?

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After we saw this we regularly quoted that line from Dr Dre’s “The Next Episode” of recent meme infamy as: “Smork weed everyday.”

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MAN. Singular. Not Plural. This room. It is for MAN. You must be MAN to enter.

Okay, I think we have sufficiently covered everything I want to record before I forget all these details. I don’t have much to say about the remaining images. Just enjoy. 

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Japan – Part ii –

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best trip of my life… blah blah blah… once in a lifetime experience… blah blah blah… will never forget… blah blah blahhhhhh…. 

Okay more pics. 

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We were only briefly in Osaka. Just one night and one day. There is so much there we didn’t get a chance to see, but we did see the Glico Running Man!

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We had a lot more quality time to spend in Kyoto, and it was well worth the train ride. Unlike Tokyo, Kyoto was smaller, quieter, and older. A lot of the memorable temples of the trip were from our time in Kyoto.

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^Look at that handrail. Who detailed that?? 

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By the time we got back to Tokyo, we were already exhausted. So we took a day off to re-charge in TOKYO DISNEYLAND. I mostly put my camera away and enjoyed the day. And after that, we only had a few days left to explore Tokyo.

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Tokyo, for me (although others in the group would disagree) was the highlight of the trip. I see how you could easily spend a month there without seeing everything. Or even feeling like you had seen anything at all. It is dense and fast paced and it was all too easy to get lost in the rush of it all. Before we knew it the trip was over and we had barely put a dent in our travel plan book.

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People tell you about how amazing the food is when you go to Japan, and I don’t think they are exagerating. But if you have dietary restrictions coupled with the language barrier, it can be tough finding the perfect bowl of ramen you’re craving. Luckily a friend from grad school played local tour guide and hooked us up with the bomb ramen spot. I would say it lives up to the hype.

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But maybe better than any of the restaurants we ate at was the plain old convinience store foods. 7/11 and Family Mart dominated every few corners in the city, and they had THE BEST onigiri. I think I had one tuna and one random onigiri for breakfast almost every morning.

Yes I know, “Tuna for BREAKFAST? EW!”. No. You are Ew. When you are in Japan, you eat as much Tuna as you can. You are ew.

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I could probably write an entire post about the architecture of Japan. I won’t caus I’m tired. But what I will say is the simple, sublime miniamalist architecture we all drool over in our architecture blogs/magazines of choice does exist in Japan, however it is not nearly as prevalent as I thought it might be. Don’t get me wrong, the city is filled with noteworthy architecture. But with so much built environment surrounding you, it is ineveitable that most of it is not in my opinion photo worthy.

We did see some sick building though…. 

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We are almost done here, I’ll just keep rolling. 

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Okay, so that is 2 parts of Japan trip. I’ve only got one left and then I’m sure I’ll forget about this blog and go back to doing whatever it is professional architects do. 

Seeya in part 3. 

Japan – part i –

Gosh it has been a while since I’ve done this, lets see if I remember how this goes….

Last November I had the chance to go somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. If you follow along at all you’ll know I tend to travel a bit and I’ve been quite a few different places. But this place is one that I’ve been dreaming of for a long time.

JAPAN. 

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Now these images are barely edited, not cropped, nor are they presented in any particular order. I’m not going to write extensively about them unless inspiration hits, nor am I going to try and choose pictures that capture the vast extent of our travels. I’m just gonna share some of my favorite photos and hopefully that will be good enough.

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Japan is a trip I’ve been dreaming of forever. We managed to cram Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo into a one week-ish trip that was far too short. We were ambitious, we saw a lot, we were exhausted.

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I can talk forever about how amazing and gratifying this Japan trip was. I think I was not disappointed by anything the entire trip. There is a lot I can say about each city individually, but using broad strokes Japan was a beautiful synthesis of old and new. Modern and traditional. Technology and history.

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For every ancient shrine there was a completely contemporary home. On almost every corner (in fact maybe more than every corner) there was a vending machine filled with cold and hot drinks. The streets were incredibly narrow and everything aside from the sprawling city seemed scaled down (from a plus sized American’s perspective).

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One thing immediately noticeable was the cleanliness of the city. Although we found it rather difficult to find public trash cans, the streets were almost completely free of debris and liter.

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And the overwhelming politeness of the Japanese people prevailed over everything. I’ve never been somewhere so alien and accepting simultaneously.

I’m going to try to limit this Japan series to three concise posts. Stick around for parts 2 and 3! 

Or whatever, free country. 

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