Ten Simple Daily Habits that Make a Big Difference

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Starting June 1 2017, I decided to incorporate simple habits in my life that would benefit my heath and overall well-being. After reading The Power of Habit, I was inspired to make some changes realizing that all of the little things I do (and stick to) add up to a much bigger result. Over time, if I kept adding in good behaviors that eventually became habits, it would start to feel like less of a chore and more of a natural state of being. For as long as I can remember, I've had a google doc of goals (everything from small goals to much larger, loftier goals) that inspired some of the ideals I manifested into my life.

I purchased a small white board and wrote a list of the ten things I wanted to do every day and hung it on the fridge so that it was in my face every morning. I truly believe that unless something is visible to you every day, your chances of acting on it are much less likely. Every morning, I make sure I do every single one of these on the list below. 

1. Meditate

There was a time when meditation wasn't the norm and it was seemingly reserved for buddhist monks only. Then came social media, and it overpopulated our minds, taking a toll on our mental heath. To me, meditation is as or more important than going to the gym. Your brain needs to be taken care of! It needs r&r every day to gain clarity and function at it's highest power. Think about how much content it processes every single day. It has to download hundreds of images of puppies, vacations and babies on Instagram and that alone is enough. Do your brain a solid and get into meditation. A lot of people like the very popular Headspace app, but I prefer Breethe. Lynne is calm, full of brilliant perspectives and a great source of energy to start your day with. I try to meditate for ten minutes every day. Because of this gift, my overall stress levels have decreased dramatically. Our brains need space to think clearly. How can we possibly get to great ideas without it?

2. Practice Gratitude

Instead of allowing yourself to get into negative self talk - remind yourself what you are grateful for. Write it down, say it out loud, sing it for all I care. But just do it. Every. Day. Because you have so much to be grateful for. Oh, you don't think so? If you're a living, breathing human being on this planet - you already have something to be grateful for. Here's a few: The sun rising every morning, the air we breathe in and our of our lungs, the ability to make a difference in someone else's life with something as simple as a smile. I list at least 5 things I'm grateful for every morning or before going to bed.

3. Drink Green Tea

I used to be a heavy coffee drinker, until I transitioned over to green tea. I realized that coffee wasn't really benefiting me - I felt like a shaky, crazy person running around without any clarity. I was moving quickly but not thoughtfully or intentionally. Until I turned to green tea, that is. After reading the book Feed your Face years ago, I learned about the benefits of green tea on your skin and overall health and it stayed with me. It's a huge antioxidant boost, calming as hell, and doesn't give me the caffeine shakes. I'm a huge fan of Tazo Zen tea and drink at least 3 cups per day.

4. Drink Water Mixed with a Teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar

Drinking a full glass of water when you wake up every day is necessary to rehydrate after 8 or so hours of zero liquid! Low energy stems from dehydration, so a large cup of water is essential to get you going. Add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to that and you've just added a layer of healthy goodness. Apple cider vinegar has a very long list of benefits - but to name a few it balances your PH level thereby boosting your energy, aids in weight loss, and detoxes the liver. I like to mix acv with water because I once read that it can be harsh on your esophagus when taken alone. Make sure you get apple cider vinegar with "the mother" aka beneficial bacteria. I recommend this brand.

5. Take Vitamins

A multivitamin every day never hurt anyone! Try as we may, we don't always have the best eating days, and it's good to have a supplement to make up for some of the nutritional needs we might have missed. It can be as simple as picking up the yummy gummy versions (my favorite) at the drugstore or getting really in-depth with customized vitamins for your specific needs. 

6. Wear Sunscreen

Don't even get me started about sunscreen - I could go on for days about this topic. If I could go back in time, I would tell my twenty-something self to WEAR MORE SUNSCREEN! Yes, I'm paying for it now as I watch the sun spots emerge on my face, evident of my past mistakes. Wear sunscreen every. single. day. I don't care how cloudy it is outside - UV rays are still all over you. Here's the most important thing you need to know about sunscreen: There are two different rays out there, UVB and UVA rays. UVB rays give you cancer and UVA rays age your skin. When you choose a sunscreen, make sure they have ingredients that protect against both. A lot of sunscreen brands list "UVA/UVB Protection" but unfortunately the true protective ingredients aren't listed. Look for Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Oxide - they are ingredients that will protect you from the aging rays. I like Blue Lizard Sunscreen as well as Cerave

7. Take Probiotics

Gut health is so incredibly important for so many reasons, but let's just say my bloated stomach looks like it's been popped since taking probiotics. I really love these and I take one every morning. 

8. Add Collagen

Ever since our trip to Japan, collagen has been on my radar. I remember a few girlfriends talking about it at work and thinking it was totally weird, but after doing a little research I'm now into it. It improves skin elasticity, your hair, and nails. I really like Vital Proteins because unlike others, it doesn't have a funky taste and it's easy to add to my green tea or smoothies without totally disrupting my flavor expectations. It's a simple scoop or two every day and I've noticed changes in my nail strength (not my skin entirely, yet).

9. Make Smoothies

Ah, the smoothie rage. I didn't really get into it until I had store credit to Williams Sonoma and opted for the Breville Personal Blender (which is now my best friend). I have to say that I absolutely love the ability to pour massive amount of nutrients in a blender and drink it all up. It almost feels like cheating it's so easy. I try to make one every morning (sometimes the night before so it's ready to go when I wake up). A personal favorite recipe is 1 banana, a cup of kale, strawberries, blueberries, unsweetened almond milk and sometimes a teaspoon of maca root powder for added nutrients. I also love my "chocolate shake" which includes a banana, raspberries, coconut flakes, cocoa, almond milk and cocoa nibs - only when I'm really craving sugar.

10. Listen to Podcasts

Every morning I look forward to my commute because I know there will always be a great story waiting for me. My two favorite podcasts for weekday mornings are The Daily for current events and MindBodyGreen for inspiring content from some of the greatest minds in wellness.


And that's it! The ten things I do every day that make a huge difference. I have luckily tricked myself into habitually doing them every day - but it didn't happen all at once. I slowly incorporated these behaviors in my life until they became one big lump sum of habitual goodness.

Thanks for reading and let me know if there's anything you do every day that I can add to my list!

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Our Two Week Japan Itinerary | Part 5: Hakone

After spending 5 nights in Kyoto, Chris and I made our way to Hakone for a relaxing 2 nights before venturing back to Tokyo prior to our departure. We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa and it was one of the highlights of our trip. 

Day 22: Wednesday, May 24

We arrived in Hakone and the Hyatt picked us up from the train station, which was really awesome considering Hakone isn't the easiest to navigate. I cannot recommend the Hyatt enough, honestly. Free drinks in the late afternoon, amazing dining experiences inside the hotel, everyone wearing yakatas around the hotel all day every day, an incredible spa and the best service I've ever had. It was the perfect relaxation oasis we needed after all of our travels. We spent our first day in Hakone indulging in all the hotel had to offer, adorned in yakatas, refusing an itinerary that required exerting energy. We ate at the sushi restaurant that night and I've been dreaming of the marbled tuna nigiri ever since. There's really something to say for winding down in the final days of a very travel heavy trip.

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Day 23: Thursday, May 25

Since we had a pretty cloudy day, we scrapped the Mount Fuji ropeline/boat tour and opted for the Hakone Open Air museum. I have to say I'm really glad we did, because I've never been to a museum that I love more.

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After the museum, we repeated the same glorious itinerary that we did upon our arrival: free drinks, hotel restaurant (this time the French restaurant) + onsen and massage. Money worth spent for a relaxing state of mind. For all my foodie friends, the Hyatt recently launched Berce - which is limited seating and requires reservations well in advance.

The next morning, we worked our way back to Tokyo for one final night at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi. While the hotel was lovely, I wouldn't recommend Roppongi as an area to stay as a first time visitor. It felt a little too contrived and commercialized. Shinjiku or Shibuya is where its at for the real deal cultural experience. 

That's a wrap, folks. The best trip I've had to date. Japan will forever be in my heart and mind as I continue on this life journey. While this trip was seemingly expensive, Chris and I strategized most of the costs together - meaning 80% of our hotels were free (as well as our flights). How did we do it? Email info@athingortwoblog.com for details, and I can help you achieve the same experiences we've had on any budget. Thanks for reading, and please explore my posts from Tokyo, Takayama, Kanazawa, and Kyoto!

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Our Two Week Japan Itinerary | Part 4: Kyoto

After an incedible journey through Tokyo and the Alps, Chis and I finally nestled into Kyoto - the part of our itinerary that I was very anxiously awaiting. Kyoto is a much slower pace than Tokyo, but definitely lively and modern as well. I'd read that it's comparable to Seattle, but I can't confirm that since I've never been to Seattle!

We stayed in the central downtown area of Kyoto, close to the Kamo River which was the perfect location for exploring. We were on the west side of the river and also incredibly close to the Gion area (east side of the Kamo River) which is known for it's geisha district. Kyoto's main attractions are very spread out around the city so it's good to be close to public transportation.

Kamo River

Kamo River

Day 8: Friday, May 19

Upon our arrival, we immediately checked out Nishiki Market, which was a block away from where we were staying. I had my heart set on an animal donut from Floresta (near the market), but unfortunately the shop was closed when we were there *sigh.*

Floresta: Photo cred from tourdelust.com

Floresta: Photo cred from tourdelust.com

After exploring for a bit we head over to Gyogo Ramen, which is really close to the market. Unfortunately it was closed when we stopped by (around 2pm) so we waited until it reopened and opted for an early dinner. The restaurant is really beautifully designed - clean typography, dark wood surfaces, and a beautiful garden that you can view from the main dining room. We both ordered the burnt miso ramen, which is what they are famous for, and it's quite obvious as to why! The ramen is so flavorful and so were the other apps and drinks we ordered. I also ordered Mio, sparkling sake, to really kick it up a notch. After, we randomly stopped in Forum Kyoto on our late night stroll, which was a really awesome space to chill out and get caffeinated at the specialty coffee house. 

Day 9: Saturday, May 20

We woke up really early as temps were high and we wanted to do as much as possible before the sun hit it's peak. We took an early bus to Arashiyama (about a half hour from where we were staying), which is on the far west side of Kyoto. Our first stop was Bamboo forest. I'd heard from many travelers on our journey that it was underwhelming, but to me it was magical. Maybe it was because we basically had the forest to ourselves at such an early hour and the sunlight was pouring in through the trees - but I was in awe. I will admit that it's a brief excursion, but worth it in my opinion. And when in Arashiyama, it's something you must do.

Bamboo Grove early in the morning

Bamboo Grove early in the morning

Bamboo Grove from the outside

Bamboo Grove from the outside

After Bamboo forest, we were due for a morning coffee and snack. We stopped at 100% Arabica and I have to say I love their branding almost as much as their coffee. We ordered two cappuccinos and a croissant, and sat outside enjoying the river views and early morning calmness. The interior is simple with bright white and wood accents, and we noticed that every customer was obsessively snapping insta pics.

We strolled a bit and after admiring the boats on the water, decided it was necessary to go for a ride. The 30 minute cruise ended up being one of my favorite memories from our trip – we were able to relax and soak in all of the beautiful views, breathing in the fresh morning air. After, we attempted to go to Shorain for lunch, but for reasons unknown to us the restaurant was closed (Argh, strike 3 in Kyoto!)  so we stopped in for a quick bite at Yojiya cafe.

Also on our list was Monkey Park. I'd pictured myself in the midst of monkeys for weeks leading up to our trip, laughing and holding them with a big fat smile stretched from ear to ear. Monkey Park isn't as simple to get to as I thought it might be - it requires a decent hike through a dense forest until you reach the top of the park. You're then greeted with a clan of monkeys - but there are rules. Don't look at them directly in the eyes. Don't squat down to take photos of them. Don't touch them. Chris and I navigated around them carefully, snapping pics when and where we could. 

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As the day progressed, the temps got higher and higher. Kyoto was definitely the hottest part of our trip, with temps reaching 90 degrees. Which only meant one thing to keep us cool – matcha green tea ice cream before heading to Tenryu-ji Temple for our final stop in Arashiyama. Matcha green tea flavored everything is everywhere in Japan, and this was definitely not our first taste of it.

Tenryu-ji Temple had really beautiful garden grounds and an impressive facade. With the crowds multiplying and feeling exhausted from all of our excursions, we opted to quickly tour the inside and peer out into the garden. We sat inside the temple for a long time and relaxed before heading back.

I spy two kimonos

I spy two kimonos

Gardens at Tenryu-ji temple

Gardens at Tenryu-ji temple

We took a bus home and chilled out at our place before heading to dinner at Giro Giro Hitoshina – one of my favorite dinners of the entire trip. Surprisingly inexpensive, Giro Giro serves kaiseki - around 8 courses all for approximately $50/per person. Each dish was thoughtfully plated with florals, interesting colorful ingredients and flavors –  and the place setting was just so adorable! Highly recommend for at least one of your dining experiences in Kyoto. It overlooks the Takase-gawa canal, so I would imagine lunch would also be a great choice for this restaurant. Chris and I still talk about how much we loved this meal, but for the life of us we can't tell you exactly what we ate.

Day 10: Sunday, May 21

We woke early and made our way to the very famous Fushimi Inari Shrine that's south of the train station and the downtown area. I was familiar with this shrine but hadn't really extensively researched it, and it ended up being hours of amazing hiking, souvenir shopping and exploring. The shrine is massive and you are given the choice to hike all the way up (which you should do!). We made it about 3/4 of the way and headed back down, knowing we had a train to catch to Nara. I do regret not hiking the entire shrine, but I also kind of don't (my hangover from sake at Giro Giro was real, guys).

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We made our way back to the train to head to Nara (about a 45 min ride), which is very close to Fushimi Inari Shrine, so it's a great idea to do both in one day. When we arrived, we walked towards Nara park where free roaming deer bow to you in order to get snacks. They are considered to be messengers of the gods, a treasure of Nara, and they're the cutest things ever. Some of them, however, can be pretty aggressive if you have snacks in your hands, so be prepared to feed them! There are multiple vendors at the park that sell the snacks for around 2 yen. 

There are multiple temples around Nara, and I highly recommend going to the Tōdai-ji temple that has an enormous Buddha statue. Unfortunately, and my only regret other than not hiking the entire Fushimi-Inari shrine, was not making it to Tōdai-ji. Again, I blame the sake from the night before ...oops. On our way out, however, we were graced by the presence of Starduck Tony, one of the craziest and most entertaining street performers I've ever seen. When we arrived home, we ate at a nearby yakatori place that reminded us of the Japanese version of Buffalo Wild Wings. I don't remember the name of the place we ate, but it was very casual and very delicious.

Starduck Tony in Nara

Day 11: Monday, May 22

We decided to have a lazy morning – slept in and relaxed a bit before heading into Gion. We did a lot of souvenir shopping in Shinkyogoku near where we were staying, as well as in Gion. There was one particular antique store that had so many unique finds - great spot to buy sake cups and authentic antiques (still trying to remember the name!). Around 3pm we had a reservation at En, a small Japanese tea house, to witness tea ceremony. I wanted to go because I practiced tea ceremonies in college, and I remembered it to be a very special experience. After, we headed deeper into Gion and explored Ninen-zaka and San'nen-zaka streets, which are lined with souvenir shops and women dressed in colorful kimonos everywhere you look. Ninen-zaka means "slope of two years" and San'nen-zaka means "slope of three years". Apparently, you're supposed to die in two years if you fall down on Ninen-zaka and within three years if you fall down on San'nen-zaka. The big risk takers that we are, we strutted through the streets - no problem. I will admit that I was a bit panicky the entire time, walking at an extra slow pace. The streets lead toward Kiyomizu-dera temple, one of the greatest temples in Kyoto that overlooks the city. We were running low on time, though - and skipped it before our dinner at Hafuu Honten. Wagyu beef was calling, and momma was hungry.

street of gion, Ninen-zaka

street of gion, Ninen-zaka

Day 21: Tuesday, May 23

Originally, we'd planned to do a day trip to Osaka, but we were feeling a bit traveled out and stayed in Kyoto instead. We made our way to Kinkaku-ji Shrine (the golden temple) and admired it from every angle in all of its glory.

Ticket to get into Kinkaku-ji

Ticket to get into Kinkaku-ji

Without a checklist and now feeling a little bit more at home in Kyoto, we made our way back and popped into a few stores along the way. I definitely found one of my favorite souvenirs at a convenience store - face masks in the form of otters, tigers, opera masks, pigs, and more. Yes, you look like a tiger (or whichever one you choose) when you apply the mask. They're also really great masks, my skin felt amazing afterwards!

Without any dinner plans, I was craving those Japanese pancakes again...so I did a little Tripadvisor research and found a place that seemed pretty good in Gion. Unfortunately, when we arrived, it was closed due to reconstruction (Strike 4!). I was starting to get hangry so we ducked into a casual place along the Kamo river that happened to be open. Nothing is open between 2-5, so we got lucky.

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As we were eating, Chris had the brilliant idea to ask the owner where to get some good okonomiyaki. Luck was on our side because he knew of a place next door that was hidden away and completely authentic aka you can't find it anywhere on Tripadvisor. We were greeted by the cutest old lady who took us into a back room where she made delicious pancakes right in front of us. It was truly one of my favorite experiences because it felt so natural and true to Kyoto. There wasn't even a sign outside, just a hidden away pancake spot and the sweetest little woman ever.

Okonomiyaki

After we ate, we decided it was time to hunt for geishas. They are known to come out at dusk, but are rarely ever seen in person. We walked along leisurely, and after a good amount of time and no sightings, we decided to give up. We then strolled along the Kamo river, and out of nowhere at 8:22pm Chris said, "Katie, I see one. Wait, I see a whole group of geishas!" Being the overly observant husband that he is, Chris was peering up onto the balconies that overlook the river. It was there that we found gold. Geisha after geisha on balconies! We stopped in awe and admired them from below. I actually got goosebumps watching them in a real setting, it was really something special and a great way to end our stay in Kyoto. 

Overall we absolutely loved the city and would go back in a heart beat. It's filled with beauty that's impossible to fully capture in this post.

Have you ever been to Kyoto? Let us know what we missed for next time!


General Japan Tips: 

• Always carry yen. Chris constantly had a pocket full of yen because we'd always encounter a souvenir shop, vending machine or anything else that only accepted yen. If you take a bus, they ask for exact change (even though it isn't necessary) so it's nice to have it on hand.

• Taxi doors close themselves. Do not try to close a taxi door, they are automatic and the driver will be confused if you close them yourself.

• Do not tip!  You will only confuse your driver, waiter or whoever else that you believe is tip worthy and you might find someone chasing after you to give you your money back.

•  Drinking and eating on the go is not a part of the culture. In Japan, you won't see anyone walking around with a Starbucks coffee and a donut. Everyone takes the time to sit down and consume their meal or drink.

•  Chopsticks. Never leave your chopsticks sticking straight up in your rice bowl. We avoided chopsticks sticking straight up in general, in any meal.

• Public transportation > taxi. The trains in Tokyo are your best mode of transportation. They are faster than taxis and cost effective. When choosing a hotel, I'd recommend staying in one near a train station. That way, you can zip around easily. If you will be traveling around Japan and not staying in one location, consider getting a Japan Rail Pass.

• Give and receive with two hands. In Japan, everyone hands things to you with two hands. You should accept what they hand you with two hands, and offer with two hands.

• Choose your shoes wisely. My trusty Fit Bit informed me that I was walking around 20k steps a day, which is around 10 miles. I brought a pair of New Balance and Adidas sneakers, as well as Cole Haan loafers for dressier occasions. In my opinion, heels are a huge waste of luggage space.

• Don't do too much in one day. When you're in Tokyo, you want to do it all. I get it. You've traveled far and you've got a solid itinerary to get through. Spoiler alert: Tokyo is huge and everyone who's ever been there undoubtedly has a list of things they didn't get to do. I urge you to not do too much in one day. It's draining and instead of focusing on a few things, you're just running to get to the next without appreciating the moment. We ran into so many travelers who were just exhausted and you could tell they were in checklist mode. Plan enough so that you have the things you really want to do, but leave room for flexibility and down time so that you are experiencing local life instead of tourist life.

• Get up early for touristy attractions. Crowds are real and if it's hot, the heat is not something you're going to want to face at midday. Early mornings  = fewer crowds, pleasant weather, better photo opps, and more time in the day for other things. 

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Our 2 Week Japan Itinerary | Part 3: Kanazawa

Hello everyone! Thank you for following our journey through our two week Japan itinerary. Chris and I started our adventure in Tokyo (which you can read about here), then journeyed to Takayama and Shirakawa-go, then north to Kanazawa, followed by Kyoto, Hakone and back to Tokyo. In this post, I will cover our time in Kanazawa.

I'd read that Kanazawa was a very crafty and artistic city with the beautiful Kenrokuen gardens - so of course I was interested. Chris had suggested eliminating it from our itinerary in the beginning, but I stuck to my guns! I was also interested in Kanazawa from a historical standpoint, as it was the second largest city in Japan to escape destruction by air raids during World War II. We had a short amount of time here, but we spent it well!

Day 6: Wednesday, May 17

We arrived in Kanazawa late afternoon after traversing through Shirakawa-go. It was a really easy bus ride, just one hour away. Upon our arrival, we settled in to our hotel in the middle of the downtown area and relaxed. We decided it was time to have an American meal, and after perusing Tripadvisor, Oriental Pizza Brewery had our taste buds dancing in anticipation of bread, cheese, and fried food. Yep, we were not above pizza. It was happening. We sat at the bar and watched the server greet, make, and serve every dish. He was truly a one man show and we watched in admiration of his efficiencies. We were also happy to just sit back, have a beer and laugh. It was a really nice pause moment that helped us recollect our energy and reflect on the trip.

After dinner, Chris recommended going to a bar he'd read about online where the owner had been to over 70 countries. It was close to our hotel, so we popped in for a beer and it ended up being one of my favorite nights. Working with a small space, we cozied up to the bar and began asking the owner a ton of questions in awe of his journeys. He spoke English and we connected right away. Sitting next to us was a young Japanese girl named Ayano who had books spread out in front of her. She was working on learning English, so Chris and I decided to help her out. She expressed gratitude for our kindness and taught us a few fun things about the Japanese culture. For example, we were introduced to Anpanman and the Snow app, which is very similar to Snapchat. Here's one of our glorious Snow debuts. 

We walked back to our hotel through the Higashi Chaya District, which had an old world feeling filled with teahouses and tiny bars, and then quickly collapsed into bed.

Day 7: Thursday, May 18

Rise and Shine! Time to hit up Kanazawa in one day. We awoke early and got the breakfast buffet at our hotel (Chris is obsessed with breakfast buffets) and then headed towards the Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen gardens. In order to avoid crowds, we tried to get there early but we got lost (this is what happens when I navigate) and arrived a little past our ideal time frame. Ah well! It was a beautiful day, perfect for gardens and castles. (If only I could say that every day). We arrived at Kanazawa Castle through a large, open park and lounged for a bit admiring the landscape and bright blue sky.

Japan garden child

Japan garden child

Not posing but actually posing

Not posing but actually posing

As we followed the path toward the castle, we began to take in the beauty that is the Kanazawa castle. The architecture and detail is truly mind-blowing.

Detailed castle doors

Detailed castle doors

After our stroll through the castle grounds, the path naturally leads to the gardens. While the gardens were absolutely gorgeous, we were battling tourist crowds on steroids. After our late departure and time spent at the castle, the garden grounds were not the quiet, meditative experience we were hoping for. Regardless, they were a site to see and worth weaving in and out of human clusters. 

Picture perfect Kenrokuen

Picture perfect Kenrokuen

Japenese Gardener 

Japenese Gardener 

After departing the gardens we decided to visit the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and get lunch. The museum was beautiful and bright white with pops of color. The first open exhibit was a large pool - I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

I'm inside a pool, yo! And my outfit blends in perfectly.

I'm inside a pool, yo! And my outfit blends in perfectly.

At the time of our visit, the featured artist was Ikeda Manibu, a master of pen and ink, whose art truly blew us away. We had the privilege of perusing the galleries dedicated to his work, and sitting in on a documentary interview that was playing in the museum. This mastermind creates everything with a pen. A PEN. My god the talent! *Jealous*

After the museum, we went back to our hotel to regain some energy and then paid a quick visit to the Samarai House which I'd read mixed reviews on but ended up loving. The outdoor space looks out upon a beautiful garden and flowing water – the perfect place for reflection and meditation. 

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That night, we ended up grabbing a quick Sushi dinner at Sushi Ippei which I had mixed feeings about. Chris really liked it, but I wasn't the biggest fan. I do think it had a lot to do with my neglect to order what I know I like, and instead took the mystery route. I tried to get reservations at Otomezushi a month in advance, which is supposed to blow all other sushi restaurants away, but no dice – so we ended up winging it. We also thought about Fuwari, but chose a simpler dinner instead because we were exhausted and not in the mood for a big production. However, I'd read great things so I do reco based on my research.

And that's a wrap for Kanazawa! One of the things we thought about doing but didn't get to was the Omi-cho market (we were marketed out so we chose to skip it), but otherwise we felt pretty good about how we chose to spend our time.

In my next post I'll cover our time in Kyoto (I'm so excited to share as I absolutely LOVED Kyoto). Feel free to check out our Tokyo and Takayama itineraries as well! Thanks for reading!


Kanazawa Tips: 

• Get up early for the gardens. Getting up early for touristy attractions is generally a good idea, but we really wished we'd been able to navigate Kenrokuen gardens without the distraction of fanny packs and selfie sticks. 

• Purchase a souvenir. Kanazawa is full of craft stores, it's a great place to pick up an authentic Japanese handicraft. We also haphazardly ran into an adorable furniture store where Chris bonded with the owner over wood working techniques and design ideas.


General Japan Tips: 

• Always carry yen. Chris constantly had a pocket full of yen because we'd always encounter a souvenir shop, vending machine or anything else that only accepted yen. If you take a bus, they ask for exact change (even though it isn't necessary) so it's nice to have it on hand.

• Taxi doors close themselves. Do not try to close a taxi door, they are automatic and the driver will be confused if you close them yourself.

• Do not tip!  You will only confuse your driver, waiter or whoever else that you believe is tip worthy and you might find someone chasing after you to give you your money back.

•  Drinking and eating on the go is not a part of the culture. In Japan, you won't see anyone walking around with a Starbucks coffee and a donut. Everyone takes the time to sit down and consume their meal or drink.

•  Chopsticks. Never leave your chopsticks sticking straight up in your rice bowl. We avoided chopsticks sticking straight up in general, in any meal.

• Public transportation > taxi. The trains in Tokyo are your best mode of transportation. They are faster than taxis and cost effective. When choosing a hotel, I'd recommend staying in one near a train station. That way, you can zip around easily. If you will be traveling around Japan and not staying in one location, consider getting a Japan Rail Pass.

• Give and receive with two hands. In Japan, everyone hands things to you with two hands. You should accept what they hand you with two hands, and offer with two hands.

• Choose your shoes wisely. My trusty Fit Bit informed me that I was walking around 20k steps a day, which is around 10 miles. I brought a pair of New Balance and Adidas sneakers, as well as Cole Haan loafers for dressier occasions. In my opinion, heels are a huge waste of luggage space.

• Don't do too much in one day. When you're in Tokyo, you want to do it all. I get it. You've traveled far and you've got a solid itinerary to get through. Spoiler alert: Tokyo is huge and everyone who's ever been there undoubtedly has a list of things they didn't get to do. I urge you to not do too much in one day. It's draining and instead of focusing on a few things, you're just running to get to the next without appreciating the moment. We ran into so many travelers who were just exhausted and you could tell they were in checklist mode. Plan enough so that you have the things you really want to do, but leave room for flexibility and down time so that you are experiencing local life instead of tourist life.

• Get up early for touristy attractions. Crowds are real and if it's hot, the heat is not something you're going to want to face at midday. Early mornings  = fewer crowds, pleasant weather, better photo opps, and more time in the day for other things. 

 

Our 2 Week Japan Itinerary | Part 2: Takayama & Shirakawa-go

Chris and I arrived in Takayama after a very long train ride from Tokyo (you can read my Tokyo post here!) Admittedly, we missed a connecting train because we read the train schedule incorrectly which bumped our travel time up from 4.5 hours to 6 hours. Soooo yeah...avoid doing that. We planned on taking a Shinkansen without realizing that it was fully reserved! It was a simple oversight that cost us a couple of hours, which brings me to my first tip: Before taking a Shinkansen, make sure there are non-reserved seats available. Most of them have non-reserved seats, so for the most part it shouldn't be an issue, but just wanted to mention it! Takayama is up in the alps and quite the opposite from Tokyo. We were only there for 2 days, and we both felt our minds and bodies starting to relax after the eccentric madness of Tokyo. Takayama is quiet, authentic, set in the mountains and really tells the story of old world Japan. There are no Starbucks or H&Ms here. It's true to it's origin and it's quite obvious the moment you arrive. Here is how we spent our time.

Day 5: Tuesday, May 16

We arrived late afternoon following a lengthy travel time and immediately settled into our Ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese Inn and something you MUST do during your time in Japan. It's honestly the best way to really immerse yourself into the culture. When you arrive at your Ryokan, you have to take your shoes off at the door, and wear the slippers they provide for you. Ryokans have tatami-matted rooms, onsens (hot spring baths), and you have the option to be served a traditional Japanese dinner (Kaiseki) in your room which is a very special experience. Not all Ryokan's are exactly the same, (some may not have an onsen at all while others have an outdoor onsen) but it's the general idea of how what to expect. We stayed at Ryokan Tanabe, a mid-range accommodation, which is located right smack dab in the middle of Takayama, the perfect place for home base with limited time. Our dinner was at 6pm, so we walked around prior to that to get a feel for the town. We passed through San-machi, the old streets, and made an effort to see the Yoshijima Heritage House, but it was closed.

Wisteria draped over doors = swoon

Wisteria draped over doors = swoon

San-Machi Street

San-Machi Street

Once we got back, we changed into our yukatas to wear around the Ryokan right before dinner – one for Chris and one for me! As first timers, we learned how to wear them the correct way from the Japanese woman who runs the Inn. She also prepared our dinner in our room, which was incredible. The spread was ridiculous - so much food prepared in ways I've never seen before, with touches of flowers and other textures that really made the meal an artistic masterpiece.

What did I eat? I can tell you confidently that I'm not 100% sure.

What did I eat? I can tell you confidently that I'm not 100% sure.

Crushing it in my Yukata

Crushing it in my Yukata

After dinner, we relaxed in the onsen. If you've never experienced an onsen before, let me lay it out for you. First, an onsen is essentially a nude public or private bath, and incredibly relaxing. If you're lucky enough to have a room with a private open-air bath - well, I'm jealous. But you also don't experience bathing nude publicly with strangers which is super awesome (don't worry, there are male onsens and female onsens). You're given your Yukata and a little bag (filled with a toothbrush, small towel, etc) and you wear it into the onsen. When you're inside, you strip down to nothing - carrying in only the small towel from your bag that you'll eventually place on your head while bathing. Before you get into the onsen, you will sit down Japanese style and wash yourself clean in a bath. Then, you walk into the onsen and relax, placing the towel on your head. For me, the water was often too hot so I'd spend about 10 minutes max and then shower off and get back in my Yukata. I was also often alone or with one other person, so it was never that scary. It's really awkward at first, but before I knew it I was stripping down with ease and strutting nude into onsen like a pro. You will love it, I promise.

That night, we decided to get a drink at Red Hill Bar. We also realized that not a lot was open on Tuesdays in Takayama. We arrived around 4:30pm and EVERYTHING was closed - so we were surprised that Red Hill was even open. A quirky little bar, we exchanged travel stories with a lovely couple sitting next to us and drew pictures in a coloring book for the owner. It was nice to just sit back and have some sake.

Day 6: Wednesday, May 17

We woke early, still partially jet-lagged (yep, it takes a minute!) and wandered through the Miyagawa morning market. A very quaint and charming market, we purchased a few small souvenirs and ultimately had breakfast at a little coffee joint at the very end of the market road. Sarubobo dolls are everywhere because they are considered to be good luck even though they look a tad like small demons. Naturally, I swooped one up for my keychain. The market is awesome because it's right on the river, so you can stroll along leisurely and not worry about a damn thing. Later in the day, we strolled through San-machi again as we didn't have a lot of time when we arrived. It's an incredibly charming street filled with storefronts and doorways styled in ways that almost made me cry. Seriously, precious.

Since this was our only full day in Takayama, we wanted to explore as much as we could. I'd heard about the Hida Beef, a must try and a town favorite. So we made sure to pick up a dough ball from a street vendor filled with delicious beef on our journey. And yes, it was deeeelish.

Hey beef ball...get in my belly

Hey beef ball...get in my belly

Since we were in the alps, Chris and I were really feeling outdoorsy and we were due for a hike. Since we didn't research Takayama that much before arriving, Chris instinctively found a path that lead through the castle ruins and up to the top of a hill. It was really calming to do some forest bathing and declutter our minds. When we reached the top, we were able to look out onto the town with the mountains in the distance. We actually never found the castle ruins, but that wasn't our goal (I don't think they exist). For us it was just a peaceful stroll to get away for a bit.

View from our hike

View from our hike

On our way down, we did some souvenir shopping and popped into a few stores. We passed The Paper Cut gallery by chance and fell in love with the artist's work. Truly intricate and thoughtful. We ended our day with a good nights sleep and mentally prepped for our stop to Shirakawa-go in the morning before heading to Kanazawa.

From the moment we started planning our trip, I was dying to make a stop at Shirakawa-go. This historical village looked so charming in photos, and I wanted to experience the real deal. As a stop from Takayama to Kanazawa, it made perfect sense on our path – and you only need a few hours. Unfortunately, we didn't book our bus tickets in advance (so yeah...book bus tickets in advance!) and a lot of the bus times were sold out. However, we got lucky and were able to stop in for 2 hours. Even though it wasn't a lot of time, it was totally worth it.

The village does have a good number of tourists walking around, for good reason. While we were there, we immediately felt rushed due to our lack of time and we knew we couldn't miss the bus to Kanazawa so we kicked it into high gear and did everything we wanted to. For us, it was mostly gazing in awe at the traditional gassho-zukuri farm houses. Gassho-zukuri means "constructed like hands in prayer" after the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. We traversed around and took a ton of photos of the houses and overall scenery, then did a mild hike up the the Shiroyama Observatory Deck to take in the breathtaking view of all of the houses. 

There are a few other things I would recommend doing that we didn't get to, like visiting the Wada house (over 300 years old!) to get an inside look at the thatched-roof gassho-style houses. After our visit, we continued to Kanazawa via bus, about a one hour trek from Shirakawa-go. 

Chris and I really loved our time in Takayama and Shirakawa-go. It felt so untouched and relaxing, and very much needed after a wild spin through Tokyo. After our trip, we did go back and reconsider our route and if we should have gone to Kanazawa before Takayama - but either way, Takayama is just a little bit further out of the way if you are working with time constraints.

If you'd like to see where our journey started, take a look at my Tokyo post! And as always, please see below for Takayama/Shirakawa-go tips as well as general Japan tips! Thanks for reading and have a great 4th of July weekend!

 


Takayama/Shirakawa-goTips: 

Most places are closed in Takayama on Tuesdays. It was ghost town when we arrived around 4pm on a Tuesday. After doing some cursory research, it appears that Tuesday is not a great day for perusing Takayama! Luckily we were only there for that night and had dinner at the Ryokan, plus Red Hill bar was open!

Plan your bus times early if you plan on going to Shirakawa-go. Chris and I were in a bit of a bind when we found out there was only one bus time available to get to Shirakawa-go from Takayama, and one time from Shirakawa-go to Kanazawa which left us with only two hours. Inquire before you get there or book it immediately when you arrive!


Japan Tips: 

Always carry yen. Chris constantly had a pocket full of yen because we'd always encounter a souvenir shop, vending machine or anything else that only accepted yen. If you take a bus, they ask for exact change (even though it isn't necessary) so it's nice to have it on hand.

Taxi doors close themselves. Do not try to close a taxi door, they are automatic and the driver will be confused if you close them yourself.

Do not tip!  You will only confuse your driver, waiter or whoever else that you believe is tip worthy and you might find someone chasing after you to give you your money back.

 Drinking and eating on the go is not a part of the culture. In Japan, you won't see anyone walking around with a Starbucks coffee and a donut. Everyone takes the time to sit down and consume their meal or drink.

 Chopsticks. Never leave your chopsticks sticking straight up in your rice bowl. We avoided chopsticks sticking straight up in general, in any meal.

Public transportation > taxi. The trains in Tokyo are your best mode of transportation. They are faster than taxis and cost effective. When choosing a hotel, I'd recommend staying in one near a train station. That way, you can zip around easily. If you will be traveling around Japan and not staying in one location, consider getting a Japan Rail Pass.

Give and receive with two hands. In Japan, everyone hands things to you with two hands. You should accept what they hand you with two hands, and offer with two hands.

Choose your shoes wisely. My trusty Fit Bit informed me that I was walking around 20k steps a day, which is around 10 miles. I brought a pair of New Balance and Adidas sneakers, as well as Cole Haan loafers for dressier occasions. In my opinion, heels are a huge waste of luggage space.

• Don't do too much in one day. When you're in Tokyo, you want to do it all. I get it. You've traveled far and you've got a solid itinerary to get through. Spoiler alert: Tokyo is huge and everyone who's ever been there undoubtedly has a list of things they didn't get to do. I urge you to not do too much in one day. It's draining and instead of focusing on a few things, you're just running to get to the next without appreciating the moment. We ran into so many travelers who were just exhausted and you could tell they were in checklist mode. Plan enough so that you have the things you really want to do, but leave room for flexibility and down time so that you are experiencing local life instead of tourist life.

Get up early for touristy attractions. Crowds are real and if it's hot, the heat is not something you're going to want to face at midday. Early mornings  = fewer crowds, pleasant weather, better photo opps, and more time in the day for other things.