Must Do’s For a Two Week Japan Trip

A lot of blogs inspired me when I went to Japan. I love reading the opinions of fellow bloggers even more than professional travel guidebooks, because I feel like I get a deeper view into what it actually feels like to go to a place. This post, and possibly another one or two afterward, will be more travel guide than thirties related, but they’re my way of paying it forward. Feel free to skip around if this  isn’t useful to you right now.

So firstly, when planning this trip, I started my research from the outside in- that is, I started with the big picture and then worked with details later. So I recommend starting with:

  1. Research the best times to go to Japan

Japan has basically the same seasons as the US- with winter, spring, summer and fall happening the same way as they do in my hometown. HOWEVER, Japan has a rainy season in mid-June and July which I made sure to avoid, and also the summers there are known to be unbearably hot and humid- in a place not very famous for their ACs. So I wanted to avoid most summer months- BUT if you want to climb Mt Fuji, you’ll only be able to do so in the summer months, with August being the best time. During other seasons the Mt Fuji summit is closed- as it was when I went.

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Mt Fuji’s summit was blocked off but we went up as far as we could


Also, in winter, I’ve read many accounts from bloggers who said that they were freezing in the Airbnbs they stayed at. A lot of Japanese homes get cold in winter and are heated with space heaters, which may or may not be good enough. Bloggers had reported especially freezing temperatures inside the Buddhist temples they stayed at in Koyasan. And since my biggest plan other than to see Tokyo was do stay overnight at a temple, I didn’t want to be freezing.

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My beautiful bedroom in the temple in Koyasan

Fall is an especially popular time to go to Japan to see the famous Cherry Blossoms. I’m sure Japan is beautiful then, but spring was great too. Spring was perfect for me.

2. Figure out how long you will be in Japan in order to make a plan for your trip.

I knew I was going to be in Japan for two weeks, so I actually researched specific two week itineraries laid out by other bloggers. A one week itinerary has a very different schedule than a month itinerary.

3. Look into the itineraries you find and research the places in Japan where different people choose to go, in order to figure out what you really want to see.

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I really wanted to see this guy.

Many people were super into seeing hundreds of temples. Some people loved camping and outdoorsy adventure. Some people really cared about the history of feudal Japan. I’m not really into any of those things, so I took that heavily into consideration when planning where to go in Japan. I love cities, so I wanted more days in Tokyo. Staying overnight in a meditative Buddhist temple sounded like a dream to me, so I prioritized that and found the absolute best city for it- Koyasan. Every single blogger and friend told me Kyoto was amazing and beautiful and peaceful and needed extra days so I made sure to give Kyoto the space in my itinerary that it needed. My itinerary ended up fitting my tastes perfectly. You would make yours differently.

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Ginza at night

4. I used an amazing train pass called the JAPAN RAIL PASS to get around (you must purchase this in your own country before you go to Japan!!), and a SUICA card which works for the subways in ALL the cities in the country (get this in Japan at the train station)

The SUICA card even had my name on it!

The SUICA card even had my name on it!

This train pass probably saved me hundreds of dollars. It allowed me unlimited rail travel around Japan for two weeks. It didn’t cover all the local subways in the cities but it surprisingly covered a lot of those too! In Tokyo I used the Rail Pass to take the subway for free all the time. In Kyoto and Osaka I could sometimes use it for subways too! Sooooo worth it, mainly if you’re not JUST staying in one city in Japan. If you want to move around Japan, it’s a must!

For the local subways, pick up a SUICA card in Japan. It can be used on any subway in the whole country! How’s that for efficiency?

5. I picked up a Pocket wifi at the airport

My Pocket Wifi was by far my most important tech tool in my Japan travel arsenal. For $85 total for two weeks, I had a hotspot that gave me unlimited data on both my phone and my laptop. I carried it with me at all times and it was absolutely amazing. I wouldn’t have been able to see so much (or blog so much) in Japan without it- I would have spent most of my time being lost. It was great for researching what to see while I was on the go, and for Google Maps and another amazing app called Hyperdia.

6. Download Hyperdia

Google Maps was pretty useful, but it was nothing without Hyperdia. Hyperdia is an app that’s like Google maps, but specifically for ALL the trains in Japan. It’s amazingly detailed, and will even tell you how much each route will cost. It goes together well with Google maps..I used Google maps more for walking directions and familiarity, and Hyperdia for extremely accurate specificity.

7. Keep your passport with you at all times

Its actually illegal not to have your passport on you when you’re in Japan. I was never stopped and asked for it, but you never know. Besides that, your passport will get a you a ‘foreigner’ discount at a lot of stores when you spend a certain amount of money. Also, Japan is SUPER SAFE- it’s quite possibly the safest country in the world- so don’t worry about your passport getting stolen. And if you lose it, someone will mail it to you. Seriously. It’s crazy how nice people are in Japan. The good kind of crazy.

8. You need cash

A really surprising fact about Japan is how cash-centric it is. Cash is truly king in Japan- it’s just expected that you will have cash. When restaurants or stores are cash only, they don’t always say it on their doors or menus- it’s a luxury when places take credit cards. Luckily, a few bloggers informed me of this before I left, so I made sure to exchange a bunch of yen at my local bank in America before my trip. Sometimes the atms in Japan don’t work for foreign debit cards, so I recommend exchanging cash before you go. Don’t worry about carrying lots of cash with you-  as I said before, Japan is extremely safe. Just don’t lose it cause even if people turn it in, cash doesn’t have your contact info on it.

Thats what I have so far. Feel free to write to me in the comments below if you have any questions. Hope you’re able to plan an amazing trip to the absolutely incredible country of Japan. You have some wonderful adventures ahead of you!

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One of the thousands of beautiful temples in the Kyoto area

 

 

 

 

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When You Turn 37…

…Something pretty neat happens. Statistically speaking, that is.

Apparently, when you turn 37, you hit the tipping point where half the U.S. population is younger than you, and half is older than you. I discovered this in the fascinating article, Why 37 Is A Very Special Age.  This information was gathered by Nathan Yau of Flowing Data using estimates from the 2014 U.S. Census data. He created a cool, interactive infographic you can play around with here – to see what percentage of the U.S. population is older/younger than you according to your age. For me, being 34, 55% of the population is older than me.

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It’s something I never thought about before, but found interesting upon reading about it. I’m curious how the figures would be different if we took into account the entire world population.

It got me thinking about my time here, on this planet, and how quickly it goes. But not in a scary, OMG cue: existential angst type of way. More in a GOA principle way. GOA principle is a term that one of my esteemed UCLA professors Howard Suber coined, and the acronym stands for the “Get Off Your Ass.” Basically, get shit done. Go create and make. Write that movie, start that business, apply for that dream job, etc.

All of this relates to a quote I read this morning – from a commencement speech.

“There are 30,000 days in your life. When I was 24, I realized I’m almost 9,000 days down. There are no warm-ups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Your biggest risk isn’t failing, it’s getting too comfortable. Every day, we’re writing a few more words of a story. I wanted my story to be an adventure and that’s made all the difference.”

-Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox, MIT Commencement Address, June 7th 2013

So, I guess the moral of the story is: continue to go forth into the world, writing your own story, taking bold, imperfect action, and have unexpected adventures, and above all – make your life joyous.

Expensive Things Can Be Bought Cheaply in Your Thirties

I was laying on a loungechair at an Onsen in Japan the other day- an Onsen is a Japanese hotspring. It was a beautiful day out and I’d just come out of the Himalayan salt sauna next to me. I could feel the salt between my toes and the sun on my skin. My breathing came easily and deeply. I was about to jump into the open air hotspring in front of me. And I felt rich. And I thought “this is an amazingly expensive experience.” It was a funny thought to have because this particular beautiful onsen experience had cost me a grand total of 7 whole dollars.

Yep, the Onsen entry fee was a paltry 700 yen, which actually equates to a little less than 7 US dollars. And as I was laying there in the sun and basking in the spa-like experience, I kept thinking about how people want to have tons of money so that they could have experiences such as this, but this had cost me nearly nothing.

And this happens all the time. I sometimes have an amazing, brilliant meal somewhere that blows me away, and the whole thing has cost me a grand total of 10 dollars.

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Or I’m at a beautiful lake somewhere and the whole experience costs me a grand total of zero dollars plus $2.50 train fare.

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This isn’t just a Japan thing. Sometimes in America I’ll have a great super filling brunch for less than $15 complete with Bloody Mary and coffee.

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Sometimes I’ll be at an amazing five dollar yoga class in Bryant Park, or I’ll get a cheap massage in Queens that’s less than forty dollars for a whole hour- not hundreds.

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I’m not saying that having money isn’t important and that you don’t need a comfortable degree of money to live a happy life. Being worried about money is terrible- I know firsthand what that feels like and the stress that causes.

However, I don’t think you need to have tons of money to live the rich life you’d live if you did have tons of money. You can live it anyway at any income level- don’t equate expensive with value. Many things you’re waiting for the money to do aren’t as expensive as you think. The saying isn’t true- lots of things in life are free! Or at least pretty cheap. And they’re all around- just look for them.

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You Can Actually Do That Crazy Thing In Your Thirties

One of the biggest lessons I always learn when I’m doing something “crazy ” is that although it seems nuts at first, once I do it, I find it’s actually way more normal and doable than I’d previously thought.

Well, maybe the word ‘normal’ is an exaggeration, but the crazy things are definitely doable- a lot of times even easy! And there are others out there who are actually doing the same crazy things and will recognize you as kindred spirits.

My example right now is solo travel. People sometimes say to me, “you’re traveling alone?! That’s scary!” Or “are you lonely?” Or even, and especially back in the states, “why would you travel alone?”

But then I meet other solo travelers while I’m traveling, and I realize that that thing I’m doing that many people consider ‘crazy’ is actually nothing compared to how crazy it can get- I meet people doing 5 months of solo travel as opposed to my two weeks. I meet people doing world travel to indonesia, Berlin, Sri Lanka, America, and Japan, as opposed to my simple Japan trip.

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Very sweet German girl I met in Okunoshima who’s traveling around the world.

 

I saw an article on Facebook over a year ago about a random place called Rabbit Island. It seemed like the coolest place ever, but there are so many cool places in articles on Facebook that I didn’t really think much of it. Plus it was far- all the way in JAPAN.

Then when I started actually planning my ‘crazy’ Japan trip I remembered this rabbit island. But still, when I looked it up, it was super remote. Even the local Japanese barely knew of it. It seemed that almost no one had heard of this island and it was far from any well known area in Japan..like super duper far.

But you know what? I kept thinking about that island. It wouldn’t stop flitting across my mind. I love bunnies. Love love love them. And I thought about how much closer I’d be to that island once I was Japan than I’d ever be in America. So I made up my mind to do what it takes- what if I actually took the crazy long all day trip to go to this island?

And go I did. 8 hours of trains later I was in a heavenly fairytale of bunnies. And it was worth everything.

And people may look at you funny when you do things that they consider crazy, but keep going anyway. You’re probably not even being that crazy. And if you are actually doing something super duper outlandishly different, as long as you’re not hurting anyone, who cares? Good for you. There’s not much new under the sun anyway.

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People from around the world who I met at the bunny island! 

Working Easy In Your Thirties

Working Easy In Your Thirties

Everyone talks about working hard, but wouldn’t it be better to work easy?

I hate the idea that anything worth doing is hard to do- I think it puts us in the wrong state of mind to get great things done. The hard work mindset is based in tension and negativity. When I do ‘hard work’ I tense up and ‘buckle down.’ The anxiety that comes from this kind of work hard mindset is palpable.

Sometimes, when I allow myself to stay loose and take it easy, I actually get the most done. Occasionally, I will take a day off from my to do list, and plan nothing. It took effort to let go of my tension filled mile long to do list, but I managed somehow. I was talking to Jane about this a little while back and I remember telling her, “It’s crazy. On these ‘days off’ where I’ve made no plans except to relax, I end up getting a ridiculous amount done anyway. It’s weird- it’s almost effortless.” She then asked me how that happened and I didn’t know at the time.

But I know now.

It’s “working easy” – starting from a relaxed place and allowing things instead of forcing them.

Don’t get me wrong, “working hard” will also produce results. That’s why the idea of hard work is so prevalent. We feel we need to stress out and tense up and do difficult work in order to get things done. But what if we could get all the same things done anyway while not working hard at all? Wouldn’t that be nice?

It’s not just nice, it’s doable. We don’t have to stress out and exert so much painful effort in order to get things done. I promise. Start from an easy place. Let go of hard work. Go from there. And magic will occur.

I’m practicing this in Japan right now. I barely have an itinerary- I’ve just decided to relax and see what I see. And I’ve seen so much more than I could have planned, without much effort. I could be anxious and still see things, but it’s not necessary to stress out in order to see the world. It even works with this blog- I’m blissfully writing on the train from Kyoto to Osaka right now. It’s pretty chill. But it could have also been a tension filled item to check off my list.

Give it a try. Work easy. And see what happens.

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