top of page

Weekends are for Traveling

At the beginning of the year the Board of Education forced me to move. I don't have much say in where I live because I live in subsidized housing, which is a privilege and I am grateful for, of course. However, I did my best to express that I did not want to go through the moving process in January just to go through it again a few months later in July.

The apartment I am living in now is newer and so, in appearance, it is nicer. Additionally, because it is newer, the building itself is more insulated. So the second part of my winter wasn't as cold as previous years. It also comes with a parking spot right in front of the building, which is more convenient than the five minute walk to my previous spot. These are, however, the only nice things I can say about my apartment. I was happy with the location of my old apartment, it was right at the edge of downtown and a couple blocks away from my main office at the Board of Education. I was also paying less at the old place, which let me save more for my travels. On top of that, the old place was on the fifth floor, so I had to deal with fewer bugs than I am having to so far during these warmer months  (the bugs in Japan are massive and terrifying!). Not to say I didn't get any bugs in the old place, a huge Japanese cockroach fell on me in the middle of the night last summer. Every time I think about it, I can still remember the way it felt when it touched me... Then I proceeded to spray an entire bottle of roach killer on it and had to deep clean the apartment in the middle of the night to get the insecticide out. I have also had a big Japanese roach in my new apartment, even though I was naively hoping there wouldn't be an issue in the new place. The good news about the roaches in Japan is that they are not the invasive kind, but instead they're just massive and they fly. Seeing a roach inside every now and then is just part of the experience of living in Japan, especially in the countryside. Okay no more roach talk. The main reason I didn't want to leave is because I created a home in my space and most of my Japan memories live in that apartment. I came to Japan at a time when COVID restrictions were still in place, so for most of my first year I spent the majority of my time in that apartment. I put a lot of time and money into decorating it and making it an area I was excited to come home to. It was also the first space I had all to myself, which is something I had been wishing for and looking forward to for years! While I still have a lot of the same things in the new place, the energy is not the same, especially without the tatami room.

Saying Goodbye for the Last Time

I moved into the new apartment on January 25th. That weekend I made sure to deep clean the old apartment before management did their walk through. The apartment I lived in had been used by the Board of Education for over two decades. So many ALTs before me lived in the space. As you can imagine, it felt very lived in. It was still really sad exiting the building the final time. The following weekend I made sure to get settled in as much as I could.

My New Bedroom Layout

The first weekend I was free happened to be a three day weekend (February 10-12). At the last minute I decided to book a trip to Hiroshima. After checking the price and times for the train, I realized the best way to do this trip was by car. It takes about 6 hours and 40 minutes to get to Hiroshima from my city. So, after work Friday night I drove to Kitakyushu City (a border city between Kyushu Island and Honshu Island). Myself and another Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) stayed in an area of Kitakyushu called Mojiko. Since I was only using Mojiko as a place to rest for the night, I had zero knowledge about the little port town. We also got into town so late that everything was closed except a conbini in the train station and a bar across the street.

Mojiko Station, iPhone 12 photo
Hotel Decorations for Lunar New Year

This town was such a happy surprise. The infrastructure was inspired from European countries and it was all built in the late 19th century or early 20th century. It turns out that prior to World War II Mojiko was a major port area for Kyushu (the port used today is more south). I would have loved to stay longer to explore the various museums and buildings, but the main goal of this trip was Hiroshima. So, the next morning, after enjoying a banana coffee and donuts from a local bakery we headed towards Hiroshima.

Boat in Mojiko Port

I drove towards the port for Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage Site located on a small island, first because it was on the way to the city. The area to catch the ferry to and from Itsukushima shrine was absolutely packed. We were driving around for a long time, sometimes sitting at a dead stop, trying to find parking. Eventually, we decided that it was best to, instead, drive the rest of the way to the city and take the ferry from there the following day. So by the time we made it to the city it was already early afternoon, and things in Japan close so early! However, we were able to make it to an art museum.

The art museum had a restaurant so we ate lunch (I had Japanese curry and rice) before entering the museum. The museum had a bunch of different styles like romanticism, impressionism, post-impressionists, and neo-impressionists, as well as Japanese western inspired paintings, and traditional Japanese style paintings. I don't often go to art museums so this is the first time, that I can remember, seeing the original works from some famous painters such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Matisse.

Hiroshima Castle

Afterwards we walked over to Hiroshima castle. Hiroshima castle is unique in that it was built on flat land, most castles throughout the country are located on an incline, or somewhere that is not easily accessible. It's located along a river that is lined with cherry blossom trees. I am sure it is absolutely gorgeous when the cherry blossoms bloom, but in early February, everything was a bit dead looking.

Atomic Bomb Dome

After we made it through the castle, we walked over to the Atomic Bomb Dome so I could get some early evening pictures. The Atomic Bomb Dome was 160 meters from the hypocenter of the August 6, 1945 bombing. It is one of the few buildings that survived the blast within a 1km distance from where it hit. Today it remains untouched. It's quite surreal to see the juxtaposition of the remnants of the dome laying against the background of a modern and thriving city.

Atomic Bomb Dome Skyline From Across the Motoyasu River

There also happened to be a very small pro-Palestinian demonstration that afternoon. The overall sentiment amongst Japanese citizens is anti-war, many seem to be unaware that their own military is being heavily built up. So it's no surprise that they chose the Dome as a place to bring it to the public's attention. Since October 7, 2023 (as of June 17, 2024) 37,347 people have been killed in Gaza including 15,000 children, another 85,372 have been injured, and there are around 10,000 people who are unaccounted for (according to Al Jazeera). Continue to think about it, talk about it, donate to Palestinians (when you can), and participate in local protests (if you can, if not, find ways to support those who are).

That night, we checked into probably the most aesthetically pleasing hotel I

Dining at MORETHAN

have stayed in while traveling throughout Japan. It's called The Knot. The Knot is a high rise hotel with wonderful views of the city at night and easily identifiable historical landmarks during the day. The lobby was located on the top floor which had floor to ceiling windows in all directions. The lobby was also connected to the bar. The only downside of the hotel is that it advertises parking spaces, when in reality it only had two available spaces. So, I had to park quite a few blocks away in an hourly lot. We had plans to go out and get okonomiyaki that evening, but were exhausted from the day and decided to stay in the restaurant on the first floor of the hotel called MORETHAN. They had real pizza ovens and proper cocktails, it was an amazing meal!

Miyazaki Beef on the Menu!

The following day, I drove over to the port so that we could take the first ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima Island (where Itsukushima Shrine is located). Unfortunately, and to our disappoint, the operational hours were different on weekends and the ferry to Miyajima was not running. Knowing how crowded the other port was the day prior, I was ready to give up.

Peace Memorial Park

So, instead we had breakfast at Backen Mozart Cafe and then afterwards went to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Because it was a holiday weekend, the exhibit was absolutely packed, we had to wait in a long line to get in. Then subsequently had to walk through an even slower line to make our way through the museum. So, it took a really long time to get through the exhibit. The museum itself is larger than the one in Nagasaki, but generally you are left with the same heaviness. However, I did learn something new and did my own research afterwards to learn more. As a result of the August 6th bombing in Hiroshima, 12 American soldiers were also killed. This information was initially hidden from the public. In 1977 a Hiroshima researcher discovered the record that included the soldiers names, the 12 victims were then added to the list on the Memorial Cenotaph. Later on, their 12 pictures were added to the memorial hall. The U.S. continued to hide this information from the general public for years, even after the Department of Defense was questioned about it in 1983. In 2016, President Barack Obama was the first American president to visit both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was here that he gave a speech detailing the ugliness and despair that comes from war (oh the hypocrisy!). However, he did make a casual acknowledgement towards the 12 American soldiers who died by stating, "We come to mourn the dead, including ... a dozen Americans held prisoner." (The White House Archives). It wasn't until this year, January 2024, that America publicly acknowledged/confirmed the death of 12 American POW from the August 6, 1945 bombing. The source came from a 1948 report that was created during the investigation into Japanese war crimes. The victims were unnamed. It is important to mention that an atomic bomb survivor and current historian, Shigeaki Mori, played a crucial role in making these secrets come to light by conducting his own research and connecting with the victim's families. He released a book The Secret History of the American POWs in Hiroshima (2008) which can be read online here. A 2016 film was released about Shigeaki Mori and his research called Paper Lanterns. I would like to point out here, that while I mainly focused on American POWs in this section, that several thousand POWs from Korea and China also died, in addition to the thousands of innocent Japanese civilians, as a result of the atomic bombs.

Itsukushima Torii Up Close and Personal

Afterwards we started heading back to my car when I noticed a boat on the side of the Motoyasu River that was advertising rides to none other than Miyajima Island. We went over and were so happy to find out that they had tickets available for the next departing boat. So, while waiting for the boat, I walked over to a juice stand and got some freshly squeezed orange juice. The boat ride from the city to Miyajima Island was about an hour.

Low Tide Views

Itsukushima Shrine was originally built in 593 CE and was later renovated in 1571. The tide rises and falls around the giant torii gate, giving visitors a different experience depending on what time they visit. I was there during low tide. While I would have loved to get pictures without hundreds of people surrounding the torii, it was quite fun to get up close and touch it (my socks did get soaked in the process).

Deer on Miyajima Island

Miyajima Island is more than Itsukushima Shrine. It also has several other shrines and temples (the island itself was believed to be a god, so it's a very

Chocolate Covered Momiji Manju

spiritual area), has some beautiful forests, friendly deer, old Japanese architecture, and loads of food stalls and restaurants. I was especially excited to try momiji manjuu, a dessert originally from Miyajima. Momiji manjuu is a sweet made from buckwheat and rice cake that often has red bean filling. It's in the shape of a maple leaf. Today, you can sample several different flavors of momiji manju. I bought way too many of these because I wanted to try all of the flavors. My absolute favorite was a chocolate covered one... I wish I bought more of them!

But First, Coffee Break

I watched the sunset over Itsukushima Shrine from the dock, waiting for the return boat. The ALT I was with was waiting in line for oysters (another Hiroshima specialty) and made it just in time for our departing boat.

Itsukushima Shrine

Once we got back to the mainland, we started driving to our next destination, Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi is about a two hour drive from Hiroshima. The only thing I knew about Yamaguchi is that it made the news for monkey attacks. There was one monkey causing so much terror in 2022 that the news went global. For the longest time everyone from California was sending me articles about the aggressive monkey. As time has gone on, researchers believe that it was instead multiple monkeys making these attacks. Some were even sneaking into houses by taking off the window screens. I haven't heard anything about these monkeys since.

Plum Blossoms in Yamaguchi
Mini Replica of the Pagoda at Ruriko-ji

The next morning we visited Ruriko-ji. It's a five story pagoda that Yamaguchi prides itself in being the "third most famous" pagoda in Japan. However, the entire pagoda is currently covered up because there are renovations happening until November 2025. I couldn't help but laugh. The park around the pagoda is still beautiful though.

Ruriko Shrine

We then went to Joei-ji. It's a temple with a huge garden in the back. You can hike the garden steps to smaller shrines. It also has a great view of the city from the top. The hike was so steep and unexpected that many people decided to turn back around before reaching the top. Afterwards, we started the 5 hour drive back to my city, but not before stopping at the mall in Hakata, Fukuoka. When we were at the mall, we surprisingly ran into the k-pop group SEVENTEEN, but weren't allowed to take pictures with them.

Joei-ji Views from the Garden

The following weekend, February 17th and 18th, I booked a last minute trip to Nagasaki. On the way to Nagasaki, I stopped at some spots in Saga that I had been to before but wanted to take some new pictures. I tend to take pictures of the same places in hope to find some new inspiration, get a different or better angle, and hopefully catch it at a time when the lighting is better.

Yutoku Inari Shrine, Saga

I had been to Nagasaki a couple times before, but on this particular weekend it was the second weekend of celebrating the Lunar New Year. This year is the first year since COVID that Nagasaki held this festival, so of course I had to go. All over China Town they had lanterns, performances, local foods and art. It was an overall great time.

Red Lanterns at the Lunar New Year Festival, Nagasaki

There were three main lantern colors in this festival. The first was red. Red lanterns are a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Another color was yellow which represents good luck. There were also quite a few pink lanterns which symbolize love.

Pink Lanterns at the Lunar New Year Festival, Nagasaki

The next day the ALT (who also joined me in Hiroshima) and I went to the Atomic Bomb Museum. She had never been, but it was my third time visiting. It's quite heart-breaking to go to both museums two weekends in a row. However, I do think they are important to visit to remind people about the atrocities of war. I especially think it's important now more than ever since people are having a harder time remembering history in our current digital/social media era.

Nagasaki Peace Park, taken June 2023

That day I also went to a cafe that had latte art and waffles. Also, of course I didn't leave without getting some champon (a specialty noodle dish in Nagasaki inspired by Chinese food)!

Coffee and Waffles from Attic

The Emperor's birthday is a national holiday, and this year it fell on a Friday. It was February 23rd so many workers in Japan had a three day weekend. In addition to the three day weekend, I also took the Thursday off so that I had an extra travel day to visit Seoul! I had planned the trip to South Korea for months. In fact, before I decided to join JET, I was looking at teaching English in South Korea. So because it is my last year in Japan, I absolutely had to make plans to visit, no excuses! Instead of writing about Seoul now, I will be making a separate entry for it next time.

First Cherry Blossoms of the Year and Tokyo Tower

So, instead, I will talk about the following weekend. The first weekend in March my cousin was in Tokyo visiting from California. She was mainly here for a ski trip that she took in Hokkaido with some friends. They were finishing their trip in Tokyo and so she invited me to join them. I desperately needed the time with people I love, so I absolutely made the flight up!

After work on Friday, March 2nd, I drove to the airport and took the first flight to Tokyo. I landed in the evening, and went over to the Ariake area to have some

Rainbow Bridge View from Ariake, Tokyo

dinner. Ariake is on the other side of Rainbow Bridge (which my partner and I saw on our New Year's Eve Night cruise, you can read about our adventure here). It is less touristy and a relatively new area of the city (primarily constructed for the 2020 Olympics). After dinner, I walked along the waterfront and took some pictures with my phone, then headed back across the bridge to meet my cousin, her partner and her friends for late night drinks. We ended up at Bar Trench, a sophisticated cocktail bar that has some concoctions with egg whites. Good cocktails are hard to find in my city, so it's always treat to have something a little fancy. However, the best thing about this bar, in my opinion, was that they had an amazing tonkatsu sandwich, which we collectively shared as a group because of how great it was.

Pinkys Out for Fancy Cocktails at Bar Trench

On Saturday, we went to the new TeamLab Exhibition: Borderless. TeamLab is an interactive art museum that has several locations and is always evolving their exhibits. I have been to a few including the most well known exhibit in Tokyo, Planets. There are a lot of similarities between the two, so if you decide to visit a TeamLab in Tokyo, I suggest visiting only one. Planets was my favorite because it was more tactile, but both are really cool.

Watch Tower at the Imperial Palace

Afterwards we headed over to Tokyo station. There, we ate some really good ramen and walked across the street to the Imperial Palace. The Imperial Palace has been home to the serving emperor since 1868. Naruhito is the current emperor of Japan and has been serving since 2019.

That evening we ate dinner at Omoide Yokocho, which is a tourist destination because of it's narrow alleyways and tiny restaurants. The alleyways and all the restaurants were packed with people. This is definitely not a place that I would choose to go to, because in addition to the crowds, the food is mediocre at best. However, I was with good company and I am happy that I can now say that I have been there. It is also definitely instagrammable.

The Famous Shibuya Crossing From Above

The following morning I checked out of my hotel really early so that I could visit some shrines in Tokyo, which is something I hadn't done yet. I started out by going to the most famous one, Asakusa. They had a special pink stamp goshuin for the approaching Cherry Blossom season. The next shrine I visited I had to walk awhile to get to, but it also had a special seasonal goshuin. The shrine itself was small and quiet. The last shrine that I went to, I took the train. On that day, March 3rd, the Tokyo Marathon was happening. So I had a difficult time trying to figure out how to cross the street. But in the meantime, I got to watch part of the marathon! The Tokyo marathon is one of six World Marathon Majors. So people from all over the world come to Japan to compete. The woman who won this year's marathon was from Estonia and the man who won was from Kenya. Anyway, I did eventually find my way across the street and got my third goshuin of the day.

A Shrine in Tokyo with a Blooming Cherry Blossom Tree

That afternoon I had plans to meet my cousin and her partner for sake tasting back in the Shinjuku area. But first, I decided to eat lunch at none other than my favorite burger place, Shogun Burger.

The sake tasting event was my favorite thing we did that weekend. The sake bartender (sake guru?) was originally from Hawaii but has been living in Yokohama for several decades. He was funny and extremely knowledgeable. We also sat with some travelers visiting from the U.S. who were fun to banter with (oh how I miss the art of sarcasm!). Now I've learned the process that goes into making sake, and how different that can be from brewery to brewery, I sort of understand the classification, and most importantly I learned that the taste can be so different! I now have a better understanding of the sake that I prefer. I left for the airport before the sake guru poured the last round. I had such a wonderful time with my cousin and meeting her partner. It really meant a lot that we were able to spend time together in Japan.

Just like my sister (who visited Japan in spring 2023) and my partner (who visited Japan this past January), my cousin fell in love with this country and plans to come back soon to visit different prefectures. It was a great ending to the many weekends in a row of traveling. The following weekend, I spent hibernating in my *new* apartment.


Related Posts

See All

7 opmerkingen

I love reading about your Japan adventures and seeing the pictures! Sorry to hear that you had to move. What a pain in the azz. So glad you got to spend time with family, Jolie, Sarah and Alex! ♥️ you! Aunt Sharan

Reageren op

But in the meantime if you haven't caught up feel free to read the entry I wrote about my trip with Alex: (I wrote this entry last month too!) and my latest entry about Seoul, my favorite international trip that I took this year: (I posted this entry yesterday!😁)


18 jun.

Great post, as always.

You visited all those amazing places, had all those exciting adventures, and all I can think about right now is how badly I want a Shogun Burger!!

Reageren op

Thank you! I was just thinking how I wish I could go to Tokyo just one more time before leaving so that I could visit the new Spongebob Cafe, visit Shogun Burger once more, among other things that I haven't been able to do! (P.S. Did you watch Shogun on Hulu?)


Kai Neyer
Kai Neyer
18 jun.

Oh, sad, your new apartment doesn't have a tatami room?! :( I did think your new bedroom looked very...not-Japanese but I couldn't figure out why, lol.

I had to stop and think, "There's a Hiroshima Castle?" I did not visit in my year of living there. lol.

Reageren op

I was the last ALT in my city who had a tatami room :(! But yes, I didn't even think of it that way. This new building feels so "modern", like an American apartment minus the bidet and sliding doors! The kitchen is sooooo tiny too! I was really spoiled with the kitchen in the old spot.

The castle was within walking distance of Peace Memorial Park, you might've been there! 🤔

bottom of page