Enoshima

Way back in November I talked the Sailor into driving us on our first mini road trip to Enoshima. A quick 15 miles away or if you’re from the midwest, about a 40 minute drive in decent traffic, that included a few highways and tolls. For those of you not in the know, the Japanese drive on the left side of the road so, driving out in town can feel a bit awkward for us since we’ve been driving on the left side of the road for 24 years up until recently. This also makes the fact that the Sailor was down for the adventure that much more interesting. With the help of google maps, I navigated us out of the city and onto the highways. By the time we got to Enoshima, the Sailor’s initial traffic anxiety has calmed and we were able to find the Enoshima Aquarium parking garage without issue.

Saisho stop, Enoshima Aquarium. The aquarium sits right on the beach and has pretty hefty variety of indigenous fish from Sagami Bay and the Pacific but, what they are known for is their awesome collection of jelly fish which is what I was most interested in checking out.

The aquarium is split into 12 zones that include: 1. Sagami Bay Zone, 2. Deep Sea part 1, 3. Jelly Fish Fantasy Hall, 4. Pacific Ocean, 5. Research by his Majesty Akihito, 6. Jelly Fish Magic, 7. Penguins and Seals, 8. Deep Sea Part II, 9. Sea Turtle Beach, 10. Beach Experience Hall, 11. Dolphin Show Stadium and 12. Touch Pools. Catching a look at everything without waiting to see one of the shows took just under 2 hours. If we had kids that wanted to spend time at the touch pools or waited to see one of the shows it would have taken probably double that.






Once we had of fill of the aquatic wonders, we took a stroll over the Enoshima Bentenbashi Bridge to the actual Island of Enoshima to try and find the tides pools and perhaps the Iwaya Caves. Once on the Island we continued straight ahead towards the Hetsunomiya main shrine. We didn’t climb the steps to cross the tori gate and enter. Instead, we continued on with good ol’ google maps directions and veered off. A short walk up hill later, we ended up wandering through Okutsunomiya Shrine grounds, the oldest shrine of Enoshima. We happened upon the Wadatsumi-the dragon shrine and had to take a few minutes to snap photos of the large dragon sculpture on top.

A few more steps further and there was a steep downward stairway right in front of a restaurant that took us down through thick greenery that gave way to views of the sea. I later found out that this view point is called  Chigogafuchi Abyss viewpoint. The name Chigogafuchi (which means “abyss of the servant child in a temple”, cheery, right?) comes from a tragic story that two servant children of a temple in Kamakura had committed suicide here during Edo era. A really beautiful view with a tragic history.

We continued to take another set of stairs down to the shore below the cliff or explore all the tide pools and watch the wave start to come in. Sadly Iwaya cave 2 had been closed recently to the public when we were there and I didn’t understand that there were actually 2 cave and that cave 1 may or may not have been open so we spent all of our time just wandering from one tide pool to the next checking out most of the rocky shore until it unexpectedly started raining on us. We took that as our queue to head back to the car and home.

I would love to go back and explore the island a bit more. The initial street up to the main shrine was lined with all kinds of small trinket and sweets shops. Small restaurants with amazing views of the sea and shore peppered the peak before we headed down the stairs to the shore. I’d love to find one to sit in and enjoy a hot bowl of ramen and watch the tide roll in or out. I’ve learned about a few other interesting sights (other than the cave we missed out on) like Nishiura Cove to see Mt. Fuji and the sunset, Sea Candle and Samuel Cocking Garden, walk the Oiwaya-michi pilgrimage way or even just spend more time exploring all the shops on Nakamise Street. I’ll just add it to the already very long list.

Skytree and Senso-ji

I’ve been slacking on keeping this blog updated. I’ve been trying to slowly learn a little Japanese and have been going through a phase of reading voraciously but, those are just excuses. I’m lazy and find I have to be at least a little inspired to write.

Anyway, way back in September, The Sailor and I took a little day trip to Tokyo to visit the Skytree. The Tokyo Skytree is the worlds tallest broadcasting and observation tower in the world. It was completed in 2011 at 634 meters (or 2,080 ft. for us non-metric dorks). If you’re interested in learning about the design, earthquake protections, naming  and all that jazz, you can read about it here and if you want to learn more about what is in and around it you can do so here.

fullsizeoutput_371fullsizeoutput_379

fullsizeoutput_372
450 meters above a hazy Tokyo.
fullsizeoutput_376
Somewhere in that haze is Mt. Fuji… supposedly.
fullsizeoutput_377
Looking down 350 meters.
fullsizeoutput_378
That’s 1477 feet down to the ground.

After perusing the highest tower in the world, we decided to see what else was in the area. After a quick search we decided to walk over to Sensoji or Asakusa Kannon Temple; a colorful, popular Buddhist temple that happens to be the oldest in Tokyo.

Kannon is the Goddess of Mercy and legend has it that 2 brothers pulled a statue of her out of the Sumida River in 628 which they then put back. But, the statue continued to return to them. The temple was built nearby where the story claims to take place. The original construction was completed in 645 (yes, the year 645) but sadly was destroyed during WWII. The current temple was built in its place shortly after the end of the war as a symbol of rebuilding and peace. It is a beautiful slice of the past nestled in the big city. If you’d like to read more specific details on it you can do so here and here.

fullsizeoutput_37a
Kaminarimon or Thunder Gate
fullsizeoutput_37c
Hozomon or Treasure House Gate
fullsizeoutput_37b
Main Hall and 5 story pagoda.
fullsizeoutput_37e
Me and Buddha
fullsizeoutput_37f
Temple grounds would not be complete without an awesome stone bridge over a Koi pond.
fullsizeoutput_380
Temple grounds with the Pagoda which is said to house 100 statues and thousands of Buddhist “spirit” tablets or ihai, along with the ashes of a Buddha.
fullsizeoutput_381
Komainu or Lion-dogs
fullsizeoutput_383
Komainu are always found in pairs and used as a place for couples to pray for successful relationships.

fullsizeoutput_382

fullsizeoutput_384
Contrast of the old and the new with the Pagoda from 1645 and the Modern Skytree.
fullsizeoutput_385
Sisterogon Street shopping mall with traditional Japanese wooden floor.
fullsizeoutput_387
This new shopping street was much less crowded than the famous Nakamise Dori.
fullsizeoutput_388
And filled with adorable shops like this one selling traditional souvenirs and tiny live Koi.

After we had explored Senso-ji for a bit we decided to take a long walk to the Kappa-Dera or Sougenji Temple just a 20 minute walk away in the Tokyo neighborhood of Kappabashi which literally means Kappa Bridge. It was supposedly so plagued by the the pests that the area residences built a small kappa-temple to appease them. The altar is kept stocked with cucumbers, said to be the kappa’s favorite food, and i has a chamber that supposedly contains antique scroll-drawings of the goblins and even a real mummified kappa-arm.

Sadly, the tiny temple was closed and gated off so we couldn’t even get close. To say i was disappointed at missing out on this weird little treasure in Tokyo was an understatement. I guess we could have looked closer at the very limited hours of operation before walking over. If you’re interested in in reading more about the strangle little place you can do so here and here.

fullsizeoutput_38b
I literally fell twice despite all the very obvious warnings of the small steps that were ALL OVER.

This is just one of several little day excursions to Tokyo we have taken. Stay tuned for more posts if I don’t slip into utter uninspired laziness again.

Sakura Hanami 2019

Come every March, Japan begins to thrum with the excitement of Sakura Season. It’s a beautiful time of year that has mild temperatures but most importantly brings the blooming of the Sakura or Cherry blossoms. Tree canopies of flowers ranging in hue from white and palest blush to vibrant fuchsia or even yellow.

Actually, the season usually starts in late February down south in Okinawa and slowly makes it way north to Hokkaido around May so depending on where you live or are planning to visit you can get an eye full from February to May. For us here in Yokosuka, we started seeing the blooms in late March.

Shortly after the first blooms, lanterns and lights begin to appear strung among the trees preparing for dusk and evening hanami. Hanami simply put, is blossom viewing. People pack up picnic style and head out to local parks everywhere and sit and enjoy the simple fleeting beauty of the blossoms with friends and family. Hanami is an anytime, all day kind of thing and consists of walking around or just sitting and relaxing. I’m a fan of hanami.

The tradition of hanami has been around for centuries and hanami parties date back to the 700s. Yes, seven, zero, zero. No “1” in front. For y’all over in the states, white folk wouldn’t be coming from Europe to the shores of the US for over double that time. Take a moment to let that concept sink in. Anyway, way back in the day sometime between 710 and 790, hanami included parties under plum blossoms and wisteria as well as sakura. Today some of the older generations still gather under plum blossoms rather than cherry as they tend to be a little less crowded and partyesque than the younger occasionally more boisterous crowds that the sakura draw.

Historically the sakura has had great significance to the Japanese culture. Their appearance signified the start of the rice planing season and some used them to foretell the years harvests. It’s short but wondrously beautiful life span was treated as a metaphor for life and was the central theme for countless poems throughout the eras. While the tradition of hanami gatherings started in the imperial court originally, it didn’t take long to funnel down through the various classes to the merchants and farmers. Today everyone can and does partake in some form of hanami.

With the Sakura season also comes copious offerings of specialty Sakura themed treats, drinks and memorabilia. If you ever wanted a cherry blossom tee shirt or parasol, now is your time for the most choices. If y you’d like to partake in a variety of sakura flavored candies and baked goods, there is no better time. Many stop in the local Starbucks and order up a seasonal Sakura flavored drink. I must warn you though, it’s an acquired taste; obviously floral, much like lavender or rose but, also reminiscent of… soap. Partake so you can say you did but, know you have a 50/50 shot of loving it or forcing your self to finish so it’s not money wasted.

About three weeks ago, the Sailor and I headed out to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo to have our own little hanami. We had originally planned to journey to Arakurayama Sengen Park for some epic pictures that would have included Mt. Fuji and the Chureito Pagoda. If you have ever seen a post card or poster with a 5 story red pagoda and a large snow capped mountain in the back surrounded by cherry trees in full pink bloom, than you’ve seen what I’m talking about. Alas, Arakurayama Sengen Park is a 3 hour train ride one way and when the morning dawned neither none of us were up for that kind of journey. I had a either an epic case of allergies or a wicked cold (I’m guessing a little of both) and the Sailor was prepping for surgery on his schnoz in less than 48 hours. So we opted for the quicker hour long train and subway jaunt to Tokyo.

The park was literally a 5 minute walk from the subway station. We were met with a long queue of people waiting to pay their 500¥ each for entrance to the Park. As usual, the line was organized and directed with flawless precision that the Japanese are known for and moved along at a nice constant and orderly fashion leaving the wait to be a tolerable 15 minutes or so. It was worth it. We were greeted by sprawling lawns surrounded by paved paths that meander around the grounds; under trees, around, ponds and passed pagodas. It was crowded and still lovely. Amidst the urban sprawl of Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen is a bit of green and pink beauty and a nice respite from the concrete and brick city.  Hundreds of people lazily walked along the paths, groups of people of all ages and backgrounds lounged on blankets on the lawn; chatting, playing games, reading, napping and in one very specific case, dressed in victorianesque clothing while posing dolls in similar attire and taking pictures of them. No joke. We saw couples of every age holding hands or leaning into each other while sitting on benches quietly taking in the view. We even witnessed a proposal under the blooms with everyone that walked by stopping to offer sincere congratulations in more than one language. Even feeling high on cold medication yet still somehow mildly congested and achey, I couldn’t help but completely enjoy every moment with a silly smile constantly plastered on my face. I’d say we had a successful first Hanami in Japan.

fullsizeoutput_324fullsizeoutput_312

fullsizeoutput_317fullsizeoutput_315fullsizeoutput_316fullsizeoutput_318fullsizeoutput_31afullsizeoutput_31cfullsizeoutput_325fullsizeoutput_31dfullsizeoutput_31efullsizeoutput_321fullsizeoutput_322fullsizeoutput_323

Roppongi Hills Lights and the Imperial Palace

I had heard that Tokyo could put on a heck of a light show for the holidays. A quick internet search brought me directly to the knowledge of the Winter Illumination around Tokyo. So, the Sailor and I hopped on a train (then a subway) and popped over to Roppongi Hills to see what the deal was for that location. We climbed our way from the subterranean level of the subway to find a squeaky clean she-she mall full if Louis Vuitton, Rolex and Cartier.

fullsizeoutput_24ffullsizeoutput_250fullsizeoutput_24efullsizeoutput_252fullsizeoutput_254

While window shopping for $10,000 watches and hand bags does have it’s moments, the allure can wear off when you quickly realize that you can’t afford a keychain. Since we had a few hours until sundown we decided to take a nice long stroll over to the Imperial Palace. If our calculations were right, we’d get there just as the sun was setting for a few photo ops, have time to check out the downtown shopping on that side of town then head back to see the lights and catch the same subway back towards home.

fullsizeoutput_257It took roughly an hour to walk from Roppongi to where the Imperial Palace is. I couldn’t even recount how many super cars and ultra Luxury vehicles we saw tooling around the streets.

As we drew near to the Palace entrance you first notice the moat surrounding the grounds as well as the high stone wall. We got our first glimpse of the historic site against the modern city line background. It’s such a dramatic 360 view; The historic residence of the Imperial family on one side and the opposite, modern Tokyo.

fullsizeoutput_25bfullsizeoutput_25afullsizeoutput_25cfullsizeoutput_25dfullsizeoutput_25ffullsizeoutput_260

The residence is on the site of a former Edo Castle. The Castle used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from the early 17th to late 19th centuries. In 1868 the shogunate was overthrown and the capital and Imperial Residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo.  In 1888 construction of a new Imperial Palace was completed. That palace was destroyed during World War Two but, rebuilt in the same style after.

The large open plaza in front of the palace is the Kokyo Gaien. It is from here that we could see the Meganebashi, orEyeglass Bridge, with the Palace behind it. The interior grounds are only open to the public twice a year; on January 2nd for New Year’s Greetings and December 23rd from the Emperor’s Birthday. Apparently there are guided tours during the day that we may have to go back at some point and check out.

Having entertained ourselves with the Palace, we decided to take a short walk around some of the other downtown shopping areas as we meandered back towards Roppongi Hills to take in the lights now that darkness was falling. Billboards and Digital signs were on every street. There was an art gallery with a super car installation that you could go in and walk around (the Sailor was content to take pictures through the window) to see the cars up close. We found the Omega Boutique and got to experience riding the Omega glass elevator up to the boutique and back down again. It was summons by the footman at the entrance to the fancy watch area to take it up and when we rode it back down, the sales associate bowed to us until we were completely below the floor line. Talk about feeling like a a fancy AF lady…

fullsizeoutput_256fullsizeoutput_267

We even happened upon a Patek Philippe store. It’s a watch brand that I had never heard of but, the Sailor was clearly impressed and took pictures. Then I saw the “cheapest” watch in the window (¥8,683,200 which is roughly $76,548) and slowly backed away, afraid of breathing on the window wrong.

fullsizeoutput_269fullsizeoutput_270

After we had our fill of window shopping yet again, we hit up GPS to take us back to Midtown Roppongi. The directions took us through a park that happened to have some sort of food festival going on. We saw A LOT of fish and shellfish. I wish we would have stopped to take a better look and maybe attempt to find something that wouldn’t kill me and that the Sailor wouldn’t mind trying. Alas, we laughed our way through the very crowded tents to emerge to holiday lights being turned on along the sidewalks and paths.

fullsizeoutput_261fullsizeoutput_266fullsizeoutput_26a

As we made our way around the mall to the back area where the light show was set up, of course there was another supercar exhibit with the lights in the background, because, Tokyo. The Sailor was thrilled.

fullsizeoutput_26bfullsizeoutput_271

But, the main attraction; the reason we came. It did not disappoint. Thousands of LED lights and globes set to music. Smoke machines that not only coated the ground at times but also blew smoke filled bubbles that drifted through the display at times and out over the crowd.  A pathway led you around the entire set up allowing you to see it from every angle. We slowly walked the entire circumference sneaking a stop here and there to take photos and videos. When we finally had our fill we started the walk back to the subway through even more lighted pathways.

fullsizeoutput_26cfullsizeoutput_26dfullsizeoutput_26e

fullsizeoutput_26f

Considering this was just one of several light displays in Tokyo that run through February, I might have to talk the sailor into going back a time or two more to check them out. I mean, who doesn’t love Christmas lights?!

Mt. Nokogiri and Nihonji Temple

A few weekends ago we decided to take a little day trip to Chiba to check out Mt. Nokogiri and Nihon-ji Tenbodai Temple grounds. With the Holidays fast approaching and the chaos that comes with them, I’ve been just sitting on the hundreds of pictures we took and writing a sentence or two between trips to the mall, hanging decorations and lines at the post office.

Anyway, our day trip started off with a short walk to Yokosuka-chuo train station to hitch a ride to Kurihama port where we took a 45 minute ride on the Tokyowan Ferry that runs pretty much hourly. Right around ¥2500 got us round trip walk on tickets over to Boso Peninsula, Chiba. Well worth it. It was a overcast and somewhat foggy morning but the views were still pretty and a nice way to spend part of the journey.

fullsizeoutput_1d4fullsizeoutput_213fullsizeoutput_1d3

A 15 minute walk got us to the Nokogiriyama rope way. ¥500 gets you a oneway ticket in a little car suspended from a series of cables to the top of the mountain and ¥930 will get you a round trip up and down. Since we planned to not just take in the lookouts at the top of the ropeway of Mt. Nokogiri and head down but, to continue on and hike around the temple grounds, we forked over a whooping ¥1000 for two one way tickets and joined the queue for the suspended journey. It’s the easiest way to get up and I would imagine beautiful in full on fall with the leaves turning or in the throughs of spring when it’s at it’s lushest green. Be warned, they FILL the cable car and you’ll find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder. Still for the low price and the quick trip up you still get a great view and an easy ride.fullsizeoutput_1d5

Once you reach the top you are treated to a beautiful view of Tokyo Bay and the Chiba Valley. You’ll also get your ankles batted at by the resident cat colony that lords over the vending machine area staking claim to the picnic tables whether you like it or not. Take your chances with offering them innocent pet. You have a about a 50/50 chance of being met with purrs or slaps and hissing. So basically they are normal jerk face cats. I pet every last dirty one and had no regrets.fullsizeoutput_1d6fullsizeoutput_1d7fullsizeoutput_1dafullsizeoutput_1d9

But wait, there’s MORE! That’s right, more look out points with amazing sights. If you’re feeling like glute workout and want to get to the true peak, you can climb a flight of stone stairs on the “hike to hell” for  a spectacular view of the bay and valley. If it’s a clear day, you’ll get to see Mt Fuji looming over the bay. On a really clear day you might even catch a glimpse of the Tokyo Skytree. Unfortunately for us, it was a bit hazy the day we visited but, the vistas were not disappointing. It’s here that you’ll get a chance to take in Jigoku Nozoki or “View of Hell” which is probably the most famous view on the Mountain. You can clamor up a steep rock wall to find your self walking down a stone stair case to a small cliff that juts out over the valley. It’s railed off but, if you have issues with heights the rail won’t matter to you. It offers stunning views and pretty sweet photo opportunities especially if you have a willing partner to remain over by the summit of the stairs to get a sweet pic of you out on the cliff. This area of the peak offers a complete 360 degree view. If you’re disappointed with it at this point, just go home, you obviously can don’t get nature and views.

fullsizeoutput_1dcfullsizeoutput_1defullsizeoutput_1df

Heres were you can decided to head back down on the ropeway or wind your way through the grounds of the Nihonji Temple. The ¥600 per person to get in is well worth it. You can easily spend at least a few hours or more exploring the grounds. While it’s an easy hike, it’s still a work out. To see everything, be prepared to walk up and down and up and down several series of cut stone stairs and slopes. Like hundred of stairs. It’s well worth it for all that you get to see.fullsizeoutput_1e0

Since we were at the top thanks to the rope way we worked our way down. The mountain got its unique saw-tooth shape from years of quarrying which begins to show as you enter the trail. It has been a Buddhist site for over 1300 years so it should be no surprise that the first sight you come upon as you start your descent is 30-meter tall Buddhist Hyaku-Shaku Kannon of the Goddess of Mercy. Carved in 1966 into a stone cliff, it is dedicated to those who died in WWII. The Kannon is also worshiped as a protector of transportation due to its protected location surrounded by rocks.fullsizeoutput_1dd

As you wind your way around the paths, up and down slopes and stairs you find hundreds of groupings of small stone carved rakan or disciples known as the 1500 arhat. These are mortals who have attained enlightenment, and each has a unique facial expression and demeanor. They are perched along the cliffs in nooks and on ledges of the winding paths of the mountain slope. The 1500 statues vary in size and shape, with many beheaded, the unfortunate result of the anti-Buddhist Haibutsu Kishaku movement that came after the Meiji Restoration. During this time many Buddhist sites were attacked and damaged.fullsizeoutput_1edfullsizeoutput_1e1fullsizeoutput_1f0fullsizeoutput_1eefullsizeoutput_1e7fullsizeoutput_1e8fullsizeoutput_1ecfullsizeoutput_1ebfullsizeoutput_1f1fullsizeoutput_1f3fullsizeoutput_215

The statues here were not spared in the violence, but their bodies remain, some with repaired heads and some without adding to the uniqueness of each. The scars are still visible but, time and the elements have softened the edges and covered some with a down moss bandaid. The trails leading to the individual groups often lead to dead ends so, don’t be surprised when you need to back track to the main trail. Keep an eye out for the “mind your head” signs on the low tunnel like passageways as you go. fullsizeoutput_1f4fullsizeoutput_1f5fullsizeoutput_1f6fullsizeoutput_1f7fullsizeoutput_1fdfullsizeoutput_1fcfullsizeoutput_1fafullsizeoutput_1fbfullsizeoutput_1f8

I was obsessed with the 1500 arhat. We took over hundred pictures of them and could have easily taken a few hundred more.

As you start to approach the bottom of the mountain you come upon the Ishidaibutsu, the largest cliff-carved Buddha in Japan. To say it is imposing is a bit of an understatement. It was carved in 1783, 1000 years after the temple was founded. Fun fact, as the healing Buddha, he holds a container of medicine in his hand and is is said that “if you bathe in the radiance of the emerald contained in it, your illness will be healed”.fullsizeoutput_200fullsizeoutput_201fullsizeoutput_205fullsizeoutput_210fullsizeoutput_207fullsizeoutput_208

To the right of the Ishidaibutsu is a small picnic area that was perfect for a short rest as well a peak at a spectacular view from the tables.fullsizeoutput_209

Once we were done taking in the greatness of the great Ishidaibutsu, we headed down the final section of the trail to the temple its self. The oldest place of worship in the Kanto region, Nihonji Temple is a Soto Buddhist temple built over 1300 years ago in 725 CE. CE as in AD. Wrap your brains around that history folks. The temple was originally a monastery and was home to well-known figures such as Roben, the founder of Todai-ji in Nara and Kukai, the founder of Shingon. Having changed from the Hosso Sect to Tendai and now Soto Zen, the temple has been abandoned and revived multiple times throughout the ages. With the anti-Buddhist movement leading to attacks and damage as well as fires after an earthquake in 1939, the temple has undergone restoration for most of its existence.fullsizeoutput_20a

The walk continues to wind down the rest of the mountain; down stairs, over stone bridges, through the dense wooded forrest, leading you past the back parking lot and depositing you on the opposite side of the mountain you started on.fullsizeoutput_216fullsizeoutput_217

From here you have 3 choices: Hike your ass back up the way you just came, over and around the mountain. At this point I’m willing to bet you’ve had your fill of stairs and slopes. This leaves you with the other 2 options. You can take a 10 minute walk to the left and catch a bus that will take about 15 minutes to hustle you to the ferry. Or you can follow GPS and go right and walk around the base of the mountain back to the ferry. We chose the latter of those last two. BE WARNED! There are several tunnels that do not have operational sidewalks nor were the berms ample. We found ourselves timing our jogs through the tunnels between traffic flows occasionally flattening ourselves, laughing, along the sooty wall as a truck or kei car sped by unaware of our perilous presence. A few of the tunnels had walkways outside along the cliffs to the bay but, most were closed for apparent repairs. We braved on such sidewalk and found it led to a dead end which then forced us to hop in the window/barrier halfway through the tunnel and jog the rest of the way battling traffic anyway. Basically, I’d recommend taking the bus around the mountain or sucking it up and back tracking through the temple grounds back the way you came. Regardless, the 45 minute ferry ride back across the bay was a welcome rest before walking back to the train station then ultimately walking back home. 10 out of 10 would recommend. 10 out of 10 would go back during a different season for a different view of the scenery.fullsizeoutput_20bfullsizeoutput_20c

 

Welcome to the Sailor’s Nightmare

As previously posted, I’m delving into J-Beauty in the hopes that the Japanese facial culture can clear up the perpetual breakouts that have plagued my face since arriving in here Japan. The Sailor graciously agreed to walk the hour and a half to the Japanese drug store and use what Yen he has stashed so I didn’t have to make a special trip to the bank. See, Japan is still a very paper money country. Basically most place don’t take credit let alone credit cards.

Yesterday was beautiful; sunny, breezy, lovely. After lunch the Sailor asked if I still wanted to walk to the drugstore. I of course answered with an enthusiastic YES! I spent a few minutes slapping some makeup on my face to cover up the reason for the trip, threw on acceptable clothes for walking and my birks and off we went…

As the door to our apartment complex opened with a sucking sound of a vacuum, the hot oven of Japan flamed against us causing both the Sailor and I to groan slightly. My beautiful day was blazing down upon us like the hot breath of hell. We were committed. We soldiered on.

As we approached the gate to leave base the digital welcome board glared at us, “WELCOME ABOARD today’s temperature is 101…

Let me zoom in for you to REALLY appreciate it…

I mean, JUST STOP. Despite this visual evidence of our continued discomfort, we soldiered on. Out the gate we were only 20 minutes into the hour and a half. As we silently trudged down Yokosukakaigan Street we looked at all the tiny Key cars and mini buses compared to the giant SUVs and jacked up 4x4s we had grown accustomed to in Virginia. And we perspired. Rivulets ran down our faces. Just shy of the halfway point on our journey I saw the Sanwa Supermarket that we were about to pass. Hot, sweaty and sensing the Sailor’s shortening patience I suggested that I could check the cosmetic section in there to cut the walk short. With a shrug from him, we turned to cut across the parking lot (note to self, they have free parking if we ever get a car, SCORE!) to enter what would turn out to be the Sailor’s version of a perfect nightmare…

Sunday in a packed grocery store. A grocery store where none of the people speak a language we knew more than “excuse me, hello and thank you”. A grocery store with packed aisles of Japanese food and home goods treasures. If he could have literally turned and ran back home leaving me there he probably would have but, he trudged along behind me. I walked carefully around the hundreds of shoppers with their tiny carts and baskets looking up and down aisles for anything that resembled soaps or cosmetics since I can obviously not read the aisle signage. I came close but, Kyle pointed out that it was a house cleaning products before I had a chance to look closer. Onward we shuffled up and down aisle dodging older Japanese men and mothers carrying their babies in one arm and a basket on the other. Finally, FINALLY I walked down an aisle with an eyelash curler. SCORE. I was in Now let’s talk about how long I stood there staring at bottles, tubs and pumps all colorfully decorated and in Japanese… Sweet baby Jesus help me. If I was by myself it would have been a little anxiety inducing. With the Sailor standing behind me staring at me stare at the bottles… I just wanted to find the shit and run out to spare the Sailor from any further crowd induced torture.

With the help of of the camera feature (barely, it’s sketchy at best) on the google translate app, the screen shots I had taken a few nights back of the products as I had researched them and the brand names on the shelf signs being in Kanji and in the Phoenician alphabet (what we use in the states) I found 3 items from my list.

Hatomugi Skin Conditioner which beauty bloggers rave about being the closest dupe for the more expensive Albion Skin Conditioner and being awesome for acne prone, sensitive or combination skin. Nameraka Sana Isoflavone Facial Milk to use as a light moisturizer and Kumano Deep Cleansing Oil. This wasn’t the cleansing oil I was looking for. I saw the one I wanted (Kose Deep Clean) but grabbed a different one that was next to it not paying attention closely. The oil was the last item and most important one that I wanted and of course it was the one thing that I struggled to find. Sensing the Sailor’s waning patience with our current location and it’s crowded overwhelming situation I made a silly rookie mistake with not making sure that the shelf sign I was reading matched the bottle. UGH. Lastly, I had read over and over that the Japanese cotton squares were far superior to the US cotton rounds for applying toners and cosmetics  as well as being cheaper so, I grabbed a pack of those as well. These aren’t the brand I had hoped for but they were the only ones available in that moment at essentially a grocery store so que sera.

Next trip I’ll do solo and make the entire walk to Matsumoto Kiyoshi. Hopefully there is a day soon where the temp is low enough that I don’t melt and throw in the towel half way there again.

A Pox Upon My Face

I have always struggled with my skin. For as long as I can remember I was always treating one or another break out. When I was 21 it was at its worst and my dermatologist and I both agreed to give Acutane a try. Yeah, the stuff that if you get knocked up while you’re taking it makes your baby have crazy deformities. It’s no joke. At the time there was no generic either. My initial dosage started at $800 a month and by the end of the 6 months I was up to $1200 a month… and I didn’t have insurance. I paid it. Happily. I was desperate. The battle continued after that but, the Actuane helped tremendously. Oral birth control reined in the few break outs that continued after that. Unfortunately good old breast cancer put the ixnay on that since I’m never again allowed to take any oral medication that contains any kind of hormones. So that battle was lost but, the war continues.

Living in southern Virginia, I had found a cleansing and topical treatment routine that was working… mostly. It was good enough I wasn’t self conscious and I was happy with the results. But, everything effects my skin; mood, water intake, diet, exercise, weather, stress, regional allergies, seasonal allergies, washing with city water vs well water, time of the month, time of the year, Zeus coughs on Mount Olympus and I get a cystic volcano on my cheek…  So when we began our journey first up to Ohio, I knew I’d have a new but, temporary battle. My parents’ well water messes with my skin. It used to be naturally SUPER soft and have a bunch of iron in it. It used to wreck my skin. Since those years of me living there though, they have gotten a water softener so, I held out hope that would help. False. Well, it isn’t as bad as it used to be and we were only there for a week so I had come prepared with various washes, scrubs, creams and lotions to combat the inevitable flux. One week of driving in the RV only stopping to sleep in the RV at rest stops was another one. I was prepared for that too. I mean, I did my best using facial wipes and being the crazy lady doing a full face wash routine in the rest stop bathroom that has a push and hold faucet but, whatever. It’s that or look like Acne Amy by the end of the trip. Our month in Tacoma was the final US travel hurdle. Usually my skin mostly likes the WA weather and my allergies are less exhausting there. It’s just a couple reasons I love the Pacific Northwest. So a couple of tweaks to the usual daily facial routine and I was OK.

Japan, I was clueless on. I had no idea on how my skin would react. I assumed the first couple weeks would be a shit show. Unfortunately a shit show on my face is not easy to hide. Using makeup to camouflage the trouble spots gets tricky when it’s 100 degrees with 90% humidity. AKA it melts right the hell off within minutes of walking out of the air conditioning. Le sigh.

We’ve been in Yokosuka now for over a month and a half. 99% of that time I’ve looked like I have chicken pox, no joke. My face and my neck are ANGRY with this place. I’m assuming it’s a combination of sweating ALL THE TIME, changes from AC to heat to AC, base water, stress (hi, have I mentioned I’m still unemployed? I need a job please) and diet changes. Plus lets face it, I never can seem to drink enough dang water. So, I started researching. Digging into how Japanese women (and men) keep their faces looking porcelain. First I found, they are just graced with beautiful skin genetics. Which I’m jealous of frankly because obviously, I am not that blessed. What else I found is that Japanese women don’t mess around when it comes to taking care of their skin and hair. They follow a double cleansing process that has no less than 6 but up to 12 steps. No joke. And their products are geared towards that. Most beauty blogs and articles state that cleansing your face at the end of the day should take approximately the same amount of time as applying your makeup… Dude. Applying a full face of make up, not even a formal event style, just a, “hey we are going out to dinner for some burgers with friends and I want to look fab,” takes at least 30 minutes. I mean, for me longer because I have all my splotches and spots from breakouts to camouflage. This statement alone has left me reeling. OBVIOUSLY I am failing in the eyes of my Japanese sisters when it comes to the first and most crucial aspect of my night-night face routine. This nightly process lead to a simpler less intense morning process not surprisingly.

So, here is what I have gathered the in Japan is the norm for  facial routines.

Morning

  1. Cream Cleanse
  2. Lotion/Essence
  3. Serum
  4. Moisturizer
  5. Eye Gel
  6. SPF

Night

  1. Oil Cleanse
  2. Foaming Cleanse
  3. Exfoliation
  4. Lotion/Essence
  5. Mask
  6. Serum
  7. Massage
  8. Moisturizer
  9. Eye cream
  10. Spot treatments

Yep. If you’re keeping tally, that 3 types of cleansers a day. My Japanese beauty enthusiasts are not. Messing. Around. I can’t say I am surprised though. I mean, I spent 6 months getting to be a certified Esthetician. I used to give people expensive facials for a living. And really, while the order might be ever so slightly different and the US terms are slightly different, it’s conceptually the same. Basically Japanese women give themselves full facials every night.

Armed with this new knowledge I took a little walk over the the Exchange to check out the little beauty section to see what I could find that would be a US equivalent to the descriptions in all the articles on Japanese facial routines. I still have a few products that fit the bill in certain steps like a foam cleanser and a cream cleanser, exfoliation etc. I was basically looking for an oil cleanser, a lotion, a light day moisturizer (I have a neutrogena one that is almost empty) and a pimple patch spot treatment. And I found… not much. Whomp whomp. They had one oil cleanser and it was mostly coconut oil which I already know makes me break out BAD, like possible allergy type rash and pimples. There were no real products that fit the description of the Japanese lotions. Even the traditional US toners were limited. I already have Clinique Lotion 3 which is a clarifying toner. I like it. It works. It’s expensive. I planned to continue to use it after cleansing but, before the lotion. I also hoped to find a nice Japanese alternative since I hadn’t found a decent dupe in the US for it. No pimple patch covers (they sounded so promising in the articles and blogs!) They had my usual Neutrogena day moisturizer but, meh, since they didn’t have the other items I just was over it.

Back home I started an intense search on must try products. I read blogs, reviews and articles. What I found is the beauty of this J-beauty (yeah, that’s what fancy beauty bloggers and writers call it) process is that while there are a lot of products obviously, the process, the ritual itself, was what seemed to be important rather than the fanciest most expensive products. OK, I can really get behind this. I found amazing reviews for products like SK-II Essence and Albion Skin Conditioner Essential but, I certainly don’t have over $100 for one product. So I narrowed my search down to just drugstore products. Thankfully I found that Japan has a plethora of these that are highly rated and most had received coveted Cosme awards which is similar to the Allure and Elle beauty awards that we see on products in the US. I also found that Japan, as a whole, takes regulation of ingredients in their products and claims made on what a product does very seriously. So if a product claims to lighten age spots, you can rest assured that it has really truly proven to do just that. It’s that exact reason why you don’t see a ton of creams and lotions claiming to reverse aging like you do in the states… because they just don’t have products that they feel REALLY actually “reverse” aging.

After several hours of of going down the rabbit hole of J-Beauty blogs, reviews, announcements, reddit boards and lists, I had over 2 pages worth of possible products to try. My lists were nice and organized by type and I had even snapped screen shots of what the packaging looked like since I obviously can’t read Japanese and was concerned the Japanese drugstore might only have kanji signage. I even looked up the best drug stores for beauty products. Basically I am all set to adventure out into town for a little shopping trip. The drug store, Matsumoto Kiyoshi, that I want to try and hit up is about an hour and a half walk which sounds far, but really isn’t.  The Sailor has agreed to walk with me so stay tuned for that adventure!