A few things I miss about Europe here in Japan

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It’s been about 3 months since I moved to Japan and my brain is understating that we’re here to stay for a while, this is not a drill!! I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, I’m very excited and enjoy this new life, this new world opening up in front of us. It’s an amazing opportunity to live in Asia, get to see this part of the world, learn about the different cultures and people.  The more I learn, the more ignorant I feel 😀

On the other hand, I do miss Europe. It’s normal to miss things about your home (wherever that might be) when you’re away. So here’s my list:

  • My family and friends! This one is tougher than I thought. I used to be able to see my family every couple of months. And I could hang out with my friends anytime or at least just be able to give them a call.
  • Being in the same time zone with my dear ones. It’s somewhat frustrating that conversations now have to scheduled.
  • COFFEE!! Oh man, I miss having good coffee. Not to mention the Italian cappuccinos☺️ I found out that the coffee in Japan is only roasted once, whereas in Europe they go for 2 rounds, which makes it tastier.
  • Cheap good beer and wine!
  • Being able to talk to people! My Japanese is still limited and the Japanese have a limited English. So, not an ideal combination.
  • The international diversity you get in Brussels is unique.
  • My favorite cupcakes from Lilicup, Brussels! Haven’t had any in 3 months.
  • A simple and delicious croissant.
  • The varied choice of delicious European food 😊 that doesn’t come at a premium price.
  • The architecture!!
  • Cheap traveling to so many locations!!

These are just a few of the perks that I’d have living in Europe. But, to be honest I’m so excited and happy about our new life in Japan!

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Traveling by car through Japan

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We love traveling by car and we’ve done tons of that in Europe. So, it was almost a no brainer for us to jump in our car here in Japan and go explore. During our 2014 Golden Week holiday we decided to do a tour around the Chugoku area of Japan by car. This gave us the change to see certain differences between Japan and Europe. Here are some of them:

  • The most obvious one is that the steering wheel and driving is done on the right side of the car, as opposed to the left side in Europe.
  • Most cities are in the valleys between the many mountains Japan is made of.
  • The infrastructure is built between bridges and tunnels that go trough mountains and most times both.
  • City rings the way we know them in Europe are not so common. Instead there are elevated roads that go trough the cities or along the cities.
  • Service stops are amazing oases with everything: gas, restaurants, shops, tons of toilets, showers, you name it.
  • Some gas stations have suspended gas hoses. This makes it quicker to cater to the people waiting, independently on which side your gas tank is, since the hose can be pull in any direction.
  • Drivers respect the traffic rules, speed limit, overtaking mostly from the right.
  • Speed doesn’t really exceeds 100km/h, which makes it more relaxing but also slower. Actually the speed limit on the highway is 80km/h.
  • Google maps on our smartphone was better than our car’s integrated gps.
  • Internet coverage is so good that you can listen to your favorite radio stations online on your phone, unless you go through a very long tunnel 😊
  • Truck drivers drive over 100km and they are not shy at overtaking.
  • Toilets are omnipresent and all free. The coolest toilets we have seen had a dashboard (picture below) at the entrance to show you which ones are being used and which ones are free. Also, you can choose between the western style and the ones you need to squat over.

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  • Tolls! Once you start traveling you understand why you pay. Due to the limited usable space (that is not a mountain, forest, river, etc.) you need all those bridges and tunnels and they are all in a very good state. You can just pay straight up cash or by a card that needs its own reader to be installed in your car (ETC card).
  • There are lights on the side of the road that look like the police car’s lights when you are going down the hill to prevent drivers from speeding.
  • Certain poll signs have curved poll just so that the size of the traffic sign does not get compromised due to the street being too narrow. This allows the car to pass and the signs remain intact.
  • The signs for cities are both in Japanese and English. But that’s about it.
  • Cement nets(!) meant to prevent land slides (see first picture) on the road side, they are massive and they are everywhere.
  • In general, you have lights only in the tunnels and smaller colored ones to show the curves.
  • Food! If you want to eat you have enough to choose from in the service stations on the highways. You never find anything in the gas stations inside the city, they only have gas! 🙂 Also, very affordable!
  • Souvenirs. I add them in this post since you find more in gas stations on your way to different attractions that at the location of the attraction itself. Side note: Japanese prefer food treats as opposed to other knickknacks Westerns look for, like the fridge magnets, decoration items and so on.

These are just some of the things we have noticed. One thing worth remembering is that traveling by car in Japan is very safe and comfortable. You’ll always get great customer service and don’t be surprised if you don’t see other foreigners 😊

#HappyBeyondTimeZones

The world is a much smaller place than it was 10 years ago. Flights are cheaper, I have access to technology to help me keep in touch on multiple platforms with all my friends and family, anytime, anywhere. I know, nothing compares to the real deal, but you do what you can 🙂

Since it’s much tougher to see my dear ones from Japan, I’ll stick to the internet. Being at the other side of the world makes live communication a bit difficult, but I still want to know what’s going on and be part of the life of my loved ones.

So, the other day I was talking with my Romanian, Belgium-based bestie about what can we do to keep the communication flow going, since I’m sleeping when she can talk and in return she’s at work when I can talk. We can no longer have our dinners, long phone calls, week-end trips or sleepovers when we talk about everything, paint our nails and play with James (her handsome cat).

Our idea was to come up with our own tag on Facebook #HappyBeyondTimeZones, to share with each other every day for 100 days our happy moments, our spontaneous moments, the new people and activities, emotions, etc… no matter the time 🙂 After all, if your bestie doesn’t get you, who will.

Nico

———————

Here’s her side of the story 🙂

When your bestie moves across the globe, its tougher than you would expect…too many stories you want to tell her at the most inconvenient moments…

Call her in the morning from the car, send her a pic of that guy you just met right before you go to sleep…But wait, she’s like a million time zones ahead of you now.

Sometimes you just need to say an inappropriate swear word in Romanian…darn timezones, you can’t anymore.

So many little things you are happy about every day, that you’re thankful or angry about that get lost into unread whatsapp received during the night or sent too early in the morning.

And when I say bestie, yes you know it – it’s that Romanian that married a Panamanian that she met in Belgium, with whom she’s now living in Japan….Nico Tristan

Adriana

Today, we roll out our 100 days of #HappyBeyondTimeZones from bestie to bestie, trying to connect time zones 🙂 nico&adri

A tour of the Chūgoku region of Japan

My husband’s company in Japan has 3 weeks a year of compulsory holiday: one in January, one in April and one in August. The April holiday is called Golden Week.

This means that we have to make sure we travel in these time frames. Since we have been living in Japan for a little while, we decided to spend our Golden Week getting to know Japan, so we did a tour of the Chugoku area of Japan.

We like traveling by car so we decided to go by car. This is the tour we did 🙂

chugoku tour

Day 1: lots of driving, quick stop at Himeji, night in Okayama
Our first stop was near the Himeji castle to say hi to a friend and then drive to see the castle. We could only do the former successfully since the castle is undergoing a serious renovation until next year. I knew that but didn’t know the extent of the project.

Day 2: Okayama and Hiroshima
Second spot and our first night stop was Okayama. It’s not the most exciting city, but it hosts what is considered to be one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan (Korakuen Garden) and a splendid castle that you can see from the garden.

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On our second day we enjoyed Hiroshima. A city that was once whipped out by the first ever used atomic bombed on populated territory. Today, it’s a normal city that took a global responsibility to promote peace and the banning of nuclear weapons.

The Peace Memorial Park and the Museum can take half a day to one full day to explore. You must go, read and soak in what really happened on that tragic day. It really helps understand how it got to that point.

The beautiful park hosts the museum and 6 key spots (the Cenotaph, Children’s Peace Monument, the Flame of Peace, the Phoenix Trees, the Peace Bell and the Memorial Mound). Then, just a few minutes away, across the river there’s the A-bomb dome.

The museum has parts showing history and stories of real people, as well as the consequences of using nuclear weapons from an individual scale to the whole world. To be honest, I could not read all the stories and definitely could not look at the pictures. Though a bit old, it’s a powerful place!

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Day 3: Miyajima Island
On our third day, we went to the Miyajima island, home of one of the top three sights in Japan, the magnificent floating torii (16m tall).

You can easily spend an entire day on the island. Right after you arrive on the island with the ferry you are greeted by very gentle wild deer that are on the lookout for food. So, watch out!

There’s plenty to do. After you take like 100 pictures of the torii, the island is covered with key spots, like the shrine, treasure house, 5-story pagoda, Daisho-in Temple and so on. There’s a myriad of restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops to enjoy.

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Day 4: Iwakuni, Kawachi Fuji Garden and night Tsuwano
After we left Hiroshima, we had a small stop at Iwakuni for some snapshots of the five-arched brocade-sash bridge. There is also a castle that we only admired from the bridge.

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After that, we did a 5 hour detour to go see the Wisteria Flower Tunnel at the Kawachi Fuji garden for some unique sights of wisteria flowers. And it was totally worth it. The spectacular views with the flowers, the combination of fresh air and alluring scent of the flowers were something else. We didn’t get the full bloom, but enough to get an idea. The perfect period is last week of April and the first week of May. It’s located outside Kitakyushu city, GPS coordinates: 33°49’54.62″N 130°47’33.42″E,  See on Google Maps)

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That day we ended up in Tsuwano, a small town in a valley. This was quite an adventure. We stayed in a ryokan, our first ever. It was a beautiful place, with fresh air and more carps than its entire population.

At night we ventured out for dinner and as there weren’t many options, we ended up in a sushi joint. We had great fun, best sushi ever (Toro sushi) and super friendly people who really wanted to talk to us.

The night was rough, as sleeping on the floor takes a bit of getting used to, but that ryokan was super clean and super friendly.

Day 5: Tsuwano, drive to Izumo and Yagoto
The next morning, we wore our yukatas for breakfast, the only ones to do so. I think we made some Japanese laugh. The breakfast was mostly fish products and I was happy just with tasting it and then had my miso soup and rice.

Tsuwano is know for its outstanding shrine (Toikodani Inari Shrine), ridiculous number of carps and for its church that commemorates the 36 Christian Japanese who were martyred here.

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The drive from Tsuwano to Izumo was very rural and it was perfect to get another view of Japan. We went through mountains (literally), saw lots of rice fields and just plain old, rural Japan. Quite a different sight from the very hype, technologically advanced urban areas. It was so refreshing and beautiful driving along the Japan sea and admiring the the work of volcanoes on the Japanese landscape.

Izumo is home to one of the most important and oldest Shinto shrines in Japan (the Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine). Upon getting there you realize the extent of the complex. It’s a huge park that starts with huge toriis and paths that lead to the shrine. We also participated at a short traditional Japanese theater play (Kabuki).

 

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We spent the next 2 nights in a hotel with onsen in Yonago. The town itself has nothing, but the hotel was really nice, with beautiful view of the lake Nakumi. Of course the food was all about fish and seafood and we suffered a bit 😊

Day 6: Matsue
Situated on the Shinjo lake was surprisingly beautiful. Here, we visited the Matsue castle and actually the first one we actually got into.

We went to a very old tea house (Meimei-an tea house) and had the best green tea ever. It was a unique experience.

This is also the place where Locadio Hern arrived at the end of 1800 and wrote a few books that allowed the Japanese for the first time to see their culture through the eyes of foreigners.

We didn’t have time to go inside his Memorial house, as we booked a sunset boat trip on the lake. It was one of the best sunsets I’ve seen and we got to enjoy the city by night.

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At night we went back to our hotel and we got to try the onsen and had to face my discomfort with public nudity. As it is in many cases in Japan, I was the only foreigner, so attracted some unwanted attention 😊

An onsen is a Japanese spa with hot spring or artificial baths. The Japanese love it and it’s part of their culture, but it’s not really my cup of tea, just because I get out with a headache and woozy. On the upside, my skin felt wonderful.

Day 7: Tottori
This a very unusual sight of Japan: sand dunes! It’s quite impressive that just like that you have a patch of about 15 km of sand dunes.  Apparently, volcanic ash coming from from Mt. Daisen and the winds that blew from Sea of Japan formed the dunes over a period of thousands of years.

Most people just do the 1.5km walk from the entrance to the seashore. You feel like you’re somewhere on the Middle East. You can go for camel rides or carriage rides.

The cherry on top was the visit at the sand museum right next to the entrance! Every year there’s a different theme and this year was Russia. It was a real piece of art and we were not expecting that!

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In terms of infrastructure Japan is the most developed place I’ve been and I had quite a few jaw-dropping moments witnessing how innovative Japanese are with their roads. Whoever thinks they can build bridges and tunnels through mountains, should come to Japan, it’s a different planet here. But about this I will talk in a different post.

It was an amazing week that allowed us to discover more Japan, get to know the culture deeper and practice our Japanese. We have been so impressed with the friendliness of the people and how welcomed they all made us feel.