Every country in the world can take a page out of the Japanese book of train travel. They know what’s up. First, you can go literally anywhere – to work, to the other side of the city, or to the other side of the country – with the ease and efficiency of an Olympic relay team. Second, it is timely. As in, to the minute. This does not take into account the days you could spend being lost in any one ant hill of a train station replete with shops, restaurants, and convenience stores (you’d be lost but comfortable). Third, there can be anywhere from three to seven people per square foot of standing space (or what feels like half of Tokyo in one carriage, give or take) and yet everyone still manages an illusion of maintaining personal space. Imagine a train full of people – they know where they are going, are reading, chatting quietly, and scrolling on their phones. Enter eleven Bulthuises with twenty seven suit cases, a running commentary, and two kids who love the idea of the handrails serving as an interim jungle gym. You know it was a hilarious time.
Being able to go to Japan with the family this last summer was a dream. Little brother Calvin and our beautiful sister-in-law Sassa tied the knot in July, and served not only as our reason for a wonderful family adventure, but also as our hosts, shepherds, tour guides, translators, and bringers of peace, good tidings, and good ideas. I promise we would have been in a rough place without these two, and at least half of our trains would have been missed. But that didn’t happen. We made all our trains, saw so much of an incredible country, and had a glorious time with each other (and also with our plentiful bowls of ramen). Here are a few outtakes.
After a few days in Tokyo, we took a shinkansen (bullet train) up to Niigata where we celebrated a very special wedding and followed it up with two days of taking in the world’s largest outdoor art festival, Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial. Art was everywhere – at the tops of mountains, in abandoned school houses, in tea rooms, and in fields. Humans are so very capable of creating such beautiful things.
I would like to make something clear. The Japanese do a lot of things well, but bathing has to be in the top five (bath house, pictured above). If you haven’t gotten your bare booty in a Japanese Onsen yet, find the closest one and make a plan. Basic rules: get squeaky clean with the hose showers and faucets in the shower area before you make your way to the heated lounge pools (this way no one has to swim in your day-old sweat layer), make sure your not dousing elderly women showering next to you in a freezing cold deluge (it doesn’t make them relaxed or happy), wrap your long hair in a towel in a fancy turban on your head while you paddle (if you are one of the only blondes in the house, chances of blaming the floating hair wad on someone else are slim), soak it in. View from the outdoor hot spring pool pictured below.
Next up, Kanazawa. Home of beautiful Japanese gardens, the Ninja Temple (yes, it was as cool as it sounds), and historic tea districts. We explored the city for a few days and took a day trip to Shirakawa-go which was one of the highlights of the trip for me because a. this was the day we celebrated our first anniversary b. tea houses c. a hike in the monsoon downpour d. getting to see homes and a way of life that date back to the 11th century. It was breathtaking.
Hello Kyoto! Back when we were trip planning Markus and I had to make the tough call between spending a few days in Kyoto or visiting Hiroshima. Unfortunately I threw a mini fit and yelled “Who cares about Kyoto! It’s just a city!” like a squinty eyed toddler who feels like she is unequivocally correct in assuming she knows everything. “I want to see the 5000 torrii gates!” – Ya, that’s in Kyoto. “I want to see the bamboo forest!” – Ya, that’s in Kyoto too. “Golden temple?” Kyoto. “Kiyomizu-dera?” Kyoto. “Himeji Castle?” Kyoto. Basically every cool thing that there is to see in the world is in Kyoto and I had to shut my babbling self up and eat some humble, Kyoto flavored pie. If you are in Japan, DO NOT MISS KYOTO. It is amazing.
And that, dear reader, was our little slice of Japan (if you’ve made it this far, kudos and thank you). It’s the tip of the iceberg, if you ask me. This little country is beautiful, an incredible balance of old world and and modern new, and truly like nothing I’ve experienced before. Put it on your bucket list, I promise it’s worth every second.