Kiyomizu Dera

It was the last day in Kyoto and we weren’t going to waste it. When I say last day I also mean a measly 5 hours as we had to catch the shikansen back into Tokyo in the early afternoon. This meant that Joe and I had to make the most of the time we had left, and that we did. After waking up and checking out of the 9h capsule hotel, we took a brief stop at a MOS burger for breakfast and started making our way to Kiyomizu -Dera. After trying to hike our way up toward the temple, Joe and I realized that the incline was far too steep and exhausting for us as we were carrying 20kg of gear. We paused briefly and decided to take a bus the rest of the way (best decision all day).

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Elevator at the 9h Capsule Hotel in Kyoto

The grounds were busy with school children and their teachers. I’m not sure if it was the season for the locals to visit or if it’s just that busy everyday but it was one of the most crowded locations we had visited. Additionally the veranda and main hall were then being renovated which limited the amount of photo locations I was going to be happy with. Ignoring my hobby, the temple itself is beautiful and a masterpiece of Japanese ingenuity and wood work.

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Locals praying in the main hall

Joe and I didn’t particularly like being around the large crowds so we ventured off into the then leafless forest that surrounds the main hall and explored a bit. My favourite shot of the day was of this small shrine. It was just tucked away from everything and looked undisturbed.

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Small shrine at Kiyomizu Dera

Then the “reality wall” hit, and it hit hard. Once we left the temple we’d be officially done with our tourist activities. The rest of the journey would be happening on trains and planes, and would be far less exciting than wandering around local streets. From what I remember I was conflicted because on one hand I was excited to go home and see my family, while on the other I never wanted to give up on the perpetual adventure. Travel can be addictive, it’s the constant motion forward, the exciting unknown. I hope more adventures are to come, but who knows cause the world is an ever-changing place and life has a way of making barriers. As a Canadian I hold a very special ability and privilege to visit the majority of the world without much cause for concern. It’s been 6 years since I was in Japan and I have had other adventures since then, but none have been as influential.

-K

 

9h Capsule Hotel Experience

Back in 2011, capsule hotels were a strange concept to Western countries. They weren’t as widely known and I felt compelled to experience something so uniquely Japanese. Who would pay good money to rent out a coffin like tube where you slept in the presence of other people who would be stacked on top of you? Right?!

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It turns out that the 9h capsule hotel in Kyoto was the strange experience I was looking for. The process for checking in and utilizing the space felt very much like a hostel with the exception of being designed by someone who loved 2001: A Space Odyssey. Admittedly I was fond of how they supplied absolutely everything you’d need to have a satisfactory night of sleep. Immediately after checking in you can unlock your personal locker, which contains a set of pjs, shampoo, conditioner, tooth-brush, tooth paste, and towels. The washroom was very clean and I appreciated the standing showers. Something that was unique to 9h was how you set your “wake up” call. Each unit is equipped to illuminate at a set time, and due to the capsules translucent/reflective material it blasts a very warm light to wake you up.

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The only serious criticism that I had would be just how late people were wandering into the hotel. I remember waking up at 3 am as some other travellers or business women were making their way into their capsules. In hindsight I would have brought some ear plugs and that would have made my stay that much better. There does need to be warning that if you do suffer from claustrophobia this would not be the place for you, but over all the capsules themselves are pretty spacious for what they are.

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I never asked Joe about his experience or whether or not he had any problems but I’d say for $50 CAD a night it’s equivalent to any Japanese hostel but with better beds.

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Kyoto yet again proved to be one of my favourite cities to visit, and tagging off the capsule experience just made it even more satisfying.

*I’ve also always wondered if we made it onto Japanese TV.

-KB

Last Piece of the Puzzle

There is a stereotype that I love about Japan; it is the world leader in tech. Cameras, video games, computers, you name it and Japan prides itself on being the first to push the limits on what’s going to be next. I absolutely adore technology, maybe it’s because I’m from Gen Y but technology is in my blood. So where do you go in Tokyo to find this magical land of technology? You go to the Akihabara  district.

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Tower in Shinjuku

Akihabara is all about tech. Everything you can think of that requires computer chips, LED lights and “nerdom” factoids is found in this part of Tokyo. The sheer number of store dedicated to tech was astounding and somewhat overwhelming. Back home you have shops like Best Buy and Memory Express which are the only retailers for tech (there are a few others but not on a large platform.) and they are self-contained units. Whereas in Akihabara you could spend days jumping from shop to shop. One of the biggest stores we went into was the Yodobashi store which is essentially 8 floors of tech, music, movies and gear. If I wasn’t on such a tight budget I think I would have spent several hundreds of dollars in that store. Lucky for me my suitcase was another barrier in preventing me from spending an absurd amount of cash.

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Going into the Shibuya Underground

 

After we were done in Akihabara we traversed the Tokyo metro to find our way back into Shinjuku. This is where we filmed the 3rd and final piece to Kaz’s short film. Joe was the talent, Kaz was Dp, and I directed. What I loved about this part of the film was that I got to showcase the atmosphere of Tokyo. Honestly guerilla shooting is nerve-racking you never know who’s going to tell you to stop filming, which was the case on our very first shot. A security guard for one of the office towers we were shooting beside caught us on their property and Kaz was able to talk with him and explain our circumstances. After a brief discussion the guard advised us to just move locations (about 20 meters away) and we shouldn’t have a problem. From that point forward we made sure to quickly and discretely setup our shots.

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Shibuya Crossing | 2011

Our last stop of the day was in Shibuya to see the district crossing (yes another Lost in Translation spot.) It was an interesting place. Lots of people, and a lot going on. Besides our tech purchases the 3 of us aren’t huge shoppers so we only spent 30 minutes in the area to grab photos and experience the energy.

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Joe in Shibuya Streets

Overall this day was the tech experience I wanted. Got to see what Tokyo had to offer and it was amazing. Every time I think about new technologies being released I know that the people of Tokyo are some of the first to ge their hands on it. As a Canadian nerd, I’m jealous!

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Alternate Angle of Shibuya Crossing

-KB

Nabe is the best!

Some days are actual roller coasters. It all starts at the top of a sky scraper, then you plummet down to reality where time flows as it wishes and the clouds look so much further away. Your feet meet the ground and your bank account suddenly has limits and your ability to forget about the common problems comes rushing back like the Japanese humidity. It’s an inevitable reality for someone who was just out of school and traveling on a budget. However even today as someone who has been working for 6 years, I look back on the Park Hyatt experience as unique and burnt into my memory. The elevator rides, the sound of fine dinning, the smell of the pool, and most definitely the view. All these memories are complied into a single entity. A single feeling. A gift to myself.

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Final look out of Park Hyatt Building

Not everything in a “commoners” life is bland or insignificant though, it really just depends on how you manage your perspective and the company you keep.  The family that welcomed us to Tokyo the first time round had yet again offered to shelter us for 2 additional nights. I was beyond myself when they welcomed us back and how much they were willing to go out of their way to take care of us. I’d imagine it would be a hard sell to take in 3 relative strangers into ones home and offer them such hospitality. At the core of their structure I could tell kindness as a key element. It was evident by the way I could hear them speak to one another through the walls and how they interacted from afar. Yes people tend to put the best versions of themselves forward in the presence of visitors but sometimes you just know.

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Park Hyatt Tokyo – Upper Floor Lobby

I am so thankful to them.

-KB

Park Hyatt Hotel

We’ve now arrived to the day of luxury where Joe, Kaz and I finally make our way to the Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel. I think it’s important to point out that there’s a specific reason as to why we all decided to spend a night at one of the more prestigious and expensive hotels in Tokyo. It had a lot to do with the film Lost in Translation and a little to do with experiencing something extravagant. IMG_2914

Lost in Translation has been a film that’s been held close to my heart for quite a few years and honestly back in 2011  it was something I was obsessed with. The only person who appreciates that film more than I would be Joe, so it was certain we’d stay one night in the hotel they shot the majority of the film. IMG_2931

The hotel itself is grandiose in all aspects. It’s atop a large skyscraper in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo and has all the amenities that you can think of as a luxury hotel. Everything from the main lobby, to the open concept corridors, the array of restaurants, and the roof top pool that Bill Murray swam in.

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Our room was a corner unit on the 51st floor and was relatively big compared to most Japanese hotels. We had two double beds and they offered us a third pull in bed (we thought it was gonna be a cot but were very surprised.)

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Once we settled in we found ourselves just obsessed with the view from our room. Our plan was to spend as much time as possible in the hotel so we ventured out (briefly) to a local ‘konbini’ to grab some snacks then scurried back to our room.

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We took a ridiculous amount of photos and videos, ate our snacks, and just relaxed. It was such unique experience to take in. I was hanging out with two of my closest friends in a rather eloquent room that stands static a couple hundred meters above Tokyo. The atmosphere was perfect.

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As the day passed we found some ways to spend time in the room. Lots of reading, some anime watching, and mostly losing yourself in the fantastic view. The more I think about it we basically paid to have our own personal observation deck for 24 hours that had comfy chairs and a high-tech washroom.

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Once the sun started to set we made our way down to the “casual” dinning option at the hotel were we indulged in a rather pricy (by our standards) but delicious dinner. Again atmosphere was great, conversation enticing, and taking note of the other patrons around us. We were by far the most random 3 people in the restaurant as more and more business types rolled in with their co-workers and such. IMG_2980

After dinner we quickly changed into our Yukata and found our way to the pool. This was perhaps the most exciting part for me. I was a competitive swimmer for over 13 years and to be able to swim in a pool high above ground was really fun. After a decent swim we made our way to the Peak bar which was yet another location where Lost in Translation had some significant scenes. We ordered a few drinks, took some time to watch all the skyscrapers pulse with their rooftop lights, and listened to some live music.

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Eventually we all made it back to the room, took some more photos and finally went to bed. It was a day that still sticks with me and reminds me that if you have the opportunity and are privileged enough to spend a few bucks on yourself, do it.

 

-KB

  • Bonus photo for fans of Lost in Translation

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