Japan (Tokyo, Takasaki, Hakone)

Picture this in your head: A friendship born 11 years ago in freshman year drama class, one formed by a love for art, travel, languages, and many nerdy things. Lots of giggling. Midnight Harry Potter premieres. Working together at Victoria’s Tea Room (which feels like a lifetime ago). Swim meets and IB papers. So many sleepovers, time flying way too quickly.

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Bonnie and Lizzie, the early years

High school graduation, being Jayhawks (Rock Chalk!), college papers, studying abroad, parties, another graduation, then figuring out life. Growing up together. A bridesmaid in my wedding, staying close throughout life changes and moving boxes.

When Bonnie called me eagerly of her news on moving Japan, I couldn’t even believe it. My bestie and I were moving to Asia TOGETHER? The stars aligned (as I keep saying), and the idea of moving to South Korea became even more exciting.

TOKYO

Japan’s capital and largest city in the world, Tokyo is a bustling metropolis full of history, neon lights, thousands of restaurants, and shrines both Buddhist and Shinto (Japan’s oldest religion dating back to indigenous times), and an insane nightlife. Much like NYC, the city never sleeps.

We did a variety of things:

  • private karaoke – I’m not sure why the United States hasn’t caught on to this, but it’s quite wonderful
  • Shibuya – a district with the world’s busiest intersection and tons of shopping
  • Meiji Shrine – the Shinto Shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken, surrounded by a beautiful forest with trees from regions all over Japan
  • Explored around the “fashionable” and infamous Harajuku area, made famous by Gwen Stefani’s song Harajuku Girls
  • Enjoyed traditional Japanese tea in a tea house
  • Admired perfect views and drank expensive cocktails from the rooftop bar of The Prince Park Tower Tokyo
  • Meandered around the Asakusa Shrine during the tourist packed daylight and eerily empty nighttime
  • Shamelessly released our inner nerd in the Akihabara district (think Anime, video games, technology, etc)
  • Walked a ton (one day consisted of 30K steps, yikes!), ate so much amazing food, and explored this incredible place together
Dango – the infamous Japanese snack food, also an iPhone emoji
Shibuya Intersection on a rainy day
More of Shibuya
Posing by the the Hachiko Statue – this dog is remembered for his remarkable loytalty to his owner which continued to wait for him by the station more than 9 years after his death
Sake barrels prior to Meiji Shrine
Meiji Shrine and selfie sticks
Meiji Shrine Forest, one of my favorite parts
Tradition Japanese tea time includes a tiny sweet and green tea
There’s not much better in life than a cup of tea, a nice view, and rain.
All dolled up for a Girls’ Night Out!
Fancy cocktails and stunning views at The Prince Park Tower Tokyo
Tokyo Tower at night
Asakusa Shrine
Funny art near the shrine
Akihabara sights

TAKASAKI

A town you may never have heard of (it’s not as touristy like other places) located in the Gunma Prefecture of Japan, Takasaki is the location of Bonnie’s apartment and schools where she teaches English. It’s a place surrounded by plains and mountains, with an odd familiar feeling reminiscent of Wichita, Kansas. You probably think I’m nuts – a small Japanese city that reminds you of Wichita? – I’m rattling my brain trying to find a logical explanation for this remark, but I think the best way to describe it is how comfortable it felt – homey, a good amount of things to do, close to a big city, and sleepy at night. We didn’t do too much as Bonnie had to work 2 of the days I was there, but it was so wonderful to stay at her little Japanese apartment and relax together – staying up late giggling and chatting like it was high school. It was lovely to see how normal Japanese people live their everyday lives, rather than just experience the incredibly touristy side of Japan.

We did some fun things during our short duration there:

  • Shopped at the Aeon Mall
  • Went out with friends for Okonomiyaki and drinks
  • Enjoyed downtime (absolutely necessary on vacation!)
  • Ate more amazing food in the station while hopping cities
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View of Takasaki on a clear day (not my photo, taken from Wikipedia)
Sushi meal on the Bullet Train from Tokyo to Takasaki
Views through Bonnie’s neighborhood
So freaking delicious – cooking your sushi in tea, mmhmm
Okonomiyaki! This is a savory pancake with a variety of ingredients, very popular in the Hiroshima area
Selfie with the BFF
An old cemetery in the neighborhood
Google Maps for a reference of Takasaki’s location
Enjoying our favorite movie, Titanic, on our last night together

HAKONE

We both played tourist here! Being Bonnie’s first time as well, it was fun exploring a new Japanese city together. Hakone is a touristy mountain town famous for their many hot springs, natural beauty, and incredible views of Mount Fuji. It’s the perfect break from the busyness of Tokyo.

It was a hectic 24 hours in Hakone:

  • Enjoyed a traditional onsen experience (hot springs) – it was heavenly
  • Splurged on a meal of Shabu Shabu – cooking meat and vegetables in a hot pot of spices, similar to The Melting Pot in the USA
  • Took the tourist loop filled with trains, cable cars, and ships – oh my!
  • Saw just the tip of Mount Fuji – it was a cloudy day. What a tease!
  • Ate traditional Unagi that was caught in the lake right outside the restaurant
  • Walked around another Shinto Shrine
  • Explored more forests in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
  • Spent a little extra to ride The RomanceCar home
  • Giggled so much it hurt our sides
Shabu Shabu meal
Lovely view from our hostel
Cable car views of the mountains
The volcano! The sulfur smell was alive and pungent 
Cable car selfie
The hilarious pirate ship that crossed the lake
Pirate ship selfie
Being goofy and pretending that we were on the RMS Titanic
Unagi meal, so amazing
Wandering through the cedar forest
Tranquil moments
Shinto shrine with a red “torii” gate overlooking Lake Ashi
Entrance to Shinto Shrine
Intimate Shrine and welcome statue
The ROMANCECAR GETAWAY ❤
A slight view of Mount Fuji – you were such a tease! Perhaps I will see you again soon.

I have to say, this was an incredibly special trip. It was the girls’ trip I needed, an exciting adventure I craved, a new country I crossed off my list, and a week I will never forget.

How lovely it was to see a good friend in her element – Bonnie majored in Japanese in college, studied abroad in Tokyo, and has spoken fondly of this country since the day I met her. I couldn’t help but smile when she would speak Japanese with the locals and navigate us around the subways, trains, and streets. It was so amazing to see how much she’s grown from high school to now, and how our friendship has grown as we’ve become “adults” (I say that in quotes as I still don’t really believe it myself, ha). It’s a weird yet comforting feeling I am still trying to piece together, nevertheless I am truly happy to see how far my friend has come with her goals.

Everyone should visit Japan – experience the kindness of the people, the beauty of the land, the mouth watering food, and the infinite amount of activities – I will be back.

Kisses & Kimchi,

Elizabeth

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