I have always wanted to travel here. It was such a journey to say the least, and as usual things were not as I thought they would be. Japan is the closest thing to a utopia that I have ever experienced in my life, not perfect, but damn close. Imagine a place where five year old children can be trusted to take the subway in a major city by themselves, police struggle to find things to do with their time, and little old couples pass down ancient traditions in pristine mountain ranges. Japan is a mix of old, new, fast, and slow. For every craft you can imagine there are families that have done that one thing for generations. In Japan I have had some of the best: coffee, burgers, ramen, sushi, pastries, tea, beef, fruits, vegetables, among many other things. We visited ancient sake and soy sauce breweries that were hundreds of years old, and met a sweet old couple in the mountains that made food wrapping paper out of thinly sliced cedar wood or "Sugi" which is naturally antibacterial. This is a place where a single melon can sell for hundreds of dollars and actually be a bargain. However, what is really impressive about Japan are the people themselves. From a young age, the Japanese are bred into a culture of kindness. At school, on the radio, in the subway, and in the media, children as well as adults are constantly reminded to be good citizens for the benefit of all, and to put the collective over the individual. This is a place where honor and saving face are the most important things. These are some of the sweetest, kindest, and most genuine people I have ever met. I cant wait to go back, and I miss it every single day. I love you Japan.
When we got here, we promptly rented a minivan. Because of the mountainous nature of Japan, having a car is key to go to all of the small towns and hard to reach areas. We decided to buy a memory foam mattress, and turn the car into our little home on wheels as the back two rows of seats folded down. Once we were set up we hit the road, visiting town after town, starting in Tokyo, and heading all around the south side of the island. We would chart our course for the day, drive to check it out, park in a camping zone, and explore the food and culture of each region. There was a lot of hiking, temples, and crazy one lane mountain dirt roads. The forests in the mountains are composed of tall skinny trees, and there are a lot of rivers and valleys. Sometimes we would park our car in the parking lot of a fancy hotel, then wake up in the morning, use the facilities, and have breakfast. This routine eventually gave the car the name "Fluff Ninja" because it was fluffy on the inside (down comforters) and like a ninja it would disappear (after breakfast). I was lucky to have had the opportunity to work with some amazing sushi masters, bread bakers, and other food artisans (although briefly) around the country, and eat a lot of amazing food. Eve was fascinated by tea culture, sake, and other fermentations so we ended up visiting a lot of sake breweries and high altitude matcha farms. Tea here is not grown by one big company, but by a collective of older family farms. It was easy to get around in our car, and although we didn't have a bathroom, we could easily visit a different hot spring every night as they are all around Japan. Sometimes they were just so amazing (cedar wood tubs, mountain views) that we would stay for a week or so in the same area. One time we visited a monk town called "Koyasan" in the mountains where our car got stuck on a sheer cliff, and had to be rescued by the police. They pulled our car in the right direction with a mini crane, and we ended up becoming friends with the policeman. He confessed to us the following night over dinner that this was the most excitement he had seen in over five years. There was never any crime in this town. We ended up driving over 5,500 miles of mega-highways, bridges, ferry boats, islands, and many mile long tunnels that frankly makes the infrastructure everywhere else look quaint. A lot of our time was spent in Nara province because of Eve's research into Ume (fermented plums) tea, and other fascinations. This is the old area of Japan, and probably the most beautiful. It is composed of the area south of the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. Osaka is a bustling metropolis similar to Tokyo but with a more relaxed vibe. Kyoto is the old city with the highest concentration of temples and historical Japanese culture. Tokyo is enormous, and I particularly enjoyed the gaming/anime district, where there are maid cafes, cat cafes, bunny cafes, video game skyscrapers, people in costume, and other absurd things. We made many friends here and I could write for days about all the acts of kindness and amazing things we encountered. If you read this and would like to visit Japan please reach out and I would be happy to point you to some of our favorite places.