Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sado Island, Japan

During our two-week stay in Japan, we spent three days on Sado Island in Niigata Prefecture, which is about a two-hour train and one-hour ferry ride north of Tokyo. We didn't know too much about Sado Island before we went, except that the area was known for its beautiful landscapes and world-renowned sake (Niigata is home to some of Japan's best rice and sake). While we appreciated Tokyo's skyscrapers and crowds of people, we hoped to see a rural area that was less affected by modernity.

Sado Island ended up being so beautiful and one of the great surprises of our trip. The island had rocky cliffs, rice paddies, big ocean waves, and zigzag mountain roads. We ordered a tiny rental car and drove up and down the coast, stopping along different scenic landmarks (Futatsugame and Ohnogame were some of our favorite rock formations along the northern coast). 

Other highlights from Sado Island:
- Staying in a traditional ryokan and sleeping on tatami mats
- Eating a feast of different kinds of seafood every night
- Visiting the toki sanctuary. Sado Island is one of the few places in the world to nurture the toki (Japanese crested ibis) population
- Walking through the Sado gold mine
- Visiting several different award-winning sake breweries and taking some bottles home
- Driving to enjoy the Osado Skyline scenery 

Friday, November 27, 2015


Earlier in October, Jeremiah and I spent two weeks in Japan -- five days in Tokyo, three days on Sado Island, and five days back in Tokyo. Japan was one of those lifetime trips where we had always said we wanted to go, and finally this year we got the momentum (and enough travel points) to take our dream trip!

For the first and last legs of our trip in Tokyo, we stayed in the Shinjuku area -- the largest neighborhood in the city that is focused on business and nightlife. We were able to stay at the Park Hyatt hotel (featured in "Lost in Translation") which had incredible views of the city and was really close to everything we wanted to see in Shinjuku.

Some highlights of visiting Tokyo:

- Seeing the Meiji Shrine and walking through Yoyogi Park
- Visiting all of the random department stores surrounding the train station (apparently that's a thing, most train stations have at least five mega-department stores around them)
- Having a tour guide show us around the Asakusa and Oeno neighborhoods, including many of the shrines, temples, and museums
- Eating/drinking in Omoide Yokocho (Piss Alley), and making friends with a salaryman who gave us travel tips and generously paid for our tab
- Having a reliable Google Translate app (imperative for us, as our Japanese is non-existent except for about five phrases)
- Going to the Studio Ghibli Museum and feeling like a wistful kid again (especially while riding the catbus to get there)
- Visiting Shibuya to see the crossing and Shibuya 109
- Shopping and people-watching in Harajuku
- People-watching and wandering into all of the electronic/anime stores in Akihabara
- ALL of the food options (ramen ticket machines, okonomiyaki, udon, kaitensushi, sashimi, tempura, tsukemono, soba, yakitori, takoyaki, and lots more)
- Staying at the Park Hyatt and feeling like a movie star

Hoping to visit again in a couple years and do the other things we weren't able to do (Tsukiji Fish Market, especially)

Reading material that was helpful for planning our trip:
- Japan Guide
- /r/japantravel
- Japan Talk
- Pretty Good Number One by Matthew Amster-Burton

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