Japan in Twelve Photos: A year in review

Twelve months have gone by faster than I thought could be possible (time flies, and all that). Looking back at all the pictures I’ve accumulated brings me back to so many great memories and experiences I know could only be possible in Japan.  I’ve pulled some of my favourites in a sort of visual memory of the past year.

August: Obon, Kamiichi

I left from Toronto arrived in Tokyo // sweat alot // drank 2L bottles of water sitting on my tatami floor. Obon happened and the office was empty. I went to a  festival in Kamiichi Town, went to a beach party and (sortof) climbed Tateyama.


September: Osu Kannon, Nagoya

I started to figure everything out a bit more. I started teaching and meeting students. I took my first trip, going to Nagoya. I have this very distinct memory of being half awake and watching the Japanese Alps from the bus window as we drove through. I spent a lot time after school helping students prepare for a speech competition.


October: Fushimi Inari, Kyoto

While my family was eating Thanksgiving dinner I was in Kyoto for the first time, eating burnt Ramen and visiting a cat cafe. I went to a Halloween party and to the speech competition. I learned that Kit-Kats are given for good luck.

November: Kurobe Gorge 

The seasons changed later than I expected. I went up to the Kurobe Gorge in a rainy, cold, and fantastic train ride up the mountain. One of the most beautiful places I’ve been to in Japan.


December: Maki-Chan in Japan

In December my sister visited Japan. We went to as many places as we could from an English camp in Toyama to Nagoya, Tokyo, all over Kansai (Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe), and finally Maibara. It was strange to suddenly have a piece of home in Japan. I went about 4 weeks without classes and missed it a lot.


January: Hakuba, Nagano

I shivered at work and shivered in my apartment.  I went to Nagano to go snowboarding and loved every minute of the breathtaking mountains.


February: Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa

It was cold. The third years finished classes. I went to Kanazawa21 and and saw an amazingly cool exhibition and ate lots of ramen to keep warm.



March: Dohtonbori Osaka

The school year ended, and it was really sad. My first fully-fledged trip to Osaka was incredibly fun, I ate a lot, walked a lot, and saw a lot. Omiyage was weirdly difficult to find. I saw sumo. I lost a contact lens. It was great.


April: Sakura at Matsukawa River

Cherry Blossoms lived up to their hype and more. Outside my school, around the river, in Osaka, and in backyards, these trees were so soft and pretty I felt like I was in a dreamland.


May: YG Concert in Tokyo 

Golden week was four days of pure awesomeness, the most “Tokyo” experience I’ve had, by going to a concert, the robot restaurant, and getting swept up in the energy of the city.


June: Uozu Port 

It became summer, like fully summer with high humidity and blue skies. I spent a lot of time getting sunburned and riding my bike around. I don’t mind the cold winter, but summer is the best for exploring  the city and feeling re-energized.
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July: Tatemon Festival 

TECHNICALLY this photo is from August but I’m using for July for the sake of relevance. I participated in the Tatemon festival, which was an absolute blast. High energy, lots of people, and a really wonderful culmination to the long season of festivals and fireworks of the summer and to the year in Japan.

Kyoto Gogyo’s Burnt Ramen

Gogyo restaurant serves burnt ramen just off of the Nishiki market in Kyoto. I don’t usually put the word “burnt” in front of food and expect positive results. I was a little skeptical the first time I went, but I thought hey, “I’m sure everyone eats it, I might as well try!” Actually as it turns out, no one eats burnt ramen and all my co-workers gave me dubious looks when I told them about it. So this restaurant is a little experimental, but for good reason because this ramen is amazing!

I liked it so much I’ve gone back every time I’m in Kyoto. The broth is cooked to 300 degrees which gives it an earthy smokey taste. I’ve had both the Soy (Shoyu) and Miso Ramen. The Soy Ramen broth was a little clearer and more salty and the Miso brother more dense and smokey. Both are pretty oily and the portions are big so it’s best to go when you’re really hungry and you have a leisurely evening planned.

The restaurant itself is gorgeous, with dark wooden furniture and a dimly lit atmosphere that feels both elegant and cozy.

Shoyu Ramen



Miso Ramen








Price Range: 900-1200 Yen per bowl

Monday to Friday – Lunch: 11:30-3 |  Dinner: 5:00-11:00

Saturday and Sunday – Lunch: 11:30-4 |  Dinner: 5:00-11:00

The restaurant has now opened locations in Tokyo and Nagoya! Check out all their information and menus on their website!

Location near the Nishiki Market in Kyoto.

Travel Kyoto: Fushimi Inari’s infinite orange gates

Fushimi Inari Taisha is a bit of an other-worldly experience. It’s a seemingly endless series of massive orange Tori gates, which visitors walk through to travel up the side of the mountain. It is a long and steep climb, and there isn’t really a viewing point at the top. So making this climb is more about the journey and not the destination. Walking through the gates is a sensory overload. You’re surrounded by bright orange (not the most peaceful colour), light moves back and forth between the gates, and you need to focus on walking up the steps. Both times I went turned into evening, adding an extra challenge of limited visibility to the climb.


At many points on the mountain there are stops for worship and you’ll also see a lot of fox imagery throughout, as they are seen as messengers. About half the way up there were groups of wild cats sitting on the side of the path and perching on their claimed resting posts. I’m not sure how they got there, but I like to think they guard over the shrines._DSC0183_DSC0192_DSC0175_DSC0174_DSC0153

I’ve been to Fushimi Inari twice, and the photos found here are from my first trip in October. Despite the fact that it was the 2nd weekend of the month, the weather was warm enough for shorts. The second time was in December, and while it was much colder (around 4 celsius) it was far from the freezing temperature I’m accustomed to back home. If you aren’t able to make the climb, there’s plenty to see at the base of the mountain, with the main shrine and shops. In October, we were lucky to find the path to the shrine lined with large lanterns._DSC0239_DSC0255_DSC0259_DSC0267_DSC0270

Monkey Mountain: the kings of Arashiyama

Sadly no, Arashiyama (嵐山) does not mean “Monkey Mountain”. Rather, it is the joint “Arashi”, meaning “storm” (incidentally also the name of Japan’s biggest Boy Band) and “Yama”, meaning “Mountain”. I had very little knowledge about Arashiyama, but having never been it seemed like the perfect excursion for a Thursday morning.

The town is a mecca of tourist attractions, including the very famous Sagano bamboo forest, Kameyama koen, and last but (definitely) not least, the Iwatayama “Monkey Park”.



The journey is no small feat, as visitors need to climb some extensive steps upwards on the side of a mountain. Throughout the ascent, informative signs are posted to humour and prepare visitors for their encounter with the park’s furry inhabitants.The three rules of the Monkey Park are as follows:

1. Don’t feed the monkeys

2. Don’t touch the monkeys

3. Don’t stare at the monkeys (it makes them feel embarrassed)

Rules number one and two are dismissed when located in the special monkey-feeding building which has large-gapped screens in place of windows. Monkeys calmly hang off the building and reach through the screens, holding their palms in patient (and a somewhat bored) request for food. Clutching my 100 Yen bag of fruit chunks I cautiously placed a piece of apple in an outstretched hand, expecting the monkey to snatch it up. Years of being fed this way have taught the monkeys that they have nothing to fear from camera-wheeling tourists and the monkey practically rolled his eyes at me.


The third rule (don’t stare at the monkeys) was the hardest to keep. I’m not sure how embarrassed they really did feel as they strolled around the mountaintop, occasionally blocking the walking paths as visitors (OK, me) edged around them.


_DSC0155Monkeys aren’t the only reason to come to Monkey Park (although you might expect as such). The height of the park is higher than that of Kyoto tower (131 Metres), offering a sprawling view of the city below. The climb (although potentially challenging) passes through some pretty beautiful scenery.

_DSC0131 After the Monkey Park, we spent some time wandering the bodies of water, taking in the bright sky and mountains. Although Kyoto is not chaotic by any means, Arashiyama is most definitely a welcome relief of fresh air and picturesque surroundings.