Travelling through Japan is super easy thanks to the amazing railway system.  It can be pricey, but if you plan your trip in advance, you can get really affordable rail passes for various zones.  We decided to take a trip a bit further out to visit Himeji.. because it has a castle.. and as we all know, Dom loves castles!

It was a sunny weekend during the Cherry Blossom festival, so we certainly weren't the only ones there!  When we arrived, there was a huge queue to visit the castle.  It had us worried, but fortunately it didn't take as long as we would have thought.  Unfortunately, the reason the line didn't take that long is because they rush everyone through the castle quite quickly, so we left it feeling somewhat unsatisfied.  

On the plus side, there happened to be a really cool Cherry Blossom festival happening on the grounds, so we watched an assortment of entertainment, listened to traditional Japanese music and, most importantly, sampled some fresh local Sakes :) 

While hanging out in the crowd, enjoying our sake, we were approached by a young Japanese couple who asked us if we like fish (or something like that).  It felt like a rather bizarre encounter and a very random question, so we muddled through trying to figure out if we were actually understanding their question correctly.  Eventually we kinda politely responded "well.. yeah, we eat fish".  

They looked at each other with delight and giggled.  The guy walked off toward the food booths while the girl stayed to chat with us.  When he returned, he was holding a big round meat lollipop that he had purchased, and he promptly handed it over for us to try.. meanwhile they both stared and smiled at us curiously.  

...the strangest things run through your head in these situations - we simply couldn't make sense of what was going on!

We looked at each other in confusion, but politely tried the fishy meat stick as they eagerly observed our reaction and asked us, "Do you like it???".  
"Yes... it's good", we replied.  Again, they looked at each other and simultaneously laughed in delight.  

Ok, the suspense was killing us. "...but.. why?", we asked them in confusion.
"Why?", they responded, almost equally confused.
"Yeah.. why did you want to buy this for us to try?  Was it because you thought we would find it weird? or gross?".  
Again they looked at each other and laughed, and their answer was simply, "Just because... these are a very traditional food in this area.  We really like them... and we thought you might too!".  

And that was.. just that...!  Then they offered to buy us more sake!

Despite the lingering sense of confusion about how this had all come about, we ended up sharing a couple more rounds of sake with them while having a really great conversation about travelling, our visit to Japan, what life and work is like for them in Japan, and answering all their curious questions about what things are like in Canada.  They were a really cute couple.

They were super excited when they discovered that we were from Canada because it's a place that they both really wanted to visit.  We asked them where in Canada they wanted to go, and they shocked us by responding "Yellowknife!".  

Yellowknife??  How do they even know about Yellowknife!?  Out of all the Canadian cities that people usually visit, we never would have guessed that someone would respond with Yellowknife!  .. eventually it all made sense when they explained that they heard about the Aurora Borealis there and really wanted to see it one day!!

About an hour later, they told us they had to head home.  We said goodbye and they were gone as quickly as they had appeared.  

It was such an unusually unique and memorable encounter that it left us recounting it to people long after.  Travelling is so great for stuff like this!

After such a long fun day, few things beat a little nap in the park under warm sun and cherry blossom trees  :)

Expensive Melons

For anyone looking to find the most perfectly-formed juicy set of unblemished melons.. they do exist and they're very real, but expect to pay a premium price!  In Japan, there is an obsession over "perfect" fruits, which are commonly purchased to give away as gifts.  It's hard for visitors to believe that anyone would pay hundreds of dollars for a single melon, but apparently much labour-intensive care is taken to ensure these fruits grow up into flawless, smooth, evenly patterned exhibits - it's essentially an art form!

We managed to find a few examples of the expensive fruits.  To get the price in US dollars, you can more or less divide by 100. 

For example, these are $32 watermelons

And here's what $40 cantaloupes looks like

compared to the $130 cantaloupes, which have "nicer" webbing patterns and a perfectly T-shaped stem.

If you look closely, you can see that the $28 sets of strawberries are hand picked to all have an identical colour, shape, and size.

If you're willing to eat the fruit "rejects", you can also buy them at a (relatively) reasonable price :) :).


Our original plan was to stay in Kyoto, unfortunately, since it's was cherry blossom season and we booked quite late, everything was completely full.  Luckily, Kyoto is only 30 minutes from Osaka by train, so we still managed to spend two full days there.

Kyoto was our favourite city in Japan. It has so many cute streets, temples, yummy restaurants, and it happened to be particularly beautiful with blooming cherry trees. We spent our 2 days there wandering as many streets as we could, and really enjoyed everything we saw.

Kyoto has thousands of temples and shrines scattered through the city.  We certainly weren't going to have time to visit them all, so we mainly hit whichever random interesting-looking ones that we happened to pass by :)  There are SO many of them!!

We did make an effort to visit one of the more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera which sits on the side of a hill overlooking Kyoto.

There were many Japanese people dressed up in traditional garment, having their photos taken.

We also visited the Bamboo Forest on the outskirts of town. 

Oh, and let's not forget... the Ninja Store :) :)  Yep we found one, so of course we had to go!!


Nara was the first permanent capital of Japan.  It also happened to be Jen's favourite site to visit during her first trip to Japan in 2006.  As soon as you enter the Nara Park area it becomes pretty obvious why..

Over a thousand wild sika deer roam freely through the Nara area where they are protected and considered to be national treasures.  Both tame and curious, they often approach visitors to see if we've purchased deer-crackers to feed to them :).

We didn't just come for the deer - Nara also has many world heritage sites.  We visited Tōdai-ji, the Main Buddhist Temple,

wandered through the park to see the 3000 stone lanterns and various other shrines,

and strolled through Yoshikien Japanese garden (which we discovered is free for foreign tourists).

The other reason Jen remembered loving Nara was because of a fond memory of eating a hot freshly roasted Japanese sweet potato there.  She spoke of it many times and we finally found one of the famous potato stands while leaving the park.  A little local lady was set up with a portable potato roaster and a sign that said 200 yen (about $2.50 CAD).  The lady pointed to a potato and Jen gave a nod, so she sliced it up, put it in a bag, and typed the price onto her calculator.  

Turns out our Japanese could use much improvement - the rest of the sign must have indicated that the 200 yen is per 100g.  So our $2.50 potato suddenly became a $10 potato!  Oops!  Well, we suppose we could have refused, but it really was our mistake and she was a cute little lady, so we went along with it and enjoyed eating the most expensive potato that either of us has ever tasted!

Japanese Cuisine

After such an incredible food experience in Korea, we lowered our expectations in Japan where prices are much higher and street-food regulations are far more strict.  That being said, we still optimized our food experiences as much as possible and in the end we were not disappointed!!

Udon Curry Bowl at Tsurutontan daikokucho in Osaka - We arrived late on our first day so we tried to find something nearby and ended up at a small restaurant that served a lovely Udon Curry Bowl with tempura chicken. 

Okonomiyaki at Chibo in Osaka - Looking at Yelp, we saw a lot of places serving Okonomiyaki, a savoury Jamanese "pizza" or "pancake" with a variety of different ingredients.  We discovered Chibo where the servers were really fun and lively.  It was such a great atmosphere and food experience that we went there 3 times! 

Japanese Curry at a Vending Machine Restaurant in Osaka - As we walked the streets of Japan, we starting noticing vending machines at the entrance of a few restaurants.  It turns out that the vending machine is used to order your meal!  You simply order and pay through the machine, then find a table and the server brings the food out to you.  The food wasn't amazing, but it was suprisingly decent and affordable.

Okonomiyaki at Fukutaro in Osaka - We really enjoyed okonomiyaki at Chibo so we decided to try it at another nearby place that always had a huge lineup outside… It was a bit more of a mom&pop shop with a more traditional and authentic feel, however, in the end, we preferred the food and friendliness at Chibo :)

Tako Yaki (octopus balls) at Tenjimbashisuji in Osaka.  Jen tried these the last time she was in Japan and thought they tasted like fish-food.. We thought we give it another try: she still doesn't really like them and still refers to them as Tako Yucky.

Fluffy Japanse Cheesecake at Rikuro in Osaka - Japanese cheese cake if slightly different than what we're used to in Canada with its fluffier soufflé-like consistency.  If you like light fluffy cheesecake, definitely go here!  It's worth the wait, especially if you get one hot out of the oven :)

Sushi at Ganko Sanjo Honten - Since we were in Japan, we had to go for sushi!  We went to Ganko twice, both in Osaka and Kyoto.  It's a common practice in Japan to have many plastic representations of the menu items for people to pick from, and the one at Ganko was particularly elaborate.  We really enjoyed sitting at the sushi bar watching the sushi chefs work their magic!

Gyoza at Chao Chao in Kyoto: "The "best" assorted flavours of Gyoza in Kyoto".  With a motto like that and a continuous line up, how could we possibly say no! ;)  Chao Chao is a tiny place that serves all sorts and flavours of Japanese dumplings.  The servers are really energetic and funny - yet another place well worth the big lineup!

Ramen at Hakata Ippudo in Kyoto - Ramen is a traditional Japanese noodle soup. We found this place while visiting Kyoto. It was delicious and the most memorable part was the amazingly seasoned soft-boiled egg.

Assorted Bento Box from Daimaru in Kyoto - An expensive department store in Kyoto that's fun to explore, especially the assorted food markets in the basement.

Last but not least, the many typical Japanese hot and cold beverages from the various vending machines scattered anywhere and everywhere!


One of the reasons we stopped in Korea for a few days was to buy some time before going to Japan, in the hopes that we would arrive just in time to experience the Cherry Blossoms!  This winter had been unusually warm around the globe, so we predicted (hoped) that the trees would blossom earlier than usual.  We booked our tickets for March 29th and crossed our fingers.  Since we booked so late (mainly due to work schedule uncertainty), we had a really tough time finding a place to stay.  We eventually managed to book a place in Osaka through Airbnb… way higher than our usual price range, but at least it was well located!

The Cherry Blossom forecast website told us we'd be arriving just in time for full bloom.. it turned out we were actually a bit early, so our first visit to Cherry Blossom Alley was a bit disappointing. 

We returned 4 days later and wow… what a drastic difference!!

Besides hunting for the perfectly bloomed cherry blossom tree, we also did few other touristy things in Osaka including: 

Osaka Castle,

finding the coolest shrine ever - Namba Yasaka Shrine,

and plenty of shopping at an awesome Japanese "dollar store" called Daiso, the "cooking tools street (Doguyasuji), and the electronics/japanese toys area (Nipponbashi / DenDen Town).  Jen even made a new robot friend along the way who seemed friendly enough, but it only spoke Japanese... we're pretty sure it was just trying to sell us stuff ;).


Besides reading that eating squiggling octopus is a top thing to do in Seoul, we had also read that it's popular to buy socks.  We found it pretty amusing that "buying socks" was actually listed as a "thing to do" here.  After arriving, it didn't take long to realize why. 

Due to a lack of predators in the area, sock shop populations have overrun and overpopulated the streets, markets, and subway stations of Seoul.  Fortunately they are full of cute socks in every style and variety imaginable, and they seem to be sustaining their large population numbers thanks to the many tourists who come in search of cute, inexpensive socks to bring to their home countries and give to friends and family.  Think of anything cute that you would want to see on a sock - they probably have it.. and for less than a buck a pair!

Seoul sites

So far our posts make it seem like we only ate and recovered from soju in Seoul, but we actually did visit some sites (to take a break between meals, snacks, and nibbles…).

Bukchon Hanok - Korean traditional village

Gyeongbokgung Palace - the main royal palace during the Joseon dynasty

Cheonggyecheon - an 11km stream with a really nice pathway that runs through downtown Seoul

Various other districts that we wandered aimlessly through (read "we walked everywhere looking for new foods to try" ;))


After a fun night of food and (too much) soju with Dhal, we decided to take it easy the next day by recovering at a nearby jjimjilbang called Siloam Sauna.  

Jjimjilbangs are Korean bathouses/saunas, which are a important part of Korean culture.  People of all ages go there to unwind, socialize, and (apparently) people even go there for work meetings.  The place spans several floors and includes a restaurant, conference rooms, and several entertainment areas with TVs, board games, books, ping-pong, arcade games, even Karaoke!   

There are also many different types of sauna rooms with varying temperatures and/or stones (ie. jade, salt, loess, etc.), and spa-like facilities where you can pay extra for a massage or to get your nails/hair done.  The price is surprisingly affordable at around $10 per person for the full day, and for a couple of extra bucks you can even sleep there overnight, so it'd be a perfect place to visit if you happen to have a long layover/overnight in Seoul! 

We also recommend visiting here if you're looking for a pretty unique / culture-shock / humbling type of experience!  The bathhouse part of the jjimjilbang consists of several different baths with varying water temperatures, healing herbs/minerals, and even massage jets.  The bathhouse area is segregated by gender and all clothes, including swimwear and towels, are prohibited from these areas.  

For many of us raised in North America, being nude in front of strangers can bring about feelings of shy, uncomfortable, awkwardness since it's such an uncommon/unfamiliar thing for us to do.  The idea of stripping down and spending a long period of time amongst several dozens of other nude strangers in a very open area can be rather intimidating.. the idea that locals come here regularly to strip down, hang out with friends and co-workers and scrub each other's backs clean seems.. I dunno.. weird(?!)  

Prior to coming to the Jjimjilbang, we did google to learn about proper manners and etiquette of the bathhouses.  We found it entertaining to see many comments from Westerners who absolutely refuse to go to the bathhouse because they're just too shy/embarrassed to be nude in public.  It's good to roam outside of your comfort zone once in a while, so we decided to suck up our pride for the experience :).  

In the end it was a really fun and memorable experience despite feeling uncertain about what to do, where to go, or how to behave at times.  It was an experience that challenged us and our comfort levels, values, beliefs, and preconceptions.  It's experiences like this that are exactly why we love to travel!! :)

Night Out With Dhal

We first met Dhal 2 years ago when the Color Nomads came to Mui Ne to do some graffiti.  Despite only meeting him for a very brief time, Fabian encouraged us to reach out and meet up for a quick drink.  Luckily, Dhal managed to find some time in his busy schedule for us! 

We had heard that Seoul is the place known for eating squirming live octopus!  (yes, you read that correctly!  ..but they're technically not still alive when you eat it them..)  We wanted to try, so Dhal met up with us at Seoul's Wholesale Fish Market, Noryangjin, to start us off on with an awesome authentic Korean food experience!  

We stopped at one of the stalls and Dhal asked us what we wanted to eat.  Since we had no clue what half of the sea creatures even were (!!), we asked him to recommend something.  He picked octopus, sea cucumber, and some other sea critter called gaebul, which looked a lot like bloody intestines (we later learned that it's a marine worm with a pretty funny/appropriate English slang name.. click here to see an entertaining and informative post about it :)).  We left with our little bag of live sea animals and continued wandering through the stalls. 

Our next stop was a stall with an aquarium, where the seller asked Dhal if we wanted a rock fish.  We said sure, so Dhal pointed out the one he wanted, and within seconds our live little rock fish was scooped out and sliced up into sashimi.  We proceeded to the small eating area across the aisle. 

This is what makes the fish market experience so unique - you browse the aisles, pick what you want, then bring it to a restaurant stall where they "prepare" your purchases for eating.  Dhal told us all of our selections were best eaten raw, so... when in Rome...!  The one cooked item we did have was a wonderful soup that they made with the remaining rock fish carcass.  We were also sure to accompany our meal with a local rice alcohol called Soju.  Dhal told us it's important to drink with the meal to help disinfect the raw foods.. so we made sure to drink a LOT!  :)

For the not-so-squeamish, here's the video of the octopus that is so freshly chopped up that the tentacles squirm and stick to your tongue as you chew!  

The fish market was so much fun that we weren't ready for the night to end just yet!  We took a taxi to a restaurant nearby Dhal's atelier and tried some Korean Pork Belly BBQ.  We've had Korean BBQ before, but in Korea the meat is a little different than what we're used to - super thick slices of meat with a lot of fat on them.  To our surprise, the taste was amazing and of course you can't have another Korean meal without... another soju (or 2)!

We stopped by for a quick tour of Dhal's studio and since it was still early we went to a nearby local bar to try stir fried tofu & kimchi.. and more soju, of course!

This is where our super fun night with Dhal ended....Thanks Dhal!! :)