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Japan/Korea 2024

Ok, we finally did it! Over 7 years since moving back from Japan, Teresa and I returned to see the sights and reconnect with dear friends. This time we even made time for a week in Korea. Here are all the daily videos I post on YouTube, along with some tips and links that might be helpful to anyone following our Journey or planning their own trip. The most recent will be at the top. Enjoy!

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Day 31 A Long Way Back

Last daily video from this trip. With the time difference we added 16 hours to this day, so it it made for a long day home.

We had not been to Bill’s on this trip so we made a reservation for the morning of our departure. It was raining so we took our second cab ride of the trip. Bill’s is a restaurant from Australia, and specialize in delicious pancakes. It did not disappoint, and we had a little more time to explore our old neighborhood before leaving for the airport. All packed and ready to go, we took the “Limousine Bus” to Haneda. The upside was that it picked us up at our hotel with all our luggage. The downside was that we were the first of many stops in Yokohama before we made our way to the Airport. It did give us a chance to see all the sights one last time.

Check-in was smooth and we had a couple of ours in JAL’s “Sakura Lounge” before our flight. Pretty relaxing way to pass the time, and the food and drinks are good. And Teresa made a new friend of course. The 9 hour (or so) flight had some turbulence, so while I slept fine (after enjoying the new Godzilla movie), Teresa was waken often with the announcements from the cabin crew. So we arrived (not so rested) at SFO where our good friend Julie picked us up.

We spent the night with friends in Morgan Hill so we could celebrate birthdays with Austin, Sarah and the girls. Wouldn’t you know it, they requested Japanese food, lol. A great time with family and good to be “home”.

Day 30 Our last full day! Unagi & Teppanyaki in Yokohama

Our last full day in Japan, what to do! First, Teresa connected with a friend for coffee that was an expat when we were living here.

Then we had a lunch reservation with Yoko for Unagi, delicious fresh water eel with a tasty glaze. We haven’t had an Unagi meal on this trip, and we made this reservation when we first arrived. The restaurant is from Kyoto, so they carried that theme throughout. Wonderful lunch with a good friend. Yoko was kind enough to help us with our dinner reservation.

Then more back and forth from the hotel to the station where we did some shopping. We used up enough time that it was time to make our way to dinner. We had reserved a Teppanyaki course at a restaurant just on the other side of the station. We had Teppanyaki in Kanazawa, but that was a much more casual place. We wanted to upgrade a bit so we picked what looked like a nice restaurant with reasonable pricing. We chose the “entry level” course, and then upgraded the beef to Sirloin. It really was “melt in your mouth” tender. But the course included many tasty items, including Abalone. All in all it was a delicious meal, very entertaining, and the staff was so helpful.

After almost a month in Asia, we finally took our first cab ride! It was raining after dinner and we really didn’t want to walk back to the hotel in the rain (25 minutes or so), so we had the waiter call us a cab. It turned out to be a good call and a nice end to our last full day.

Tomorrow we’re having breakfast at Bill’s (one of our favorite restaurants, from Australia), and then a long flight back to the USA.

Day 29 Sushi, Art & Tonkatsu in Yokohama

Our second to last full day in Japan. We’re checking off the last of our “must eat” food items and visiting with a few friends to end this journey. We are also trying to pick up a few gifts without completely blowing our luggage/packing budget. In some ways the fact that the weather isn’t ideal takes some pressure off. We really can’t plan anything substantial outdoors, and we’re not tempted to squeeze in any day-trips.

Today started with Sushi at one of our favorite spots in SOGO basement with Asai-san, Teresa’s language teacher when we lived here. Very nice visit and we really enjoyed the sushi craftsmanship.

Then some shopping and dropped items at the room before heading to Masa-san’s art exhibition. He’s featuring all his students in an art show near his studio. After seeing the fine work of his students, he walked us over to his new studio where he provides art classes almost every day of the week. So nice to connect with Masa-san and Akiko-san before heading back to the US.

After visiting the exhibit, we headed back to the Landmark to find some dinner. We haven’t had a proper Tonkatsu meal yet on this trip. Yes, we’ve had some veal cutlet with curry here and there, but our favorite Tonkatsu restaurant serves only the finest cuts, and provides a really nice meal set. It was delicious and “checked a box” on our culinary inventory. Now time to wind down and rest for our last full day on this trip. See you tomorrow 😉

Day 28 Tokyo & Yokohama, Separate for a while, then back together for Yakitori

Every day we say “this is the day we won’t take so many pictures… and fail, lol”. Teresa and I split up for the first part of the day. Teresa met our friend Miho in Tokyo at the Meguro Sky Garden. They visited the Starbucks Reserve Roastery Tokyo and had lunch at Blacow in Ebisu, one of our favorite places to take guests from the US. After catching up on some work in the room, I headed to Yokohama for some “guy shopping”. BIC camera, then Yodabashi, which is epic.

I reconnected with Teresa and Miho at the station. As we finish our trip, we’re trying to get a little last minute shopping in. Tara wants Harry Potter book 1 from every country she’s visited, and she didn’t get Japan when she was here. So we found it 😉 We explored the “NeWoMan” center at the station. Nice and new and beautiful tile work everywhere. We found a spot for coffee and dessert, then said goodby to Miho.

Next we explored our old neighborhood and saw the building we lived in for four years. So much has changed, but many of the feelings were the same. After some steps and exploring, it was time to made a dinner decision. We decided to go to one of our favorite places, Yakitori near the Kannai station. We haven’t had proper Yakitori on this trip yet, so we’re so glad we had it at a familiar spot. So good, and what a show. The fire was hot, the flames were high, the staff was loud and the food was delicious!

Another good, full day. After this just 2 more days before we fly home…

Day 27 A Relaxing Sunday in Yokohama

Today was a pretty relaxing Sunday in Yokohama. This was our last opportunity to attend Yokohama Union Church where we attended when we lived here from 2012-2016. We left early enough to stop by the Bluff Bakery (one of our favorites) for some breakfast. We connected again with many friends that we remember from our time here, and have had the opportunity to make some new friends as well. Jeff and Yoriko (who we stayed with early in this trip) were kind enough to bring our suitcase which they had been storing at their house. We were able to have a nice “late lunch / early dinner” at one of our old favorites, MM Thai, a casual Thai restaurant that we used to go to. We enjoyed another sunset on Fuji from our room and then ended the day with a drink and snack at the wonderful bar upstairs. Not sure what the next few days will bring since rain and wind are in the forecast. So there may not be much to see in the last few videos of our trip here, lol.

Day 26 Nagano to Yokohama & sightseeing with friends from the USA

On Day 26 we moved from Nagano back to Yokohama for the last few days of our trip. We had arranged to meet our friends Jeff and Michelle to show them around the city before they head back to the US tomorrow. We had a lot of fun and the weather was a bit warm but very nice. The crowds were intense though, with this being the end of Golden Week here in Japan. On top of that, they are full on celebrating Star Wars Day here (May the 4th be with you!) Since we called Yokohama home for four years, this is a great place to end our trip. We’ll be catching up with a few friends over these last days. We are also really enjoying our hotel here, with views of Mt. Fuji from our room.

Day 25 Kanazawa, Nagano & Karuizawa

It feels like we’re starting to enter the home stretch of this trip. Bittersweet. Today we checked out of our hotel in Kanazawa and took the Shinkansen to Nagano for one night before heading back to Yokohama. We really didn’t have a plan, so after storing our luggage at the hotel, we decided to take a quick trip to Karuizawa, one of our favorite places and just 30 minutes by Shinkansen. We had bought a Japan Rail Pass for this area so it was no extra charge.

We spent the afternoon wandering around Karuizawa, reminiscing about the many trips we took here with friends and family when we lived in Japan. There is a ski resort here which makes it great in winter, but spring and fall are very nice times to visit as well.

After arriving back in Nagano, we were happy to see they had already moved our luggage to the room. Not much larger than our hotel in Kanazawa, but everything was a bit nicer and the layout was more convenient. The Onsen area was super nice and we were looking forward to that after dinner. We spent some time on the lively streets of Nagano looking for a good spot for dinner. I think it may be a college town because there were a lot of young people on the streets, and many of the places we saw catered to them. A five minute walk from the station, the area we were in was lively, but essentially the bar area. While exploring we stumbled upon a delightful surprise. A steel drum band was rehearsing and essentially giving a free concert. Very fun, and we recognized one of the tunes as “Amazing Grace”.

After much searching we finally found a place that could seat us. They advertised “English Menus”, which we knew would make things a bit easier. It was difficult to even know what kind of food was served in many of the restaurants we saw. This was a Yakiniku place, which is essentially Korean BBQ with a Japanese twist. They even serve Kimchi. In any case it was delicious, we were close to the hotel and enjoyed the Onsen before retiring for the day. Tomorrow, back to Yokohama!

Day 24 Big Day in Kanazawa

Day 24 was a big day in every way. Saw a lot, walked a lot (20K steps) and took a lot of photos (300+). Since this was our second (and last) full day in Kanazawa, and it was going to be much better weather than the first day, we planned to see the Kenrokuen garden as well as revisit a few of the sites we saw the first day.

I began the day grabbing some drone footage of the river and castle. I pushed my luck a little bit when I captured the Castle garden. As I was landing a security guard approached me and apologetically told me “no drones”. I did register my drone in Japan, but every site has their own rules.

Then I joined up with Teresa and we stopped for coffee and sweets at Starbucks (our first visit this trip). A mother and child were walking by and the little girl seemed freaked out by the sight of foreigners. They stopped however and we had a wonderful little visit with the mom, and the girl got much more comfortable with us. Such a sweet moment.

Getting into the garden was a bit confusing and we had a moment working things out jointly with a couple from France. We made our way into the Garden and it was truly spectacular. I keep saying I’m “not a garden guy”, but I may be converting, lol.

After Kenrokuen, we wanted to see the Nagamachi Samurai district in sunshine. We also ended up paying for a tour of a restored Samurai home. Fascinating and beautiful. We worked our way back to our hotel on one of the best walking paths in the city.

We had tried going to the Teppanyaki restaurant the night before, but they were fully booked. We were able to get a reservation for 5:30 tonight and we were really looking forward to it. We hadn’t enjoyed Teppanyaki on this trip yet. Tomoshibi is a smallish restaurant on the third floor of a building we could actually see from our hotel. We had eaten at the restaurant on the first floor the prior night. We were greeted warmly and sat at the counter in full view of the cooking surface. We opted for a five course menu with one substitution. It included a small portion of local Wagyu Beef and we sort of regretted not opting for the 6 course meal with larger Beef portion, but as it turned out it was more than adequate. Absolutely delicious and a wonderful experience. Now all we had to do is grab some dessert. We had seen a video of Kanazawa pudding, so we located it at the station and capped the night with that. (of course the Onsen before bed though)

Day 23 "Golden" Kanazawa

Our first full day in Kanazawa was a “golden” experience. I sought out the obvious, a soft serve ice cream code wrapped in a thin sheet of edible gold leaf. But then we were surprised by gold in my coffee, gold on our strawberries, even gold on our sushi 🙂. We also saw a lot of gold art and walked on a suspended gold walkway. Gold is definitely a recurring theme in Kanazawa.

It was a cold, cloudy and windy day, so we tempered our expectations about how much we would be able to see. As it turned out, it was a very full day. After breakfast in the hotel, we headed to the Omicho Market, a great indoor market with unbelievable fresh seafood, lots of vegetables, gift items and restaurants. An amazing experience.

From there we walked back to the Higashi Chaya District. This is the most well known Geisha district in Kanazawa. We visited quickly yesterday, but wanted to return before the crowds arrived. Even with the weather being less than ideal, there were a lot of people, but still a pleasant experience. Beautifully preserved buildings and many quaint shops and restaurants. After the famous ice cream, we toured a bit and went back to a gallery/shop for coffee, matcha and treats. So delicious, and a wonderful experience all around. (and more gold of course).

We then headed to Kanazawa Castle. We chose not to tour the inside, but enjoyed the park and grounds which are free to explore. Next door in Kenroku-en, the renown garden, which we’re saving for tomorrow when the weather improves.

After the castle we walked to the Nagamachi District, where the former homes of the Samurai are. Another beautiful place to explore, with well preserved architecture and historical significance. The whole day was busy, but peaceful in a way. We traveled along canal that borders the district which was a beautiful path. We recharged a bit at the hotel while waiting for restaurants to open for dinner. We considered a few options and the first place we tried was fully booked tonight, but we were able to make a reservation for tomorrow. Looking forward to our first Teppanyaki of the trip. Our “consolation prize” turned out to be a great restaurant just steps from our hotel. We’ve been walking past it for a couple of days. Nouka Banzai Kyo. Delightful staff and delicious food. (and more gold, lol). As it turned out, a very full and pleasant day (and almost 16,000 steps). After the onsen and a good night’s sleep, and we should be well rested for another full day tomorrow.

Day 22 Tokyo to Kanazawa

Day 22 was a transition day. We would be checking out of our comfortable Airbnb in Tokyo and taking the Shinkansen train to Kanazawa. But first, I would take advantage of a break in the weather to get some drone video of the area around the Tokyo Skytree where we were staying. We then packed up, checked out and made our way to Tokyo Station. We were there In plenty of time to get lunch to eat on the train. We had a close call with a change in departure platform, but were safely on our way. Just under 3 hours later we pulled into Kanazawa Station. After checking into one of the smallest hotel rooms we’ve ever stayed in 😬 we went in search of dinner. We really enjoyed the scenic walk to one of the Geisha districts where we had dinner near by. Then a bus to avoid the rain back to the hotel to enjoy the hot public bath before bed. Full day tomorrow in Kanazawa.

Day 21 Tokyo, Skytree & Asakusa

This was our last full day in Tokyo before heading to Kanazawa for the next to last segment of our trip. We considered a few options but didn’t want to venture too far. And since we really hadn’t spent that much time in the Skytree area, it was all pretty fresh and interesting. We decided to head to Asakusa to take in some sights, then make our way to Ueno Park. Of course eating our favorite foods along the way is a priority and we were able to accomplish our mission 😉. We ended up walking the whole way so we were pretty tired by the time we called it a night.

Day 20 Enoshima to Tokyo Skytree

Day 20 of our trip was another busy moving day. After three nights at the beach city of Enoshima, we packed up and headed to Tokyo. We have a very nice Airbnb in Sumida City, right next to the Tokyo Skytree. Since today is the beginning of Golden Week here in Japan, everything is crowded. The trains were packed, making the trip with all of our luggage and two transfers a bit challenging. Fortunately our host gave great directions and we were able to get settled and do a bit of exploring. We’re about a 15 minute walk to the Skytree, which is attached to a mall with shopping and restaurants. With all the GW travelers, it was impossible to find a lunch spot so we opted for sandwiches at “King Kabab”, which hit the spot. We were able to pick up a few items at the local grocery and I took a little nap. 😴 We were going to meet friends for dinner but that didn’t work out so we were on our own. Back to the Skytree as the sun was setting, we found the crowds hadn’t diminished and the restaurants on the 6th floor were packed, and the sushi place we tried had stopped taking patrons for the day. Fortunately we found a great sushi restaurant on the 30th floor that was so accommodating, and more reasonable than we expected. After a stop at the grocery for some breakfast items and a treat, we called it a day. Tomorrow is a national holiday in Japan so some of the sites we wanted to see are closed. We’ll make the best of it and do some exploring before taking the Shinkansen tomorrow to Kanazawa. Hope you’re enjoying the journey with us.

Day 19 Enoshima & Yokohama

Day 19 of our trip started in Enoshima with the Curry Bread we’ve been craving that’s in the cafe steps from the entrance of our Airbnb. It did not disappoint 🙂 Then off to Yoriko’s place to rearrange some luggage before meeting our friend Anna for coffee and pastries. She also introduced us to a new building with great 360 degree views of all of Yokohama! Back to Enoshima via the Shonan Monorail for a dinner of Taco Rice then waffles and ice cream for dessert. Yes, we are definitely eating our way across Asia 😮 and need to do some serious dieting when we get back home 😞

Day 18 Enoshima & Chigasaki

Our second full day back in Japan after returning from Seoul was a pretty relaxed day. After a slow start we joined friends at a restaurant on the beach in Enoshima for lunch. Then they drove us to Chigasaki for refreshments with another ocean view. We explored the station for a bit then took the train back to Enoshima with one stop in Fujisawa. We’re trying to make sure we experience a variety of our favorite foods on this trip and we hadn’t had Tempura yet. We found a very nice restaurant just steps from our Airbnb that had delicious Tempura including Shirasu also called “white bait”, usually baby sardines. Very tasty!

Day 17 Tokyo to Enoshima

First full day back in Japan. We checked out of the Royal Park Hotel at Haneda and made our way to Enoshima to check into our Airbnb where we’ll be staying for the next three nights. Gotta love the beach vibe. After enjoying a nice walk with perfect weather, we met up with friends for a fabulous Italian dinner on the Island. Great day and a great place to stay for a few days.

Day 16 From Seoul to Tokyo

Our last day in Korea before returning to Japan. We were fortunate enough to pay a small fee for late checkout which allowed us to take one more trip into the city for some shopping and to check off another food item off our list. Hot stone Bibimbap, delicious and only $10 for the two of us. The only miscalculation on the train to Gimpo was the lack of escalators or elevators for our transfers. But we successfully made it to the airport in time to enjoy the lounge before our 2+ hour flight to Haneda. After arriving at 9:30 we were so happy we booked one night at the Royal Park Hotel in the airport. So convenient! We didn’t even have to leave the terminal. Great place to stay before an early flight or after a late one.

Day 15 War Memorial in Seoul

The highlight of our 2nd full day in Seoul was the War Memorial of Korea. It was a fascinating, educational experience. We were able to have an English language tour, which really helped. There is a major focus on the Korean War, which has significantly shaped South Korea in the modern age. The Memorial also includes historical events going all the way back to the origins of Korea. One thing we found interesting was the number of young Korean soldiers visiting. We thought it might be compulsory, but our tour guide said it was completely voluntary. Before our visit to the War Memorial, we checked out the National Museum with an intent to go back the next day. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, visited the Han River, tasted some street food, and then had probably our best meal so far on this trip. Korean beef, highly recommended! All in all, a good full day in Seoul. We clearly didn’t allow enough time for this leg of the trip, and want to return in the future. 🙂

Day 14 Palace Tour

Today was our first full day in Seoul. We noticed a cute bakery near our apt. so we wanted to try it. When we arrived at the Artist Bakery we noticed a very long line. There was a complicated check in system and we were told it would be a 1.5 hour wait to sit inside or 25 min for take out. We opted for takeout, which ended up being a 45 min wait. Popular place with absolutely delicious everything! Worth the wait as it turns out 😉 We then met our Airbnb Experience host Lee for our tour of the Palace. Great tour and we made a new friend. Here is what we saw with Lee:

1. Insa-dong
2. Jogyesa temple
3. Gwanghwamun square (Statue of King Sejong)
4. Gyeongbokgung palace
5. Guard changing ceremony
6. Bukchon village
7. Yut Nori (Traditional board game)

We enjoyed a Latte and Iced Tea (Teresa said best ever!) and made our way to dinner. Lee recommended a Korean BBQ place that was outstanding. A pleasant walk back to the apt. and we were ready to call it a day. Perfect weather, clear skies, clean air, good company, educational tour and great food. What more can you ask for? Highly recommend Seoul as a vacation destination.

Day 13 Suji-Gu to Seoul

Today was a big day. After breakfast and packing, I took some drone video for our delightful hosts in Suji-gu, an hour outside Seoul. We then drove to our Airbnb in the heart of the city, dropped Teresa off with the luggage and returned the car back to Gimpo Airport. Then the challenge was to navigate the subway back to the Airbnb. We then walked through the city to a famous restaurant for noodle soup and dumplings. Very tasty but simple (and only about $15 for two!) We wandered about, sampling delicious food from the street vendors before retiring for the night. Tomorrow we booked a tour of Gyeongbokgung Palace through Airbnb Experiences. Should be another great day 🙂

Day 12 Down Day in Suji-Gu

Our 4th full day in Korea was a down day to rest and recharge. We ventured only as far as the bakery next door. It was rainy most of the day so it didn’t make sense to do any outdoor activities or exploring. So we made the best of it with some delicious baked goods, YouTube Korean travel videos, and even a nap. We ended the evening with a “traditional” meal of two types of fried chicken and some delicious side dishes. I especially enjoyed the Kimchi pancakes 🙂 Our hosts Stephane and Sophy have been delightful and we are looking forward to seeing them in CA or Canada. Tomorrow we head to Seoul for our last four days in Korea.

Day 11 Korean Folk Village

On our 3rd full day in Korea we visited the Korean Folk Village outside Seoul. We started our day will a nice breakfast, then after a quick drone session at our Home Exchange in Suji-gu, our host Stephane drove us to the village. Based on the crowds of students at the entrance, we were expecting an unpleasant experience but it was quite the opposite. The village is massive, absorbing the crowd easily. We had a very nice time exploring the sites, learning about life in historical Korea, lunching on delicious authentic Korean food, and being entertained by talented young performers. We finished the day with a delightful Italian meal with our hosts. This has truly been the experience of a lifetime.

Day 10 Hwadam Botanical Garden

The highlight of our 2nd full day in Korea was the Hwadam Botanical Garden. I’m not much of a “garden guy”, but this one won me over. Beautifully designed and manicured, with water features around every turn, and even a “Bonzai Forest”, featuring trees over 130 years old! We enjoyed another delicious Korean meal and then had coffee a sweets at the bakery around the corner.

Day 9 Seoul to Suji-Gu

Our first full day in Korea. After a nice buffet breakfast at the hotel, I journeyed back to Gimpo to pick up the Hertz rental car. Then after picking up Teresa and the luggage we drove about an hour South of Seoul to Suji where our delightful Home Exhange hosts welcomed us to our home for the next 4 days. Tomorrow we’ll have a guided tour of the area, but this evening we enjoyed Korean BBQ! Beautiful sunset then we retired for the evening.

Day 8 Tokyo to Seoul

Travel Day! After a nice breakfast and then lunch at Bay Side with our friends, it was off to Haneda on the Express Train, relaxing in the Sakura Lounge with a nice bowl of JAL Curry Rice, then a quick 2 hour flight to Seoul. A bit of an adventure getting to our hotel, but a very good sleep. Our Korea adventure begins 🙂

Day 7 Dinner with Former Colleagues from WD

Today was the day to reunite with my friends and co-workers at Western Digital Japan. First day to spend quite a bit of time on trains with a stop over in Enoshima. Then we enjoyed the last of the Sakura while walking to the office. Great dinner with the team at our local spot, then home for the night after good long day. Off to Korea tomorrow!

Day 6 Yokohama Union Church

Sunday! An opportunity to connect with old and new friends at Yokohama Union Church. Also lots of walking. Enjoying more Sakura and spring flowers. Finding a great spot for coffee and donuts. And capped off a full day with an Indian dinner, before another night staying with friends. Tomorrow we’ll go to my old office to connect with my co-workers.

Day 5 Yokohama Friends

Another full day in Yokohama. Lunch, Tea and Dinner with friends.

Day 4 Amazing dinner with good friends in Yokohama

On our second full day in Japan we started out going to the train station to take care of our Japan Rail Pass and finalize our Shinkansen tickets to Kanazawa. After that we explored Sogo basement, one of our favorite places. Full of delightful premium food. A little exploring and relaxing before the most amazing dinner with our good friends Larry and Mitsue. The restaurant “Sub Zero” is at the end of Osambashi with spectacular views of the Yokohama city lights. 7+ courses with a wine pairing!

Day 3 Yokohama!

3rd day of our trip. Explored Yokohama where we lived for 4 years. So much has changed since 2016, but many of our favorite places are the same. Caught the tail end of the Cherry Blossoms, but avoided the crowds of peak season. Enjoyed the Tulips and the harbor and finished the day with a nice dinner with Megumi, another dear Japanese friend.

Days 1&2 Oakhurst to Morgan Hill to SFO to Japan

Left Oakhurst on April 8, saw family and stayed with friends in Morgan Hill, then off to Japan on JAL via SFO. Jet lagged and checked into our hotel, we enjoyed a dinner with dear friends at Din Tai Fung, one of our favorite restaurants!