Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Over Thanksgiving we were lucky enough to have the one thing we are the most thankful for - visitors from back home!  Our friend H and her boyfriend N took advantage of the extra days off to take a 2.5 week trip to Sydney, New Zealand and Fiji.  Even though they were only here for six days, we were able to cram a lot in.

H&N spent Thanksgiving Day down in Hobbiton while Rob and I were at work (there's no such thing as Thanksgiving in New Zealand).  We caught up with them for a Thanksgiving feast that set the tone for the rest of the trip - lots of food, especially oysters, bubbles and New Zealand beef.  N was set on "eating like a Kiwi," and picked up a meat pie or sausage roll at every gas station he passed.

Friday morning we set off to drive up North toward Paihia.  In honor of my 32nd (!!) birthday, we stopped in Matakana for oysters and champagne at the Matakana Market Kitchen.  After that we made a quick detour to explore the Waipu Caves, which are the largest non-commercial (ie free) glow worm caves in New Zealand!

Saturday we awoke to a drizzly day - not ideal considering all that we had planned!  But we found a place to stay dry and the sky cleared just in time for our parasailing adventure!  Some of you may recall that I have historically been very afraid of heights, but am working to overcome that.  For me, parasailing was a baby step to paragliding, which I'm hoping to do in Queenstown in February.  It was the step I needed to - it was so much more relaxing than I could have imagined!

After that it was time for my most favourite of all New Zealand adventures - a night on the Rock Houseboat!  We first stayed on the Rock back in February, and have been wanting to go back ever since. Even though the weather was a bit crap, we had a blast!

Clockwise from top left: Birthday brunch; the PJs H picked up at Hot Topic (with matching pants for the guys - little did she know I already own a few things from this line); in the Waipu Caves; Hannah as Jonah


Snorkeling - I passed on snorkeling this time around because the water was so cold, but the others are clearly tougher than I am.

Fishing - Rob was the only one who caught a fish, probably because of his come-hither fishing stance. Our captain caught an octopus with the fish Rob caught (it wasn't very big).

Have you ever seen a penguin dance?
We love the Rock!

Some of the delicacies on the rock - including some kinna (blech).

Thanks for coming to visit!  We had so much fun and miss you already!

Monday, November 23, 2015

We're back!

After only four months and one day, my blogging hiatus has come to an end.  I've mentally composed a list of excuses for my absence, but the truth is - I had other priorities.  As it turns out, moving to another country for two months and then moving house two weeks after returning isn't very good for regularly scheduled productivity. It's as though I took a two month break from life, but my to do list kept on growing.

Still - this blog seems to be a good way to keep up with people around the world, so I'm back at it and ready to overshare!

This is just a quick post to say hello and let you know I'm still here.  Anything more detailed is too intimidating at this point, and if I try to fill you in on the last four months I'll just get overwhelmed and that will be the death of this blog. But I promise there will be more soon, so be sure to come back!  We're about to enter the most exciting part of the year, with all kinds of adventures planned - and you wouldn't want to miss that!

For now - here's a picture that sums up our lives since I returned from my two month secondment in Melbourne.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Japan: The Temples

Just two months after our trip, we are finally at the last Japan blog post. It was too difficult to narrow down all of our pictures, and so I put together some photo albums to complement the blog posts.

We spent a lot of time exploring temples in Japan - and especially in Kyoto.  We visited dozens of temples and shrines and each one had something new to offer.  We did develop a bit of temple fatigue at one point, especially with how hot it was, but I wouldn't have skipped a single one.

These students wanted to practice English with us as Fushimi Inari shrine, resulting in the best non-Hogwarts-related picture of our entire trip.

Most of our fellow temple-goers appeared to be Japanese, and we saw a lot of people dressed in traditional Japanese clothing - especially young women. The kimonos were all so beautiful and added to the beauty of the scene.

Every shrine, regardless of size, sold small tokens and charms. For the most part, people would buy them, write something on them, and hang them back up on the shrine. At Fushimi Inari, however, they were selling small Torii (red gates) for people to take home. This was our favourite temple, so we bought one to take home as our Japan Christmas ornament in the hopes that it's not too sacrilegious!

The different charms and tokens.  The bottom left picture shows a fortune telling box - you put in a coin, shake the box and pull out a stick, then take the fortune with the corresponding number. Rob ended up with the Lowest Fortune, which required additional requests for blessings from the gods.
Before we left, our friends K&JC told us about something called a shrine book. You buy a fabric covered book, and at every shrine/temple you visit, you pay a couple hundred yen (about $2-3) and a monk or other temple employee will add that temple's seal or stamp into the book. This generally involves a red stamp and some kanji, and you end up with a unique, priceless souvenir for less than $100. We filled our book up almost entirely, and can't thank K&JC enough for telling us about these!

Top row: lighting some candles for family; Bottom: people inscribing our shrine book
The areas around the temples are nearly as full of activity as the temples themselves.  We spent an entire day wandering in and out of temples along the Philosopher's Path in Higashiyama, a morning biking around temples in Northern Kyoto, and hours wandering through the temple markets.

Clockwise from top left:  Suffering from heat stroke in Arashiyama - a stork eating a giant frog - washing my hands before entering a temple - we saw beer cans on shrines all over Japan - the red gates at Fushimi Inari
Near a few of the temples there were some Bamboo Groves. Although the most famous ones are in Arashiyama, we found the ones in Higashiyama to be just as beautiful and much less crowded.

Top: Bamboo groves in Higashiyama
Bottom: Bamboo groves in Arashiyama

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Japanese Alps and some R&R

Rob here. Though it's unusual for me to chime in (Megan does such a wonderful job of blogging, amiright?), I'm here to tell you about one of my favorite parts of our recent trip to Japan. While I can't rank our experiences with any certainty, I know this is right near the top!

Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

After a night of filling our bellies at Kitchen Rakuraku and sleeping at the Shunko-in temple (see Megan's previous posts), we departed Kyoto on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Toyama near the northwest coast of Honshu. After grabbing an awesome bacon & banana sandwich from Starbucks in Toyama station, we boarded the significantly more rustic Toyama Chiho Railway train for the 1 hour ride to Tateyama, the start of our alpine adventure.

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a totally unique route through the Northern Japan Alps. Although only 37 km long, the route has a total change in elevation of nearly 2,000 meters. The full route has 7 different legs of public transportation, using 5 modes: funicular, bus, trolley, aerial tramway, and yes - walking.

Top: location of the Alpine Route relative to Kyoto and Tokyo
Bottom: the various methods of transportation used to traverse the Alpine Route
Once arriving in Tateyama, the first step is to take a funicular/cable car up the side of the mountain to Bijodaira. From Bijodaira, you board the Tateyama Highland Bus and take a long winding bus ride further up into the mountains (1473 m change in altitude). Many hairpin turns later, you begin to see snow. And a bit later, a lot of snow. This experience was a bit of a shocker considering it was 90*F (32*C) the entire time we were in Kyoto!

One of the most famous sections of the alpine route is the Yukino-ōtani ("the gorge of snow") approaching the town of Murodo. Murodo is the highest point on the route (2450 m) unless you want to climb Mt Tateyama (3015 m) on foot. This area of Japan has some of the heaviest snowfalls in the world -- 7 meters is the annual average, with some years seeing as much as 20 meters of snow! This section of the route is only open from mid-April through November every year as it is not possible to keep the road clear of snow during the winter months.

Cable car ride from Tateyama to Bijodaira
Bus ride into the mountains. Try as we might, no sightings of Jon Snow at the Wall.
From Murodo (after eating some delicious noodle bowls), we took the Tateyama Tunnel Trolley Bus to Daikanbo. This 10 minute electric trolley bus ride cuts right through Mount Tateyama. From Daikanbo, we were treated to probably the most spectacular views on the route.

The next step from Daikanbo is to take a 1.7 kilometer cable car down to Kurobedaira. The ropeway is the only one in Japan to have zero support pylons along its span. Quite the engineering feat considering the distance and the 488 meter change in elevation!

Top: R+M enjoying the view from Daikanbo
Bottom: Our cable car is on its way up from Kurobedaira
Cable car between Daikanbo and Kurobedaira. All of this travelling called for an ice-cold beer.
Hanging out in Kurobedaira
As we were spending the night in a ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) in Murodo, we had to turn around at this point and retrace our steps back up the mountain. And here's where it got interesting.

We had reservations at the Raichoso ryokan, which is purportedly no more than a 30 minute walk from the Murodo station. However, I don't think either of us were prepared for exactly what kind of walk this was going to be. It was a proper hike in the mountains, complete with long snowy sections, not exactly the terrain Megan's Chucks were designed for! To make matters worst, we got lost. Multiple times. As it started to rain (the first time since we arrived in Japan), we rather futilely made our way around a lake towards what we thought was our ryokan. Unfortunately on arrival we discovered we'd gone the wrong direction and not only had to backtrack quite a ways, but continue on for another 20-30 minutes in the other direction.

Megan did not seem particularly amused. But I have to say, this little adventure might have been my favorite part! We did finally make it to the ryokan where it was toasty warm, and we had a nice pot of hot tea waiting in our room. After a delicious dinner, we spent about 30 minutes at the natural hot spring onsen in the hotel. The area has natural sulfuric gases which provide not only hot water for the baths but quite the aroma and plenty of discolored snow.

Setting off on our snow hike. Not well prepared, but still enthusiastic!
Top left: This map was our nemesis. Top right: First building on the hike. Definitely not our hotel.
Middle left: Also definitely not our hotel. In fact, in the completely wrong direction. Middle right: We were lucky enough to see a Japanese ptarmigan, a bird that has been designated a special national natural treasure.
Bottom row: Megan is happy to be hiking in extremely weather appropriate clothing.
Top left: Oh no, heading into the "Poisonus Gus Zone"! Top right: Only cheaters use skis.
Bottom left: Our hotel! For real this time. Bottom right: Made it. Time for some hot tea!

Rest & recuperate at the Park Hyatt

As our trip was drawing to a close, we had one last treat in store. And one which felt well earned after our snow hike and hours upon hours of public transport adventuring. 

Being a huge fan of Japan (and movies), my father has previously had occasion to stay at the Park Hyatt in Tokyo (of Lost in Translation fame). As a wonderful Christmas present, he and mom treated us to a perfect stay at this Tokyo institution. What a way to cap off the trip! The PH offers near-surreal levels of personal service and hospitality (almost creepily so!), but it was oh so nice to be pampered at the spa, sleep in a giant soft bed, and have a beautiful meal at the NY Grill. A perfect end to a perfect trip. Thanks mom & dad!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Japan: Geeking Out

Japanese pop culture has become synonymous with embracing your geeky side, and it was this aspect of Japan that attracted me from a young age. The idea of visiting the homeland of Nintendo, ninjas and Sailor Moon has kept Japan at the top of my bucket list since I was 13 years old. Thankfully I grew up and married a man as nerdy as I am, and we packed our Japan itinerary full of nerd things.

Our first night in Tokyo we were tired and hung out in our hotel room, and were delighted to find the first Harry Potter movie on TV!  It was dubbed into Japanese, but we happily watched over an hour of the Philosopher's Stone before going to bed.

The best part about nerd/geek culture is that it's not just for Japanese children - adults in Japan embrace it with just as much enthusiasm. As someone who has at times been made to feel a bit ridiculous for my "childish interests," I felt a bit like I'd found my people.

Akihabara - Electric Town

The Akihabara district of Tokyo is the mecca of all things nerdy. The streets are lined with arcades, manga/comic book stores, electronics stores, maid cafes and all sorts of things strange and wonderful (and some not so wonderful - just the idea of a cat cafe makes me a little ill).

One of the best things we saw was a group driving through the streets of Tokyo in real-life, working go-karts dressed as Mario Kart characters.  I only wish we'd known about it in advance like this guy so we could have joined them!

Clockwise from top left: Mario Kart in the streets of Tokyo!; we saw lots of adult men shopping for doll parts - it was a little creepy; outside Gundam Cafe; a maid trying to convince people to go to her cafe (there were a lot of these - we declined); Sailor Moon costume!
Nintendo things!  We played hours of Mario Kart, and I kicked Rob's ass nearly every time!

Yodobashi Camera

More than the shrines and the sushi restaurants and even the Park Hyatt, Rob's favourite place in all of Japan (and possibly the world) quickly became Yodobashi Camera, an electronics mega-store. This place was like what Amazon would be like if the entire website existed under one roof. The one in Akihabara was 9 stories high and an entire city block around, and the one near our hotel in Shinjuku  took up six different buildings.

Along with more electronics than even Rob could imagine, Yodobashi Camera sold housewares, clothing, books, toys, stationary and more - including a full floor of restaurants. Our first visit to Yodobashi Camera lasted over three hours, and we went back multiple times.  The main store in Kyoto even has a craft store in the basement!!

"You don't understand. Most specialty stores would carry maybe 1 or 2 of these speakers/headphones/TVs, but this place has ALL OF THEM" - Rob's most repeated phrase in Yodobashi Camera after "Can I live here?" and "I want....."

Ghibli Museum

The Ghibli Museum is devoted to the works of Studio Ghibli, an animation studio in Japan that is most famous for its movies directed by Hayao Miyazaki. These include Princess Mononoke, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle.

The Ghibli Museum has its very own city bus and its own beer!

Shopping in Japan

We also did a fair bit of shopping in Japan.  I am excited by American brands, so we went into a GAP in Kyoto (we don't have them in New Zealand). I found it hilarious that the GAP in Japan only goes up to my size (a US size 8), but goes down to a 0000. This turned out to be a common trend in Japan, and so I browsed a lot more than I bought!

I also found Japanese fashion to be extremely modest. It was a lot hotter than I had packed for, so at one point I was hoping to pick up an extra tank top.  I couldn't find one anywhere - even at stores like GAP and H&M!  The athletic department at Yodobashi Camera didn't even have them in with the yoga clothes.  I guess they don't sell there, so no one carries them. After that I started paying attention, and sure enough - no bare arms to be found anywhere!

We also saw a kimono fashion show and a Garrett's popcorn. Notice the GAP size chart in the center left - anything above Medium is not an option .

Universal Studios Osaka

Finally, in the middle of our stay in Kyoto, we took the train down to Osaka to check out Universal Studios Japan.  To be honest, we were only there for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but the rest of the park turned out to be pretty fun! They have some rides that Universal Orlando has gotten rid of. We had the express pass, so we blazed through the park in a couple of hours before spending the rest of the day at Harry Potter World.

You can only enter Harry Potter World one time - your ticket comes with a timed entry. Our ticket wasn't until 4pm, but we managed to get another one that got us in by 2pm. We thought we'd end up leaving the park early as a result, but we managed to spend the next 6 hours hanging out in Hogsmeade. 

I say "Hello" you say "Kitty!"

We saw a lot of friends/couples dressed alike, but these two were our favourites. Interestingly, all of the Hogsmeade "characters" were played by non-Japanese people from around the world. Ollivander conducted his wand selection in English and Japanese.

The best picture of Hogwarts ever taken, compliments of Rob.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Japan: The Food Post

This is the post you've all been waiting for - tales of eating in Japan! As mentioned before, this trip was different from most we've taken due to the activity to eating ratio, but we still managed to fit in a lot of food-related activities!  If you haven't been to Japan, you might think we had sushi for every meal, but I don't even think we had it our first 3 days there.  We ate lots of noodles and ramen and katsu and all kinds of things!

Clockwise from top left: Conveyor belt sushi and sake tasting - watch out for the whale; a restaurant designed around a fake sumo ring; seafood breakfast at our hotel in Asakusa in Tokyo; a pancake cooking right in the middle of our table
We also saw a lot of very strange foods - including boob shaped pastries and raw horse meat. And don't forget - there's always money in the banana stand.
There are a few meals in particular that stand out - kaiseki at Rion, the cooking class we took and our dinner at the New York Grill in the Park Hyatt Tokyo (which Rob will tell you more about later).  However, our most memorable meal was the one we had in a tiny hole in the wall in Kyoto, where the menu was "whatever the chef feels like cooking tonight."

Dinner at Rion

Kaiseki is a Japanese style haute cuisine meal, and usually involves multiple courses, like a tasting menu.  We were able to make reservations at Rion in Kyoto, which is a two-star Michelin kaiseki in Gion.

I'm not sure what all we ate, but everything was amazing - and the champagne sorbet for dessert was divine!  Bottom left is one of the dishes - a whole fish grilled over rice.  We were right at the counter so could watch everything being made.

Cooking with Emi

Our second to last night in Kyoto we met up with Emi for a lesson in Japanese cooking. She took us into her home and taught us some tradition Japanese recipes and methods (including cooking with chopsticks), as well as a lot about the ingredients.

As shown in the top right, Emi clapped excitedly whenever we did the tiniest thing sort of correctly - she was very enthusiastic. Made me miss my grandmother!  We made tuna sushi rolls, a veggie salad with sesame paste dressing, waygu beef rolls and strawberry mochi!

Kitchen Rakuraku

Our last night in Kyoto we stayed at Shunko-in Temple in Northwest Kyoto, and were recommended to eat at Kitchen Rakuraku, which means "easy easy" in Japanese. This turned out to be the best night we spent in Japan. The restaurant is very small - just one bar lined up along the kitchen - with seating for 10-12 people. When you arrive, the chef, Akira, hands you a piece of paper that says "is there anything you can't eat dislike food?" You let him know what you don't want, and he puts together something you will.

The food itself is out of this world, but the entire experience was magical. We spent hours sitting at the bar and chatting to Akira (he speaks English) and our fellow patrons - almost all of whom were also staying in the temple. My only regret is that we didn't discover it earlier in our trip - we would have been back there every night asking for something new.

If you pass the doorway pictured in the top left, stop in for the best culinary experience in Japan. The middle right picture shows our chef - and the view from our seat - you can tell everything is going to be delicious because of how messy the kitchen is. Bottom right - our chef smoking in the kitchen. He was also drinking some kind of Japanese potato liquor. Akira is a legend.

Tsukiji Fish Market

The fish market in Tokyo is a "must do," so we headed down there with all the other tourists on our second to last day in Japan. Tourists aren't allowed in the main market until after 9am, but there was still plenty going on. It didn't smell the best, and I should probably burn the shoes I was wearing, but the sushi we got for breakfast after was the freshest sushi I've ever had.

At the fish market - top middle is what I like to call a fish sword. Because some of the fish were too big for mere knives.

Drinking tea

As an avid tea drinker, I was really looking forward to the Japanese tea scene - and I was not disappointed!  We experienced a traditional Tea Ceremony at En in Gion, and it ended up being my favourite thing we did on the entire trip. I can't really describe the way that it was done, but there was a lot of craft and tradition behind every movement and every sound - from the dropping of a napkin against the tatami mats to the scooping of water from the pot.

One thing that did strike me as a bit odd is that although tea has a lot of significance in Japanese culture, that doesn't mean they sit and enjoy it for hours. Tea is meant to be drunk quickly. The low bowls mean it cools fast, so the recommended number of sips for one bowl is only 3-4! 

Tea ceremony - the man in the top left explained the ceremony to us before the woman came in and performed it for us.
Matcha, a type of green tea, is a big deal in Japan, and everything is matcha flavoured. I had at least one green tea ice cream cone a day, and brought back an entire box of green tea Kit Kats - so good!

Finally - Japan is one of the few places in the world outside of France that has Mariage Freres tea houses. We discovered this tea years ago in Stratford, Ontario, and then spent half of our honeymoon in Paris in Mariage Freres tea salons drinking entire pots of tea and relaxing.  We went to both Mariage Freres salons in Tokyo, and I stocked up on a few boxes of my favourites, as you cannot buy them in New Zealand.
The French approach to tea is the opposite of the Japanese - they like to sip at a a pot of tea for an entire hour. This is more my style...

Monday, June 15, 2015

Welcome to Japan

Our trip to Japan was unlike any other we've taken.  Usually on our travels we tend to do one activity a day, and then spend the rest of the time eating, drinking and relaxing.  With Japan, however, there was so much to do and see that we were on the go from early morning to late evening, walking 12-15km per day - no small feat considering it was close to 90* and humid for most of our trip.

As an overview - we spent 2 days in Tokyo, a week in Kyoto, a night in the Japanese Alps, and then headed back to Tokyo for another 2 nights before flying back to Auckland.

Welcome to Tokyo!
Rather than organising our trip by day, I have sorted our pictures by activity. To start, I have an overview of some bits and pieces and observations. At some point I will put together a separate album with some more pictures from our trip and post a link, so be on the lookout for that!

Cultural Activities


Our first day in Tokyo we went to a sumo tournament. The day starts at 8am, but the big guys don't start wrestling until later in the day, so we showed up around 2pm.  To be honest, it's a lot more ceremony than it is wrestling, but these guys are awe-inspiring!

Clockwise from top left: Grabbing onto your opponent's muwashi is completely allowed; the Ryogoku sumo arena seats 10,000 people; each division gathers in a circle before their wrestling begins; before the final division the yokozuna, or grand champion, showed off his strength; the beer girls had mini keg backpacks - they need those in the US!


Our first day in Kyoto we attended the Kamogawa Odori Geisha Dances in the Ponto-cho district. It was every bit as spectacular as you'd expect, and even more beautiful. Ponto-cho ended up being my favourite place in Japan, and we returned a few times to check out the nightlife action and hopefully spot some geishas walking around (we saw one).

Top: Ponto-cho during the day and at night. Each red lantern is a restaurant. Ponto-cho is a narrow laneway wide enough for 2-3 people. It's delightfully charming and feels like you've stepped back in time. Below: The tea ceremony before the show and the main event!

Zen Meditation

Our final night in Kyoto we spent the night in a Buddhist Temple, Shunko-in. It's one of the only temples in Kyoto that offers a zen meditation session in English, so we had to partake!

The beautiful Shunko-in Temple. The bottom right picture is my view while meditating. I've never meditated with my eyes opened before, so it was a new experience. The best part about staying at the temple was getting to wander around the mostly deserted temple complex at night!

Arishiyama Monkey Park

Monkey park!



We stayed in a range of lodging types. The first place we stayed in Tokyo seemed small until we got to our private hostel room in Kyoto, which we were stuck in for 5 nights!  If one person wanted to open a suitcase, the other person had to be on the bed or in the bathroom. We also stayed in a traditional Japanese ryokan in the Alps, a buddhist temple and finally at the oh-so-luxurious Park Hyatt on our last night in Tokyo (thanks again D&L!).
The top left picture is not our hostel - it was even smaller than that.  As pictured in the top right, every hotel (even the hostel) provided robes and slippers, and almost all of them had vending machine beer. Not sure how they police that! The bottom left shows our room at the ryokan in the Alps (the bedding is in the closet) and the bottom right is our temple.  These places felt downright spacious after our hostel!  

Getting Around

We bought JR Rail Passes, which allowed us to go just about anywhere in the country. We rode the Shinkansen (bullet train) a few times, which was a bucket list item of Rob's. A lot of the public transportation signs are in Japanese, but with the help of google maps, we had no problems getting around.

We also saw a ton of people on bicycles - some of them all on the same bicycle. There were a lot of women pedaling around with 1-2 children on their bikes.  Despite the heat, everyone was covered up completely - hands and all.

Clockwise from top left: The Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto; Mt Fuji out the window; some of the cars are women only - we found this out the hard way when we got into one of them and noticed everyone glaring at Rob; bike parking!

Bare necessities

No commentary on Japan would be complete without talking about the bathroom situation. Japan is world famous for having some of the most advanced toilet technology in the world, and it's a well-deserved reputation. Nearly every public restroom had "shower toilets" with heated seats and other such luxuries as child seats, bathroom slippers and noise machines. However, every bathroom also had a "women's urinal"  - even the fancy ones!  I'd seen these before in other countries, but wasn't expecting them here.

Another huge part of Japanese culture is onsen, which are hot springs or modern public baths. These are kind of like spas, but for the entire family. Although they have not been historically, the majority of modern onsen are segregated by gender, which is okay by me. You are not allowed to wear anything into the baths (not even a bathing suit).

The onsen we went to in Arashiyama is a "super onsen," which means it had many different types of baths, masseuses and a restaurant.  This was in the middle of our trip and we were sore and tired, so we spent an entire evening there. We treated ourselves to (fully clothed) foot massages and a huge feast for dinner, then headed back to soak in our separate baths. Before entering, you have to wash your entire body at a little shower stand (some people also wash their hair), and then you're free to move around. 

At first I was a little intimidated and nervous about being so naked in front of so many strangers, but my nerves dissipated quickly. There were a lot of women there - skinny, fat, old, young and even one walking with a cane - but there didn't seem to be any judgement. I'm not sure that I'm ready to climb into a small bathtub naked with a close friend (like I saw two women doing), but if they had anything like onsen in Western culture, I'd be a full time member!

Top left: The entrance to our onsen, the happiest place on Earth. Bottom right: A women's urinal, also known as a "squatty potty"