Our last day in Japan! Best sushi ever at the historic Tsukiji Fish Market, pop culture craziness at Nakano Broadway, Japanese Celebrities, Captain America in Shinjuku, one final Green Tea Kit Kat fix and it’s off to the airport… Sayonara, Japan… What a joy these three weeks have been. I have a feeling we’ll be back someday!

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We woke up to the sound of rain and happy birds. After a delicious breakfast of mochi made by Mr. Kawakami, we set off with our hosts, artist Ken Kageyama and his son Hosaku, to a park that had a series of temples and shrines in it. We sat and had ice cream and soft drinks on top of a very steep hill and then it was time to go. We had a very windy drive through tiny country lanes but finally got to the train station and headed back to Tokyo. We never got to see Kamakura’s famous giant Buddha but what we experienced was way better!

We arrived at Harajuku Station two hours later and headed straight to Blum & Poe to set up for a Caffenol workshop followed by the premiere of The Sound We See: Tokyo. Awesome instrumental duo Lo-Shi (who fearlessly volunteered to create a live soundtrack for a film they’ve never seen) arrived and everyone pitched in to set up all the instruments and the projection equipment. We were ready to go by seven and quite a few people showed up! The movie–shown exactly as it was shot without a single cut or edit–turned out great and the soundtrack was a perfect match. Everyone was amazed and excited by the combination. Once we were all cleaned up, it was time to say goodbye to all our new friends. We went to a hotel and got a well earned good night sleep!

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We got to Kamakura in the early afternoon and before we even put our stuff inside the house, we were being whisked off onto yet another journey. Mr Kawakami, one of the elders of the town, took us up into the hills for a beautiful nature walk along ancient samurai trails and we even saw Mount Fuji through the clouds! When we got back from the walk, we unpacked and started to get ready for the workshop. There were about 30 people at the class and Lisa, Paolo and I were each in charge of a station: Lisa did the Photobooth of Change, Paolo shot some Super 8 with the kids, and I worked on the Cyanotypes. I played with the kids after, and then we had snacks, played Bingo and watched movies (Thanks for all the amazing translating, Shinji!). Afterwards there was watermelon, soba, tea (for the kids) and saki (for the grownups) and everyone talked late into the night.

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We have found paradise on earth and it is Fujino. Imagine everything you loved in one small community: welcoming friends, stunning natural beauty, hot springs, butterflies everywhere, art and spaces to make it, organic food, home grown green tea, happy animals, books, beautiful furniture, handmade ceramics, music, movies, time to talk and walk and eat and laugh and dream together… Thank you, dear Kozue, for inviting us into your magical world for two days we will cherish forever.

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Today, we rented bikes from our Ryokan and headed over to Arashiyama on the western side of Kyoto. We saw a few temples and then hiked up a very steep trail to an area inhabited by monkeys! The type of monkey is the Macaque aka Snow Monkey. They walk around in the wild and if you want to feed them, you have to go into a building and hand fruit or peanuts to them through the window bars: the humans are in the cage and the monkeys are free outside! With the baby ones everywhere, Lisa was truly in heaven. After that, we walked around the area, ate lunch, walked through the Bamboo Forest and when Lisa’s new hat was blown into the water, set out on an expedition to find it with me fording the river. Unfortuanetly, the hat got waterlogged and sank so my bruises I got from slipping on stones were in vain. We met up with LA friends Mark and Emily later and went to see a weird play called NOH. It is a Japanese drama that has been performed since the 14th century based on stories from old literature, with a supernatural being transformed into a human. There was a lot of yelling involved and I was very confused the entire time. We got dinner after and when we were done, the garage where we had stored our bikes was locked! Fortunately, a businesswoman came by and was able to open it up for us. On our way back to the Ryokan, we found a store selling vintage kimonos… perfect gifts for some certain special someones back home!

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Today was a good day but also a very sad one as today we went to Hiroshima. It was an early morning; we were up by 7 and on the Shinkansen by eight. When we got to Hiroshima, we immediately walked along a route called “The Promenade of Peace” towards the area where an atomic bomb was dropped on the city at 8:15 am on August 6, 1945. We first went to the Cenotaph (a curved structure with the names of all the victims) and then to the Children’s Memorial. The Children’s Memorial shows a girl and an origami crane on top of a rock. The monument is dedicated to a girl named Sadako Sasaki who was diagnosed with leukaemia ten years after she was exposed to the radiation of the Hiroshima bombing. When she was in the hospital, she set a goal to make 1000 paper cranes– a symbol of joy and longevity– because she heard that if someone made 1000 cranes, they would be granted a wish and her wish was to be cured. Although she reached her goal, her wish did not come true. Sadako died on October 25, 1955 at the age of 12. But Sadako’s spirit lives on through the thousand cranes her classmates made in her honor and the thousands and thousands of cranes people all over the world continue to make and send to Hiroshima in her memory. After that, we went to the “Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims” a tearjerking place for remembrance and contemplation with a beautiful fountain, lists with names of all the known people exposed to the nuclear blast, testimonies from surviving victims and much more. After lunch, we  went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, another heart wrenching space with items such as the scorched watches and clothes from the bomb’s victims, as well as maps and images of the devastated city. The  Memorial Monument “expresses the spirit of Hiroshima – enduring grief, transcending hatred, pursuing harmony and prosperity for all, and yearning for genuine, lasting world peace.” On our way back to Kyoto, I wondered when this genuine, lasting world peace will come.

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A few images from our first day in Kyoto, from Nishiki Market to the Manga Museum to the Kimono Fashion Show (with a Japanese muzak version of Smells Like Teen Spirit accompanying the models on the runway), to the grounds of the Imperial Palace, to the zen garden of Daisen-in at Daitoku-ji Temple and all the little streets in between… If Osaka was a feast for the stomach, Kyoto is a feast for the eyes…

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Osaka is known as a city of delicious food and after today we know why! This morning, we set off after a delicious breakfast to The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. On our way, we met up with a filmmaker friend of Shinji’s named Kaori who came with us to the museum. The museum is dedicated to instant and Cup Noodles as well as Momofuku Ando. The reason Ando is famous is because he is the creator of instant noodles and the Founder of Cup Noodles. He was born in Taiwan in 1910 and after his parents died, he started a textiles company but moved to Japan after WWII. He created the first instant noodles in 1958 and in 1971 he made Cup Noodles. You can read more about his very interesting story here . The museum was cool, with a timeline of instant noodles and videos of how the noodles are made but the part that really stood out for us was the area where you get to make your own Cup Noodles!!! You could customize the outside with sharpies and also choose what kind of broth you want and what ingredients you want inside. We are saving ours until we get back to L.A, but it will be hard to wait even that long.

After, we went to a conveyor belt sushi for a delicious, light lunch. Later, we got some green tea ice cream, went to a book store, and browsed the food floor at a very fancy department store in Osaka station before saying goodbye to Kaori and going back to the apartment (stopping for some piping hot Takoyaki–octopus fritters!–an the way).

Shinji’s wife, Kazuna, and her mom made us an AMAZING traditional Japanese/Korean dinner, which (even though there was no ramen) was the best meal we have had in Japan! While Kazuna and her mom were cooking, Paolo and Kazuna’s dad were talking and drinking beer. Later, Kazuna and Shinji presented me with my very own pair of beautiful customized chopsticks. The perfect end to a perfect day of food!

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Today we left our place around 10:30 and headed to the train station. On our way, we got some kaki no ha sushi, smoked sushi wrapped in a persimmon leaf. Beautiful and delicious! We ate it on the train ride to Osaka which was pretty nice except for us getting lost (again) while trying to transfer. But it didn’t take long for us to be back on track and soon we were eating mouthwatering Korean food with Shinji and Miyuki in a little market filled with food shops and restaurants. After the amazing lunch, we had and equally delicious dessert called Taiyaki, a Japanese fish-shaped cake filled with custard, red bean paste or chocolate that is believed to have originated in Tokyo in the Meiji period. We wandered around, and slowly made our way to the suburbs with a brief stop at a mall for some shopping (We brake for Muji!). We hung out for a bit at Shinji and Kazuna’s amazing high-rise apartment and watched a Hanshin Tigers/Tokyo Giants baseball game while we got a chance to relax for a while. We had another amazing meal at a Chinese restaurant for dinner and now we are getting ready for bed… I get to sleep in the tatami room!

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This morning, the garbage truck came down the alley. It was tiny. It was clean. It was playing pleasant music. And two garbagemen were running alongside to pick up the trash and throw it in the compactor as the truck ambled along.

During lunch rush at the popular ramen place (Top 50 in Japan!), everyone stood very patiently in line at the front door while the wait staff came out to take orders so the food would be ready when you sat down.

On our way into town, the bus driver refused to pull away from the curb until the man on the cellphone ended his call.

Outside the bus station, two ladies propped up a flower that had fallen over.

In the afternoon, we noticed public signs encouraging kindness to animals.

In the evening at the Shabu Shabu place, the owner gave us an extra serving of delicious apple sorbet.

Sometimes nice is nice.

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