Japan: Embracing All of the Food and Finding Balance

Photo by Dustin Eastment

Two weeks ago packed bags in hand, I headed to the airport for a much anticipated vacation to Japan. In December despite having had time off for the holidays I was still feeling unsatisfied when I happened to stumble upon cheap airfares to Tokyo. Without much of a pause we decided to book the trip for late Feb. From the moment the tickets were purchased I started to get that usual feeling related to vacation, a mix of excitement and anxiety. One might wonder why I would be anxious, its a vacation. Well my anxiousness is not about going somewhere I have never been before, or going to a place where I cant speak the language. Instead it is always related to exercise and how will I maintain my daily routine while traveling. Let’s just say I have a tendency to be a little neurotic when it comes to vacations and fitness. Yes on vacation I will enjoy my time. I eat, drink, relax, but I also make sure I exercise daily in order to keep up with all of the vacation’s pleasures. Now this is not a bad thing and by no means am I saying one should not exercise on vacation or one should only exercise on vacation. What I am saying is vacation is also a time to rest, unwind, and enjoy a moment you do not always get. You need to make sure you are being authentic to yourself, what you need, and finding balance.

I can recall a trip to Portugal a couple of years back where after the 6th day of running in a row piled on top of miles and miles of walking my body ached. It was sore, tired, and hating me. Yet I pushed myself to run everyday until I left, 10 days straight. Why? Because I could not be satisfied with walking being enough for exercise. I was so afraid of being able to enjoy all of the food and drinks unless I did my daily sweat session. I ignored my body and followed my mind. I have struggled for years with embracing rest days. Even though mentally I know we need them as that is when our bodies actually change and physically I can feel when it is needed, but yet I tend to power through regardless.  Over the past 2 years I have been working really hard to find balance in all that I do and I have made huge strides from where I have been.

So where am I going with all of this? I know, I digress. Well after the ticket was purchased, the anxiety bubbled up, I pushed it back down, and I decided this was going to be the trip I find balance with exercise on vacation. I was going to use this time to listen to my body and just enjoy being in an amazing place with my favorite person. But if I am being honest with you all, I think this was also the catalyst and part of the reason I catapulted myself into almost 3 full months of eating Whole 30 and removing booze from my diet. If I could control my food choices prior to my trip it would make me feel better equipped to enjoy my time fully in Japan. See, I am still not perfect 🙂

A surprise at our hotel. A great omen to start the trip!

Now onto the trip! We flew down to LA the night before our direct flight the next morning to Tokyo. We decided spending an extra $80 for a hotel room was worth saving the stress of having to get up at 3:00 am in San Francisco and what a great decision it was. My morning started with a 6 mile run and a 20 minute weight lifting session. One obsession I have before long flights is getting a good run in as I like stretching my legs out before they will be sitting for extended periods of time. I also had been working my body really hard the month leading up to vacation, so after this session I felt fully ready to rest and take the vacation fully on. I pre-packed a ton of food (as per usual) to have healthy options on the plane. We ended up eating everything I brought, plus some, so it was a good use of time and backpack space.

Our AirBnb

The first half of the trip we spent in Tokyo. I took the first 2 days off of working out. My body needed rest, which I had been ignoring for the last month. Plus I wanted to be able to wake up each morning in my bed and enjoy a cup of coffee in sweats with my love. It has been probably 5 years since I have taken 2 days off in a row from working out, so it felt luxurious and empowering. On our first full day in Tokyo we crammed as much in as humanly possible. It started with a trip to the Tsukiji Fish Market, which was by far my favorite experience in Tokyo. There were rows upon rows of stands of food. We tried a bit of it all. Every taste was amazing, eclectic, and different from anything you could find back home. Instead of walking while eating, something we are very accustomed to in the States, you were expected to finish each treat at the stand with where it was purchased. Upon finishing you would say thank you and dispose of your trash. This was just one of the many differences culturally I enjoyed.

As the day progressed we happened to stumble upon the Tokyo Marathon on our way to the Sensoji Temple.  It was an amazing race with various acts of entertainment. You can think of a parade with Geisha’s, dragons, and more. After we had enough of the race we walked through to the temples, obviously trying more snacks from vendors along the way. Our last stop that day was to the Shibuya shopping district with the famous large intersection where thousands upon thousands of people are walking.  For those of you who have watched Lost In Translation this will look very familiar. Seeing the swarms of people was just astonishing and to me this was the iconic image I get in my mind when I think of Tokyo.

Photo by Dustin Eastment

The next day after all of the pure craziness that is Tokyo we decided to do a day trip down to a little coastal town Kamakura to see the Great Buddah among other various temples. The town was quaint and chilly, but worth the trek after the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. We enjoyed the quaintness and charm the town had to offer along with some great shops and cobbled streets.

That evening we came back to Tokyo and went for a drink in the Golden Gai district prior to our reservations at the Robot Restaurant. First let me paint a picture of what the Golden Gai district is. It is all of these narrow, tiny alley ways lined up side by side. If you were to just walk by you would not twice about what was there, but hidden in these small streets are over 250 bars. The bars are small, holding maybe a handful of guests in each, which makes it feel special and private. The best I can equate it to is like finding an entire alleyway built on the premise of speakeasy’s. This was nothing like the neighboring district it was in, which is kind of like the Las Vegas strip. The alley’s were dark and if you did not know what to look for you would completely miss it. We were there on the early side of the evening so most of the bars were still closed, but we did happen to find one open where we enjoyed some sake before heading out to the show at the Robot Restaurant. Now the Robot Restaurant is like stepping foot inside a Las Vegas show, but one that meets neon Anime. When we arrived we grabbed some drinks and were escorted down to our seats to wait for the show to start. The best way to describe the show is being entertained with music, dancing, visual effects, lots of costumes, robotics, and floats. Think if Alice in Wonderland met Dinosaurs met Robots met glitter, and flashing lights. The show was definitely a once in a lifetime experience and worth checking out if you visit. But mind you this is a total tourist attraction.

Our AirBnb

On our 3rd morning in Tokyo I woke up with a ton of energy and felt ready for a run. Plus I always like to run in every city I stay in. I did a 5 mile trek around the neighborhood of our AirBnB. It was a chilly 38 degrees out, but felt good once I got up and moving. After my run we packed up and headed down to Kyoto where would spend the rest of our trip. We took the bullet train, which was a really cool experience. Fun fact is the bullet trains can go up to 350+ miles per hour. We found some delicious treats in the station and had a leisurely brunch as we went.

 

Upon arriving in Kyoto we checked out their Niskiki Market, which if you have been to San Francisco is very similar to going to the Ferry Building. Lots of treats and snacks to taste and buy. This was by far one of my favorite parts of the trip (can you tell I love to snack on food). The food was amazing, with samples of everything. It was similar to the market we went to in Tokyo, but inside and with even more amazing food and gifts. Everything was served either on a stick or in a hand size portion.We went hear starving for lunch and although it took us a lot of little bites, we left feeling full and satisfied from the whole experience. Even as I write this I am yearning to go back and relive that market just one more time. I think I may have to go to the Ferry Building this weekend to fulfill my snacking craving.

Photo by Dustin Eastment

The next morning I decided to do a 30 minute at home barre workout mixed with a little cardio prior to us heading out to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This was my favorite outdoor adventure we had the entire trip and I can see why it is written up year after year as the best attraction in all of Japan. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. Very iconic and there were so many visitors with selfie sticks trying to get a photo in. Can I just mention I have never seen so many selfie sticks in all of my life!  The hike was about 2-3 hours with the first half all going straight up stairs. By the end of it I felt I had been on the stair master for a good couple of hours. After the hike complete we grabbed a drink and decided our bodies were in need of some TLC, so we went to a traditional Japanese massage house. I already am in love with traditional Thai massages  in San Francisco and the Japanese style was not too far off.  What was different is you laid on your side in more of a fetal position for the entirety of the massage, alternating sides throughout.  When the massage was done I felt amazing and ready to keep going on for the rest of the night. That evening we checked out an amazing cocktail speakeasy bar owned by a French man and operated by an Irish fellow, a Polish lady, and a German. It was fun to chat with all of them and hear what had brought them to Japan. A common theme you might guess, love for a Japanese girl.

Photo by Dustin Eastment

The next day I woke up and repeated my barre/cardio workout, although I made this one a little longer at 40 minutes. My legs felt on fire from the day before, but moving and stretching helped get me ready for the day. Our first adventure for the morning was to head over to a snow monkey park. What was cool about this place is  the monkeys are not caged and roam freely around you. Thus giving you the experience of almost like being in the wild with them. There was a steep 20-30 minute hike up to the top of the hill where they resided. Upon hitting the summit I was nice and sweaty despite the cold weather.

Photo by Dustin Eastment

After a couple of hours frolicking with the monkeys we hiked back down and walked over to the bamboo grove, another top tourist attraction. Pictures do not do the beauty of this place justice. The bamboo towers over you, making you feel small and insignificant. Light would peak through creating unbelievable picturesque moments. Along the way we grabbed a pork bun and sesame bun, which I only mention because it ended up being one of my favorite meals from the whole trip. That afternoon/early evening we decided to go to the sake brewery district and do sake tasting. One aged sake we tried tasted like pure whiskey. With a little buzz on and  having walked 30k+ steps during the day with little food we definitely indulged in a huge meal for dinner. It consisted of a lot of traditional food with our favorite, rice with a raw egg on top. You have to try! We were home and asleep by 8:30. Two crazy kids living it up in the big city.

Photo by Dustin Eastment

The next morning my legs were still exhausted so I took a rest day and also wanted to be ready for the 90 minute hike we had planned up in North Kyoto between two little towns, Kibune and Kurama. We started in Kurama hiking up the steep steps and meandering through the temples before getting on the path to the next town Kibune. The hike was beautiful and it was nice to be outside with nature. The hike took all morning so after we grabbed a quick bite and hiked back down to the bus station to head back to our place in the city. We had read about a craft beer movement starting to spur in Japan with Osaka becoming a central hub. So that afternoon after we decided to take the train down south and test out a few of the breweries. In my true snacking nature we got a little appetizer at each place with the beer. Allowing us to taste a few various things. After we had our fill of delicious beer we headed back to Kyoto.

Once back in Kyoto we ventured to a ramen shop for dinner. Most of our evenings consisted of sake and ramen for dinner as Dustin was obsessed with the dish. On this night we found an awesome spot where you had to order at a vending machine outside and bring your ticket into the restaurant to get served. A very common practice in Tokyo, but challenging when the menu is only in Japanese. Thank god for google translator. The ambiance of this place was on point and the food was amazing. Perfect end to our last night in Kyoto. This was by far our favorite ramen stop on the trip and weeks later Dustin is still talking about it.

The next morning was my last day in Japan. I woke up with a ton of energy and decided to go for a run. What started off as a quick 5 mile run ended up being 7 miles as my body felt good and it was nice to move it. I ran all around and through the imperial palace, a short jaunt from our place. Next we headed on the bullet train back to Tokyo where I went with Dustin to check into his next AirBnb. I had to be back in San Francisco for work, but Dustin was tagging on a few more days to explore Tokyo. Our last meal together was at a little restaurant I managed to find which had amazing food and was on the oldest gold fish farm in Tokyo. Not bad for a last minute find and a great end to the trip.

Overall our trip was amazing. It consisted of a lot of sake, beer, ramen, markets, outdoor adventures, and a mass amount of walking. When I say a mass amount on average throughout the trip we walked anywhere from 10-16 miles a day, with our average coming in at 12-13 miles. I left feeling in love with the Japanese culture. The way they approach living. Their cities are clean and safe. People ride bikes without locking them up, kids 6 years old take the subway by themselves to school. Everything a big city should be. Their food is fresh. Their people are polite, respectful and I am now constantly thinking about how I can continue to bring a little bit of Japan into my everyday life. If anyone gets the chance I highly recommend checking it out. Also happy to give any tips and tricks I have. Enjoy!

Advertisements