Witty in the City of Brotherly Love

Witty in the City of Brotherly Love

Let’s take a 14 hour flight away from Japan so I can share my other news…Witty in the City is moving to Philadelphia! (Thank heavens I had the foresight to choose a generic-ish name for this website.) Tears have been shed, both happy and sad, about leaving DC– our home for the past 10 very transformative years. Our move is precipitated more by fate than by choice: David graduated from medical school (hooray!!) and was placed at a hospital in Philadelphia for his residency. So away we go.

Witty in the City of Brotherly Love

One very exciting part of our move has been finding a new place to live. After 10 years in dorms, apartments, and condos, we will stretch our legs in a real-life house. And, OUR KITCHEN HAS A WINDOW!! I can finally photograph food without schlepping it back and forth!! The house hunt was an adventure in itself, especially navigating a portion of it while we were literally on the other side of the world. Lucky for us, my sister is a newly-minted Philadelphia realtor and 100% spectacular. She listened to what we wanted, showed us fantastic options (including this awesome skyline view), managed a mountain of paperwork on our behalf, and was patient, reliable, and calm throughout. When did my little sister turn into such an ass-kicking professional lady?

Witty in the City of Brotherly Love

For contrast, Exhibit A: What we found when we foolishly went to open houses without my sister. So, if you’re looking for a realtor in the Philadelphia area, email me…I know a good one. P.S., Not to be left out, my other sister is a nurse (I have had the good fortune not to need her services).

Witty in the City of Brotherly Love

Exploring Philadelphia was also eye-opening. The city is so different from how I remember it. The historic streets are full of organic details and charm, and I can’t wait to explore the restaurant scene.

Witty in the City of Brotherly Love

Stella has already done some socializing in the dog parks and even knows how to lead us from the street straight to my sister’s door.

Witty in the City of Brotherly Love

But just when I thought she was excited for the move, she staged a protest. After picking up 10 million pieces of cardboard, the packing and journey continue.

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Temples & Tatami: Nikko and Takayama

Nikko

One of the best things about traveling in Japan is the extensive and efficient train system. We took one (usually more than one) almost every day. As a day trip from Tokyo, we travelled north to Nikko, a town with a huge and wooded temple complex designated as a world heritage site. It was in Nikko that we learned a very important lesson: all good things in Japan are uphill. Each impressive temple is either up an incline or flight of stairs– good for burning off lots of tempura, and for providing a beautiful view. This picturesque scene greeted us in Nikko. The crystal clear snow runoff trickled down from the higher mountains and provided a peaceful soundtrack for our day.

Nikko

In Nikko, I saw my first Japanese pagoda. Many more followed, but this one was the most colorful. All of the temple buildings were towered by trees that enforced serenity despite the many sightseers.

Nikko

Nikko is home to what are supposed to be the original hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil monkeys. All of the carvings in Nikko were beautiful, but these were some of the most popular. Also, my visit to Japan made emojis make A LOT more sense. I now can identify and understand the significance of many of the icons, including these three monkeys.

Nikko

With some wandering in Nikko, it’s easy to come across less crowded, but equally as beautiful, temple buildings. We toured this one behind a group of three bowed Japanese ladies. We could tell by their chatter that they had been friends for a very long time, and they laughed at everything. I admired their chutzpah for climbing the many steps up to the buildings- not an easy task.

Nikko

The crispness of this metalwork stopped me in my tracks every time. It photographs so beautifully, and David loved learning about new dragon breeds!

Takayama

From one day in the mountains to another, we traveled to Takayama, northwest of Tokyo and at the beginning of the Japanese Alps. The view from the train was spectacular. Everyone but the locals was pressed to the windows snapping away. It reminded me a lot of taking the train through the Swiss Alps, but it seemed more lush here.

Takayama

Takayama is a very quaint little town full of traditional architecture and small streets lined with homes, shops, and restaurants. We spent many hours wandering happily.

Takayama

We planned to see the spring festival in Takayama, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in Japan, but it got rained out. The ornate floats had to remain indoors. Some of them had animatronic puppets that put on periodic shows. The puppets were both primitive and advanced at the same time- primitive in overall entertainment value, but advanced in that they executed costume changes and could pick up objects!

Takayama

Takayama was full of lots of good shopping. On the left is a store with mounds of miso for sale. On a cold and rainy day, miso soup samples are pretty amazing, and surprisingly common. In the center is a soy sauce producer (also featuring miso soup samples). And on the right is a sake maker (samples, too!). Our favorite snack was a warm kabob of soft rice “crackers” filled with some kind of fruit paste and covered in sesame seeds. I think it’s represented in the emojis.

Takayama

We experienced our first traditional Japanese dinner in Takayama- sitting on the floor and enjoying A LOT of tiny dishes. I learned in Japan that no matter how mysterious something looks, it’s usually delicious. The black tower contained a fire over which we grilled local beef, tofu, and vegetables. The plate with the glass jar contained what can only be described as loose mashed potatoes with an egg yolk(?) and a croissant. The black dish had fish, octopus, and oysters in clarified butter. The white bowl was eggplant and tofu. The lotus bowl had some kind of vegetable, the glass bowl had salmon, the blue plate had something pickled, and I forget what was in the covered bowl, but I think it was good. Not pictured was sashimi, a crab claw, tempura, rice, miso soup, and who knows what else. After that feast, we spent the first of many nights sleeping on the floor using a pillow filled with something that felt like rice. It was fantastic!

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Taste of Tokyo

Tokyo

I’m baaack…from Japan! It was the most fantastic whirlwind. We visited 8 cities and walked an average of 10 miles a day gathering all the experiences we could manage. I am a very lucky girl. Something I read described Japan as a place where you can get out of your comfort zone without ever feeling uncomfortable. It is the perfect description because, although the culture and customs in Japan are very different, it abounds with modern conveniences (public bathrooms everywhere you look, most with self-warming seats (but few with soap or towels)), and the vast majority of people we met were kind and welcoming.

Tokyo

We began our trip in Tokyo, where the Tsukiji fish market blew us away. It is a densely packed, sprawling area filled with wholesale fish, fruit, and vegetable stalls. The fish section was most impressive because of the sheer number of species, both living and recently dead, on display. The market is most famous for tuna, and we saw plenty of workers breaking it down into smaller cuts. This guy was breaking down a whole fish into large filets, weighing them, and wrapping them up in paper. The pieces of tuna for sale were also quite large and vibrantly colored, like glowing red jewels.

Tokyo

This guy was masterfully cutting all of the meat out of tuna heads. Cheeks galore. #nowaste

Tokyo

The wholesale portion of the fish market was architecturally beautiful, with cobblestone walkways and a soaring roof with skylights. Despite the size, the market was darkish, wet, and absolutely bustling with workers. I really can’t believe that they allow tourists into the market. It’s very easy to get run over or doused with fish guts. Don’t wear open-toed shoes! Although the tourists were clearly in the workers’ way, they were never rude and seemed to appreciate people admiring their goods. My sincere awe drew some chuckles.

Tokyo

The market featured much more than tuna. Every sea creature imaginable was for sale, and the vast quantity of carnage eventually got depressing. These crabs were alive and crawling around in their own…breadcrumbs! On a happier note, the vegetables for sale were immaculate. Every piece of produce was unblemished and perfectly ripe. If only I had access to a kitchen! So basically, if you’re in Tokyo, eat sushi. It’s amazing.

Tokyo

Tokyo offers much more than seafood, however. The Meiji Shrine is a peaceful, wooded escape from the bustle of the city.

Tokyo

The entrance to the shrine features a wall of artfully decorated sake, which is mirrored on the other side with…barrels of French wine(?).

Tokyo

We saw a few traditional weddings taking place at the shrine, which were fascinating. The bride and groom led a procession to the ceremony area and were followed by their very well-dressed families.

Tokyo

We had hoped to experience Japan’s cherry blossoms in full bloom, but we sadly arrived after they had already peaked. Some still lingered around for our enjoyment. Outside of Tokyo, hot pink cherry blossoms were in bloom (not pictured), which were much more vibrant than the variety we enjoy in DC.

Tokyo

The gardens in Tokyo were also incredible. We stumbled upon this one near the Imperial Palace that featured a bunch of tulip varieties and even colorful poppies, which I don’t think I had ever seen in person before!

Tokyo

The bustle of the city was also quite enjoyable, and livable, but navigating through throngs of people in Tokyo can be stressful. Most of the sidewalks are divided by a raised yellow partition that pedestrian traffic is supposed to follow, but doesn’t. Staircases are also marked up and down, but people don’t always follow those signs either. I felt like I was always in the way (it’s nice to be home where I can safely drift to the right). But when crossing the massive intersection in Shibuya, there are no rules. When the walk light turns green, everyone from every side converges, and the street is swarmed with a sea of bobbing heads. We crossed a few times just for fun.

Tokyo

Here are a few more glamour shots of Tokyo to dream about. I really can’t wait to share the rest of our trip with you. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, japan-guide.com was the best planning resource I had. There is so much more to say about Tokyo, but I’m out of breath for now– share your observations or questions in the comments!

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