Ninjas, anime, and film shoots at Toei Kyoto Studio Park

Ninjas on rooftops, samurais and sword fights, super robots. These were just some of the things my husband and I were looking forward to when we made the trip to Japan last March. Him especially. And we found them all at Toie Kyoto Studio Park.

Entrance...

By the entrance and ticket booth of Kyoto Studio Park. Oh look, ninjas.

If Kyoto is referred to by guide books as the the Japan of your imagination (what with its dizzying number of historic temples and shrines, teahouses and tradition), then Toei Kyoto Studio Park is place you want to go to if your imagination is keen to include anime, manga, ninjas and samurais.

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Welcome to Queens

With a bulky luggage and a backpack to lug around between train stations and platforms, I knew my commute from Jersey City to Manhattan to Queens was not going to be easy. Lack of upper body strength, meet several flight of stairs. You’re not going to like each other. (Actually, stairs won’t really care.)

When I reached Midtown, my friend F who just came from a run in Central Park told me to stay put in the train station where I was and that she would just meet me there. I was so happy to see her because (1) I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years and (2) extra pair of arms! Take that, subway stairs! (Nope, not really. The luggage lugging on the stairs was still not the most convenient morning activity.)

Finally, when we got to 30th Avenue Station in Astoria, Queens, my friend and I decided to let the other luggage-less folks go down the flights of stairs ahead of us so that two tiny Filipinas carrying one luggage won’t block their way. We waited a few meters away from stairs, letting other people pass ahead of us when a guy asked us if we needed help. After two stations,  four flights of stairs (yes, I counted) and throngs of train passengers you try not to block, when this guy asked us if he could help us, I must have looked like I had just seen the birth of Jesus. I nodded, while I picked up my jaw from the floor. My friend from Queens just smiled sweetly, nonplussed, and said a chirpy, “Okay, thanks!”

The guy carried our bag down two flights of stairs onto the sidewalk. I thanked him profusely and I think I bowed at one point. He waved his hand, which we all know is the universal language for ‘Don’t worry about it’ and went on his way.

And with that, my friend turned to me and said: “Welcome to Queens.”

From the track

From the track in Astoria Park

To say that my friend loves her neighborhood (and the NYC borough she now calls home) was an understatement. And with that kind of ‘welcome’ I wasn’t surprised why.

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Cross the Brooklyn Bridge when you get there

My mistake was that I looked down. And in the spaces between the wooden planks, I could see the cars roaring underneath. Then there was the span of the East River. My palms began to sweat.

I have no idea when walking across the Brooklyn Bridge slipped into my bucketlist (yes, I have one of those, though it’s mostly in my head), but I knew that it was one of those things I wanted to do—crammed between taking a stroll in Central Park and oohing and aahing over Grand Central Terminal—when I do find myself in New York City.

Maybe because to my touristy eyes, walking the Brooklyn Bridge seemed like one of those iconic New York activities. Maybe because I’ve loved every photo I’ve seen of the bridge, with its towers and cables. The only problem was I didn’t realize that the pedestrian walkway of one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States was made of wooden planks with spaces in between them. And there on that lovely, sunny Sunday afternoon, I suddenly remembered I’ve always had a problem with hanging or suspension bridges. Apparently, when I included this in my bucketlist, my brain had begun to segregate my actual fears from the things I want to do.

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The elevated walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge allows for pedestrians and bikers. If you’re a pedestrian, be sure to stay in your side of the walkway, because as I found out, the speeding bikes are more scary than heights or spaces in between wooden planks

For a few seconds I considered just getting my picture taken from one end of the bridge without actually crossing the bridge, and accept the fact that my friend from Queens, who accompanied me and also wanted to do the walk herself, was going to give me the you-have-to-be-kidding-yes-I-am-judging-you stare. I began to hyperventilate. Then the saner, braver voice in my head started to chide my wimpy self: ‘You’re here, thousands of miles away from home, you have to do this. The spaces are not even that big! Get a grip.’ So I did. (Besides, you don’t want to stand in the crowded walkway and hold up the throng of people with the intention of crossing the bridge.)

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Museums, Central Park and a lot of walking

One of many things I loved in the trip to New York City was the amount of walking you could do almost anywhere. I arrived on a Tuesday afternoon and as the cab crawled through Manhattan to the hotel (while I gawked out the window and tried to take in every block we passed), I couldn’t wait to get off the taxi, throw my luggage in the hotel, and start exploring the streets. It took more than 8,600 miles to get there, I wasn’t going to waste any time. After checking in, answering office emails, and resisting the strong urge to sleep at five in the afternoon, I walked.

Because the streets of Manhattan are mapped out like a grid, it was easy to walk around, look at every block, every townhouse or brownstone, every sidewalk, and find my way back to my hotel–that is after taking in an embarrassing amount of photos of aforementioned blocks, townhouses, brownstones, sidewalks (while not letting the pile of garbage bags lining said sidewalks get in the frame). My husband, who takes an inordinate number of photos in our trips would be proud.

You should know that I have an unhealthy

You should also know that I have an unhealthy obsession with New York’s rowhouses and brownstones. In an alternate universe I imagine myself living in one along with a couple of puppets (I blame my childhood years watching hours of Sesame Street for this entirely)

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After the official business part of the trip was done and I could actually sleep for more than two hours straight, a friend from high school who’s now working in New York accompanied me to the two museums I wanted to see and spend the afternoon walking with me around Central Park. I took the no. 6 train to 86th Street in the morning and from there walked to the Met where I met her, walked to Central Park, headed  to MoMA, to Magnolia Bakery at the Rockefeller Center, down to Times Square to her husband’s office, and then to 33rd Street to take the train back to their apartment. There’s a lot of walking to be done in New York City. And this was just on a Friday. Continue reading

Current somewhere: New York City

We interrupt the Japan posts with this unexpected announcement: I’m in New York City!

If there’s one place I’ve always dreamed, wished, and hoped to go to more than Japan, it’s this place. I went here primarily for work (thank you, boss!) and extended a week to go around the city.

Since the trip was only finalized a few days before the flight, I didn’t really get to plan any painstakingly detailed itinerary, which I’m often  inclined to do. I just wrote down the places I wanted to see and hoped I would get to check each and every one of them. (Central Park, Grand Central Terminal, the Brooklyn Bridge, Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, the High Line, the Flatiron building, Union Square, the museums–just about every New York City spot that’s been ingrained in our collective pop culture consciousness.)

But one of the things I did get to read about when it comes to traveling around New York were a few tips on how not to look like a tourist in the Big Apple. One of the things it mentioned is that you can tell a tourist from a local because the former often looks up at the buildings. I don’t really have any issue with being identified as a tourist because, let’s face it, I’m in a foreign country so of course I’m not a local! And what I found while I’m here is that looking up is one of the best things you can do. The city has so many iconic skyscrapers and beautiful works of architecture of different styles and design, it’s a shame if you don’t look up and see them. Just be sure to NOT stop on your tracks and block other pedestrians (unless you like to be yelled at by droves of people in a hurry). Go to either side of the sidewalk where you won’t be in anybody’s way and gaze at the buildings all you want from there.

Here are a few of things I’ve seen in so many walks and got to check off my New York City list. I will post some more details about the trip (and more pictures!) when I come home in a few days.

On my second day in New York City, I walked from my hotel along 8th avenue down to Grand Central Terminal...

On my second day in New York City, I walked from my hotel along 8th avenue down to 43rd Street to Grand Central Terminal and finally saw the Chrysler Building in her glorious Art Deco style. It felt so surreal finally seeing this beautiful building

Empire State Building

That same evening, while walking to find a place for dinner, I saw the Empire State Building all lit up

Walking along Central Park...

Walking along Central Park South near The Pond

The Plaza from Central Park

View of The Plaza from Central Park South

Hello again, Empire State

Hello again, Empire State (from 11th Avenue near W 35th Street)

Along..

Can you fall in love with a building? The Chrysler Building from 1st Avenue

 

Magic in the land of Nara

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Once upon a time, around a century or two after Buddhism was established in Japan, during the beginning of early Japanese poetry and probably long, long before anime was born (or I may have my timelines mixed up), legend has it that a mythological god arrived on a white deer to guard the new capital of Heijo-kyo or present-day Nara.

Fast forward more than 1,300 years and the ancient capital still possesses a storybook charm. There’s something almost magical about Nara.

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In beautiful Kyoto: Arashiyama and Fushimi Inari

If you could live in any foreign city for a year, which one would it be? For me, it would have to be Kyoto.

The first time I got to set foot in this Japanese city, I was smitten. Centuries-old heritage sites, picturesque tree-lined paths, charming alleys lined by traditional wooden houses, idyllic-looking neighborhoods–every turn seemed to reveal something old and beautiful. The former imperial capital also sits close to nature, surrounded by many mountains, but like other Japanese cities, it maintains the usual modern trappings (all you need to do is arrive in Kyoto Station to see it). And while it can get crowded during spring and autumn, Kyoto still possesses a relaxed atmosphere, a calm murmur compared to a frenetic throb of a metropolis like Tokyo.

On our fourth day in Japan, in our trip last month, we took the train out of Osaka to spend the entire Saturday in Kyoto. The two places we didn’t get to see the first time we went there were the Fushimi Inari shrine and the Arashiyama area, both places that do nothing to diminish Kyoto’s reputation as one of the most culturally-rich cities in the country.

Dreamy Arashiyama

Dreamy bamboo grove in Arashiyama

Arashiyama area (or Sagano) is a charming district that lies at the base of Kyoto’s western mountains. The charm sets in the minute you get off the Hankyu Kyoto Line and go out of the Hankyu Arashiyama Station. It’s a small town train station and when you get out, the streets are pretty quiet and empty except for the throngs of tourists such as yourself spilling out of the station. There’s a tree-lined avenue to the side, which you take on foot or with a bike to lead you to a small bridge.  After you cross the bridge, you face a riverside park covered in pebbles. (So wear comfy walking shoes and not heels as I saw some tourists were wearing. Eeep!)

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