Fluffy Felines in a Fairy Tale Forest

If you ever want to feel rejected and unloved, go to a cat cafe. It’s no secret Japan favors these cute fluffy felines, i.e. Hello Kitty. So I guess it should be no surprise that cat cafes are quite popular here. I researched some sites in Tokyo where I found a handy list of animal cafes and was shocked at the diversity. From rabbits, to birds, snakes, and goats, these cafes exist. Wow, who knew it was a thing to catch up with your friends with an ice mocha while a snake accompanies your table. While that thought is tempting… I opted for the cat list instead.

Skimming through the list I noticed the words, “forest of wondrous cats and fairy tale decor.” I’m sorry, did you just say fairy tale? DONE. Prissy princess over here. Anyways, off to the subway we went towards Tokyo in the area of Kichijoji. After an hour commute, we arrived at the town which was livelier than expected with many familiar brands and chains. The day was so cold though, so we breezed through the commercial streets to the cafe ten minutes away. A narrow staircase led upwards to a miniature patio with logs as seats and a painted door with cat windows.

Temari no Ouchi Cat Cafe

We were so excited and immediately took our shoes off to stand in line. I was already hanging up my coat when the fiancé turned to me with disappointing news. Apparently there wasn’t availability until 3 pm. Sigh, if only we knew reservations were necessary. Since we traveled all the way to Tokyo, we decided to kill the two hours with some delicious ramen. And donuts.

Coming back to the cat cafe, there was a different girl at the register where we struggled to explain our reservations existed. The line grew behind us in that narrow hallway, thankfully Google Translate came to our rescue. There was a $16 cover charge and a list of simple rules such as sanitizing hands and no feeding or carrying cats. When we entered the cafe, it really was a fairy tale book. A ceiling of clouds, chandeliers covered in vines, and a log house centered the space. This whimsical scene was home to 17 cats and we quickly realized how scattered they were. After being shown to our seats we explored the space, cruising by a bucket of toys and passing through hiding spaces. Most cats were sleeping or lounging, no active motion whatsoever. The instant a cat made a move, a crowd of squealing girls would circle around for photos to capture any sudden flash of cuteness. It was probably the most entertaining highlight.

This ball of fluff attracting paparazzi.

The majority of our half hour there was spent hunting around to pet cats nearby while they snubbed us and hurried off.We lingered in jealousy, eyeing the lucky ones who’s tables were deemed worthy enough for the cats to lounge by. Ah we were so sad, disappointed we left deflated. Yet we couldn’t help but laugh, amused at how we just let those cats validate our self-esteem. Embarrassing. We mutually agreed to visit a puppy cafe next time.

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Where the Gates May Lead

We dove our way into the crowd towards the trail of torii gates forming a tunnel along the mountain’s forest. Flashes of awe lingered throughout the path as eyes wandered above the heights of the gates casting shadows over us. Thousands of columns continued on, each marked with calligraphy from its donor. It was by far one of the most incredible sights to experience.

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Fushimi Inari-taisha, recognized from “Memoirs of a Geisha.”

After two aisles of these orange frames, we arrived at a smaller shrine. All the shrines in the path are dedicated to the God of Rice. Fox statues were scattered across the holy grounds, believed to be his messengers. From here we noticed a map and realized we barely skimmed the surface of the hike. A total of two hours needed to complete, we decided to venture off trail towards the beginning. We found a quiet spot along the way to enjoy the view raised above. It was the perfect backdrop to enjoy the moment and have some peace away from the never ending crowd. How I wish we could have lingered longer, but our limited stay drove us onto the next destination.

Passing by the blend of culture throughout Kyoto is absolutely captivating. A modern city with deep traditional roots. It was incredible to view historical sights which have been grounded for centuries next to towering skyscrapers. The blend of people added even more to its charm. It was so fascinating to see many locals in kimonos with selfie sticks handy walking alongside their friends in modern clothes. Not a sight I’m used to.

We eventually stopped at Nijō Castle 15 minutes before they closed the gate. Photos and shoes were restricted inside, so with slippers we entered the wooden hallway. I instantly heard squeaking. I looked around confused why this birdlike noise was echoing in the castle. My fiancé explained it to be a security measure with floors designed to trigger noise to warn the palace of intruders. I love how he knows random facts like that 🙂 Unlike the typical fairy tale palace, what made this feudal castle special were the painted murals in each room. The paintings depicted the perfect balance of delicate yet strong with each stroke of color poetic. I was surprised to see so many rooms dedicated for feudal lords to wait and meet with the shogun. I wonder how those conversations typically went…

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One of the best surviving examples of feudal castle palace architecture in Japan. It was originally five stories until an 18th century fire.
Staying golden by the castle gate.

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Arriving at Kyoto

After a two hour bullet train ride, we arrived at our spontaneous weekend destination of Kyoto. Inserting our tickets to exit the train, I wondered if we landed at an airport mall rather than a subway station. So modern and industrial with metal aesthetics, I was shocked at the massive levels of shopping and dining. Crowds of luggage packed the escalators and signs hung above to navigate through the countless routes. Way too many options hovering around, I would’ve been so helplessly lost by my solo. With snacks handy and the yummiest donut ever on the way out, we instantly faced the Kyoto Tower lighting up the night. Ah so pretty, the purple and pink was a refreshing change from the rest we’ve seen.

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Ten minutes later we arrived at Capsule Ryokan Hotel where a life size geisha android is seated by the door to welcome guests. Apparently it can talk, but failed attempts of asking “Alexa” about the weather (as the sign directed), made us feel ridiculous… Its realism was creepy yet intriguing. I couldn’t help but tip toe away in case it decided to stand up and become a live “I, Robot” scenario.

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Our welcome to the hotel.

As we checked in, the receptionist was great enough to give us a local overview. He highlighted a map, notated tips, and even joined our elevator ride for a personal tour of our room. Such excellent service! I am still impressed with Japan’s creative approaches to maximizing space. Despite the small room I’m far from uncomfortable, instead we found it entertaining. The bed opens for storage large enough for me to fit and reenact a scary movie. Plus the shower is enclosed within a dome type capsule you’d expect from a science fiction scene. It even had the lights for dramatic effect. Overall a great space to recharge as we plotted our game plan for the next day.

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An example of how Japan masters space conservation.

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Until the Sun Sets at Enoshima Island

“Reporting live from Enoshima Island, we are experiencing wind gusts of 30 mph and plenty of sunshine,” I proudly reported with my imaginary microphone towards the scrambling fiancé attempting to catch such antics on film. I was struggling hard with that wind gracing me with an instant hair makeover.

A shrine, a tower, and a cave were the three Enoshima sights on our agenda. As we started our day first impressions garnered around, “Why is it not summer?” It was the first time I experienced island vibes in a winter coat and cashmere gear. But despite the winter chills, we couldn’t help slowing our pace to enjoy the nautical atmosphere where shells and tons of seafood decorated the streets.  Apparently this is where locals escape during the sunshine season for surfing and good ocean times. It was definitely the ideal landscape for it. Besides the giant hawks swarming above and diving down to claw food from little children, all was calm and relaxing.

Deeper into the city we face the 600 meter long bridge connecting to the island. First glance it seemed to be an intimidating distance, but it was actually manageable. Plus the scenic view of sailing boats close by was a nice distraction. Following the main path across led us to the customary red gate marking the entrance of the shrine. A nearby little red bridge peaked our interest and from there a random trail uphill appeared. Our curious selves decided to follow it, wondering why it was so quiet and empty. It was there we caught glimpses of locks left by couples along the fences to mark their story. How CUTE, one look at the fiancé and he already knew we’d be living that chick flick moment asap.

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A shrine for worship dedicated to the goddess, Benten.

After a bit, a street opened up and surprised us with the Sea Candle Tower on our list. How convenient! We have a thing for skylines so of course we ride the elevator up the highest point on the island to check out the daytime view. Such a refreshing sight, and for $1 intense binoculars can zoom all the way to Tokyo. It’s pretty strange how clear you can people watch from those.

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The highest point on the island at the Sea Candle Tower.

Hungry for some more excitement we venture to find the Iwaya cave. The pathway curves around the island where incredible cliffs tower and giant waves crash. Naturally we bust out “Part of Your World” from Little Mermaid along our stroll because that is how we roll. Once we found the cave we realized there was no cash left so we enjoyed the sunset instead. It was quite surreal to be in that peaceful moment around others doing the same, from families to couples and even Buddhist monks. As the sun continued setting we decided to wrap up the trip. Only then did we realize how many stairs were part of our journey since the walk up was a beast. Each time we suspected the end of it, the heavy steps continued to climb up more.

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Cliff side waves as the sun sets.

But thanks to the scenic route, we passed by a sign where couples ring a bell to spend eternity together and leave locks surrounding the historical spot. Seizing the spontaneous opportunity we followed the sound of the bell to partake in the tradition. It was there we learned about the legend of Enoshima Island. According to its myth, a goddess created the island to stop a five headed dragon of its attacks. With sight of the goddess the dragon fell in love and his evil ways were tamed. The Love Bell therefore was placed to keep the legend alive by couples who wish to express their love. What better way to end our trip than doing so 🙂

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Leaving a little bit of our story behind.
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Ringing the bell for our forever.

From Hail and Bail to Sing Songs

The images of a cartoon cat, handshakes everywhere, and a lot of French fries started my Saturday morning as Friday’s funtivities pieced together. Blinking as the flashbacks replayed, I groaned in remembrance of my jam session singing Usher’s-“Let it Burn” in front of the fiancé’s fellow navy officers.

Friday night kicked off with a last minute appearance to the “Hail and Bail” social to celebrate welcomes and farewells of officers. Per tradition, the event kicks off with a joke and I was finally able to witness the fiancé in action stepping up onto the podium and kick ass. His confidence still amazes me. While me over here relied on the open bar to save me since my shyness takes over in that scene. Still young and new to this upcoming military wife life, it was highly encouraging to be surrounded with success stories of couples who know the struggle. Plus meeting the many brave faces who choose that line of duty gave me more assurance.

After the Captain closed off the speeches, the open bar wrapped up and a group of us exited the base to find karaoke. I somehow survived the night in my suede heel booties, thank you cranberry vodka for numbing the pain. Eventually we stumble upon a lively looking building fit for the Grammy worthy performances about to follow. The doors of cartoon cats with microphone in paw slid open and I instantly woke up. My eyes weren’t ready for that sunshine of colorful brightness, I practically stepped into daytime. A spiral staircase led us to the room, lights shut off, and the crowd instantly seized the tablet to cue the live playlist for vocal shenanigans. Drinks flowing, energy rising, rhythm lasting.

Scarfing down the best French fries I’ve ever tasted in between songs ignited our need for a giant burger. So after some hours of karaoke jazz we said our farewells to hunt for said craving. Sadly our quest was a fail and we taxied back to the apartment where the fiancé cooked me a fresh plate of breakfast to compensate the void of that burger. Happy night 🙂

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Oops…Did I Really Do It Again?

One twist and an alarm starts blaring from a near distance, panicked and confused my fiancé follows the noise right outside our door. Frozen I sit on our bedroom floor staring up at the cause which ignited the commotion. “Well I guess that didn’t need a new light bulb.” I shake my head realizing this circular contraption on the ceiling identical to a light was actually a smoke detector. Oh my goodness so foreign we are, how EMBARRASSING and shameful that such a mistake woke our neighbors in urgency. Minutes later we are graced with the presence of two firemen ready to rescue us from toxic smoke, only to realize that it was an oops on my part.

Thankfully the firemen were so incredibly nice and my future husband managed to handle the situation so calmly despite the inner panic. (I’m sure he was blasting imaginary laser beams at me in frustration while I sat there innocently witnessing the exchange.) Aside from the initial frenzy of the false alarm, we all found it humorous to some degree. Especially when I busted out my handy dandy translation app. Like a microphone back and forth, with one side wearing couple shirts and the other side in full blown fire safety gear. All was good in the neighborhood soon after, with smiles all around as they left. Disbelief that scene really just happened right before bed, we couldn’t help but laugh at the bizarre turn of events.

Sad to admit this is the second time I somehow trigger an alarm and official authority comes knocking on our door…The struggle of not understanding Japanese Kanji. I didn’t know! These are the moments I feel even more relief and appreciation that I found such an understanding knight in shining armor who puts up with my curious yet clumsy antics. At least it won’t be a boring adventure with me 🙂

Culture Through Clothes

My leather boots met checkered tiles as I stepped through the entrance where culture speaks through fashion, the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum. My footsteps automatically advanced towards a full scale mural of 1920’s style reminding me of Erté’s illustrations. With such elegance portrayed for first impressions, I became excited what Japan’s exhibit would offer. Especially since many of the country’s fashion graduates study from its university next door.

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Starting the exhibit one word came to mind, small… It was slightly underwhelming given the entrance, especially since none of that decade was displayed for show. But despite the size and language barrier, I appreciated the showcase of global diversity. Traditional ethnic clothes triggered my nostalgia for those college days flipping through textbooks of international fashion history.

Segmented by parts of the world, I loved noticing the designs blending between countries through trade and travel. Besides the obvious textbook history connected with the yarns of the wardrobe, I couldn’t help but imagine what stories those clothes could share of such grand occasions. For a brief moment I could hear the music of the celebration, see the smiles of the party, and witness the stories of the owner before they were passed down to these glass cases.

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