10 Favorite Things in Japan - Campfire Chic

I don’t want to be that person who goes on a big vacation/trip and then spends an entire month posting about every little thing she did…that’s why I have a travel journal/scrapbook. I shared some of my favorite moments on Instagram but I wanted to elaborate a little more here in case you are planning a trip to Japan in the near future.

I’m not going to focus on the history of this beautiful country, the sweeping landscapes, the museums, or the temples and shrines in this post. This post includes my favorite non-“postcard” things that we ate/did/saw because sometimes it is the kindness of a stranger in a pharmacy that has a bigger impact on you than seeing famous “postcard perfect” landmarks in person.

My 10 Favorite Things About Our Trip to Japan

Robot Restaurant Shinjuku Tokyo - Campfire Chic

Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant is one of those tourist attractions that is pricy but worth your time. After being featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown (Episode 7, if you want to catch it on Netflix), it looks like everybody and their mother want to catch the show. It’s an assault on the senses in every way possible…there are thousands of little details to catch in the lounge before your show (you do not need a ticket to get into the lounge, so you can go inside and enjoy a drink and watch the band play, if you’d rather not spend the money) including in the washrooms.

You’re instructed to go downstairs before the show begins are shown to your seats. There are not many seats in the theater and everybody is squeeze in pretty tightly, but that is part of the fun. If you’re in the front row, like we were, be sure to pay attention to their warnings that you’ll need to lean back and watch your head from time to time because the floats/performers/costumes may smack you in the face otherwise. Get earplugs for your kids (and if you’re like me, grab an extra pair for yourself!) and enjoy the show. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering what you got yourself into…there’s music, light shows, screens with crazy videos, dancers, machines, and everything is over-the-top. It’s incredible.

 

High Speed Rail in Japan - Campfire Chic

Riding the High Speed Rail (Shinkansen)

The biggest benefit to getting our JR Rail Passes was we could book reserved seats on the high speed rail without worrying about having enough cash on hand to pay for the fare. We took the train from Tokyo Station to Osaka, from Osaka to Kyoto, and from Kyoto to Tokyo. We needed to make a few transfers on the local trains to get closer to our destinations, but Japan’s rail system is amazing so it was not a hassle at all. The seats on the train were very comfortable and had a ton of leg room. There is space above your seat for small parcels and at the back of each car for larger luggage. Each seat has a table like you’d have on a plane and each car has access to a waste basket/recycling, washroom, sinks, and there is at least one smoking room on the train. A concession cart comes through at least once per stop with alcohol, coffee, and some snacks, but most people bring a bento from the train station or do not eat on the train.

Food Paradise Daimaru Basement in Kyoto Train Station - Campfire Chic

The food court in the Kyoto train station

Food halls are really popular in Southern California right now so it was awesome (and overwhelming) to see this “food paradise” under the Kyoto train station. Think: Whole Foods food court/marketplace. It is huge and busy and has everything you could possibly want. Alex picked up some beautiful sushi and I picked up some chicken and sushi rolls. It was hard not to try everything and fill up on samples but we knew we needed to have just enough to keep us full on the ride back to Tokyo. There are prepared bentos for the train ride, different types of desserts, barbecued meat, and Kyoto specialties.

Crepe in Harajuku Tokyo - Campfire Chic

Eating an over-the-top-crepe in Harajuku

If there is one thing that will give you a massive case of FOMO (fear of missing out), it’s seeing everybody eating outrageous crepes on Takeshita-Dori in Harajuku. There are several different places to place your order, but of course I went with the bright pink Santa Monica location. There were a few hundred different options displayed around the outside of this corner location. Each option is depicted in plastic and accompanied by a description in both Japanese and English, a number, and the amount. There are sweet crepes and savory crepes. There is a heavy emphasis on strawberry and whipped creme in most of the options. You can get something super simple, or you can get a mega-crazy option like the one I ordered.

I took a photo of the one I wanted: matcha ice cream, Oreo cookies, brownie with match chips, and matcha drizzle (with copious amounts of whipped cream!) and went to the counter to order. It took about 5 minutes to get my tightly wrapped and Instagram-ready treat and it was totally worth the wait. I sat on a curb with Alex and enjoyed every last bite of this giant treat.

Heidi Craft Shop in Tokyo - Campfire Chic

Finding small craft stores featured in Tokyo Craft Guide

Before heading to the airport, I downloaded the Tokyo Craft Guide, written by two lovely bloggers who were both living in Japan and exploring the area for small boutiques that carried a variety of supplies. The illustrations are seriously adorable and I love that they included suggestions for cafes and other things to do when in different neighborhoods. It was well worth the small cost of the book and I made sure to get directions to the nearest shops whenever we headed out for the day. Alex was a trooper and enjoyed seeing different areas of the city that didn’t involve sight-seeing. I tried to buy at least one small thing from each shop we visited (I think we ended up visiting 5 locations?) as a thank you for their hospitality…to be perfectly honest, it was hard not to buy everything in each shop! I picked up some washi tape, fabric, and stationary. I had hoped to pick up a few craft kits from the different shops (as mentioned in the Tokyo Craft Guide) but I only had carryon luggage and new I would quickly run out of room!

If you want to see examples of the awesome crafts and supplies you can find in Japan, I suggest checking out Kimberly’s series “spending the Yen.” Kimberly and her husband were in Japan/Tokyo at the same time as Alex and I but never ended up meeting up.

Coffee Culture in Japan - Campfire Chic

Coffee shops

Let me be honest: I’m not a coffee snob. I knew that the first few days in Japan would require lots of caffeine in order to be remotely-human while the sun was shining. Thanks to Yelp! and Reddit, we were able to locate some really great coffee places that weren’t Starbucks or McDonald’s. Our first great cup was at The Roastery, located in the Harajuku area of Tokyo along the same street as a lot of shops from famous outdoor brands like KEEN, Columbia, The North Face, and Gregory. It was cool to see all our favorite brands so close to one another on a really cute street. The barista at The Roastery was really nice and gave us a lot of advice on things to do and see while in the area. He told us to call him if we have questions or need help translating while in town (so nice!). We ordered coffee and cronuts, because why not.

In Kyoto, we walked to tiny % Arabica for coffee. I loved the simple design of the location and how they used Chemex coffee makers to create a beautiful lighting fixture in the small washroom. The favorite thing we did in Osaka was stop in a Hoshino Coffee (it’s a chain, there is a location in Harajuku very close to the train station. The coffee to try there is charcoal-roasted and the pancake souffle. Honestly, order the double order of the pancake souffle and you can thank me after. On our last day, we spotted a tiny Airstream trailer above the road and saw that they had iced coffee and a shady spot to sit down for a bit. This one was located in the Shibuya shopping area and I couldn’t find a name for it.

Navigating Tokyo as a Tourist - Campfire Chic

Navigating on our own

A few of my coworker friends were in Japan recently and assured me that getting around wouldn’t be as stressful as I assumed. The directional signs, signs at the train stations and airport, and even most of the shop signs have English translations. The trains have English translations for the announcements, too, so you’ll know when you need to make a transfer instead of trying to match your translation app to the posted signs. We had a pocket wifi with us so I was able to use Google Maps for most of our needs. I did need to ask for help getting around the Shinjuku train station at one point when we got off of a subway and I didn’t recognize where I was. Thankfully, everybody we encountered in Japan is really nice and helpful and Alex and I learned key phrases like “how do I get to the train/the bathroom” so we wouldn’t come across as bumbling fools.

Addresses work differently in Japan. The numbers of the address do not go in sequential order but it does give you a lot of information about the building and what floor your destination may be on. Google maps won’t give you specifics while you navigate by walking. Expect to see cross the road, turn right, cross the road instead of turn right on Main, continue on 1st Street. Take a screen shot of the address you’re looking for and possibly the name of the destination and ask for help when you can.

Soba in Tokyo - Campfire Chic

The dedication to carbs

Tokyo is very pro-carbohydrates (and so am I, as you can see in this photo). There are cafes serving delicious desserts and French-inspired bakeries all over the place. Our go-to meal (other than the revolving sushi place by our hotel) while on our trip was soba. I expected to eat a lot more ramen while in Japan, but most of the restaurants focused on pork-based broths so soba was an easier meal for us to get our noodle fix. We did find one restaurant in the Times Square area of Shinjuku that specialized in fish broth ramen, which was unexpected and delicious. Whenever we popped into a cafe for an iced tea or iced coffee (and to escape the heat), we would order a dessert or some sort of treat… croissants, pancake souffles, cheesecakes, whatever! In fact, the French-inspired bakery near the Shinjuku station served fantastic pastries and treats that changed daily. Alex enjoyed the almond croissant and the veggie quiche and I really liked the chocolate croissants and was very interested in the matcha baguettes but never brought myself to purchasing one.

I felt like there were really three options for restaurants in Japan: Japanese food, bakeries/cafes, and Italian food. All carbs, all the time! If you subscribe to a gluten-free diet, try to stick to the more hipster cafes and restaurants because the gluten-free trend hasn’t really made it to Japan yet.

Cute cars in Tokyo Japan - Campfire Chic

Everything is super cute, even the cars

Everything in Tokyo had some sort of cartoon mascot or other cute feature to it…construction signs, notices on the streets, everything. It’s adorable and I wish we had more of these cute signs in the States. The cars we saw were all tiny and adorable. Delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and even the ambulances were somehow less aggressive looking than the ones at home, including the cute pizza truck I spotted while out shopping one afternoon. I saw a postbox with a panda on it and even donuts decorated to look like puppies. I wish I took more photos of every damn cute thing we saw, but I’m not sure my phone has enough space to fit it all. Think Wild Olive-type characters everywhere!

 

Shopping in Tokyo - Campfire Chic

Shopping in Shibuya and in Tokyu Hands

Tokyo is a huge shopping destination so I made sure to look up the Magnificent Mile (Chicago) version of Tokyo and Shibuya is apparently the place to be. We walked from Shinjuku to Shibuya on our first day and visited once more after that via train since it was a short ride away from our hotel. There are familiar brands along the shopping district, including a huge Nike store and Apple store. On the weekend there were hundreds of people on the sidewalks but it never felt crowded. You can see in the photo above that the sidewalk is packed with people. If you only have a short amount of time in Shibuya, stop by Kiddy Land, which is a giant toy store. It’s worth the 30 minutes or so you’ll spend wandering around the aisles.

Tokyu Hands is a giant department store chain that is kind of like a high-end Target without the groceries and clothes. I shopped in the one in Shinjuku near Times Square because it was close and because the top floor is dedicated to stationary! I picked up a ton of washi tape, some cards, and paper. The photo of me “wearing” a tiger mask is actually a “magic mirror” that recognizes faces and stretches an image of a novelty face mask onto passerby. Every few seconds, the image changes to a different design like this Kabuki one, Frankenstein’s monster, panda, and vampire. I didn’t buy any because they are about $12 USD each.

Hopefully these ideas help fill your itinerary for a future trip to Tokyo!

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in 2015, Adventure, Travel.

DIY SUV Car Window Screen for Camping and Road Trips - Campfire Chic

I had car camping plans earlier this month and new that I would be getting to the campsite late at night and probably wouldn’t want to bother pitching my tent in the dark. I am all about sleeping in my car, it’s one of the perks of having a small SUV, right? I knew that the weather may be a little warm to sleep with the windows up so I needed to find a way for me to be comfortable while sleeping in my car…then I remembered a product review Derek from 100peaks.com did a few years ago for what is essentially a magnetic screen covering for your car!

I knew I could make my own and priced out the supplies I would need and found out I could get 2 or 3 car window screens that fit my car perfectly for less than $20!

It may not be pretty, but it gets the job done. One of my friends at work made a set for his Xterra and he used a hot glue gun to assemble his screens instead of duct tape, which may be what I try for my next set of screens for Alex’s truck.

Instructions for creating your own cheap car window screen for camping - Campfire Chic

 

1. The first thing I did was create a template for the window I wanted to cover. I used newspaper inserts from our junk mail and some washi tape to get things right. Add about an inch and a half around the outside of your window.

2. Gather your supplies! I purchased black duct tape, black bug net, and circle magnets (similar) from Amazon.com (affiliate links). I chose to go with black duct tape and bug netting because I didn’t want to draw a lot of attention to the screen while it was on my car. Pure vanity. You will also need a pair of scissors and a flat workspace. I used a clear spot on my carpet, but I wouldn’t suggest doing that if you have pets…they like to “supervise” these kinds of activities and you may find yourself shooing your pet away more often than you’d like.

3 and 4. I placed the template I made for my car window on the bug netting and spread the magnets around the perimeter. Although I added a bit of extra space to the template I made of my car window, I wanted to have a little extra space to work with so I put the magnets around the template, giving a little bit of space between each magnet so I wouldn’t use too many. I then eyeballed cutting around the template + magnets, not worrying about making nice cuts because I knew I would be covering the edges in duct tape.

5. I folded the magnets up in the fabric, creating a seam where the magnets were nestled inside. I made sure the magnets wouldn’t escape by using the duct tape to seal the edges. I tried not to use too much duct tape because I needed the magnets to still be strong enough through the tape to adhere to my car. To do a test, I used a scrap piece of cloth, magnet, and some tape to create a small version of my project that I used on our refrigerator as a test. It worked!

After going all the way around the screen to seal the edges, I took the screen down to my car and tested it on my car window…it worked! I left it on the window overnight to see if it would stay up and it worked! I did not get to use my screen on our trip, but I have used it in my parking structure at work during a work nap and it was really nice to have considering the warm weather we’re having.

For less than $20 and less than an hour of my time, this DIY car window screen is worth the effort. I have mine gently rolled up in the back of my car right now and figure if it gets damaged, I can make another one for cheap!

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in Camping, DIY, Microadventure, Other, What I Made

Connect with others through Twitter

I’m sharing my social media/marketing/business-type posts on LinkedIn now. I am trying to post every 2 or 3 weeks to keep things realistic and so I don’t feel like it is a chore to share posts there. The new blogging feature is really interesting and still pretty new, so it’s kind of the wild west over there.

I recently shared a post that I wish I read before I started participating in Twitter chats in 2009. While the number of Twitter chats has grown since then, they all generally follow the same format, which is very helpful to first-timers. I participate in a few chats (my favorite being #HikerChat, which is held on Friday mornings at 9am Pacific) and notice that some of the chats move much faster than others, which makes it difficult for participants to interact with one another and for hosts to engage with participants.

I’m pretty good at keeping up with chats via my phone (I recommend using a web-based client like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, or even Twitter.com if you’re new to Twitter chats) and wanted to share some of my tips for how to connect with others during Twitter chats…because chats get noisy really quickly and are naturally fast-paced, so you’ll need to be able to multi-task a little bit.

You can read my post on LinkedIn.  If you’re on LinkedIn, and feel like your connections would benefit from this post, feel free to share it with them! Twitter is still a great way for folks to network and find great opportunities, some people just need extra help jumping in.

 

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in Better Blogging, Social Media, Twitter

Roundup of helpful articles, blog posts, and videos from around the net

 

What I learned this past month: I greatly underestimated the time I would need to prepare blog posts for after my return from Japan. I got a few blog posts scheduled while I was away and was slightly disappointed that I didn’t get much set up for the week I returned. I told myself it would be fine and I was sure I bounce back from jet lag pretty quickly (or at the very least use the 2am wake up time to work on some posts/emails/updates). I was so wrong. I got sick on my way home from Japan with a very bad cold and I was down for the count for much too long.

It’s just a blog, I told myself. And then I got better but couldn’t get myself out of the funk of being away from home for so long and then sick…thank goodness for the Spark Ecourse. I recently updated the course so the lessons are super fresh in my head and I took a few minutes to go through the emails to see what I needed to get me restarted. I needed a few easy wins, I needed to clean up my workspace, and I needed a plan. I plan on using tonight to clean up my workspace, to do the dishes and some laundry (easy wins), and I have a flexible schedule of posts in my Google Calendar through October.

I just need to sit down and get some shit done. I carved out some time tomorrow morning (with a deadline so I don’t procrastinate) to complete a few pending projects and to clean out my car.

In the meantime, I’ve been saving articles for a post like this. These are the things I’ll be reading this weekend…

Here’s to a weekend of getting shit done, getting some sun, and probably getting a few donuts. 

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in Essential Reading

Father's Day Gifts from Stanley Brand Products - Campfire Chic

Today I’m partnering with Stanley Brand to help celebrate Father’s Day this year.

Stanley Brand sent three awesome products for me to share with my dad since he is a big reason why I love the outdoors! He is a very loyal Stanley Brand fan…in fact, I think my mom finally got rid of his large vacuum bottle last year (it was probably 15 years old, yikes) so he’ll be thrilled to unwrap the Stanley Classic Vacuum Bottle!

So about this old vacuum bottle…my dad would bring that camping with us so we’d have hot chocolate while fishing. It was covered in stickers he collected over the years from our summer vacations in the Eastern Sierras, which I thought was the coolest thing. I’m sure it was a different bottle that was involved while we fished in the photo above ;)

But let’s be honest, I can’t just give him the vacuum bottle. He’ll need the Stanley Classic One Hand Vacuum Mug for his commute to work, and the Stanley Adventure Flask for summer campouts! I’m thinking off adding a bag of coffee and hot chocolate mix to the gift bag to round out the gift a bit.

Father's Day Tag for Stanley Brand Gift - Campfire Chic

I made a quick tag out of a cardstock sticker I’ve been hoarding for a few years. I added some letter stickers to say “happy dad’s day” (apostrophe added after photos were taken. I’m so embarrassed) and punched a hole in one side before threading some thick twine through it. I think he’ll love it!

 

Thank you to Stanley Brand for sponsoring today’s post encouraging me to try their perfect Father’s Day worthy gifts. You can purchase these Father’s Day gifts from EddieBauer.com through June 21st.

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in Review

Roundup of helpful articles, blog posts, and videos from around the net
 

I am working through my notes and photos from our trip to Japan to share starting next week. I’m excited to share more about the individual places we visited and about how I was scrapbooking while we traveled around. I’m slowly bouncing back from the jet lag and the GO GO GO attitude of having a limited amount of time to explore a new place.

This week’s Essential Reading:

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in Essential Reading

National Trails Day - Campfire Chic in Red Rocks Nevada

Find Adventure this National Trails Day

This Saturday is National Trails Day!

I have plans to get out and enjoy the day with a quick hike and maybe an afternoon paddleboarding in Newport Beach.

I wanted to share some information on National Trails Day to hopefully inspire and motivate you to get outdoors this weekend. You don’t need to hit a trail, you could go birdwatching, enjoy a picnic in the park, or even take up geocaching!

The American Hiking Society coordinates National Trails Day and has plenty of information on the National Trails Day website including:

If you are up for it, you can even register your own event and get some resources to help you execute an awesome National Trails Day for your community.

Additional resources for National Trails Day Adventures:

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in Adventure, Hiking