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Japan Travel – Tokyo Onsen: Saya-No-Yudokoro

 


I was looking forward to checking out an onsen whilst I was in Japan. I did some research online and found one that was traditionally Japanese and also not too pricey. I encourage you to check out, Saya no Yudokoro https://www.sayanoyudokoro.co.jp/english/ the next time you are in Japan.
Tucked away on a quiet side street, Saya no Yudokoro is an onsen that was once a traditional Japanese home. One would never know the owner of Saya no Yudokoro’s home which was once filled with childhood memories would one day become a place for Japanese and visitors to seek a respite from their busy days at work and home. I came all the way from Canada to soak in the natural hot springs – I was not disappointed.
Fed from a natural hot spring 1,500m under ground, the water at Itabashi’s top onsen facility is rich in sodium chloride, giving it a characteristic greenish-brown colour. But this health-bringing elixir isn’t the only thing worth noting at Saya no Yudokoro: its renovated, traditional-style buildings and zen garden are gorgeous, as is the rotenburo, which is surrounded by lush greenery.
Although you cannot walk in the zen the garden as a guest, it’s wonderful to sit and take in the glory of the trees, the manicured space and ornamental Japanese trees. A memory I will never forget.
An onsen is essentially a hot spring. Because Japan is a volcanically active country, there are multiple onsens located throughout all regions. This results in a natural hot water, perfect for bathing and relaxing. It is said to have several health benefits, hence it is actually recommended that you take advantage of onsens on a regular basis.
Differences between Onsens
Although all onsens offer naturally hot spring water, there are several differences between them. Not geologically speaking, but commercially.
Open Air Baths
This means that the onsen is open air. This means you can enjoy the beauty of the Japanese natural worlds, whilst soaking in a hot bath. These onsens offering open-air baths are the most popular, especially the ones close to Mount Fuji, as you can enjoy breathtaking views. There is no doubt about the fact that these are the most popular onsens in Japan.
Private Open Air Baths
These are perhaps my favourite because you get to enjoy a secluded experience in an onsen, where you don’t have to share with anyone. This is the perfect treat for yourself and your loved one. You don’t have to rush, you don’t have to worry about anyone around you, you don’t have to feel awkward because you need to be naked in front of others. The downside of taking advantage of an open-air bath is that these rooms come with a serious price tag. For a once in a lifetime, I enjoyed myself. I didn’t have to worry about others, running around naked or feeling awkward. I took my time, admired nature and relaxed.
Gender Specific Onsen
These are specific for your own gender. You will only bathe in areas where the same gender is allowed.
The Onsen Ritual
There is an etiquette for using an onsen. And yes, you need to familiarise yourself with this rules and no, you can’t be forgiven for not respecting them just because you are a foreign tourist. Most onsens will have a small “how to” sign at the entrance, but just in case, here is what you need to do.
Before you enter the onsen, you need to wash. This might seem counter-intuitive, but the onsen is not for washing your body, is for relaxation purposes. Besides, the water is always clean and in order to keep it that way, you have to wash before you bath in an onsen. I’m sure you wouldn’t like to enter a hot spring in a hotel, knowing that everyone around you might have skipped bathing for a few days. It’s yucky, hence, everyone needs to wash BEFORE entering the onsen. You need to use a lot of soap and you need to rinse properly. You can use a stool provided to sit down whilst you wash. Make sure you also rinse the stool and the area around you, once you finished.
When entering the onsen, make sure you are delicate about it and you don’t dive nor splash around. Use a towel to cover your modesty until you enter the water. Don’t allow for the towel to touch the water. You can fold the towel and put it over your head whilst bathing.
Once in the bath, make sure you don’t swim. Onsen facilities are for soaking, meditating and contemplating. If your towel slips into the water, remove it immediately and wring it outside the bath, NEVER in the hot springs.
Once you are done soaking, use your towel to wipe off excess water and sweat before entering the locker room.
Most traditional Japanese onsens do not allow for people with tattoos on their premises. This is a traditional nod as tattoos are often seen as associated with organized crime. This could put off a lot of visitors. I will warn you, I was checked to make sure I did not have tattoos before I used the facilities at Saya no Yudokoro.
The Meal
I purchased a delicious meal for my after onsen experience. This experience was the icing on the cake. The meal was a traditional Japanese lunch consisting of sushi, Japanese vegetables, soba noodles, tea and desert. All beautifully curated and fresh. Not only was it a pleasure to eat but it provided so much joy to my heart and my body after the external spa experience. I encourage you to have a meal as well when onsite at Saya no Yudokoro and take some time to enjoy the lovely dining room.
After the meal and your treatments, if you have time – read a book in many of the quiet spaces, have a tea in one of the guest rooms or outside in the garden space. There is even a small grocery area where you can buy some of the local vegetables that are grown onsite.
Saya no Yudokoro, provided such a serene and comforting end to my time in Japan. I hope you make some time for it when you are in Japan and enjoy the comforts that you will be hard pressed to find back at home.

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Inspirational Reads: ‘There There’ By Tommy Orange, ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ By Delia Owens and ‘Women in Sunlight’ By Frances Mayes

 

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‘There There’ By Tommy Orange
Here is a story of several people, each of whom has private reasons for travelling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honour his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil Red Feather, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.
Fierce, angry, funny, heartbreaking, There There is a relentlessly paced multi-generational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. A glorious, unforgettable debut.
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/563403/there-there-by-tommy-orange/9780771073014
Review:
You will be hard pressed to find any book out there right now that is so beautifully curated, respectful to American Native Indian story telling and written with such an authentic voice you will be moved to tears. ‘There There’ By Tommy Orange has all the makings of a ground breaking and award winning novel. Told through a variety of voices that intersect in a moment of sheer terror – each character tells us their own unique vision, educates us on Native Indian cultures, and exposes crumbs of their history which is riddled with an emotional texture that leaves you salivating to learn more. The lead up is to a pow wow which each character has a deafening connection to – but before we get to the pow wow we are exposed to a landscape that far is free from rocks and debris of time past and is instead is laden with memories and images that reminds us that we will never know the full story. As the reader we must stretch ourselves further and read more about this culture so we in turn can support them in making things right be it in Canada or abroad.

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‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ By Delia Owens
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/567281/where-the-crawdads-sing-by-delia-owens/9780735219090/
Review:
You may feel that you have read this story before but in fact you haven’t. ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ By Delia Owens is a poetic piece of storytelling that can immediately be brought to screen with its rich ode to the south and all its romanticisms. We are introduced to Kya who we can all relate to at least at one time in our lives – feeling like the outcast, perhaps feeling like we have been left to our own devices and the feeling like we are losing a constant battle. Owens does a wonderful job creating a space for the reader to view Kya in her darkest hours and what she accomplishes to overcome those short comings with the help of characterization which is as diverse as her style of writing. Buried within the course of the plot is a mystery that perhaps you may not see coming within the suffering of our heroine. The mystery is the icing on the cake in bringing the story together and reminding us that deep within our lens of change there is always fast one that we least expect to be had.

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‘Women in Sunlight’ By Frances Mayes
By the bestselling author of Under the Tuscan Sun, and written with Frances Mayes’s trademark warmth, heart, and delicious descriptions of place, food, and friendship, Women in Sunlight is the story of four American strangers who bond in Italy and change their lives over the course of an exceptional year.
She watches from her terrazza as the three American women carry their luggage into the stone villa down the hill. Who are they, and what brings them to this Tuscan village so far from home? An expat herself and with her own unfinished story, she can’t help but question: will they find what they came for?
Kit Raine, an American writer living in Tuscany, is working on a biography of her close friend, a complex woman who continues to cast a shadow on Kit’s own life. Her work is waylaid by the arrival of three women—Julia, Camille, and Susan—all of whom have launched a recent and spontaneous friendship that will uproot them completely and redirect their lives. Susan, the most adventurous of the three, has enticed them to subvert expectations of staid retirement by taking a lease on a big, beautiful house in Tuscany. Though novices in a foreign culture, their renewed sense of adventure imbues each of them with a bright sense of bravery, a gusto for life, and a fierce determination to thrive. But how? With Kit’s friendship and guidance, the three friends launch themselves into Italian life, pursuing passions long-forgotten—and with drastic and unforeseeable results.
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/546989/women-in-sunlight-by-frances-mayes/9780451497666/
Review:
If you are a fan of ‘Under a Tuscan Sun’, ‘Women in Sunlight’ By Frances Mayes should be right up your alley. Mayes lens towards her style of writing reads like a painting. She hardly colours within the lines nor does she colour by numbers – she instead creates a web for her characters to find their way out of while also exposing a little about themselves and how they came to be that we can relate to as the reader. We meet Kit again and see her in a new time in her life full of new characters and growth. She is still very likeable and begins to forage a new way of living through the arrival of her guests. As usual, Mayes throws us into a beautiful Italian way of life and living. If you haven’t been anywhere this summer and want to get absorbed into a book that will surely satiate your travel bug with a glass of wine and cheese plate – grab this book!

Books You Need to Read ASAP: ‘Lying in Wait’ By Liz Nugent, ‘Defying Limits Lessons from the Edge of the Universe’ By Dave Williams and ‘Katerina’ By James Frey

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‘Lying in Wait’ By Liz Nugent
The second heart stopping suspense novel by international bestselling author Liz Nugent—filled with dark secrets, twisted relationships, and unexpected surprises.
My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.
In 1980s Dublin, Lydia Fitzsimons seems to have the perfect life—wife of Andrew, a respected judge, and mistress of Avalon, the beautiful house where she grew up. Her pride and joy, however, is her only child, her son Laurence, to whom she is utterly, obsessively devoted.
But her husband’s murder of Annie Doyle, accidental or not, sets into motion a dark downward spiral. No one knows what Lydia and Andrew were doing with a drug-addled prostitute late at night on a deserted stretch of the strand near Dublin, but they stuffed her body into the trunk of their car and buried it in their tidy suburban garden, hoping that will put the matter to rest. Annie was a junkie from the wrong side of the tracks; surely no one will miss her or care to find out what happened to her.
Except that Annie has a sister. Her twin, Karen, who has fared much better in life, is desperate to find her. And when Karen crosses paths with Laurence, isolated and lonely, things begin to unravel. Laurence may be overweight and ungainly and bullied at school, but he’s more clever than he’s given credit for. He knows that something is very, very wrong in the Fitzsimons household—and he is determined to discover the truth…
http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/Lying-in-Wait/Liz-Nugent/9781501191299
Review:
Nugent’s ‘Lying in Wait’ is a perfect long weekend, you can read it quickly and it will give you all the joys of a book well read. Think intrigue, mystery and moments where you will hope the characters will not do what you know they are going to end up doing but you don’t want them to do. Nugent is a pro at building an exquisite arc and characters that are rich, troubled a little bit crazy at holding their own secrets that are slowly revealed on their terms. ‘Lying in Wait’ maybe a book you think you read in the past but will prove rather quickly in its dark murkiness and suspenseful pull that it is clearly a game changer on the scene!

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‘Defying Limits Lessons from the Edge of the Universe’ By Dave Williams
An inspirational, uplifting, and life-affirming memoir about passion, resilience and living life to the fullest, from Dr. Dave Williams, one of Canada’s most accomplished astronauts.
I had dreamt about becoming an astronaut from the time I watched Alan Shepard launch on the first American sub-orbital flight on May 5, 1961. Eleven days before my seventh birthday, I committed to a new goal: one day, I would fly in outer space.
Dr. Dave has led the sort of life that most people only dream of. He has set records for spacewalking. He has lived undersea for weeks at a time. He has saved lives as an emergency doctor, launched into the stratosphere twice, and performed surgery in zero gravity.
But if you ask him how he became so accomplished, he’ll say: “I’m just a curious kid from Saskatchewan.” Curious indeed.
Dr. Dave never lost his desire to explore nor his fascination with the world. Whether he was exploring the woods behind his childhood home or floating in space at the end of the Canadarm, Dave tried to see every moment of his life as filled with beauty and meaning. He learned to scuba dive at only twelve years old, became a doctor despite academic struggles as an undergraduate, and overcame stiff odds and fierce competition to join the ranks of the astronauts he had idolized as a child.
There were setbacks and challenges along the way—the loss of friends in the Columbia disaster, a cancer diagnosis that nearly prevented him from returning to space—but through it all, Dave never lost sight of his goal. And when he finally had the chance to fly among the stars, he came to realize that although the destination can be spectacular, it’s the journey that truly matters.
In Defying Limits, Dave shares the events that have defined his life, showing us that whether we’re gravity-defying astronauts or earth-bound terrestrials, we can all live an infinite, fulfilled life by relishing the value and importance of each moment. The greatest fear that we all face is not the fear of dying, but the fear of never having lived. Each of us is greater than we believe. And, together, we can exceed our limits to soar farther and higher than we ever imagined.
http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/Defying-Limits/Dave-Williams/9781501160950
Review:
Move over Chris Hadfield, Dave Williams needs a minute of your reader time. If you want to change up your optimism lens this summer as we head into a new school year and work quarter, ‘Defying Limits’ is for you. It’s hard to find an autobiography that really walks the walk and shows you the behind the scenes of not only a demanding lifetime of a career but what we as humans can learn from our mistakes and others. ‘Defying Limits’ is indeed the story of a talented astronaut, doctor and scientist but also a story of a family man who speaks to us of what it means to let go of our own insecurities and perhaps create a space for change not only for ourselves but for the community around us – be it on earth or what lies beyond our earth. Aim high is truly given a new meaning through Williams’s words and story. A book that will leave you reflecting for a few days after you finish reading it.

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‘Katerina’ By James Frey
From the New York Times bestselling author of A Million Little Pieces and Bright Shiny Morning comes Katerina, James Frey’s highly anticipated new novel set in 1992 Paris and contemporary Los Angeles.
A kiss, a touch. A smile and a beating heart. Love and sex and dreams, art and drugs and the madness of youth. Betrayal and heartbreak, regret and pain, the melancholy of age. Katerina, the explosive new novel by America’s most controversial writer, is a sweeping love story alternating between 1992 Paris and Los Angeles in 2018.
At its center are a young writer and a young model on the verge of fame, reckless, impulsive, addicted, and deeply in love. Twenty-five years later, the writer is rich, famous, and numb, and he wants to drive his car into a tree, when he receives an anonymous message that draws him back to the life, and possibly the love, he abandoned years prior. Written in the same percussive, propulsive, dazzling, breathtaking style as A Million Little Pieces, Katerina echoes and complements that most controversial of memoirs, and plays with the same issues of fiction and reality that created, nearly destroyed, and then recreated James Frey in the American imagination.
http://www.simonandschuster.ca/books/Katerina/James-Frey/9781982109202
Review:
I had some reservations reading Frey’s latest ‘Katerina’. But man was I wrong! Talk about redemption and a book that is transformational not only as a Writer but through a truly fresh way of story telling. I was taken back to a time in my youth to relive not only the debauchery of what was but also meeting similar folks that I may have bumped into in 90’s Paris when I was in my 20’s. Indeed full of deep introspective moments and affairs that run far deeper than the heart and soul – ‘Katerina’ will leave you aghast with its nods to intimacy, social media lures and a sadness that runs the breath of the novel but you just can’t place it until the end. Frey is a storyteller without a traditional writer’s pen – but yet again, like his previous controversial work he will take you on a tour in time that will not only deeply resonate with you but will also remind you of what you may have lost and wonder what became of those losses?

Canadian Writers That Matter: ‘Dreaming Sally: A True Story of First Love, Sudden Death and Long Shadows’ By James Fitzgerald and ‘Warlight’ By Michael Ondaatje

 

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‘Dreaming Sally: A True Story of First Love, Sudden Death and Long Shadows’ By James Fitzgerald
George Orr dreamed that his girlfriend, Sally Wodehouse, would die on the trip she wanted to take, and he begged her not to go. But Sally did not take him seriously–how could she? She left for Europe in July 1968 with twenty-five other private-school kids, on “The Odyssey,” a Sixties version of the Grand Tour. In August 1968, only hours after becoming engaged to George via telegram, she died as he had dreamed she would, in a freak accident.
Sally was George’s first love, but she was also James FitzGerald’s. James first met Sally at a family cottage; he was drawn to her energy and warmth, a stunning contrast to the chilly emotional life of his own family. At seventeen, not exactly a hit with the girls, James was delighted when he realized that he’d be spending the summer with his old friend. And soon, even though he knew that Sally had a serious boyfriend back home, they became inseparable, touring the glories of Western culture by day, dancing and drinking the nights away–giddily unshackled from the expectations and requirements of their class and upbringing.
To George and James, both sons of parents who knew how to make demands of their children but not how to love them, Sally represented all the optimism and promised freedom of the ’60s. Her death has haunted both men for fifty years–arresting their development, miring them in grief and unreasoning guilt. Dreaming Sally is a profound and evocative exploration of the long shadow left by an eighteen-year-old girl, an uncanny story of first love, sudden death and the complexity of trauma and mourning.
http://www.jamesfitzgerald.info/Dreaming-Sally.html
Review:
A fantastic novel to give you a flavour of what the most prestigious private school students lived in the 1960’s – Toronto, Ontario. ‘Dreaming Sally’ reads like a Dateline NBC extended episode with titillatious backdrops and dreamy characters that all hold a secret or two. There is an early foreshadowing of what is to come for one of the main characters with a few lovers chomping at the bit will make you turn the pages even faster during this great summer read. I appreciated the nods to Toronto history, landmarks and geography. Fitzgerald even drives the reader out into cottage country and overseas all the while exposing us to yummy cuisines, scenery and sounds that perhaps do not exist anymore but at one point did – only to the super elite that is. Indeed, a great mystery novel while also providing an education on what makes Toronto, Ontario a holder of many stories and sympathies.

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‘Warlight’ By Michael Ondaatje
In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself–shadowed and luminous at once–we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings’ mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn’t know and understand in that time, and it is this journey–through facts, recollection, and imagination–that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/567854/warlight-by-michael-ondaatje/9780525521198
Review:
Ondaatje’s latest offering brings all the makings of why he is one of the best Canadian writers of our time. Intrigue, passion, an intricate arc storyline and characters that although hardly verbose speak through their behaviours to tell us their story. ‘Warlight’ is a book that requires your full attention or you may find yourself doubling back to re-read and make sure you are on the same page as Rachel and Nathaniel. Themes of neglect, abuse and some back alley dealings paint a wonderful dark portrait of post war England. Living in that period time through Ondaatje’s words provides the reader a wonderful texture of not only what life was like but also what people needed to do to survive without much in their pockets whilst leaving behind living casualties who were in just as much clinging pain and sorrow as the buried dead.

Poignant Reads: ‘The Melody’ By Jim Crace and ‘The Aftermath’ By Kelley Armstrong

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‘The Melody’ By Jim Crace
From the Booker Prize-shortlisted author of Harvest, Quarantine, and Being Dead, a tender new novel about music, celebrity, local intrigue, and lost love–all set by the Mediterranean Sea
Aside from his trusty piano, Alfred Busi lives alone in his villa overlooking the waves. Famed in his town for his music and songs, he is mourning the recent death of his wife and quietly living out his days, occasionally performing the classics in small venues–never in the stadiums he could fill when in his prime. On the night before receiving his town’s highest honor, Busi is wrested from bed by noises in his courtyard and then stunned by an attacking intruder–his hands and neck are scratched, his face is bitten. Busi can’t say what it was that he encountered, exactly, but he feels his assailant was neither man nor animal.
The attack sets off a chain of events that will cast a shadow on Busi’s career, imperil his home, and alter the fabric of his town. Busi’s own account of what happened is embellished to fan the flames of old rumor–of an ancient race of people living in the surrounding forest–and to spark new controversy: something must finally be done about the town’s poor, the feral vagabonds at its edges, whose numbers have been growing. All the while Busi, weathering a media storm, must come to terms with his wife’s death and decide whether to sing one last time.
In trademark crystalline prose, Jim Crace portrays a man taking stock of his life and looking into an uncertain future, all while bearing witness to a community in the throes of great change–with echoes of today’s most pressing social questions.
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/566442/the-melody-by-jim-crace/9780385543712

Review:

A perfect book to take with you on a road trip, to the cottage and a long weekend out of town.  There are definite throws to a supernatural presence amidst or perhaps something more sinister outside Busi’s dwelling.  Or is he struggling with his own inner demons?  Jim Crace, has a wonderful written hand.  Not only is ‘The Melody’ a poetic read but it is also infused with lots of moments for you to ponder your own life and life’s work that maybe dangling at the your finger tips through the eyes and actions of our hero, Busi.

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‘The Aftermath’ By Kelley Armstrong
Secrets don’t remain hidden for long in this thrilling read from a #1 New York Times bestselling author that’s perfect for fans of Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not and Barry Lyga’s Bang.
Three years after losing her brother Luka in a school shooting, Skye Gilchrist is moving home. But there’s no sympathy for Skye and her family because Luka wasn’t a victim; he was a shooter.
Jesse Mandal knows all too well that the scars of the past don’t heal easily. The shooting cost Jesse his brother and his best friend–Skye.
Ripped apart by tragedy, Jesse and Skye can’t resist reopening the mysteries of their past. But old wounds hide darker secrets. And the closer Skye and Jesse get to the truth of what happened that day, the closer they get to a new killer.

Review:

‘The Aftermath’ was one of my highlights reads this summer!  It painted a shocking potrait of what is left behind after a tragedy such as school shooting.  The hatred, mental health issues and social isolation is exposed along with the people who have been effected and their struggle to overcome it’s trauma.  Armstrong does a wonderful job drawing you within the egg that her novel reads like a true film – be ready for intrigue, suspense and a lot of questioning.  I was literally off my seat wondering what is to come after every chapter and it left me with a strong ‘who done it glow’.  As a casual observer, this topic will leave you feeling slightly more educated around it’s residue and perhaps emphatic to the causes that bring people into it’s space.
https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/535131/aftermath-by-kelley-armstrong/9780399550362/

Japan Travel – Off the Beaten Path in Tokyo (with Notes from TimeOut Tokyo)

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Intermediatheque https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/museums/intermediatheque

Jointly operated by Japan Post and the University of Tokyo, this multifaceted museum opened in 2013 inside the Kitte complex right by Tokyo Station but remains a niche spot despite its superb location. That’s a real shame: the Intermediatheque is one of the city’s rare free museums and displays the academic achievements of Japan’s most celebrated educational institution, along with an extensive – and occasionally creepy – collection of zoological specimens. There’s some explanatory text in English, most of it quite informative.

Ueno Park

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/things-to-do/ueno-park

It’s a mystery why so many guidebooks implore tourists to visit Ueno Park during their stay in Tokyo. The sprawling site enjoys historical significance – it was one of the capital’s first official parks, established way back in 1873 – but you’ll find more attractive spots of urban greenery elsewhere. That said, it is worth visiting for the museums that are housed within the park (including the National Museum of Nature and Science, and Tokyo National Museum) and for Ueno Zoo, Japan’s oldest.

Ueno Park is the sweetest gem tucked inside Tokyo. Low key, a lovely shrine, water lily laden vast pond and tons of nooks to sit and think. That’s just what I did.

Met Art Museum

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/art/tokyo-metropolitan-art-museum

Founded back in 1926, this museum is Japan’s very first public art museum. It features a variety of special exhibitions, thematic showcases and art masterpieces from around the world. Not only worth the visit for the art, visitors are welcome to drop by to enjoy the museum’s restaurant, café and museum shop where you can pick up great souvenirs. The building is designed by renowned Japanese architect Kunio Maekawa, and is an absolute highlight for those who appreciate design.

Shitamachi Museum 

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/museums/shitamachi-museum

This museum presents the living environment of ordinary Tokyoites between the pivotal Meiji restoration of 1868 and the Great Earthquake of 1923. It’s a small counterpart to the large-scale Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku. Take off your shoes and step into re-creations of a merchant’s shop, a coppersmith’s workshop and a sweet shop. Everything has a hands-on intimacy: open up a drawer and you’ll find a sewing kit or a children’s colouring book. Upstairs are traditional toys that even today’s kids still delight in.

National Museum of Modern Art

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/art/the-national-museum-of-modern-art-tokyo

This is an alternative-history MoMA, one consisting mostly of Japanese art from the turn of the 20th century onwards. Noteworthy features of the permanent collection are portraits by early Japanese modernist Ryusei Kishida and wartime paintings. The 1969 building, designed by Yoshiro Taniguchi (father of architect Yoshio Taniguchi) was renovated in 2001. Its location next to the moat and walls of the Imperial Palace makes it a prime stop for viewing springtime cherry blossoms and autumn foliage. Nearby is the Crafts Gallery, an impressive 1910 European-style brick building, once the base for the legions of guards who patrolled the Imperial Palace.

Tsukiji Market

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/things-to-do/tsukiji-fish-market-walk

A walk around the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market may leave you feeling a little sour, knowing that 80 years of history will come to an end when the market is relocated to Koto Ward in November. Or maybe it’s just the pungent smell of fish. In any case, we suggest you head to Tsukiji at 9am, which is when the Inner Market opens to the public. You may have heard about the 5am tuna auction, but unless you’re a Japanese fishmonger and your livelihood depends on it, there’s no good reason to get up before the crack of dawn and queue for hours to watch men shout over dead fish.

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730-10 Arashio-beya

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/things-to-do/arashio-beya-sumo-stable

1 min walk from A2 exit of Hamacho

If you weren’t able to get your hands on some tickets at the Kokugikan, don’t worry. Head over to the Arashio-beya sumo stable in Nihonbashi and watch the giants in action during their asageiko (morning practice) for free. Through large street side windows, you can observe the battling, grappling wrestlers daily from around 7.30am to 10am. Afterwards they come out to greet their fans and you’ll have the chance to take a picture with your favourite wrestler.

Hamarikyu Gardens

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/attractions/hamarikyu-garden

This tranquil garden, once a hunting ground for the Tokugawa shogunate, now cowers in the shadow of the Shiodome development. The garden’s main appeal lies in the abundance of water in and around it and the fact that it feels deceptively spacious, thanks to beautiful landscaping. Situated on an island, it is surrounded by an ancient walled moat with only one entrance, over the Minamimon Bridge (it’s also possible to reach Hamarikyu by boat from Asakusa). The focal points are the huge pond, which contains two islands (one with a teahouse) connected to the shore by charming wooden bridges, and a photogenic 300-year-old pine tree.

Hibiya Park

https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/museums/hibiya-park

A municipal park located in the heart of Tokyo, not far from Kasumigaseki and the Imperial Palace Gardens, Hibiya Park houses a range of facilities, including Hibiya Public Hall, Hibiya Library and both small and large open-air concert halls. The park is also home to the Hibiya Park Gardening Show, which takes place every October, and its flowerbeds contain a variety of species, meaning there’s something blooming all year round. Around the perimeter of the park, you’ll find the Imperial Palace Gardens, as well as the Imperial Hotel and various ministry and government offices.

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Roppongi Hills

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3031_hills.html

Roppongi Hills is one of the best examples of a city within the city. Opened in 2003 in the heart of Tokyo’s Roppongi district, the building complex features offices, apartments, shops, restaurants, a hotel, art museum, observation deck and more. The office floors are home to leading companies from the IT and financial sectors, and Roppongi Hills has become a symbol of the Japanese IT industry.

At the center of Roppongi Hills stands the 238 meter Mori Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the city. While most of the building is occupied by office space, the first few floors have restaurants and shops and the top few floors house an observation deck and modern art museum that are open to the public.

The Tokyo City View observation deck is one of Tokyo’s best. When the weather permits, views can also be enjoyed from an open-air deck on the rooftop. Also located on Mori Tower’s top floors is the Mori Art Museum, a modern art museum with a focus on new artistic ideas from all over the world.

Other areas of interest in Roppongi Hills include the Mori Garden just behind the tower and the Grand Hyatt luxury hotel. Numerous shopping and dining options can be found all across the complex, and there is also a large Toho Cinemas movie theater that plays both Japanese and international movies. The headquarters of TV Asahi are also located on the grounds.

Omotesando Plaza

Occupying a prime slab of Harajuku real estate, this ambitious development houses fashion shops like American Eagle Outfitters and The Shel’tter Tokyo in a complex crowned with a verdant public park – and a spectacular wall-of-mirrors entrance. Go up the stairs to the Starbucks on the rooftop for views of Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji

Try your best to catch a coach up to Mount Fuji even if it’s for a day trip.  I would suggest checking in with an Information Centre once your arrive in Tokyo and see which reputable tours they would recommend.  I grabbed a coach from Shinkjuku train station and got to Mount Fuji in just over an hour.  The coach was around $30 CAD and well worth every penny.

https://tokyocheapo.com/travel/tokyo-to-mount-fuji-transport/

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e6919.html

Owl Cafe

Albeit weird and perhaps not the friend of your local PETA chapter – an owl café is a must see when in Tokyo.  You can check out dog, cat and a variety of other cafes whilst in Japan – I personally liked the owl café.  The owl café I visited also had hedgehogs you could handle.  For $15 CAD you can stay as long as you want, take photos and just take in the whole experience.  I liked the owl café in Ikebukuro.

http://www.owlpark.tokyo/

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Japan Travel – Tokyo Free Walking Tour

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If you are looking for an easy way to see Japan that is also FREE, check out a tour using Tokyo Free Walking Tour.  You can find them on social media and also using the website link below.

The majority of their tours run over the weekend, so as you are planning your Tokyo itinerary leave ample time to join their tours.  The tours are limited to attendees – so try to get the meet up location early and pop your name down on the list of attendees.  The guides all speak impeccable English and are very friendly.  The tours are indeed free – but leave a handsome tip at the end of the tour.

I liked the below tours – they were beautifully curated and I still had time to enjoy the rest of my day in Tokyo after the tour.

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East Gardens of the Imperial Palace

Visit the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, going back 400 years in time to the days of the Shogun right in the center of Tokyo!

Asakusa

Explore the downtown district in and around Senso-ji temple and find something really unique among the temples and shrines!

Meiji Shrine and Harajuku

Discover Meiji Jingu shrine, the urban oasis full of nature, then try a stroll around Harajuku which is one of the busiest and most popular shopping areas in Tokyo!

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https://tfwt.jp/