Reflection on 2017

I was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers & my recent injuries to stop and take a moment to reflect on 2017. This was a year full of life changing moments that I know will continue to shape us in 2018.

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January

The year started off with a ton of fun. I had a fun weekend in Shanghai with my (at the time) fiance riding Mobikes around the city and drinking milk teas. I went to the annual EF conference in Wuzhen with my coworkers and won the Best New Teacher award. My favorite part of January was experiencing my ever Chinese New Year with Harry’s family. It was the first time many of them met me, the infamous foreigner who would soon be a part of their family. I was greeted with so much love, kindness, food (so much food), and even red envelopes.

 

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February

February was all about preparing for our wedding registration. We needed certificates. We needed photos. And of course we needed a nice dress. Besides wedding prep, Harry and I had a very romantic Valentine’s Day date in Shanghai where Harry took me out to eat Western food (what I always craved) and then took me to see La La Land which I LOVED. We were lucky we caught it because it had such a limited release in China. I still listen to the soundtrack every time I need to feel inspired.

 

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March

We got married! On March 7th, Harry and I became officially married at the courthouse in his home province. His mother and cousin were our witnesses. There wasn’t any big party (that would come later), just us deciding we’re in this for the long haul. As soon as the ceremony was over, we hit the ground running on preparing all the documentation for Harry’s green card.

Other special memories this month were celebrating my friend Warren’s birthday in Shanghai, meeting more of my husband’s friends, and making ice cream sandwiches with one of my more difficult classes. I had been struggling with this particular group since I started teaching and this was a turning point for our class.

 

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April

April was filled with lots of traveling. My husband and I took a trip to South Korea at the start of the month. We couldn’t have picked a better time to go. The bitter winter weather was finally ending and the cherry blossoms were already starting to bloom. It was absolutely perfect. The street food, the clothes, the cosmetics, the BBQ, the FRIED CHICKEN!? I had a blast and can’t wait to go back.

Next I took a trip to Guangzhou alone to visit the U.S. Embassy and to turn in our petition for Harry’s green card. The embassy portion of the trip went smoothly (praise the Lord!) but the rest of my trip did not go as smoothly. I hope one day I can go back to Guangzhou with Harry and explore more. I really liked the vibe of the city. It felt so different from where I was living.

April was also when I shot my first ever paid video. It was also my first video ever made in a foreign country. A very exciting moment creatively.

 

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May 

May was so busy because we were preparing to leave China and had so much to do to get ready for America. At the start of the month, Harry and I went to Suzhou and met up with his college friends. I took a really fun trip to Anji with my friends to celebrate Apple’s birthday. Mike & Kelly came to visit China! I got food poisoning and thought I was going to die in a Chinese hospital. Finally, I said goodbye to so many amazing coworkers, students, and friends. During all of this, we were also packing up our apartment and mailing boxes to America.

After I said goodbye to Jiaxing, we went back up to Harry’s hometown and held a wedding ceremony. We had over 200 guests that came and celebrated with us. I got to wear a lovely red dress (the traditional wedding dress color in China) that I had picked out with Harry’s mom earlier that month. After lots of red envelopes, hugs, dinners, and fireworks, Harry and I set off on a mini honeymoon to Japan.

 

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June

June meant returning back to where it all began. Harry and I took a trip back to the city we met, Okayama, only this time we were married! It was so surreal and beautiful to be back there as husband and wife. I had the opportunity to visit my former Junior High School students who were now in their final year. They were so surprised and excited to see me and meet Harry. After Okayama, we traveled to Kyoto and met up with John & Sierra. We also got to see Tom and Mac! In Kyoto, Harry and I said a tearful but hopeful goodbye knowing we wouldn’t see each other again until he had his green card. Then I traveled to Tokyo and stayed with our friend Ray, met up with old friends, and had a ton of fun sightseeing and enjoying the country I use to call home.

By mid-June, I was back in America, united with my family! Harry had his green card interview in Guangzhou which he passed with flying colors. We knew we would be reunited again soon.

 

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July

After a few weeks readjusting to life in America, it was time to get to work on making a home for us here. I found us an apartment in Austin and started my search for a job. I was having a lot of trouble finding work but I kept myself occupied catching up on American films I’d missed and by hanging out with my niece and nephew.

 

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August

August was a huge month because Harry arrived in America!!! I had so much fun introducing him to all my favorite Texas/American things like P.Terry’s and Whataburger. Right after his arrival, the hurricane hit Texas. Austin hardly received any damage but it was crazy to see the mob mentality in action as stores everywhere started to run out of water, gas, and bread.

Other highlights were visiting the Magnolia Market in Waco and seeing Joe & Jen.

 

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September

By September, I hadn’t found a solid gig so I started working three part-time jobs. I was teaching film to elementary school students through Austin Film Society. I was teaching students at a daycare. And  I was making mini-documentaries for an upcoming website aimed at inspiring young adults.

Harry and I took our first trip in America! We went to Santa Cruz to celebrate Kay & Austin’s wedding. Then we drove down the smokey coast and hung out in LA for a few days.

My birthday is September 16 and in 2017 I turned the big 3-0. I had a nice celebration with my family and Harry eating pizza and cake in countryside.

Other highlights were volunteering at Fantastic Fest. I had so much fun despite the controversy surrounding this year’s festival. I hope I can volunteer again next year.

 

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October

In October, Harry and I traveled up to Dallas to go to the Texas State Fair with our friends Mike & Kelly. Unbeknownst to us, we picked the busiest weekend to go. I had no idea there was a rivalry between UT and OU.

I also got to see my friend Nick when he came into town. He edited the film Coming to My Senses which screened at the Austin Film Fest. The film is about Aaron Baker, a man who spent 15 years fighting for his ability to walk after a terrible motocross accident. I had the privilege of meeting Aaron and his wife who are every bit as lovely and inspiring as they are on film.

Other highlights were shooting another mini-doc and helping Harry adjust to life in America.

 

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November

By November, Harry and I began looking for work in LA. I landed a producing job with an animation studio so off we went to sunny California!  spent my first week in LA with Kay & Austin which was a lot of fun. They are simply the best hosts. We came back to Austin for Thanksgiving and to shoot a video I had already scheduled. Then it was right back to LA.

 

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December

December was spent getting readjusted to the LA lifestyle again, making new friends, reuniting with old ones, and working! I spent many late nights at work only to come home to more work (i.e. editing). I spent my weekends editing while Harry studied for the GMAT.  I did have a few moments of fun though. Going to 29 rooms with Lari and friends. Hot Pot night with Brian and his wife. Experiencing my first Escape Room with Debbie and my coworkers at State.Then the 22nd finally came and we flew back to Austin for Christmas with the family.

Two days before New Years, I was in a terrible accident. I walked into a shop and just as I walked in, a car came plowing through the front of the store. Thank baby Jesus I was just to the right of the car or I wouldn’t be here writing this today. I was injured though and spent the last two days of 2017 in the hospital. Not at all how I thought the year would end!

 

 

Even though the accident was terrible and we’re still dealing with the aftermath, it has made me so thankful for the moments I have been given. I plan to take this “second chance” use it as motivation to work harder in 2018.

Thanks for taking the time to reflect back with me. I really recommend taking the time and doing the same. What are your favorite memories of 2017?

♥︎K

 

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A Week In Tokyo – Day 3

Welcome to Day 3 of my Week In Tokyo series. If you want to go back to see Day 1 and Day 2, see the links at the bottom of the post.

DAY 3 | Odaiba 

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Take the Monorail

Today we’re taking you to Odaiba and one of my favorite ways to get there is by taking the Yurikamome line, Tokyo’s first fully automated train line. Land yourself a spot in the front car and take in the sights as you cross the sea. You can hop on at the start of the line at Shimbashi station.

Hours: 5:45 – 00:30

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Miraikan | Science museum

I enjoy visiting the science museum for it’s special exhibitions. Last summer, I went to a video game exhibit where you could play dozens of arcade games or preview a new VR game for the price of admission. From April to September, Miraikan will have an exhibit called “The Art of Disney”, with drawings, sketches, and behind-the-scenes materials. You can see what new exhibit will be on display during your visit by checking out the website linked below.

Hours: 10:00 – 17:00

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Gundam | Diver City Tokyo Plaza 

After the museum, head over to Diver City mall to check out the Gundam statue. Standing at 59 feet (18m) tall, this is the world’s only full-size Gundam statue. Even if you’re not an anime fan, it’s a sight to be held.

Update: I just read that the Gundam statue will be leaving Odiba after March 5, 2017. Fingers crossed that this only means the statue will be gracing us in another section of town soon. I’ll keep you posted.

Hours: 24/7

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Food Court 

Grab some lunch in the Diver City food court. I know you might be thinking, “Food court mall food!? That’s not why I traveled here!” But trust me. This isn’t Panda Express. The first floor offers an array of delicious options like tonkatsu ramen, takoyaki, Hawaiian food, and more. After lunch, you can go shopping or head to our next stop.

Hours: 10:00 – 22:00

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Joypolis 

Joypolis is an indoor amusement park but that label doesn’t do it justice. There are arcade games, rides, simulators, laser tag, food, and more! Nobody does arcades quite like Japan. Joypolis can be found in other cities across Japan as wel,l but usually on a smaller scale, without the rides.

Hours: 10:00 – 22:00 (Last entry 21:15)

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Venus Fort mall

With the mood lighting, painted sky ceiling, and the medieval European architecture, this mall feels like a Vegas casino. It’s a nice place to walk around, especially in the summer when you want to escape the heat. Venus Fort is part of a larger complex which also includes other attractions which we’ll talk about below.

Hours: 11:00 – 21:00

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Toyota History Garage

This mini car museum is located on one side of Venus Fort mall. Here you can view many historic cars from all over the globe. It’s not worth a trip to Odaiba just for this exhibit, but if need something to keep your boyfriend or dad busy while you’re off shopping, this a good place to drop them off.

Hours: 11:00 – 21:00

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MEGA Web Toyota City Showcase 

After you’ve taken your selfie with the car from Back to the Future, head over to the Toyota City Showcase. This exhibit showcases the future of Toyota technology and is much more interactive. You can play a few video games or try out the Toyota Winglet (think Segway only much more compact). Like the historic garage, this exhibit is also located within Venus Fort.

Hours: 11:00 – 21:00

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Daikanransha | Ferris wheel

Adjacent to Venus Fort is my favorite ferris wheel in Japan. I’m slightly biased because this is where my fiance proposed to me. It’s colorful and beautiful against a blue sky. You can choose one of the colored cabins or one of the glass bottom cabins for the 16 minute ride. I like coming during the day but it’s also romantic at night when you can see the sparkling city lights.

Hours: 10:00 – 22:00

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Statue of Liberty Tokyo 

For any American readers out there, you might enjoy this next spot. Outside of Aqua City Odaiba mall, there is a replica lady liberty that makes a great photo opp. Overlooking the bay, this spot is where you’re going to want to camp out to get a good view of Rainbow Bridge. Which brings us to our last recommendation…

Hours: 24/7

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Rainbow Bridge 

Stay till after dark and you can see Odaiba’s beautiful and iconic rainbow bridge. The colors will change depending on certain holidays or events. During the month of December, there are winter fireworks at Rainbow bridge every Saturday. This is one of the best places to view fireworks in Tokyo outside of the summer season. Check out the site below for schedules.

Hours: Sunset – 00:00

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If you liked this post and want to see more recommendations in Tokyo, check out the links below.  Be sure to follow the blog if you’d like to receive guides for Days 4-7. Thanks for reading!

Day 1  | Day 2 | Day 3

♥︎K

A Week In Tokyo – Day 2

Welcome to Day 2 of my Week In Tokyo series. If you want to visit go back to see Day 1, see the links at the bottom of the post.

DAY 2 | ASAKUSA + UENO

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Asakusa Shrine | Sensoji 

Start your day at Asakusa Shrine and beat the crowds. This is one of the most beautiful Shinto shrines in the city. The entrance is marked by the Kaminarimon Gate and a huge red chochin lantern. In front of the shrine is an area of market stalls with food and souvenirs. The whole area is charming for tourists and locals.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Tokyo for New Year’s Eve, Asakusa Shrine is filled with thousands and thousands of people counting down to the big moment. It’s wonderful and exciting but also terrible if you hate crowds.

Shrine Hours:  Typically 06:00-15:00 (Temple Grounds always open)

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Sky Tree

Sky Tree is another great place to see a beautiful view of the city. In addition, there is a large shopping mall, an aquarium, restaurants, and more all in one centralized location. Be sure to grab your day tickets for the tower before heading into the mall. Day tickets do not have a specific time window so you may have to wait. Or save yourself time by purchasing tickets in advance. Having opened in 2012, Sky Tree is still relatively new so there will likely be a crowd to go up the tower.

Hours: 11:00 – 20:00

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Ueno Park

Ueno Park is one of my favorite places to drink a cup of coffee and people watch. Grab a cup of coffee at the Starbucks and grab a seat by the fountain or under the tree and relax. If you happen to be visiting during sakura season, you’ll find Ueno filled with friends enjoying food and drinking under the beautiful pink blossoms.

Hours: 05:00-23:00

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Visit a Museum or the Zoo 

After you’ve enjoyed a coffee break, you can visit one of the many wonderful museums in Ueno Park like the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Nature and Science, or the Ueno Zoological Gardens. Most have entrance fees under 800 yen (about $8!) which is a bargain.

Hours: For most 08:00-17:00

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Ameyoko Shopping street

After you’ve become more cultured, take a break and do some shopping. Ameyoko shopping street is once of my favorite places to walk around. You can find everything from sneakers to perfume to spices along the road and alleyways. My favorite purchase I made here was my Japanese sukajan bomber jacket.

Hours: Varies per store

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Izakayas

All that shopping probably made you hungry. Luckily, Ueno is filled with many izakayas for you to choose from. This place transforms into a lively bar scene when the sun goes down. Izakayas serve Japanese bar food mostly in small dishes meant to be shared over drinks. I LOVE izakaya food. When I went to Japan in December, this was our first stop. Order a “nama biiru” (draft beer), any of yakitori (skewers), karage (fried chicken), edamame, a grilled fish, and potato salad. That will get you started in the right direction. There are izakayas all over Tokyo and I recommend visiting as many as you can. Tokyo Cheapo made a great beginner’s guide to izakayas that I recommend reading if it’s your first trip.

Hours: Typically last order around 23:00

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If you liked this post and want to see more recommendations in Tokyo, check out the links below.  Be sure to follow the blog if you’d like to receive guides for Days 3-7. Thanks!

Day 1  | Day 2

♥︎K

A Week In Tokyo – Day 1

Tokyo is one of my favorite cities on the planet and I feel very lucky I got to call it home last year. After our recent visit in December, I was inspired to write a guide to some of my favorite places. For anyone that’s traveling to Tokyo (or living there now), I’ll be writing a series called “A Week in Tokyo” where I give you a day by day guide on places to visit/eat/shop. So here we go!

DAY 1 | ROPPONGI + SHIBUYA

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Roppongi Mori Art Tower (Tokyo City View | Sky Deck)

Get your lay of the land with a beautiful view of Tokyo. This is my favorite place in all of Tokyo. If the weather isn’t great, you should switch this day with another. The view is still amazing but you won’t be able to go out on the sky deck. If you’re traveling with a significant other, you might want to come back just before sunset. It’s very romantic.

Hours: (usually) 10:00-23:00

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Tokyo Midtown 

After visiting the sky deck, head down the road to Tokyo Midtown. You can enjoy some shopping in the mall then head out to the man-made park to enjoy some beautiful nature right in the city. If you visit during the summertime, grab some snacks at the grocery shop in the basement of Tokyo Midtown then have a picnic outside.

Shop Hours: 11:00-21:00

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BrewDog Roppongi

This recommend is more for the expats who have been in Tokyo for a while. Sometimes you need a break from Asahi and Kirin. A great spot to grab a few non-Japanese beers with friends is BrewDog. This place is extremely foreigner friendly and many of the staff members speak English. They have a wide selection of beers on draft and a delicious menu to go with it. There’s also a Super Nintendo you can play. Get your Street Fighter on.

Hours: 15:00-24:00

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Shibuya Crossing

Catch a bus or the train from Roppongi and head over to Shibuya. This is the famous crosswalk you always see on the movies. It’s something to be experienced. Look for the Hachiko exit when exiting the station.

Hours: 24/7

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Shopping at Shibuya 109

See what Japan’s young and fashionable ladies are wearing by heading over to Shibuya 109. For the guys, there’s a Shibuya 109 Men’s across the road.

There’s tons of other places to shop in Shibuya but for now you’ll just want to browse so you’re not carrying lots of bags for the rest of the night. Besides, it’s day 1, you have plenty of time for shopping later! BUT if you can’t help yourself and you buy too much, you can usually rent lockers in the train station for a few hours to store your goodies until you’re ready to head home.

Hours: 10:00-21:00

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Dinner at Genki Sushi

This place is my favorite kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant in Tokyo. It’s delicious, affordable, and it’s a chain so you can find them in different locations around the city. Try to go slightly before or after regular meal times or you’ll find yourself waiting for a seat.

Hours: 11:00-24:00

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See a Concert at the Chelsea Hotel

I love live music and I especially love live music in other countries. You don’t need to understand the language to feel engaged with the music. This basement venue is a great place to check out a punk/rock show. Check out their schedule online to see if there’s a show when you’re visiting or just drop by and take a look.

Hours: Varies

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I hope you enjoyed this list for Day 1. Subscribe and stay tuned to get guides for Days 2-7.

♥︎K

I FINALLY FINISHED SOMETHING

Do you ever start a project and your lazy, self-doubting personality gets in the way of  you finishing it? Yeah, that was me.

I spent WAY too long wondering whether people would make fun of me for making a vlog. But guess what? I DID IT ANYWAY!

Hallelujah! It feels so good to finally finish something. I had a lot of fun making this. It’s a much better use of my time than Netflix (shh, Netflix, I still love you). And you know what? From just ONE VIDEO, I’ve learned so much about vlogging and YouTube.

So here it is. I’m so happy to share this with everyone. My first ever vlog/travel guide taken during my travels to Hong Kong.

I hope 2017 will bring more vlogging and videos. I think 2017 is going to be a big year for me and it’d be great to have it recorded.

I’ll be heading to Japan in 3 days for Christmas. I can’t wait to see all the beautiful illuminations and to spend time in one of my favorite cities on earth, Tokyo.

Have a great day y’all.

♥︎K

My First Trip to Japan

I first traveled to Japan back in November 2014. It was my first trip as a solo female traveler.

While my girl friends glamorized the idea of solo traveling, I thought it sounded awful and swore to never do it. But when my best friend could no longer come with me, I had to make a choice: give up on a trip I had been planning for a year and dreaming of for decades, or travel alone.

I tried to keep my anxiety at bay by planning, researching, and creating all kinds of lists. I had screenshots of maps, PDF guidebooks saved to my phone, Japanese dictionary apps… Backup copies of my passport and all my hotel bookings. Backups OF THOSE backups. I went a little overboard. But I think most people do on their first trip abroad alone.

I’m so happy I came because I gained so much more confidence in myself. And that trip was what ultimately let me know that I could live in Japan on my own.

While working on a video today, I found an old edit I made of my first trip. I don’t know why I never posted it but here it is. It’s been long enough that the shots all feel dreamy and nostalgic.

Right now, the biggest news in my life is that I’m moving to Yokohama next month! I’ll be staying with Interac and starting a new contract with a few elementary schools for this coming school year. I can’t wait to explore Yokohama and discover a new part of Japan. And I can’t wait to be closer to the madness that is Tokyo. I always dreamed I would live near Tokyo and now that’s a reality.

Dreams do come true kids.

 

♥︎K

Kirin Beer Factory

Last month we visited the a Kirin Beer factory called Kirin Beer Park Okayama. They offer free tours with a free beer tasting at the end. That’s right- FREE.

DSC_0070.JPGTo get here from Okayama Station, take the JR Sanyo line to Mantomi Station. It’s about 25 minutes away and costs 320 yen.

DSC_0073.JPGThe factory is about a 10 minute walk from the JR Mantomi Station. But if that’s too far of a walk for you, there are shuttle buses that will drive you straight to the factory’s front door. And that’s free too.

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The tour is about 1 hour long. It’s given in Japanese but if you let them know, they will give you a small pamphlet that explains everything in English. They recommend making a reservation in advance. You can do that online or by calling their number.

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The tour started off with an introduction video (in Japanese), then we were taken on a tour of the brewing area where we got to sample hops. We learned that the reason they are called Kirin Ichiban (meaning #1) is because they use a single wort brewing process. “Wort” is the liquid that has all the sugars that will be fermented later to produce alcohol.

Most other beers use the first and second wort.We got to sample the difference between first and second worts and the first wort is very, very sweet.

At the end of the tour, we were taken to a cafeteria like area where we had about 1 hours to sample 3 different beers. There are also non-alcoholic drinks available for kids or your designated driver.

 

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It wouldn’t be Japan if without omiyage. In the gift shop, I found some delicious chocolates with a beer jelly filling. Each chocolate was wrapped to look like a small beer can. So cute!

Make sure you take the train. The staff will ask you how you arrived and if you’re the driver, they will give you a pass that says you’re not allowed alcohol. Besides, they make it too convenient to get there without a car. Be safe friends!

If you live in the area, I highly recommend checking it out with your friends. Who doesn’t love free beer?

 

Today is Hakada Matsuri or the Naked Man Festival. They day where hundreds of men wear practically nothing in the freezing cold and fight for a rod that is said to bring a year of luck. This should be interesting. If you’re in the area, come join in on the fun!

♥︎K