Dina and Desiree: Screw you, earthquake — we're going to honeymoon in Japan!

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Dina and Des on the Wonder Wheel.

Honeymooners: Dina and Desiree

Type: Screw you, earthquake! We're going to Japan!

Budget: Spendy ($5000-$10,000)

Where did you go? Desiree and I have long been fans of Japan — Japanese culture, Japanese food, you name it. It has long been a dream of ours to go. And, I'm not going to lie, it's kind of how I bribed her into going ahead with the wedding idea in the first place. ;)

We decided to take two weeks off work and visit Tokyo, Hakone (a mountain resort near Tokyo) and Kyoto.

What did you do? We started off by flying to Tokyo, which was an adventure in and of itself. (Dina doesn't fly well, kids.) Incidentally, if you fly from Sydney to Tokyo (or probably anywhere else), we found Korean Air to be excellent and not too expensive.

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Lake Ashi tori gate.

Our wedding was on March 3, and our original plan was to travel to Japan straight after. However, the Easter holiday at the end of April (with bonus Anzac Day!) proved too enticing. And that was a good thing, as the Tohoku Earthquake hit on March 11 — which would have meant we were over there during a major natural disaster. Thank goodness! When we travelled over there in mid-April, Japan was still under a travel advisory by the Australian government — according to them, we shouldn't have travelled to Tokyo. But more on that later.

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Shinjuku still shines bright!

We spent our first few days in Tokyo, staying in a tiny, tiny hotel room near Akihabara. While the famed lights of Akihabara weren't shining as brightly as you always see on the teevee, there was little disruption. (Interestingly, places like Shinjuku and Shibuya were still brightly lit, although you could see some signs that weren't on.) The food was spectacular, as you'd expect, and the people were friendly.

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Cooking yakiniku.

While in Tokyo, we visited places like Mount Mitake (where it rained copiously upon us during what we expected to be a ten minute walk that turned into a hour-and-a-half hike), the Studio Ghibli Museum (highly recommended, especially for you Miyazaki fans) and the Wonder Wheel at Odaiba.

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Dina and Totoro, Studio Ghibli Museum, Mitaka
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Our room, ryokan at Hakone
After Tokyo, we took the train to Hakone. Hakone is a beautiful place, while fairly touristy. We splurged and stayed at a fancy ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) at an onsen (Japanese hot springs). Every morning and evening they served these amazing meals – multiple courses of traditional Japanese food, including freshly hunted pheasant. It was spectacular!

Unfortunately, it was also more than my tiny stomach could handle, and we had to communicate to our hosts, who spoke very little English, that no, the food was fantastic, we don't need you to cook Western meals for us… We also made friends with a black egg (eat one and you'll add seven years to your life, or so they say).

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Cooking eggs at Owakudani.

After Hakone we headed on the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto. May I just say that Kyoto is gorgeous? Because it is. So many temples and cobblestone streets and, again, AMAZING food. (Miso nabe (hotpot)? YES PLEASE) We also took a side trip to Osaka, which was interesting but not exactly life-changing. Although we did have some wonderful banana crepes there.

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In Kiyomizu-dera.

One of my favorite moments in Kyoto was when we got lost coming down from Inari temple. We found ourselves in the middle of some residential Kyoto neighborhood. A middle-aged lady spotted us and, although her command of English was pretty much non-existent, managed (with the help of our phrasebook) to get us to the train station, even going so far as to walk with us. (I really hope that's where she was headed anyway!)

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Another favorite moment was climbing up to Iwatayama Monkey Park, where you could feed monkeys and look down on Kyoto from a gorgeous vantage point. We also took day trips to Osaka and Nara (where I was besieged by tame deer who desperately wanted crackers — scary).

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A challenger approaches.

We took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo for our last day, then flew back to Sydney from there.

I blogged our adventure (roughly) day-by-day, so if you want to read more, the entries start here.

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Shopping arcade in Osaka.

What would you have done differently? I would have spent more time in Kyoto. Don't get me wrong, Tokyo was nice, but Kyoto was really more my speed! Also, spend about three more months there. I never wanted to leave.

Also, I recommend wearing proper hiking gear if you're going up to Mount Mitake (or really, any mountainy, foresty place). Don't be stupid tourists like we were!

Honestly, though? I feel like our trip was exactly what I wanted it to be. Which was amazing.

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Gardens at Osaka Castle.

As we left, the young man who spoke the most English of anyone there told us, "Please tell your friends that Japan is not dangerous."

What's your best travel advice for other offbeat honeymooners? As I said, when we travelled to Tokyo, there was a travel advisory from our local government. Which was a damn shame, because there was nothing wrong with Tokyo at all. Yes, travelling to Fukushima or Miyagi prefectures at that time would not have been a great idea (and you didn't need to speak Japanese to understand the devastation that was shown on the news every night when we were there). But there were many things that were reported by the Western media that simply weren't true. Tokyo was not a radioactive wasteland with gangs of roving Yakuza, shortages of food and bottled water, and major transport outages. The only effect of the earthquake that we could see was that there weren't as many lights on in the buildings.

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A Shinto wedding procession.

When we were in Tokyo, I could have counted the number of Caucasians we saw on one hand. When we went to Kyoto (which was not under a travel advisory), there were many other foreigners there. I can't imagine how much this must have impacted Tokyo's economy, which gets a lot of its money from foreign travelers. I know it really affected our hotel in Hakone, which was nearly booked out when we were making travel arrangements but was a ghost town when we were there. As we left, the young man who spoke the most English of anyone there told us, "Please tell your friends that Japan is not dangerous." It broke my heart.

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Harajuku

So here is my advice to other offbeat honeymooners (and offbeat travelers in general): be sensible in the face of disasters, and get information from as many sources as you can. I suppose I was lucky in that I had a friend who was actually in Japan when the earthquake hit, and he was able to tell us that life went on unabated in Tokyo, at least. I also got my information from English-language Japanese newspapers and English-speaking Japanese bloggers/Twitter users (Many thanks to @makiwi of justhungry.com who was my main source of information for a while there).

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Desiree at the Tokyo National Museum.

Take what your local government advises you into consideration, but remember that they're not only considering young, able-bodied, experienced travelers but also families with little kids, older people and people who haven't been outside the country much. (Which, of course, might describe you. It didn't describe us.) Consider your own circumstances, gather information from everywhere you possibly can, and make your decisions from there. Don't just take the Sydney Morning Herald's (or, worse, the Daily Telegraph's) word for it.

Enough talk, show me more honeymoon pics!

  1. Your honeymoon looks like it was amazing! Thanks for sharing it.

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  2. Ahhh! This makes me want to go back to Japan so bad. I've been twice now. And I totally agree with you, go for 3 months if you can! Totally worth it! I went for 2 months the first time, and I wish I had more time in some places (Osaka being one).

    Glad you had so much fun! Looks fantastic!

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  3. Wow! That looks like a wonderful honeymoon.
    Thank you for posting this! As someone who was in Miyagi for the earthquake and hasn't moved away, it's really nice to hear someone outside of my head saying "There's nothing wrong with Tokyo." Because, as you know, there isn't.
    I feel the same way toward Kyoto. Tokyo has it's own joys, but if I could go anywhere in Japan for a couple of weeks, Kyoto would win out definitely.
    It looks like you ladies had a wonderful time and I'm so glad you chose Japan for your honeymoon! I love that you got to go to the onsen together. Looks like a wonderful trip!

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  4. Love your pictures~! Japanese food porn. <3 This makes me want to visit Japan again so bad! It's good to know Japan is doing better.

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  5. That is a great point you bring up (and worthy of its own OBH post I think) re: traveling to a place which has had a natural disaster.

    I see it as: News is a business. Their "product" is information. The only way they can make a "better product" is to sensationalize the news, and to report the news FASTER (in their opinion), not necessarily "more accurately." I am from New Orleans and the amount of misinformation, assumptions and speculating by the news media was just appalling after Katrina. See this article, "Myth-Making In New Orleans:" http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=3998 .
    But now I am getting married in NOLA next year, and all of the venues we looked at had only a few dates available due to popularity! So much for "no one will EVER LIVE THERE AGAIN," as the news proclaimed, eh?

    So I hope and pray it is the same way with Japan, that people will realize that it's actually going to be ok. It looks like you had a wonderful time, and it made me miss it, having been a few years ago. Great honeymoon!

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    • I think you've hit the nail on the head with your "news is a business" statement. I remember after it hit being struck by how quickly we got information about the quake after it happened – I first learned of it on Facebook from my friend in Tokyo, but shortly thereafter the local Australian news websites were already reporting about magnitude, location, the tsunami warnings… I remember only learning of the Kobe earthquake the next day on the front page of the newspaper!

      I think that we're still learning what this NOW NOW NOW newsmedia means. I hope that we as a society can find a way to harness it for something useful rather than the sensationalistic media that exists right now!

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  6. I really have nothing to say but TOTOROOOOOOO
    !1!!

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    • Hee hee. I was waiting for SOMEONE to get excited about Totoro! :)

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    • That's pretty much what I said the whole time we were in the museum!

      One of my other favorite moments of the trip was watching a four-year-old girl walking through the doors of the Ghibli museum and *absolutely losing her mind.* I felt the same way! ;)

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  7. Oh man, talk about honeymoon porn! In a perfect world with an infinite budget, my fiance and I would go to Japan for a month and go bananas. Puroresu matches, bunraku performances, the Miyazaki museum, Kyoto, Osaka…we'd want to do everything! Gorgeous photos, and I am definitely living vicariously through your post!

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  8. This post breaks my heart in a good way. I was living along the Tohoku coast when the earthquake and tsunami hit. My beloved city of Kamaishi was absolutely devastated. There are no words for what I saw and felt and experienced between March 11th and March 21st, when I left for America. I miss the life I had there, but I can't return. Not yet.

    Seeing the pictures, though, reminds me of good times in Kyoto and Tokyo. I also recommend Miyajima, a tiny island near Hiroshima that is absolutely beautiful. And I urge visitors to get up north to the Tohoku area, even if you have to avoid Fukushima. It's absolutely beautiful. No matter how it ended, I wouldn't trade my time there for anything.

    One word, though, for honeymooners: Please don't get too mushy in public. Public displays of affection will make your Japanese hosts very uncomfortable. Holding hands is fine, but, out of respect for local customs, keep it at that.

    Thanks again for the pictures. It's good to remember.

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    • Oh, we definitely kept the PDA to a minimum, and not just because we're two ladies! We'd been warned by a friend who had lived there, and I forgot to mention it in my post. :) Thanks!

      Said friend used to live in Iwaki, and she had friends who lost everything. What happened in Tohoku was horrible. :(

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      • No fear–just offering it as general info. I once did see an obviously Western couple making out in public in Tokyo. By that point, I'd been in Japan long enough that I found it downright shocking and became very annoyed with the couple. Love is wonderful, but come *on*!

        I lost my apartment in the disaster, and I got off lightly compared to many of my friends. Some of them lost loved ones. At least one lost his life. I don't think I'll ever be over it.

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    • Yeah, that PDA info is SUPER interesting. I had no idea! Duly noted. :)

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      • Yeah, Japanese just aren't into PDA. Married couples seldom even touch in public. It's understood in their culture that you have your public face (tatemae) and private face (honne). To bring what's supposed to be private (in their eyes) into public is considered very rude. Oddly, dating couples are given more leeway than married couples, but not to the point that making out in public is okay.

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  9. It looks like such a wonderful honeymoon! I studied abroad in Shiga, just north of Kyoto, and lived in Yokohama for six years. I left in June, and miss it. The pictures of Hakone were my favorite, as that was a place I visited many times and loved.

    I absolutely agree with everything you said about the news. I felt the media was being terribly irresponsible in how they reported about the situation. No matter how many times I reassured my mother that things were fine in Yokohama, she'd panic after watching the news. Luckily she'd visited before, so at least she knew that all the people wearing masks in Tokyo were doing so because of hay fever, not radiation!

    Oh, and I love that people helped you find the train station. For my last year, I had to visit lots of schools for my job and I got very lost more times than I like to admit. Many times, passersby walked me to the school. I'll miss the kindness of strangers that I experienced in Japan.

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  10. This makes me miss Japan so, so much. I'm so happy you guys finally got to go. Although next time, take me. I'll talk Japanese to people ;)

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    • Yesss! (Just like how we're bringing Desi's mom when we finally go to Hong Kong… ;))

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  11. The earthquake hit two days before our wedding, and two weeks before we were due to fly to Japan (from Melbourne) for four weeks for our honeymoon. We agonised for a week about going (and copped a lot of 'omg of course you're not going??!' comments at work and from family). We finally decided that as most of the country seemed fine, we would go anyway. (And really, it was a bit like the Queensland floods – parts of Qld were a mess, but the rest of the country was fine.)
    All we did was change our inbound flight to land in Osaka rather than Tokyo (then did Osaka-Nagoya-Fukuoka-Hiroshima-Kyoto-Tokyo). It was amazing: the people were so nice and friendly and often would come and strike up conversation with us, or go out of their way to help us get un-lost.
    I guess we also helped the Japanese economy by spending a few thousand dollars on toys (mainly Transformers and Pullips), not to mention the postage to get them home!
    We also noticed a distinct lack of western tourists. We were sooo glad we ended up going. My man was super excited that we felt about half a dozen earthquakes while we were in Tokyo (biggest was a 6).We had a blast, and the only thing we couldn't do was go to Tokyo Disney because it was still closed due to the uncertain power situation.
    We're already planning to go back next year.

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    • I got a lot of those comments, too! The week before I left, I told a colleague I was going to Japan, and she responded in a horrified voice, "Whatever for?!" I said the first thing that came to mind: "Because it's beautiful." And it was!

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  12. Regarding PDA in Japan: yes, excessive PDA like passionate and emphatic snogging may draw some – if not stares, glances (people generally don't stare in Japan, except for little kids and old ladies). However, if you are girls, you can hold hands or have your arms around each other while walking on the street without worry. Girls do that all the time in Japan. Also, young (hetero) Japanese couples do kiss and hug in public more these days in the big cities.

    As a non-Japanese person, you are not regarded as being bound by Japanese conventions, so your behavior will be by and large tolerated, unless it's criminal of course. In any case, I can almost guarantee that you will never be outright hassled for any PDA in Japan, unless you go to a particularly seedy area, late at night, and run into drunks (esp. the non-Japanese kind, in Roppongi).

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    • Thanks for that, Maki!

      My opinion is that when I come to visit another culture, I at least try to respect the local customs. To me, it's like going to a Muslim friend's house and bringing bacon as a side dish. I know we probably wouldn't have been run out on a rail if I'd smooched my wife in public, but I still don't want to make anyone uncomfortable unintentionally!

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    • The Japanese are very gracious about non-Japanese not knowing the customs. It's almost the opposite of the US in that way. But I tended to be hard on Westerners who'd made no effort to learn the local customs before coming. Even as gracious as my Japanese hosts could be, I couldn't help but think stuff like public PDAs made them uncomfortable. I feel like if you're a guest in another country, you should be as good a guest as you can be.

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  13. Nice to see Japan getting some of its tourism back. News networks overseas definitely took the earthquake way out of proportion, especially concerning the radiation dangers.

    I mean I live in Shizuoka prefecture and I had all kinds of crazy calls from family members on a mission to bail my fiance and I out ASAP even though our area was in no danger and or any different besides the scheduled blackouts at first.

    I hope ya'll both had a great time. :)

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  14. I just had to comment and say that I too went to the deer park in Nara once. I was about 7 years old, and the deer terrified me. My mother had to carry me on her shoulders because they were SO HUGE and SO HUNGRY.

    Yay for memories I had almost forgotten! Looks like you had a wonderful time!

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    • A deer at Nara bit my mother's bum while we were there! They do get aggressive looking for snacks. The local deer on Miyajima are much better-mannered, as it's illegal to feed them.

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  15. My beau and I had talked about moving to Japan the day before the earthquake. We still want to, and I am happy to see that you visited.

    Also my inner fan girl just flipped when she saw the Studio Ghibli Museum!

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  16. You guys just won hands down for most awesome honeymoon! That's pretty cool that you said screw it and went anyway! What amazing pictures!

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