Theresa O’Connor

日本 (Japan)

the moss-covered top of a stone torii at Fushimi Inari-taisha
the moss-covered top of a stone 鳥居 (torii) at 伏見 (Fushimi ) 稲荷 (Inari) 大社 (-taisha)

Eryn and I spent in Japan in April 2023. We were on holiday in 京都 (Kyoto) and 金沢 (Kanazawa) for the first week, and our second was spent in 東京 (Tokyo) so I could attend a W3C TAG meeting. This was Eryn's first time visiting the country and my first time back since before the pandemic.

京都 (Kyōto)

Sunday 9 April: Arrival

I'd not been to Kyoto since 2011 and I was so excited to return. We landed at KIX on Sunday afternoon and quickly caught a はるか (Haruka) train up to 京都駅 (Kyoto Station). We stayed in an AirBnB near the 鴨川 (Kamogawa), a short walk or train ride to many of the sites and neighborhoods we wanted to visit. We strolled along the river after checking in, and found a little place along 先斗町 (Pontochō) where we had 豚カツ (pork cutlets) for dinner. We got some コンビニ (convenience store) ice cream for dessert on the walk back to our place, and called it an early night. The jet lag struggle is real.

Monday 10 April: 京都 (Kyoto)

In the morning we headed straight to 伏見 (Fushimi ) 稲荷 (Inari) 大社 (-taisha), the mountain shrine you've almost definitely seen a bajillion photos and videos of. It's the one whose trails and walking paths are lined with thousands of vermillion 鳥居 (torii). Visiting Fushimi Inari was the highlight of my first trip to Kyoto twelve years ago. It's an unforgettable experience—I highly recommend visiting if and when you have the chance.

稲荷大神 (Inari Ōkami) is associated with transgender people, and I've had a fondness for them since that first visit.

walking along a 鳥居 (torii)-lined path at 伏見 (Fushimi ) 稲荷 (Inari) 大社 (-taisha)

While down that way we had (eel) for lunch with Florian and 菜巳乃 (Namino). I'd never met Namino before; it was lovely to get to know her a little. She told us all about her work with W7, and Florian and I mostly managed to avoid shop talk.

We visited 清水寺 (Kiyomizu-dera) later that day and drank from (one of) the waters of the 音羽の滝 (Otowa no Taki). Then we wandered through 祇園 (Gion) and along 寺町通 (Teramachi-dori), a shopping arcade street, where we ended up grabbing some お好み焼き (okonomiyaki) for dinner. We finished off the night at Kawa Bar, a quiet spot with a very impressive selection of bottled Japanese craft beers.

one of Kiyamizu-dera's three tiered pagodas pokes out among trees. Kyoto's skyline is visible behind it.
one of 清水寺 (Kiyomizu-dera)'s pagodas and Kyoto's skyline

Tuesday 11 April: 奈良 (Nara)

The next morning we had coffee and toast for breakfast at a cute 喫茶店 (kissaten) around the corner from our place before riding the 奈良線 (Nara Line) south to—you guessed it—奈良市 (Nara), which was the capital city of Japan before Kyoto. We saw lots of adorable deer, visited 東大寺 (Tōdai-ji) to see its 大仏 (giant Buddha), and had lunch.

the giant Buddha (daibutsu) of Todai-ji in Nara
the 大仏 (giant Buddha) of 東大寺 (Tōdai-ji)

It was a quick day trip to Nara. After lunch we headed back to Kyoto and straight to 金閣寺 (Kinkaku-ji), the Golden Pavilion. I didn't get to see it the last time I was in Kyoto, and it's as impressive as I'd imagined it would be. Shiny building is shiny.

a shiny golden building next to a lake, in which it relfects.
金閣寺 (Kinkaku-ji) lives up to its name

That night we had some interesting local beer at Beer Pub Takumiya, dinner at some random 居酒屋 (izakaya) after trying and failing to go to several noodle places, and went to bed. We'd been going non-stop for two days and the jet lag and culture shock really caught up to us that night.

Wednesday 12 April: Palace

On Wednesday—our last full day in Kyoto—we did a load of laundy, had a traditional Japanese breakfast at a little place that had weird Christian pop music playing the whole time, and grabbed a nice cup of coffee from Walden Woods. Then we toured the grounds and gardens of both 平安神宮 (Heian-jingū) and the 京都御所 (Kyoto Imperial Palace) They make an interesting pair—the Heian Shrine is at least partially a recreation of the 平安宮 (Heian Palace), the original palace in Kyoto. Afterwards Eryn bought an 居合刀 (iaitō) (a practice sword) at Tozando, something she'd been contemplating for a long while.

rain in the garden of 平安神宮 (Heian-jingū)

Ana and めぐみ (Megumi) had us over for a truly amazing dinner of ribeye steak and 京野菜 (Kyoto vegetables) that night. It was lovely to catch up with Ana and to meet Megumi and their adorable newborn. 🩷

Thursday 13 April: Thunderbird

On Thursday we packed up, checked out, and got breakfast at a cute little café. Then we spent a while looking at cameras at ヨドバシ (Yodobashi). Eryn's been contemplating replacing her DSLR with a mirrorless camera, so we looked in several camera shops throughout the trip.

Then it was back to Kyoto Station to catch a Thunderbird up to 金沢 (Kanazawa).

金沢 (Kanazawa)

We spent two nights relaxing at まつさき (Matsusaki), an 温泉 (onsen) 旅館 (ryokan) in 能美 (Nomi), not far from Kanazawa. Our room had its own private hot spring bath—a must for hashtag girls like us—and to be quite honest I probably spent way too much time in it. Non, je ne regrette rien.

In addition to the wonderful bath, every meal at our ryokan was exquisite. Each night the 懐石 (kaiseki) they served was varied, tasty, and fascinating. So was the breakfast each day though, to be perfectly honest, I prefer Japanese Breakfast to Japanese breakfast, if you know what I mean.

The two 仲居 (nakai) assigned to our room took exceptionally good care of us.

our private, outdoor 温泉 (onsen) at the 旅館 (ryokan) we stayed at

Friday 14 April: Castle

On Friday we went into Kanazawa for some sightseeing. We stopped at a cute little café for coffee, strolled through 近江町市場 (Omicho Market), wandered the grounds of 金沢城 (Kanazawa Castle), and explored 兼六園 (Kenroku-en).

a white-walled castle stands utop a large stone wall
one corner of 金沢城 (Kanazawa Castle)

We had a quick lunch at 金沢駅 (Kanazawa Station) before heading back to our ryokan.

東京 (Tōkyō)

Saturday 15 April: 新幹線 (Shinkansen)

On the 15th we took the 北陸 (Hokuriku ) 新幹線 (Shinkansen ) はくたか (Hakutaka) from Kanazawa to 東京駅 (Tokyo Station). After checking into our hotel (the New Otani in 千代田区 (Chiyoda Ward)) we set out to find a decent cup of coffee somewhere nearby. I'm so glad we stumbled upon Hocus Pocus; they had really good pour over and very creative donuts.

We weren't all that sure what to do with ourselves at that point, so we took the 丸ノ内線 (Marunouchi Line) to 新宿駅 (Shinjuku Station) and spent some time wandering around the shops inside the station. For dinner we had スープカレー (soup curry) at 東京ドミニカ (Tokyo Dominica). Then we wandered over to 新宿二丁目 (Shinjuku Ni-chōme)—Tokyo's gayborhood—and had a drink at Rainbow Burritos Dōmo, my home-away-from-home whenever I'm in town. I had 泡盛 (awamori) & Eryn tried some 焼酎 (shōchū). We met a nice maybe Swedish, maybe German lady and her lady friend there and had fun chatting with them.

Sunday 16 April: 渋谷 (Shibuya)

We spent Sunday the 16th in 渋谷区 (Shibuya Ward). We started our day at REC Coffee for breakfast, then paid our respects to ハチ公 (Hachikō) (the goodest of boys) and took in the sights around Shibuya Scramble—that Tokyo intersection that's in all the movies. (You know, the one with the Starbucks overlooking it.)

We had soufflé pancakes for lunch at Rainbow Pancake in 原宿 (Harajuku). My friend Ray met up with us after lunch, just as a thunderstorm hit. Eryn and I did 雨宿り (amayadori) (sheltered from the rain) while Ray poped into Uniqlo to get an umbrella, then the three of us walked and talked through the neighborhood. We eventually ending up at the Blue Bottle in 青山 (Aoyama). It was lovely to catch up after so many years!

umbrella-wielding shoppers stroll along Takeshita Street in the rain
umbrella-wielding shoppers stroll along Takeshita Street in the rain

We picked up a present for EJ (and souvenirs for ourselves) at KIDDY LAND and Eryn got herself a 浴衣 (yukata) at Chicago. She also checked out the synths at Five G, and we saw a very cute exhibit about how mechanical watches work at Seiko Seed. We also squeezed in a visit to 明治神宮 (Meiji Shrine).

We had a simple 寿司 (sushi) dinner at 寿司三昧 (Sushizanmai), some craft beer at Goodbeer Faucets, and called it a night.

Monday 17 April: 浅草 (Asakusa)

We had planned to visit the 東京国立博物館 (Tokyo National Museum) in 上野公園 (Ueno Park) on Monday, but it's closed on Mondays. Oops. So we went to 浅草 (Asakusa) to see 浅草寺 (Sensō-ji) instead.

We stopped at Pelican Café for coffee & breakfast, then passed under the 雷門 (Kaminarimon) toward the temple. While strolling along 仲見世通り (Nakamise-dōri) we ate some delicious いちご大福 (strawberry mochi), then entered the temple grounds through the 宝蔵門 (Hōzōmon). After soaking in both the temple and its five storey pagoda we checked out the adjacent 浅草神社 (Asakusa Shrine). Afterwards we had fun looking at kitchen knives and confusing coffee-making apparatûs in 合羽橋 (Kappabashi), Tokyo's kitchenware district.

Tokyo Skytree and the five storey pagoda of Sensō-ji
the old and the new of Tokyo's skyline: Tokyo Skytree and the five storey pagoda of 浅草寺 (Sensō-ji)

After a quick lunch of ざる蕎麦 (zaru soba) we took a train to 小石川後楽園 (Koishikawa Kōrakuen), a beautiful Edo-era garden right near Tokyo Dome. It's a stunning garden that I enjoyed this time as thoroughly as when I first visited it years ago. We popped into Hop Scotch for a pint & a snack, then headed back to the hotel to recombobulate. For dinner we had an amazing 6 course vegetarian dinner at やさいや (Yasaiya) near our hotel in 赤坂 (Akasaka).

Eryn taking a photo of the island in the middle of the lake at Koishikawa Kōrakuen
Eryn taking a photo of the island in the middle of the lake at 小石川後楽園 (Koishikawa Kōrakuen)

Tuesday 18 April: 二丁目 (Ni-chōme)

On Tuesday we had yet another breakfast of coffee and toast—this time at 上島珈琲店 (Ueshima Coffee House)—and then went our separate ways for a few hours. I had lunch with Karl at 豆腐料理空野 (Tofu Cuisine Sorano) in 恵比寿 (Ebisu), then did a (very necessary) load of laundry.

Eryn and I met up again in 新宿御苑 (Shinjuku Gyoen), which is one of my very favorite places in the world. After a bit of a break in our hotel room we met up with Ray for dinner and drinks in 二丁目 (Ni-chōme): We ate at Gantz, a little Korean spot in 弐丁目横丁 (Ni-chōme Yokochō), and then had a round at エルヴィー (Bar ElleVie), a tiny (but packed) lesbian bar I'd not visited before.

in the background, an airplane flies above Docomo Tower. in the foreground, a lake in Shinjuku Gyoen.
caught a plane flying above the city from 新宿御苑 (Shinjuku Gyoen). Docomo Tower is on the right.

Wednesday to Friday (19–21 April): TAG

I spent the next three days at a TAG F2F in Google's Shibuya Stream office. This was my first time visiting this particular Google office—the last time I was in town they hadn't yet expanded from Mori Tower.

We all went out for 焼肉 (yakiniku) the first night, and we ate at a nearby 居酒屋 (izakaya) for dinner on the second. After dinner that night we went out for cocktails at a fancy yet smoke-filled (ugh) bar. The last night of our meeting we all had sushi together and then a couple of rounds at Bar Trench Annex.

Saturday 22 April: 銀座 (Ginza)

After the meeting finished up it was time to spend one last weekend in Japan—the weekend of Tokyo Rainbow Pride! Eryn and I really lucked out that we'd be in town for it.

We started Saturday with brunch at bills, a swanky Australian restaurant in 銀座 (Ginza). After brunch we went to ビックカメラ有楽町店 (Bic Camera Yurakucho) so Eryn could keep looking for the camera she'd been considering getting all trip. But instead of her getting a camera, I got a watch—a Grand Seiko SBGM221. Oops. It's gorgeous and I love it. We also toured the セイコー (Seiko)ミュージアム (Museum)銀座 (Ginza) and saw all sorts of historic pieces.

After that we wandered through 丸の内 (Marunouchi) and enjoyed 皇居外苑 (Kōkyo Gaien), the 皇居 (Palace), and 日比谷公園 (Hibiya Park). Eryn finally managed to have いちごサンド (a strawberry sandwich) for lunch, something she'd been keeping an eye out for the whole trip, at Centre.

We went over to Mike & Naoko's house that afternoon and hung out with them & the kids, then we all went out for dinner together at St.Buffalo. It's hard to believe how much the kids have grown since I last saw them.

Sunday 23 April: Pride

On Sunday we went to Tokyo Rainbow Pride in 代々木公園 (Yoyogi Park), where we marched in the parade with Mamiko as part of the Family Pride contingent. Afterwards we rested at a coffee shop before wandering around 新宿 (Shinjuku): we visited 花園神社 (Hanazono Shrine), hung out at どん浴 (donyoku), and eventually ended up at どろぶね (dorobune) for dinner and drinks with Ray.

: 赤坂 (Akasaka)

Our flight home was delayed for a few hours, so we were able to fit in a bit more on Monday before flying home. We visited 豊川稲荷東京別院 (Toyokawa Inari Betsuin) in Akasaka, a 曹洞宗 (Sōtō Zen) Buddhist temple dedicated to 豊川吒枳尼真天 (Toyokawa Dakini Shinten), a Buddhist form of Inari.

two stone foxes wearing red bibs bare their teeth at the viewer
some (kitsune) at 豊川稲荷東京別院 (Toyokawa Inari Betsuin)