10 Things I Would Repeat in Japan

All the months of dreaming, watching travel vlogs, admiring photos and reading every resource I could find on the internet filled my brain as the realization hit me — the dream of going to Japan was finally coming to life.

I could still feel the sensation of the airplane hitting land after 11 hours of being airborne. I was sleep deprived, jet lagged and tired, but I was more than ready to get off the plane. As I finally walked off the plane and onto Japan land, I couldn’t think of a better way to start this trip than with the amount of intention and excitement that I had inside of me.

That happiness and excitement led me to a series of wonderful experiences and moments in Japan. To say the least, my Japan trip was enriching, exhilarating and rejuvenating. Everything about the country is so intrinsically different from the US that I find myself thinking about going back to relive this beautiful country.

I could write about all of the different things I did in Japan, but to sum it up, here are the 10 favorite things I did during my 10 day stay in Japan and that I would 100% do again when I go back to Japan.

1. Go to Tokyo Dome.

When my travel group and I got off the Metro stop, we finally entered the Tokyo Dome area — and I was shocked. Tokyo Dome was a sweeping entertainment city. Not only does it consist of the literal dome, which houses the indoor theme park, bowling alley, batting cage, observatory and SEGA arcade games, it also includes the attractions outside of the dome, which features a roller coaster, ferris wheel, various carnival games and a sizable shopping center with plenty of places to eat and shop. The outer section of the Tokyo Dome reminds me a lot of the Santa Monica Pier, minus the pier and the ocean and the added bonus of being in the heart of Japan. I spent my birthday night exploring, trying the boba, and enjoying the view from the ferris wheel. It was a beautiful end to my birthday night.

2. Eat at every single ramen restaurant imaginable.

The first ramen shop I went to coincidentally was one of the best ramen places I had visited in Japan. We were tired, jet lagged and starving, so we went to the first ramen restaurant we could find next to our AirBnB in the Nakano neighborhood. The ramen restaurant was called Musashiya Nagano Honten, which was made more enticing due to the sign at the front that said, “Foreigners welcome.” It was our very first time using a vending machine to order ramen, which is actually a very popular device in many Japanese restaurants. I ordered the Tonkotsu, which is ramen marinated in pork bone. I took the slip from the vending machine, sat down at the bar and handed the chefs my slip. Before I knew it, I was immediately served a steaming bowl of Tonkotsu ramen. I took one sip of the hot, flavorful broth and, at that moment, I couldn’t think of a better first meal in Japan.

 

My next favorite ramen place was actually stumbled upon by accident. We were walking around Shibuya, hungry, when we spotted a bright red sign and a menu with delicious images of ramen. We were sold! Little did we know that this place was coincidentally one of the most popular, authentic Japanese ramen restaurants — Ichiran. Social media touts Ichiran as “an introvert’s dream”. And it truly is. After I made my order on the vending machine, I was taken to a cubby seat and filled out a form that listed preferences for the ramen (noodle and broth consistency, spice level, etc.). In front of the cubby was small window with blinds. I placed the form and my order slips in front of the window and serves immediately opened the blinds to receive them. In a short amount of time, two sturdy hands served me a fresh bowl of ramen, filled with the preferences I listed. They shut the blinds for added privacy, leaving me alone with my delicious Tonkotsu ramen.

3. Visit Family Mart and Lawson every morning.

My typical morning routine consisted of one main thing: a trip to Family Mart or Lawson. These two are one of the most popular convenience stores in Japan, next to 7-Eleven. What’s different about these convenience stores are the types of food and beverages they offer. I came here because I loved the variety of breakfast items such as sandos (sandwiches) or onigiri, and latte cups, which were easily my favorite things from the store. I also came here a lot for the unique, Japanese snacks, basic grocery items and, of course, the alcohol.

4. Feed the deer at Nara Park.

After what felt like a long day of traveling to Kyoto and Nara, we finally made it to Nara Park, which was one of my Japan bucket list items. Nara Park is home to thousands of wild sika deer, who roam freely around the park and even several parts of the city. They are considered to be “friendly” since they are easily fed by humans, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them friendly. When I bought crackers from one of the vendors in Nara, a swarm of young deer immediately tried to nab away at the crackers. When I ran away, one of them jumped to where my hand was and knocked the crackers out of my hand! So much for “friendly”. However, I learned the trick. You must bow to them, like a hippogriff, and they bow right back in order to take the cracker from your hand. It took me an hour to get used to feeding them, but the process was fun and phenomenal.

5. Play at Taito Game Station in Shinjuku.

The first time we visited Shinjuku, I was elated. It was our first day and I was beginning to experience Tokyo’s vibrance and energy. I was open to explore and try anything in Shinjuku. The first thing my group and I immediately saw was Taito Game Station, which was spelled out in bold white lettering against a bright red, six-story high building. Taito Game Station is an arcade gamer’s dream. There were hundreds of games imaginable — claw games, claw games, multiplayer games, racing games, arcade games and pachinko/slot machine-like games for adults to gamble their money away. I tried (and failed) to win a prize from the claw game, won 2nd place in the life size Tsum Tsum arcade game and played a pachinko medal game for the first time. Despite the money lost, I would do it all over again for the experience.

6. Use the vending machines.

One of the most unique things about Japan is their vending machines, which can be found on every corner. Although every vending machine possesses similar things, each are uniquely different and may carry items that the vending machine across the street may not have. It’s almost like a scavenger hunt when you visit each machine — what does this have to offer? My favorite drinks were Pocari Sweat and their different fruit flavored carbonated drinks. It was like candy in a drink!

7. Visit an onsen.

Left. Left. Right. Left again. After many turns into alleys upon alleyways, we finally found what we were looking for – Jakotsuyu, an onsen. Unlike most traditional onsens, however, this onsen accepted tattoos. We were lucky — Austin found this randomly online while we were researching different onsens to try and we thought, “Why not?” Gratefully, the indoors onsen is foreigner friendly and knew enough English for us to pay at the front desk and grab a towel, which they graciously offered. The process is that you go inside, strip your clothes and place them in a locker, wash yourself in the publish showers using only soap and water and walk out naked into the tub of natural hot spring water. As I let my whole body soak, I felt waves of relaxation caress my body, rubbing away any anxiety away and leaving behind a sense of contentment.

Photo from http://tokyostory.net/sento/jakotsuyu/

8. Visit Shinto and Buddhist shrines.

I was raised Catholic, so I knew nothing about the Shinto and Buddhist religions that permeated Japanese culture. Visiting the Sensō-ji and the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrines in Japan felt very refreshing and even welcoming. Although there were many tourists in each of these shrines, I found comfort in the fact that people around the world were being exposed to something that was not familiar to them. We were all learning and discovering a culture that was much different from what we were used to. I paid my respects to each shrine and followed and learned some of the rituals that were practiced. There was immense power and presence in each shrine and I couldn’t help but feel amazed and blessed at having the opportunity to experience it.

9. Go to Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea.

When Austin and I got off the Metro and walked towards the Disneyland Gateway Station, I knew we were already in for a treat. We weren’t disappointed. Both DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland were phenomenal attractions. The first thing we saw when we walked in to Disney Sea was a large fountain with an even larger rotating globe in the middle. That globe eluded to the whole park — DisneySea essentially combined multiple parts of the world and placed them into its corner of the park. Instead of a typical castle, there was a large volcano right in the middle of the park that would periodically explode every so often. We rode on a lot of thriller rides such as Tower of Terror and Raging Spirit, and even bought some delicious mochi balls.

After spending some time in DisneySea, we bought a Starlight Passport after 6PM to visit Tokyo Disneyland at a discounted price. Although most of the rides are the same as the Disneyland in Anaheim, the space and decor are very different. Main Street was decked with beautiful strips of color in celebration of Tanabata, a holiday that celebrates two star crossed lovers and their ability to grant wishes. Although they didn’t have a fireworks show like we had expected, we watched a fantastic light show, which was a beautiful thing to witness with my own eyes.

10. Go to Tokyo Tower.

I arrived to Tokyo Tower, not expecting much after several disappointed visits to the Tokyo Government Building and the Skytree. Both were incredible monuments, but I felt they did not warrant another visit from me. However, there was something magical about Tokyo Tower when I finally arrived at the top. The view of the skylines were at a perfect level to take photos and just admire the sunset. The best part was that there were absolutely no clouds. It was a gorgeous moment shared between myself and the Tokyo sunset. For that reason, I would come back in a heart beat.

  

The “La La Land” Staycation Experience

Staycations can be the most cost effective way to enjoy your weekend, holiday or vacation. You don’t need to sit through long drives or plane flights, and you definitely don’t have to break the bank to have a relaxing, fun break. Fueled with my one day trip at Downtown LA, I decided to take it a step further this past President’s Day weekend by planning a surprise staycation trip for Austin’s birthday and booking a hotel room in Los Angeles!
If you read my Downtown LA blog, you’ll know that I am loving the idea of being a tourist in my own city. I figured that having an actual place to stay in a certain part of LA would make it easier to explore and gain more exposure to the area. After tons of research, Yelp reviews and phone calls, I made arrangements for a one night stay at the Magic Castle Hotel, a small gem in Hollywood.

GETTING TO THE HOTEL
The Yelp reviews all raved about the hospitality service in this hotel, and those reviews were true to their word. Service at the Magic Castle Hotel is AMAZING. I called in earlier to see if I could arrange for balloons to be left behind in our room to surprise Austin, and they graciously allowed me to dump balloons in their hands and to even check in my bag early. Parking in their garage was $13 per night, which is actually pretty cheap compared to other hotels in the area that charged $35+ for valet parking, so for hotel standards, the price was a steal since I will take $13 over $35 any day. We didn’t get to go inside the club, but the view of it was amazing.

THE MAGIC OF THE HOTEL
When I finally brought Austin in, the hotel concierge handed us champagne glasses with sparkling lemonade and went through a spiel of the amenities and the room service and it was honestly a list that was too good to be true — free unlimited snacks, free beverages, 24 hour pool, complimentary breakfast, free wifi, free board games, free on-demand television…the list goes on. It was a sweet tooth’s heaven.

We got into our hotel room and as expected, Austin was surprised with the balloons I arranged. But that wasn’t the only thing — the room also came in with a birthday card signed by hotel management, two cupcakes and more sparkling lemonade in the fridge. So sweet! The room was small and quaint and definitely not a 5 star hotel, but everything was well kept and tidy when we arrived, and the bed felt super comfy!

Amidst all the stress and the preparations, I managed to snap pictures of the hotel complex interior and the room we had. Staying here honestly felt like I time traveled to a more retro period of Los Angeles. I would definitely check out the Yelpers who reviewed the hotel if I were you because they definitely have proof that this hotel’s service is top notch. We got lots of hot apple cider and snacks, grabbed free breakfast in the morning, and utilized their on-demand television services and DVD player to its fullest.

THINGS TO DO
For the weekend, we hiked at Runyon Canyon, which is a 2.5 mile hike up steep terrain (prepare to be sore afterwards!). If you want a good workout with beautiful scenery of the Hollywood sign and the skyline, I definitely recommend hiking at Runyon Canyon. There was even a love lock gate similar to the Love Lock Bridge Paris!

We also walked around the Hollywood strip and stopped by a cafe called Otus Thai Kitchen and Coffee to do some work and study (because retention is important). I got the caramel latte and their super popular kai kata.

Living on the west side during my whole time in LA doesn’t actually feel like “La La Land” as the media wants you to think. But taking the short drive out to Hollywood and exploring the little treasures hidden in the city really did feel like I was somewhere magical. It was a short yet sweet staycation with the boyfriend, and I can’t wait to keep exploring more of LA after this.
This post was NOT sponsored in any way. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

A Weekend in Las Vegas

After 4-5 hours of sitting in the car, the sun sank below the horizon and the nighttime began to fall. Just when I thought it would take even longer to get there, the bright neon city lights appeared, glowing in the dark like beacons. Las Vegas was finally here.

Last weekend, I went to Vegas for the 23rd birthday of one of my best friends, Andrew Acedo. It had been a year since the last time I went, so I was really excited to finally spend another weekend in Sin City. Here’s a short summary of what we did!

H O T E L
 
Vdara. My friend decided to go big and upgraded our rooms to suites. The room I stayed in was probably one of the biggest rooms I had ever stayed in for a group of 20 people. It was complete with a kitchen, dining table, living room area, master bedroom and two bathrooms.

D I N I N G
 
Fat Tuesday. The classic Fat Tuesday drinks are a must-have when you visit Vegas. My favorite is the Bellini with Strawberry.
 
Marilyn’s Cafe at Tuscany. I GO TO THIS PLACE EVERY TIME I’M IN VEGAS. This cafe is honestly a hidden gem in Vegas that not many people know of. If you pop in after midnight you can get their steak and eggs (or as my friends like to call them, “steggs”) FOR ONLY $5.99! They come with hash browns and buttered toast.

The Buffet. I would only recommend this place if you’re celebrating a special event since it is super pricy at around $40 per person for brunch. You have plenty of options to choose from such as Asian, Latin, Mediterranean, Tandoori and so much more. Although the food is delicious, I felt that I didn’t get my money’s worth since I already felt full after 2 plates.

Taco Bell Cantina. When you walk into this particular Taco Bell, it’s like you are walking into a club environment since it is complete with neon lights and club music. You can even purchase alcohol on top of their regular menu items. I bought three of their tacos and tried some of their alcoholic Baja Blast, which was really yummy! I definitely recommend this place when you’re feeling the munchies after a night out.

C L U B B I N G

Steve Aoki at Hakkasan. Steve Aoki was super hype and constantly threw out free T-Shirts to the audience. The club itself, however, was very small with the amount of people that came and I constantly felt like I was being shoved back and forth as people kept pushing towards the front of the stage. Steve Aoki’s set also went way too long and ended at 3:30AM. My friends and I were still down to get the steak and eggs at Marilyn’s Cafe afterwards though!

Jaws at Jewel. I personally liked this club and DJ better since the music was easier to sing and dance along too. The crowd also wasn’t as bad as Hakkasan. I danced the night away until 2:00AM when some of my friends and I decided to grab something at the Taco Bell Cantina.

As the motto for this weekend was, “Chase dreams, not drinks”. If there’s one thing I love about Vegas, it’s that it gives you the opportunity to be bold with the people you’re with. Vegas isn’t Vegas without the people you’re with, and I’m very blessed to have celebrated this birthday trip with some of the funnest, craziest, most down to earth people.

Thanks for reading! If you want to see more, here is a highlight travel diary video of my trip in Vegas!

My Travel Essentials Packing List

It’s finally the holiday season, and for many people, winter break is finally here! Many people have large travel plans lined up for the holidays and need a packing list, so I thought I would share my own list of travel essentials that I have curated for any season and occasion!
  1. Backpack. Bring a backpack that is able to fit everything you need such as make-up, book, planner, etc.

    Everlane Backpack.jpg

    My all-time favorite backpack is my trusty Everlane Twill Snap Backpack, which does wonders in fitting all my essentials in one place and even has two side pockets to put your water bottle or any other small items.

  2. Carry On Bag. For small trips I only bring two bags to fit everything I need. Clothes, accessories and shoes usually go in my second carry on travel bag.carry-on-bag

    This one is Cath Kidston’s travel bag, which is both beautiful and spacious in design. It even has a shoulder strap to make it easier to carry.

  3. Water bottle. It is so important to stay hydrated, so bring an empty water bottle with you before you go through security and fill it up before you board on the plane.Camelback Waterbottle.png

    I recently purchased the Camelback Eddy from Amazon and I absolutely love this bottle. It works as a sip cup so you don’t have to tilt the bottle and cause any accidental spills (like I usually do). I’ve found that I stay more hydrated with this bottle since it’s so easy to use. It’s definitely a must when you’re out on adventures!

  4. Beauty essentials. My toner water, make-up wipes, body oil and natural DIY deodorant are my holy grail products for traveling. They’re travel-sized, portable and meet the TSA requirements since they do not exceed 3.4 ounces.Beauty Essentials.jpg

    After a long day of exploring or even on the plane, I use the Target generic brand of Neutrogena’s make-up wipes to remove my make-up and then go in with Lush’s Breath of Fresh Air toner water (it really does feel like a breath of fresh air on your face. Anasol’s extra virgin olive body oil works for hair, face and body, but I mostly use it as a facial moisturizer and it feels very hydrating and smooth! Of course, my homemade deodorant makes me smell fresh and odor-less every time I use it in the morning.

  5. Accessories. Your accessories and wardrobe should cater to how the weather will be. I usually either bring a comfy hat for sunny days, or a scarf and beanie to stay warm.

    accessories

    The hat is from Q, and the scarf and beanie are from Forever 21.

  6. Camera. Last but not least, I always need to bring my camera to document my travels and relive my adventures and memories.Camera.png

    Although I mostly use my trusty iPhone 6S to take wide shots, I use my Canon T3i and 50mm lens for beautiful, crisp close up photos and videos.

Is there anything missing on this list that you always have on yours? Let me know!

Camping Essentials for a Short Weekend Trip

Recently I have learned to appreciate short weekend trips, especially since I have become super busy these past couple of months adjusting to my new adult life. I have found traveling to be a source of happiness and as a way to unwind and remind myself that there is more to life than just the confines of an office job.
VSCO Cam-1.jpg
Camping at Joshua Tree National Park has been one of my favorite weekend trips. I highly recommend camping to those people that are busy and only have a free weekend to do some traveling. With such a short amount of time, you only need these 10 basic essentials to maximize your short weekend trip.
  1. WATER. It is important to stay hydrated, especially if you are going during the hot an dry summer seasons. Austin an I bought a 12 pack of water bottles from Target to last us the whole weekend, and it more than sufficed for two people.
  2. Hat, sunscreen and sunglasses. I lumped these three things together because maximum protection from the sun is vital. Even on cool days you’ll want to make sure you are properly covered from any sun exposure. These three things together are especially important if you want to play safe. I got one of my favorite hats from a boutique called Fashion Q (here’s a similar one), and my sunscreen and sunglasses at Target.
  3. Facial towelettes. Not only does it keep you refreshed, it also works well to wipe off any dirt from camping excursions such as camping or frolicking amongst the wildlife. I use generic make up towelettes but you can use whatever you think will make you feel the most refreshed.
  4. Baby wipes. If you wanna take it a step further in your hygiene, baby wipes are super beneficial to feeling extra clean when you go to the restroom.
  5. Camera. If you’re like me and love to document trips you’ve taken, definitely bring a camera! I brought two: my Canon T3i and my Fujifilm Instax Mini 8. These two are portable enough to add to my backpack and take with me to hikes and walking trips.
  6. Lip balm. If you’re going to protect the rest of your skin, your lips should be one of them! I like using EOS lip balm to moisturize and protect my lips.
  7. Tank top, shorts and shoes with traction. The best thing is finding comfort in style. I mostly wore a white tank top, shorts (similar), and my Nike Flyknits for the whole day.
  8. Backpack with lots of pockets. This is super helpful especially if you want to keep things like water bottles, sunscreen and other important knick knacks in there when you’re out and about. My absolute favorite backpack is from Everyone.
  9. Freeze dried food. This portable food package is super helpful and super easy to make in the outdoors when you obviously can’t bring much food to cook. All you need is a gas light, a small pot to boil water and utensils. We bought Thai Style Chicken Noodles from REI.
  10. Snacks and packed lunch. In addition to water, packable snacks and lunch will help you survive throughout your short weekend, especially if you’re on long hikes. We lose a lot of electrolytes and H2O in our system when we sweat in hikes, so it’s important to have some salty snacks and plenty of water to keep you hydrated and packed with nutrients to get you through the camping weekend.

A Summer of Unfamiliarities

If I had to sum up this summer in one word, it’s unfamiliar.
Some of the new and unfamiliar things I experienced was Seattle, the Emerald City. Here it is in 72 seconds (shameless plug):

72 Seconds of Seattle in the Summer from Janna Macatangay on Vimeo.

But the unfamiliar is not limited to new sights and smells. This summer I experienced unfamiliar feelings of leaving behind a chunk of my life that consisted of being an undergrad, which was all too familiar for me, and moving on to become an adult in the real world. For a brief moment, I left behind the familiar comfort of the UCLA community in search of another community, hoping they would be accepting of me as a fresh college graduate. The familiar voices of friends no longer ring as much in my ear and instead have been replaced with unfamiliar new faces of people I will be working with on a daily basis.

It’s a scary thought of moving from one familiar place to an unfamiliar one. But it is sometimes necessary.

I think we sometimes tend to shy away from unfamiliarities and overlook the beauty of it all. Yes, the unfamiliar is raw and strange and unknown, but we should embrace the idea that something so unknown can be considered a fresh and brand new start. Growth fosters in unfamiliar environments And that’s why I love the unfamiliarity.

So here’s to the summer of unfamiliarities, to new faces and places, to a new chapter in my life.