The miracle has happened! Trip to Japan, July 2014

(It goes without saying by now, that all these entries are running way far behind, but please bear with me; School life can be hectic. But because you guys are extra patient, this one will be an extra long post! With pictures!)
Holy goodness, I've been wanting to tell you guys about this trip for a long time and since it's been almost a year when I came back to Finland, this story has to be now told!

I bet you've seen that "I'll be there" -sidebar which has been inhabited by a picture of Japan. Now that picture can finally be moved to the lower bar that reads "I was there!" Yes! This is what years upon years of waiting and figuring out dozens of different options and ways to get there has finally come to.

It was the beginning of the second half of my first year in FKF and I just happened be on my period (yes, that's extremely important in this case) and out of menstrual pads. What does this have to do with anything? Well, Libresse (a menstrual pad and tampon brand) had a contest going on and I just happened to stumble across it while buying their pads; "WIN WHAT YOU WANT - 10 000€" was the big title slapped on every Libresse product. I was going to buy a few packs anyway, so I took a couple with the contest sticker on them.

Just to clear thing sup to you guys, this is how this contest worked: buy Libresse products, register points from stickers, play a mobile game to gather more points (this one was near to pointless - lol - but needless to say, I played it a lot just in case..) and try to get to the top 50 on their leader board. And only then, when you've reached the top 50, the judges will read the description of your dream prize and decide which of the top 50 is the best suited to win the first prize: anything that can be made reality with 10 000€.

Yeah, it was kinda fishy contest to get more sales, but nevertheless, I entered.

Of course I wrote a "heart breaking" story, how I've been invested with Japan and its culture nearly my entire life. Here's somewhat of a translation:

What is your dream prize?
"A trip to Japan. Since I was a little child, the country in question has fascinated me with its culture and it has driven me to study the language. By now I've studied it for 7 years (and continuing my studies in the field of Japanology), but the very experience is still in the future. I write blog entries and enjoy telling people about the events that move my life. I graduated from a Senior Secondary School of Art and Music, and thus my hobbies include photography and modeling.
I'd love to take hundreds of pictures during the trip. The only thing I lack is the funding for traveling, accommodation and of course for various expenditures (for example if we go to an onsen, a theater, a concert and so on during our visit). Due to my small resources, I haven't been able to travel longer than Sweden and Estonia. The dream trip of a small human is to the land of the rising sun with a friend. Will it now become reality?"
That last sentence was probably the one that triggered something in the judges.. But yeah! That was the basic shenanigans I always write in things like this.

During the contest I noticed, that the mobile game only was taking me nowhere near the top 50 and when I mentioned about the contest to my mother one time on a phone, she just took me off guard: she bought 11 packets (the needed amount of points I calculated earlier, in order to get to top 50). She then said every code on the phone to me as I registered them on the contest profile. But thanks to her, I was now 16th on the entire leader board. There was no point to try to get to the first place, since they would read all the 50 and I wouldn't want to be read either first or last (this is some tactical shit right here). So, I figured the 16th place on board was good enough.

After the contest was over, I kinda just let things happen; I either won something or not. Simple as that. So even when I was kinda waiting for Libresse to contact me, I had already accepted my fate and the table wouldn't flip just because I didn't get anything. At least I had a full year menstrual pad supply!

Some time had passed and I was having a shower. When I got out, my cell was blinking that I had a missed call. I didn't recognize the number but I tried to call back anyways, because it was a cellular number. There was only an answering machine and I didn't leave a message. If they'd wanted to get in touch with me, they would call me again. Even better if the call was from Libresse. A few hours pass and I'm with my friend at a flea market, when my cell rings. Needless to say, my heart was pounding when I heard the words "Is this Miss *****? I'm ***** from Libresse". The rest is history! I can only remember me being just "oh.. great!" when the caller told me that I had won the first god dang place in their WIN WHAT YOU WANT contest. I guess I was in some sort of shock, needless to say. Of course I had to tell my friend what had happened, since she watched me jumping in excitement without a sound.

I'll skip the preparations and continue from the day we left with Jasmin to see the world I've been dreaming about.
It start's here.
With stomachache from pure excitement and nervousness, I arrived to the Helsinki-Vantaa airport. There, when united with Jasmin, we had a brief hype-talk before making the check-in and got our boarding passes. With them, we left our baggage to self service baggage drop and went to have something to eat. We barely were able to eat anything due to the nervousness we had been having for the whole week. We had a ham bread and almost right after that it was time to say bye bye to mom and sis and to go through the security check.

Then we walked by a whole lot of little shops full of souvenirs and headed to the passport check. Due to EU, our passports have a bio-recognition and we were able to walk past the long lines and let the machine to do the recognition for us. It was a weird but fun experience.

After that there was more shops we passed before we finally reached the gate 35, where our flight was supposed to depart. But when the boarding started, we were told, that our flight was switched to the gate 32 instead. So we ran back a couple of gates and made it to the right flight. It was Jasmin's first ever and my third.

The flight itself took forever and a little after the half way, the air pressure started to give me a headache. So, it was quite impossible to sleep. But generally the flight was pleasant and we were fed good. No complaining about the food either. Thank you flight captain Pasi for flying us to Japan!

It was still quite hard to believe, but we had landed to Japan! The flight was over and it was time to meet the passport inspector. After face picture and fingerprints were taken, we went to find our baggage. Thankfully it wasn't a rush hour, so we didn't have to guess which spot our baggage would be coming to.
With our baggage we went to the lavatory for some relief. There were squat toilets but luckily the western bowls too. When we came out, some other foreigners looked at the squat toilets with horror in their yes and asked me "ARE THOSE TOILETS?!"
So, it seems that people still go to Japan with too little of common knowledge about Japanese everyday life.

Somehow (well, by a train, obviously) we managed to get ourselves to the Prince hotel in Shinagawa, BUT we had to wait 2 hours before the check in opened. At this point we were dead tired! After the wait, we finally got the key card to our room and had a shower. I had to take a 1 hour nap before meeting up with the guide and rest of the tour group. Yeah, because this was our first trip, we figured it would be for the best to have it with a guide. He took our passports to get our Japan rail passes, but I found it rather unnerving. Since I gave my only ID I had to someone I just met. But it turned out ok; we got our passports and rail passes the next day.

We had a late meal at a more traditional restaurant and had a good night sleep. Some went to a fish market at 3.30 am but Jasmin and I slept so we could feel better after our long flight.

The next day we checked out from the Shinagawa Prince hotel and headed to Takayama. First, we took a 2 hour ride with a shinkansen from Shinagawa to Nagoya, were we switched to regular line to Takyama.

Iwatakan in Takayama
Straight from there, we were picked up by a bus, that took us to Iwatakan ryokan, a Japanese inn. By the time we got there, it was about 5pm and at 6pm we had a dinner at a basic restaurant. We both had a plate of spaghetti and the dish reminded me of Vapiano back in Helsinki.

After the dinner Jasmin started to feel sleepy and stayed in our room, while I kept myself awake and had a bath. It wasn't a real onsen. Just a warm bath indoors. But, it was relaxing, nevertheless. With our yukata on, we started to sleep on futons.

Hida folk village with my stupid face covering it :D
The parasol is not the one I bought.
The first experience at ryokan was great! Even though I didn't get into a real outdoor onsen. We had a traditional breakfast, which was a bit too salty for my taste (I'm a child of sweetness, after all). I got most of it down, though. It included a piece of fish, cabbage and salad, cucumber, miso-soup, an egg, rice, nori and green tea. A little bit big breakfast for me, who's not used to eat at morning.

Moments later, we headed to a morning market of Takayama. There were all kinds of vegetables, souvenirs and of course sake too. I bought a korilakkuma plushie for Marika from there!

Then we were picked up by the Iwatakan's bus again and it took us to Hida folk village. There we were introduced to the old houses of great people. The houses had small-scale museums inside and most of them also had an altar. There was a huge outdoor bell, where people could make a wish during the echo.

After the village experience the bus took us back to the down town area, where I bought a huge, more traditional parasol.

Grilling their own meal :3
We had almost 5 hours to explore, but at this point our legs were killing us, so we went back to the room at the inn. During the time there we watched some random old samurai drama, where old twins (identical) were fighting for a baby. One was good, other one was evil, obviously. Both of them seemed to be unforgiving, but when the evil one was trying to kill the child but didn't succeed, the good one suddenly forgave him. -sigh-

But now we were a little bit charged with energy and met with the rest of the group and the guide in front of a 7-Eleven and he lead us to a traditional restaurant, where beef was the local speciality. I had some soba-noodles and Jasmin had a soba-noodle soup with beef. To our surprise the chef knew a little bit of Finnish! But right after he had spoken and was ready to take our order, I surprised him right back with my broken Japanese.
The food was great and when we got back to the inn, Jasmin and I both had a hot bath.

During the night I had to go to the lavatory and let's say that it was a bit of mind fuck and hilarious at the same time: one from our tourist group was sleeping on the hallway by our room door. I just ignored him and delivered my business, but when I went back to our room, he started snoring! I had to document that, but the pictures I took turned out black, because the lighting was so dim that my camera couldn't take a clear picture (no, it' doesn't have a flash). So, sorry that there's no evidence to show you guys!

The next day it was time to say bye bye to Takayama. We left early from the inn with the bus and took a train from Takayama station to Kanazawa with one switch of trains. This time around our hotel was really near the station and so we didn't have to carry our luggage around. We visited the biggest fish market, saw some crafting and walked through a geisha district. It had beautiful buildings and expensive stores. One maiko was on her way to work.

At dinner we didn't eat that much; we were just too tired. But we did get something to eat and drink from the station's convenience store.

Our fifth day in Japan was hectic and we had a lot of things to see. The day started with a rain, since a typhoon had been screwing up the south coast for the last couple of days. We took a loop bus all the way to another geisha district. It was a smaller one but still beautiful!

Ninja dera from the outside
The next stop was at Ninja dera (Ninja temple). That nickname comes only from the traps, hiding spots and labyrinth like structure, but the place itself has nothing to do with ninjas. The building looks like a temple from outside, but is actually a fort. Whenever a lord was attacked by an enemy, by luring them to the fort filled with traps and hidden doors of this building, the enemy could be defeated. I'd like to have a house like that! Unfortunately pictures were not allowed. Only from the outside.

The next stop was at Kenrokuen, one of the top 3 of Japanese gardens and it was gorgeous! I'll let the pictures to do the talking:

After walking around it was time for lunch and while walking along the restaurants, our guide suggested we should have katsudon. It was pork with eggs, vegetables and rice. At first glance it looked odd, but it sure was delicious!
With our stomachs stuffed, our guide lead us across the street to Kanazawa castle.

Once we left the castle grounds, we made a stop at Noh-theater museum. This was the place were even I knew more than our guide (or maybe he just was unsure how to describe these points in English). And again, pictures were not allowed. Two people wore one of the costumes, though.

Last step of the day was at a samurai district. We entered the one house, which was open for public and, boy oh boy, was the garden beautiful! I wouldn't mind to live there.

-Note: here's the spot where I stopped writing notes during the trip. I know, I'm a lazyass. But the next bit is a glimpse of the things we did the rest of the journey. I'll leave captions!-

Miyajima Island, Hiroshima

Noh-theater on water!

These bambies weren't afraid of people :3


Three monuments in a perfect line
Fushimi-Inari Shrine, We got a little lost in there ^^;

Kinkakuji Castle

Nijo Castle

Mt. Fuji

After Mt. Fuji trip we more or less were freed from our group and left our goodbyes the next day at our hotel. From there we had full 2 days to kill ON OUR OWN in Tokyo, Shinjuku. We mostly shopped and met with a Japanese friend of mine. First we visited the Square Enix's cafe, Artnia. Needless to say, I had to buy bunch of goods and of course we drank some drinks. Pictures for proof!

Strawberry sundae!

Moogle :3

After that my local friend took us to a hairdresser we had talked about before hand. Jasmin just sat back and watched as Ru and I got this kick ass sujimori hair styles! Moments later we were taking pictures in a purikura and playing games and won a big plushie!

And of course soon the day of return was upon us. Numerous times I told people that I wouldn't want to return and make that trip one way trip, but... here I am; back at home.

I hope I can visit Japan someday soon, because I'm feeling "homesick".

Here are the physical memories from the trip to Japan:

For myself I bought FF XIV towel, FF XV file pocket, three games (Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, DMC and Kagero: Darkside Princess), CK One RED Edition for her, Nano - Born to be (cd), Nana 2 (live action movie dvd), NGE pillow and mug, Heartless plushie and bunch of different little bells. I won the big cat plushie.
As gifts to my friends I bought Free! file pocket, Young Black Jack file pocket and vol.1 manga, bunch of Levi goods, Spyair single, Zipper magazine, Liz Lisa upper and lower lashes, strawberry pocky, Korilakkuma plushie and a small Yuffie keyholder.
Gosh.. everything didn't even fit in one photo xD

Two doujins for a friend and Cyborg 009 manga and yukata for myself :3

Hopefully you enjoyed this 'little' story. Have a good one!
I'm off to buy some menstrual pads.

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