Posts Tagged With: tokyo

Owl Cafes In Osaka Are A Hoot!

Perhaps you’ve heard of Japan’s cat cafes? We’re pretty legendary for our fluffy feline hang out spots these days. I’ve only ever been to one, but enjoyed my time cooing over the cats there immensely. I’ll unabashedly admit that the cat cafe we were merely passing by had me hook, line, and sinker when they promised me a munchkin cat in residence. I have a total soft spot for this breed of short-legged cats like nobody else I know. Funny story though, the munchkin cat refused to so much as sit in my lap, even when I offered him chicken tidbits! SO heartbreaking, I know! Don’t worry, I (and my chicken tidbits) were very well-loved by all the other cats.

In a land where space is limited, and most apartments are not pet friendly it’s a smart business to open cafes where customers can cuddle and hang-out with their favourite animals without the responsibility that comes with ownership. I’ve also heard of dog and bunny cafes in Japan. It’s only logical I supposed that if such cafes existed for cat lovers, dog lovers and bunny lovers deserved cafes too.

Cat Cafe Tokyo Cat Cafe TokyoWhen one of my friends in Japan informed me 2 weeks ago there was such a thing as an owl cafe however, I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat, or two…or three. I was in utter shock and disbelief that there was a place in Japan where you could, um you know…just go chill with a dozen or more owls! It sounded so crazy I thought I was dreaming! I even looked a little like an owl when I found out because my eyes were as wide as saucers I have no doubts.

How,” I asked myself, “have I lived in Japan for 3 years and never heard about such a magical place until only 2 months before I leave!?!” Trust me, I couldn’t find out the location from my friend fast enough! It was bloody brilliant timing too because it was mere days before I was due to meet up with my younger brother in Kyoto and Osaka. We’re both HUGE Harry Potter fans so he jumped at the idea too.

Last Sunday, we went to the cafe my friend recommended called Owl Family. It’s pretty out of the way and a little difficult to find but go hunt it down! (At the end of the blog I posted details how to get there.)IMG_4699At first we were a little nervous about getting super close to live owls, after all those are some pretty serious looking talons!

IMG_4705 IMG_4712But slowly my inner HP nerd won out and I was holding them in no time!IMG_4753 IMG_4746

Tim I think was a little skeptical at first but made a new friend pretty fast!

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This little guy with his big baby black peepers was the absolute life of the party!  It was hard not to laugh at his curious nature and love his happy-go-lucky attitude. He bounced and bobbed all over the place and made everyone in the cafe giggle with how infatuated he was with one lady’s crochet-style sweater choice that day. He looooooved it and its multitude of holes so much he never wanted to let her go! I saw him wistfully look back at her “fun” sweater when he was transferred to a new person’s shoulder too.

I was really interested to see that owls, just like dogs and cats, have distinct personalities too!  IMG_4564One of the hardest things is timing the photo so the birds are actually looking at the camera. “Patience you must have, my young padawan.” (Bonus points to any other nerds out there who immediately got that quote).Owl Cafe

Soon it was just a blur of new feathered friends, Hogwarts-worthy selfies, and squeals of delight (from me not the owls!)…

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We had zero problems with any of the owls until we met this little fellow (who is exactly how I imagined Pigwidgeon from Harry Potter would look like in real life). When he was put on my brother’s head and Tim’s head he was on his best behaviour. When put on mine however, became immediately and absolutely infatuated with my hair.  He took one look at my brother’s camera before he began grabbing chucks of my hair in his beak and tugging at it, happily hooting every time he grabbed and gobbled all over a new chuck of my long hair. It didn’t hurt and was rather cute I have to admit.

The cafe attendants were all smiling, apparently he loves long-haired blonde foreigners the most, but on that particular day was willing to settle for my long brunette locks. The staff tried to coax him to let go of my hair and he simply turned and shook his tail feathers in their face. Eventually he grew board with my hair and hopped back on a staff member’s hand.IMG_4786IMG_4770IMG_4773

All too soon, our time was up. We chugged our drinks (which had been forgotten and neglected up until then), paid, and left with enormous smiles on our faces so the next group of people could come in. All in all it was a total hoot!

 

IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THE OWL FAMILY CAFE 

So you want to check out an Owl Cafe? Well, if you do, I’d definitely recommend the Owl Family Owl Cafe in Osaka! The cafe’s business card says that they’re open Tues-Fri 12:00 – 20:00 & Sat-Sun 11:00-20:00. (They are closed Mondays). The easiest way to get there is to take a train to either Temma Station or Osaka Temmangu Station. You can find more information and images on their website but it’s all in Japanese. (http://blog.livedoor.jp/owlfamily) On the map the red pin is the owl cafe!

*Also, if you get lost and decide to ask someone in that area “Fukuro cafe wa doko desu ka” they’ll probably be able to help you out.

Owl Family Owl CafephotoHere’s the deal about getting in:

  • It’s 1000yen for the hour ($10) which includes unlimited pictures and a drink which you order from the menu.
  • There are only a few time slots a day which guests can enter. You get to go in for 1 hour and then must leave.  Time really flies by (giggle!) so have that camera ready and get in line for the most popular owls. Each time slot begins on the hour (we went in for the 11am morning slot, we were told to be waiting outside the door there no later that 10:50am).
  • You’ll want to arrive early to put your name on the list for the next session (we arrived almost half an hour before hand). This is because only 15-20 guests can enter the cafe at a time, so if all the spots are booked up you have no choice but to wait for the next hour for the following session.

Overall the cafe is pretty foreigner friendly. They give a run down in Japanese of the rules, with visual demonstrations, but will put a laminated English instruction sheet on the table if you look foreign. Be sure to understand the rules, from what I understand the cafes are very strict about them and have been known to kick out people who don’t follow them. In particular, flash photography is very taboo and will definitely earn you a strong scolding in Japanese.  The rules to me were pretty logical and easy to understand: no camera flashes, only pet the owls gently with the back of your hand, only pet them on their backs not their tummies, etc etc.

The only thing I thought was exceptionally funny was that if an owl poops on you (the owls are real living birds after all!) it’s entirely your responsibility and the cafe isn’t liable. They also stress that if it happens, you “freak out” only mentally as not to startle the poor animal.

 

*Final Note On The Ethics Of Owl Cafes in Japan*

As much as I really enjoyed the opportunity to interact in such an intimate way with so many owls, an opportunity I could never have had in Canada, I do have many reservations about the overall ethics of owl cafes. I think it’s important to remember that there is a reason this isn’t possible in most countries in the world. The question being: Is it really fair to the animals to force them to spend their lives this way?

My brother Matt, his friend Tim, and I upon sitting down in the cafe and seeing the actual setting immediately felt guilty and very sad for the animals. Yes they are kept clean, healthy and fed and it’s obvious to anyone that the birds are very well cared for…..but they are also kept leashed at all times, are never free to fly, spend their days in a tiny little cubicle on a shelf if off-duty, are kept awake during the day when they would rather be sleeping being nocturnal animals, and forced to endure noisy hours being entertainment for camera-happy people. That doesn’t sound like a happy life to me, does it to you?IMG_4515

I sense with the gaining popularity of owl cafes that soon many more will open. I feel a bit guilty adding fuel to a craze that I cannot support whole-heartedly out of concern for the well-being of the owls. It was too late for us to change our minds when we got there as we had invested a lot of time and effort to get there (and I’ll admit we didn’t leave because we were excited)…but a big part of me did want to leave when I first sat down. I wonder now if I had hit the pause button on my excitement when I first found out about the existence of owl cafes, and really stopped to think about the ethics of what I was suggesting to my travel companions, if I would have gone?  I promised myself if I blogged about this experience I would also mention and question the ethics of it too, so as to bring greater awareness to the situation.

Some of my friends asked me, “Ok, then. Why are you ok with cat cafes but not owl cafes?” My answer is simple , cat cafes and owl cafes are like apples and oranges to me. It’s in a cat’s nature to love lounging around inside and sleeping all day. They enjoy being pampered by people and also, in their cat-cafe-homes they have freedom to roam around and do as they like.  Owls on the other hand, at least in my opinion, are not meant to be domesticated. They are wild animals by nature who are being forced to adapt to a very different lifestyle in these cafes than they would naturally choose to lead themselves.

All I’m asking is that you please pause and consider this information before you choose to visit an owl cafe in Japan. Because in hindsight I wish I had.

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Categories: Life in Japan, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

We Have Cherry Blossom Fever!

The tallest building in Tokyo was our first stop our next day. Standing below the tower and looking up you can’t help but feel just a teensy-tiny bit minuscule and insignificant.  The Sky Tree stands at 634 meters tall and was opened in 2012 to visitors. It held the record for tallest building in the world only for a brief period of time until the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai finished construction.  We were pretty excited to see it…however, unfortunately for us, we arrived at 9:00am, which apparently in Tokyo wasn’t early enough!  There was a 4 hour line up….minimum. We would have had to wait 2 hours just to buy tickets and wait another 2-3 hours AFTER THAT to go up the tower. Insanity!

On a beautiful sunny spring day in Tokyo, the last thing we wanted to do was wait around in line all day, not when there were a million other amazing things to do in Tokyo.  So we took a few cool photos and then waved “sayonara” to the Sky Tree with a promise to come back next year.

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Since we knew that the cherry blossoms blooming 2 weeks early was nothing short of a small miracle we decided to hit up as many parks as possible.  We figured we would save the indoor stuff for another trip when Tokyo wasn’t so beautiful in spring, chances are my parents might come back next year when I will leave Japan to return home.  We made up our minds and headed to the Imperial Palace Gardens to enjoy relaxing, walking around and taking a few great photos with the beautiful cherry trees.

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It was at this point we officially began to feel the onset of cherry blossom fever.  Symptoms include:

  • Taking far too many pictures of yourself, your loved ones and the blossoms themselves
  • A feeling of giddiness
  • Desire to skip through the park like a small child
  • Inability to suppress frequent sighs and exclamations over how pretty the trees are
  • A bittersweet sensation in the pit of your stomach because you know the beauty of the blossoms will last no more than one week.

Something I loved about the Imperial Palace Gardens were all the police officers riding around the park on bicycles!
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After some hanami-ing we were feeling a bit peckish so it was off to Shinjuku Crossing for my absolute favourite place to eat in Tokyo: Tsurutontan! It’s a very famous udon restaurant where the only thing bigger than your appetite after looking at the very delicious-looking menu is the bowl of food served! Interested? You can check out their Japanese website here!Tsurutontan bowl

Ok, non-foodie people I beg you to bear with me while I rave about my favourite Tokyo restaurant.  Let me start with the fact the food is to die for or, at the very least, drool over! The specialty of this restaurant is udon noodle dishes served in GIGANTIC bowls that are bigger than your head, and I have yet to eat a single thing on their menu that wasn’t the king of noodle dishes.  For those of you reading this blog who have never heard of udon, heavens knows I hadn’t until I came to Japan, Udon is a type of thick Japanese wheat-flour noodle that is often served in a noodle soup or covered in a delicious sauce.

My personal recommendation at Tsurutontan is the sukiyaki bowl.  It’s a classic Japanese dish that this restaurant has nailed the recipe for! The noodles are tender, the assortment of veggies generous, the thinly sliced beef absolutely mouthwatering and it’s all covered in a sukiyaki broth which is salty, flavourful and a little bit on the sweet side. My mother agreed to try my recommendation and loved it!

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My father ordered the katsu-curry udon (a deep-fried breaded pork cutlet on udon noodles and served with a super-thick and viscous Japanese curry broth)  and enjoyed it immensely. IMG_6968

Aaaaand brave soul that I am I deviated from my favourite sukiyaki udon bowl in favor of a seasonal speciality that was new to the menu and only there for a limited time.  I chose the Genovese Seared Chicken Udon (地鶏のたたき ジェノベーゼのおうどん – 新宿店) which was a really tasty combination of basil-flavoured udon covered in a creamy tomato sauce. While it was really yummy, and I loved it, I wouldn’t recommend this dish to a tourist visiting Tokyo because it’s more like spagetti than traditional Japanese udon.

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While the best part of visiting Tsurutontan is undeniably the food, the atmosphere of the Shinjuku location is super cool and hip too, which adds immensely to the experience.

Screen shot 2013-04-27 at 2.22.10 PMIt has a  gangster-goth sort of feel. You enter the restaurant using a dark staircase which leads into a dimly lit room decorated in black with accents of red. The staff uniform’s are of the same color scheme, all black with hints of red here and there.

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All-in-all it just adds an air of secrecy to the place that makes you feel like you’ve stumbled on the cave of food wonders!

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***As much as I would love to recommend Tsurutontan to everyone visiting Tokyo I have 2 warnings:

  1. Don’t go if you don’t speak Japanese. There isn’t an English menu, everything is in kanji, katakana and hiragana, and the staff doesn’t speak English. 
  2. It’s a busy place, so I really recommend making a reservation unless you want to wait in a long line-up (ex: 1-2 hours during peak times!)  

RESTAURANT DETAILS:

  • Name: TSURUTONTAN SHINJUKU
  • Phone #: 03-5287-2626
  • Address: 〒 160-0021,  Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 2-26-3, Amimoto building B1F 
  • Website: www.tsurutontan.co.jp

After eating to the point we all had to loosen our belts a few notches we headed over to Shinjuku Park to walk off our udon-food-babies.

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The shoppers in Shinjuku wear some pretty cool outfits! So keep your eyes peeled when walking around this area.

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You would think that after seeing cherry blossoms yesterday, and even again that morning, maybe we’d be a little sick of them by this point. NOPE!  Somehow, our trip to the dark and mysterious Tsurutontan made us super excited to see sunshine again and the 1500 cherry trees of Shinjuku Park were absolutely splendid in full bloom.

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Just as a random little side note, I was super happy looking back on these photos because  I was so pleased with how the alterations I did on this new dress worked out.  I bought a really cute tapestry dress from ASOS and then altered it a little at home, making the skirt a bit more A-line than tulip. All-in-all I think it turned out rather nice don’t you?  I wore this dress for the first time that day and I felt super feminine wearing it; it was nice to feel pretty when you are taking lots of pictures with cherry blossoms!

When we first arrived at the park it was absolutely packed, yet somehow we stayed so long walking and talking in the park that we were the last ones there! You can even see the security guard in this picture herding us out of the garden (ooops we got a little lost and accidentally tried to go out the wrong gate!).  That’s the secret to enjoying the parks of Tokyo though, not to rush through them. Take your time!

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Another fantastic day full of quality family time, cherry blossoms, delicious food and delightful conversations!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

3 Musketeers Reunited In Tokyo

It’s hard to believe my last post was 3 weeks ago! Whoops! What can I say time flies when you’re having fun.  I have no doubts I’ll be posting many entries in the weeks to come however…

This Spring Break before the new school term started I was the luckiest girl in the world because my mother and father flew to Japan to visit me! I know everyone claims that money can’t buy happiness but I will dispute that by saying that when they purchased their tickets I was over the moon.  The thing I miss the most living in Japan is my family, sounds cheesy I know, but it’s true. Needless to say, I waited with baited breath for our holiday together and may have gone a teensy-bit bit overboard and OCD about planning “The Perfect Japan Holiday”. In my humble opinion they are two lucky ducks, because I transformed into Jessie The-Japan-Tour-Guide-Extraordinaire. All they needed to do was sit back and relax.

The three musketeers reunited in Tokyo and, after many hugs, kisses, and a few ecstatic jumps of joy on my part, we headed off exploring. I simply couldn’t wait to show them around my new stomping grounds, the hotel room wasn’t ready for us to check in so early and there were a lot of exciting things to be seen in Japan. The first stop was the famous Tsukiji fish market.

IMG_6736Tsukiji Market is a very large market in central Tokyo which sells vegetables, fruit, cooking supplies and of course….FISH!  The market handles approximately 2,000-3,000 tons of marine products per day! It’s super famous for the fish auctions that take place in the morning.

IMG_6738You will probably never eat fresher fish than at Tsukiji because you know that the fish the guys in the stores and restaurants are chopping up was caught that very same day and will be completely eaten or sold by noon.  It’s my recommendation to get to Tsukiji early in the morning, when the fish is freshest and the action the most lively.  After about 11:00am the market’s energy dies down and most stores are closed by 2:00pm. Which is understandable when you know that the stores open before 5am on most days. Eeek!

IMG_6739A selection of delicious crabs, that big bad boy in center of the back row would cost you well over $250. My dad’s eyes bugged out a bit when I told him that little tidbit of information and I chuckled. I chatted with the guy a bit to ask if he ever carried Echizen crab (the famous crab of Fukui!) but he said unfortunately he was sold out already but might get some more the following week.

IMG_6743Looking at all this yummy seafood had my dad’s mouth salivating at this point.  He was about ready to attempt smuggling one of these sexy looking crabs with its long gorgeous legs out under his coat when the coast was clear.  I promised him the best was yet to come, and his stomach could relax, it was time for a sensational sushi brunch.

IMG_6747Eating sushi before noon was something very strange to both my parents.  I promised them however, that they would never eat fresher or more delicious sushi than at Tsukiji. So, with that in mind, they both willingly joined me for brunch.

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Starting at the top right corner and moving clockwise, I ordered 2 pieces of fatty salmon (shake – 鮭), 2 pieces of medium-fatty tuna (Chutoro – 中とろ), 2 slightly seared scallops (Hotate –  ホタテ), crazy salmon, and the pièce de résistance rice wrapped with salmon and then piled with salmon roe (ikura-イクラ).  Taking this picture was positively painful because I was dying to eat my sushi.

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I now know where I get my sliiiiightly alcoholic tendencies from: my dear ol’ dad. He said, “If I’m having sushi for breakfast I’m going to do it justice!” and ordered a glass of sake (Japanese liquor) to accompany his fishy feast.IMG_6746We were both pretty excited because none of us had ever seen sake served this way. The guy who served us arrived carrying a small lacquerware box, a single shot glass and an ENORMOUS bottle of sake. He then placed the box in front of my father, placed the shot glass inside, and then began to pour the sake into the shot glass. Soon the shot glass was full and yet the man continued to pour until the sake began to waterfall into the lacquerware box, he continued pouring until the box too was full.  He was pretty friendly and laughed at the shock on our faces, we were all pretty clearly delighted yet also confused as to how my father should drink this mysterious serving of sake. He then explained that my father should pick up the shot glass and drink the sake from that first.  Then once he had finished that sake, he should place the shot glass on the table and pour the sake remaining in the box back into the shot glass. WOW!

After the most delicious, freshest sushi in the whole world we headed off for adventure of the day #2: Ueno Park!

A favorite quote of my family is “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” I had spent weeks plotting the perfect itinerary for our vacation together, so that nothing could go wrong. I had Plan A‘s, back-up Plan B‘s and even back-up-back-up Plan C‘s!  All that work was worthless because never in my wildest imaginings had I anticipated the one thing that would force me to throw all those carefully made plans out the window: sakura.

IMG_6785As you can see from this picture the sakura trees of Tokyo were in full bloom. I can vividly remember stepping off the night bus at 6:30am – after traveling from Fukui to Tokyo Station – and thinking to myself “I must be dreaming!“. Taking the night bus is an exhausting, sleep-eluding form of travel so it was natural I would doubt my eyes. I rubbed my eyes, added a few eyedrops, and then looked around again and proceeded to stare in shock at the sakura trees with their pink blossoms swaying in the breeze. Flabbergasted is the word that best describes how I was feeling. It shouldn’t have been possible! Yet somehow, the tokyo sakura were in full bloom, 2-3 whole bloody weeks early! I’m not sure who was more shocked (a) me because this was a dream come true and I was delighted or (b) the Japanese people of Tokyo for whom this should have been impossible.

Needless to say, no one was expecting the record-setting early blooming of the cherry blossoms this year, the devious little blossoms wrecked havoc on everyone’s carefully made plans. Realizing I had to seize this precious opportunity I threw my painstakingly researched itinerary out the window, whipped out my iPhone and googled the top cherry blossom viewing spots in Tokyo.  With more than 1000 cherry trees lining its central path, Ueno Park is one of the most popular places to hanami (have cherry blossom parties).  IMG_6821

My research merely stated that it was a “popular place to view cherry blossoms” but I don’t think that “popular” does this massive camera-trigger-happy mob of people justice! My parents were astounded to see this many people out enjoying the cherry blossoms. I had told them stories last year about what I like to refer to as “cherry-blossom fever”, but they thought I was exaggerating.  Every year when the cherry blossoms bloom, Japanese people descend in mass upon the best sakura viewing parks; cherry blossom viewing is a nation-wide obsession. IMG_6828I couldn’t get enough family photos this day.  I was SO happy to be together with my mom and dad at long last. The first day was just a blur of joy for me. It was the first time I had seen my parents (skype not included) in many, many months and I could not hug them enough or long enough.  Every time I looked over my shoulder and saw them smiling amongst the crowds of people at Ueno Park it felt like a crazy, surreal dream. They were here, they were actually here, here….in Japan…with me!

IMG_6773Luckily for me there was no shortage of camera-saavy people willing to take a family picture. SCORE!

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After we had spent an hour walking around the park enjoying the blossoms, we decided that sitting down to people watch was essential for the well-being of our feet and good entertainment.  There was only one slight problem, where to sit? Most people had woken up at 5am to lay their tarps down thereby reserving their spot.  As foreigners we were really afraid of committing any sakura-viewing taboo or faux-pas. Hearts beating we tentatively hopped over the yellow cord and decided to sit on the wall under this beautiful cherry blossom tree, praying all the while that no one was going to start yelling at us.

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I thought these guys had great style, they had apparently rolled multiple kegs into the park to consume as they hanami-ed it up all day long.  Their laid-back attitude made me think maybe they wouldn’t mind 3 people encroaching on their territory, turns out I was right, soon enough they were chatting away with me and even offered my dad a beer! They were so excited to discover I was from Fukui and it was my parents’ first trip to Japan.

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We eventually began to migrate our way out of the park.  By this point we were all starting to feel quite tired and a little cherry-blossom-ed out. We paused for one short rest by the pond to enjoy a last glimpse of the blossoms before heading back to the hotel room.

After a nice long rest and a bite to eat we headed out to my absolute favorite tourist spot in Tokyo city.

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Tokyo Tower is an 333 metre tall Eiffel Tower-inspired lattice tower that has one of the nicest views of Tokyo city.  It’s not as new as the Sky Tree, but hey, it also doesn’t have a 4 hour line-up to get in.

My recommendation to anyone visiting Tokyo is on your first night head here.  There is nothing like seeing Tokyo at night to get a sense of just how BIG this city truly is. At night the lights will help you see further than your eyes can during the daylight hours. My dad said that this was his favorite sightseeing memory from the entire 2 week vacation because it put into perspective for him how dense Japan’s population really is.

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I’m from Calgary, Canada.  Here are some facts.

  • Calgary City’s Population: 1.1 million 
  • Tokyo City’s Population: 13.3 million
  • Canada’s Population: 35 million
  • Japan’s Population: 127 million
  • Canada’s Size: 9.985 million km² (the second biggest country in the world after Russia)
  • Japan’s Size: 377,944 km²

HOLY….. yes, that’s correct I come from a city with 1.1 million people and Tokyo has a population 13 times bigger! It definitely is something to ponder in awe as I walked around the observation deck of Tokyo Tower with city lights extending 360 degrees as far as my eyes could see.

tokyo tower 4They even have a romantic lit second floor for those looking for a lovely date-atmosphere. How cute!

After this we were exhausted headed right back to the hotel.  I made to sure to hug both of them before crashing into my lovely bed and slept like the dead.

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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