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This Country Has A Style That's All Its Own

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    Photo: Courtesy of Kate Titus.

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    On May 24, 2014, my fiancé, Andy, and I got married in New York City. A week later, we hopped on a plane with two carry-on suitcases and two one-way tickets to Paris. We had just pressed pause on our careers, sublet our apartment, and moved all of our things into storage. The only plan was to have no plans at all — and we ended up traveling for 394 days through 25 countries, stopping in nearly 100 destinations. Over the next few weeks, come along on this crazy journey to learn more about how we did it — packing, plotting, budgeting — and see some of the tens of thousands of photos we took along the way.

    After five months of travel, we finally got to see some familiar faces again. Our dear friends from home had planned to take a vacation in December and wanted to meet up with us on our journey. We were able to align schedules and land on Japan as a meeting ground. I was over the moon because Japan had been at the top of my must-see list for years. By the time our three weeks together had concluded, we’d traversed the dizzying streets of Tokyo, swam naked in the scalding hot springs near Nagano, and appreciated the rich history and beauty of Kyoto.

    No other country embodies beauty to me more than Japan. Every aspect of life and culture feels like an art form — from its efficient, meticulous trains to the elegant, courteous nature of its people. Its customs and crafts are executed in painstaking detail — patterned kimonos, painted geishas, bonsai trees, tea ceremonies, and Zen gardens. This approach is carried into the cuisine, as well. It’s hard to beat the quality of seafood in Japan or the complexity of flavors in their noodle dishes and broths. You won’t find a more thoughtful, beautiful presentation of food in the world.

    Everything feels considered in Japan. As a designer, minimalist, and perfectionist, I thought it would be heaven. And it did not disappoint.

    We got to experience the storybook version of Japan in Kyoto, a city that feels frozen in time, and contrasted that with the ever-evolving, forward-moving Tokyo. And in between, we got a peek at the untouched natural beauty surrounding this island country. Like many places we visited, Japan manages to be absolutely ancient and mindblowingly futuristic at the same time. I can’t wait to go back and uncover more of this mysterious culture, this mash-up of eras and this style that is so uniquely their own.


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    There are areas in Tokyo where every corner feels like Times Square. This is a city that truly utilizes its vertical space, with neon signs drawing you in to establishments on every single floor of a building. Not an inch is wasted. We stayed in Shinjuku — the large entertainment, business, and shopping area at the heart of the city.

    Shinjuku station is the busiest railway station in the world with over two million people passing through every day. Thanks to our years of city living, Andy and I were able to navigate pretty much any public transportation system we came across on our travels, even in foreign languages. But Tokyo took it to the next level. We had never seen a more complex subway map. Even four New Yorkers couldn’t decipher it.

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    Tokyo is dense in a way that I had never seen in another city. While New York City is dense, it’s most compact in the centralized island of Manhattan. But Tokyo feels like 10 Manhattans spread across Brooklyn and New Jersey and beyond. These are some views from the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills.

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    What fascinated me the most about Tokyo was how incredibly familiar the city felt, but how shockingly different, and seemingly bizarre, so many parts of the culture were to us. It gave you that twilight zone feeling where you thought you knew the game, but the players were different, and the rules had totally changed. Case in point: this six-story glass building that I mistook for some kind of mall, but turned out to be an enormous arcade in the heart of a buzzing district. And it wasn’t just filled with teenagers, but businessmen, who played these video games around the clock.

    We ducked inside to find out what in the world was on their screens and were instantly hit with a thick cloud of smoke. There was even a pop-up shower in the corner of the arcade, for a five minute refresh before you went back to hours in front of the mermaid game.

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    Golden Gai is a small area of Shinjuku which consists of just six narrow alleys. Squeezed into these narrow passageways are over 200 compact bars, eateries, and clubs — many only able to fit six customers at a time. Golden Gai is a perfectly preserved slice of old Tokyo nestled between the modern high-rises that are the hallmark of new Tokyo.

    Many of the bars seem themed or cater to different clientele, and the majority of them only serve regulars or locals. A couple of times bartenders threw up their arms in the shape of an X when we walked in, indicating that tourists weren’t welcome. We could respect that. It was fun to just walk through the streets and peek into these miniature worlds. We eventually found a spot that took us in, and we spent a long night squeezed in the most compact bar of all time drinking rounds of sake.

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    One afternoon, we checked out Omotesando — a popular and swanky neighborhood in Toyko. Hidden in the back of a machiya (traditional wooden house) in the residential area is Omotesando Koffee. This hole-in-the-wall establishment exemplifies the Japanese love of precision and attention to detail. The space is everything you would expect in a Japanese coffee shop — minimalistic, clean, and efficient. There’s only one barista in the 10-by-10 foot space and each drink is lovingly crafted to perfection over the course of 10 to 15 minutes.