And finally, Tokyo

Wow, this was a long time in coming. I apologize for the lack of posts lately and for this one being so late. Work in December and January has been insane and has only just started to normalize. I have another busy weekend coming up, so I wanted to share this post before things get too hectic.

I only spent a couple of days and nights in Tokyo this trip. The photos below are from a few places. I walked through Yoyogi park and checked out Meiji Shrine. I also spent some time in the Harajuku area. I walked through Takeshita street and found a quiet shrine a few minutes away. I wandered through the Omotesando area and through various neighbourhoods. I also walked around near Shibuya station to see Hachiko and the famous Shibuya scramble crossing. There are also quite a few pictures from the Asakusa area, my favourite go-to place!

I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week and a great weekend!! I’ll try to be posting on a more regular schedule once this weekend is over.

What is your favourite place to travel to?

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An introvert performs

theater-1477670_1920When I first signed up for dance lessons a year ago, I never thought I’d be performing. In fact, if you had told me that, I would have walked out. But as time shifts, so does our perspective.

My dance studio puts on a showcase twice a year. One in June and one in December. It’s an opportunity for private dance students to perform in front of an audience. But there are also several group dance routines to showcase different styles.

I originally signed up for samba because there wasn’t a showcase piece planned. But after a few weeks, our instructor suggested we perform too. Although hesitant at first, I began to consider it. I would be performing with 10 others, so I wouldn’t be alone and that helped to assuage the anxiety a bit. While the idea of performing was still scary, it was starting to look doable.

Eight weeks flew by and suddenly, it was showtime. That evening I arrived early at the venue. I chatted with a few people I knew to stave off the pre-show nerves. Then I headed to the ballroom and took my seat.

I was a bit jittery as we waited to be announced. But as soon as the music began, my nerves melted away. It was so much fun! I was able to really enjoy the moment. Then it was over and we were bowing and heading back to the foyer. High fives and smiles met us as we walked back through the door. I’ve never had that much fun performing before.

After changing into something a bit nicer, I headed back to my seat in the ballroom. I got to enjoy the rest of the evening stress-free. I excused myself soon after the show ended and drove home. It was a lovely evening but I was feeling pretty burned out. I savoured the silence in the car on the ride home. Fortunately, I had the place to myself the next day which allowed me to recharge and unwind.

How is your week going so far?

One small step

crossfit-534615_1920It’s amazing how one small decision can lead to so many changes. Five years ago, I made an appointment at the gym near my work. As an introvert and overall quiet person, I was pretty nervous (I share a few introvert tips here that helped me get used to the gym environment). So I listened to their spiel, signed up for a membership, and agreed to pay for three discounted personal training sessions. Unfortunately, unless you buy their expensive training packages, you’re pretty much on your own after that.

It took me six months to figure out what I wanted to do. I tried the circuit training machines. I ran on treadmills and rode exercise bikes. I attended a few group classes and attempted yoga. It was okay but I didn’t love it. Then I started picking up heavy weight. I loved it and finally knew I wanted to get stronger. Within a couple of months of switching my routine over, I started noticing positive changes.

My brother obtained his personal training certification around this time. So he created a workout program based on my strength goals. He coached my form and gave me feedback. He was also able to work around my old injuries and strengthen my weaknesses. With his help, I grew capable of moving a lot more weight.

As I increased in strength, my confidence grew. I wasn’t as timid. I started standing a bit straighter (it’s still a work in progress). I felt more confident in speaking my mind and asserting myself. I became more comfortable with myself and around others.

I was motivated to improve other areas of my life too. I’ve worked on maintaining a schedule so I can get to bed earlier. I’m working on drinking more water. I cook all my meals from scratch and try to choose healthier food options. Most recently I started taking ballroom and latin dance classes. Dance class has helped to boost my confidence even more. And it all began with a single appointment at the gym. Below is one of my favourite quotes on fitness.

Going to the gym isn’t a punishment for what you ate or how much you sit, fitness is a celebration of the fact that you are alive and can still move. Fitness isn’t something you only do at a gym; fitness for life means you either approach your body and mind with respect, or you disrespect the gift of your own life and health and then everything that defines a healthy human being, such as the ability to pick up a grandchild or to walk on the beach, is taken away from you.

Getting in shape isn’t something you only do for a wedding or for the newly divorced, fitness is a personal choice where you decide to live your life at the highest level you can possibly achieve, because if you are fit and healthy, then anything in life seems possible. The mindset for fitness isn’t about being perfect or trying to recapture who you were, “back in the day,” but rather becoming the best you can be today.

There is no perfect you, but there is a you within that can overflow with happiness, vibrant health and crazy energy, because you now understand you don’t do fitness, you are fitness. Mindset is everything in the pursuit of personal health, but you have to enter the arena with the understanding that fitness isn’t another hobby you only do when you have time or to relax; fitness is the very essence of how you live 24 hours a day, how you think and who you are.

-Thomas Plummer

What activities do you enjoy?

Kyoto bound!

15The next morning dawned bright and early. I packed up my small, wheeled carry-on, slung on my backpack, and walked ten minutes to the train station. One transfer and twenty minutes later and I was walking downstairs into Tokyo station. I had planned to meet my friend at the Shinkansen (bullet train) office to pick up our tickets to Kyoto. I would have preferred to take the three hour journey alone. But she didn’t feel confident in figuring out the ticket system, so I agreed to meet her at 10 AM. Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong for her, did. In the end she didn’t make it there until almost noon.

Once we arrived in Kyoto, we split up and checked in at our separate hostels. She suggested meeting up but I wanted to wander around by myself so I politely declined. We each had different things we wanted to see while in Kyoto. And though we met up a couple of times, I was on my own for the most part and it was amazing. In the days that followed, I used the train system, and a few buses, to travel around Kyoto. Revisiting favourite places and discovering new ones. On the day we arrived, I spent most of my time in the Gion area. I visited Kennin-ji Temple. It was founded in 1202 and claims to be the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. I also checked out Yasaka Shrine that evening. It’s also called Gion Shrine and is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto.

My first full day in Kyoto was full of travel! The bamboo grove in Arashiyama was my first stop. It’s one of my favourite places in Kyoto. But to avoid the throngs of tourists, you need to go early. I revisited Okochi Sanso and enjoyed a cup of green tea prepared the traditional way. I also took time to explore Tenryu-ji Temple, the most important temple in the Arashiyama area and a world heritage site. I recommend it and it’s well worth the price of admission to see both the temple and gardens. I took a much-needed stop at Tenzan no Yu onsen to rest up and soak my sore and tired body. It’s an amazing onsen and spa complex in the Arashiyama area.

The next day was just as full! I woke up early and headed to Fushimi Inari. Fushimi Inari is the most important shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. To avoid the crowds you can either go early or late at night. I spent an hour or so climbing up the steps to the top. Then took a brief rest and enjoyed a Japanese snack of strawberry daifuku from a vendor at the bottom. Then it was time to take the train to Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, is a Zen temple whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf. It was beautiful! I spent the rest of the day traveling to and exploring Kiyomizudera. It was founded in 780 and was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994. Part of it was under construction while I was there. But it was still very impressive. The views you can see from the main building are incredible!

I also had the chance to make an afternoon visit to Nara. It’s a 30 minute trip by Limited Express train from Kyoto (it normally takes an hour). The deer park was beautiful and it was neat to see deer roaming around among the tourists. You can buy special crackers to feed the deer if you’re interested. I also got to see Kofuku-ji Temple which was established in 710. Another highlight was Todai-ji Temple, a famous Nara landmark, constructed in 752. As I was heading out, I discovered Yoshiki-en Garden. It’s named after the Yoshikigawa River. Any foreign tourists gain entrance free of charge. But it’s so beautiful that I’d happily pay admission.

The next day was my final day in Kyoto. I woke up early and took the bus to the Tetsugaku no Michi, or the Philosopher’s Path. It’s a beautiful path that follows a tree-lined canal. It’s a well-known tourist area, so go early to avoid the crowds. When I was there I only saw two other people! It’s perfect for a quiet, reflective walk. I also walked to Honen-in Temple which is nearby. It was established in 1680 and is especially beautiful in the spring and fall. It was one of my favourite temples. While I was in the area, I also visited Ginkaku-ji Temple. It’s also known as the Silver Pavilion and was modeled after Kinkaku-ji.

After a wonderful trip to Kyoto, it was time to take the train back to Tokyo. I had a few things I still wanted to see in Tokyo before we flew back to Canada.

Next stop: Tokyo!

Starting in Asakusa

20181007_203719The day started early as we flew out of Clark, Philippines at 2 AM. We stopped in Seoul for a few hours. It was enough time to find our next gate, grab a bite to eat, and board the large airliner bound for Tokyo. After a very long day of travel, we finally arrived at Narita International Airport around noon. We cleared customs and immigration quickly. Then headed to the bank to exchange our money into Japanese yen.

As I was learning, things rarely go smoothly or quickly with my traveling companion. We were at the bank for a long time while she got organized. We then headed downstairs to pick up our JR passes and a PASMO card. We discovered a Starbucks along the way and ordered the first of many caffeinated beverages. I wanted to get going as soon as possible. But she wanted to sit in the Starbucks for a little. I couldn’t argue because we weren’t allowed to bring open drinks on the train. Unfortunately that turned into almost an hour before I could convince her to leave.

At this point I was done. I was exhausted from the flight (I don’t sleep well on planes). I had wanted to leave far earlier than we had. I was hungry (I couldn’t find any gluten-free food options in Seoul airport). And I was getting tired of my travel-mate’s passive-aggressive comments. I knew she was as tired as I was. But it didn’t make it any easier to take (don’t worry, the rest of the trip went a lot better).

As soon as we stepped onto the train and claimed seats, I popped in my headphones and shut out the world. We arrived at Asakusa station after an hour-long train ride. Fortunately my hostel was north of the station and hers was south so we parted ways here. I made it to my hostel, checked in, did some exploring, and got dinner.

Asakusa is one of my favourite areas of Japan. It’s located in the northeast part of central Tokyo and has a more traditional atmosphere. If you find yourself in Asakusa, there are a few interesting things you can check out.

Kaminarimon – the first of two large gates leading to Sensoji Temple.
Sensoji Temple – the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo.
Asakusa Shrine – one of the most famous Shinto Shrines.
Nakamise shopping street – a great place for food vendors and souvenirs.
Shin-Nakamise shopping street – a covered shopping arcade with shops and restaurants.
Kappabashi shopping street – a shopping street full of kitchen-related items such as tableware, utensils, appliances, sample food, etc.
Rox department store – a shopping and entertainment complex. You can find pretty much anything you need here and there’s a supermarket in the basement.
Sumida Park – a park with walking paths that stretches along the Sumida river. It’s especially beautiful during cherry blossom season.
Hanayashiki amusement park – a miniature amusement park with numerous attractions and a few rides.

Next up: Kyoto!

My samba experience

people-2601101_1920Last week I wrote about starting a new dance class. So I thought I’d share a quick follow up.

I had no idea what to expect in my first samba class. I wore my usual ballroom attire: dance shoes and business casual. But I soon learned I had made a terrible mistake. Everyone in the studio was clad in yoga pants and running shoes. Oh well, I thought, this is fine.

I started chatting with a lady I had met the previous week. Both of us were taking samba for the first time. Then I discovered something else. Despite advertising “continuous registration”, the class officially began five weeks ago. This meant we were both five weeks behind everyone else. This was a bit intimidating but I figured I’d try my best. Our instructor was encouraging but told us to “try to keep up”. This was easier said than done.

We started the class with a warm up and I immediately knew I was out of my league. The instructor led us through various movements. I attempted to imitate him by twisting and contorting my body in ways it had never moved before. I was a sweaty mess before we even started the routine.

After the warm up, our instructor went over the routine step by step. He also added a few new steps at the end. This was great. I was starting to remember the steps and pick up a little technique. Then we did the routine at 80 percent speed. That was more challenging. I missed a bunch of steps but I thought I did an admirable job of keeping up. Then we ran through the routine at normal speed. It was intense (look up samba music and you’ll see how fast it is). I think I managed to move in the right direction most of the time but my footwork was a mess.

But despite the chaos, I’m looking forward to this week’s class. I know that with time and lots of practice, even I can feel comfortable and confident in this new dance.

What are your plans this week?

More dancing? Yes please.

pretty-woman-in-field-820477_1920When I first started looking into dance lessons I had two objectives. Learn waltz and foxtrot. That was it. I wasn’t interested in other ballroom styles and latin dance seemed intimidating. Unfortunately, you can’t always find classes for two specific dances and nothing else.

So I signed up for a rotating drop-in class instead. They taught waltz and foxtrot once a month. But tango, rumba, and cha cha classes were also mixed in. As a result, I was “forced” to try other dances. Learning a completely new dance from scratch is a challenge. Sometimes even the way you walk is different. But as I progressed I started feeling more comfortable. Waltz and foxtrot are still my top two. But I’m currently in love with tango and cha cha is a new favorite. Each dance has it’s own personality. It’s exciting to discover all the differences to each style.

I often hold myself back from trying new things. Sometimes it’s because I’m scared or unsure. Sometimes I don’t feel like it or don’t have the energy. But I’ll never grow if I don’t push outside my comfort zone. Embracing new things in dance has lead to increased confidence in other areas of life too. As an introvert, I still need to ensure I have the necessary energy. But if I’m organized that’s not an issue. I just need to schedule quiet time both before and after to recharge.

Last week my dance instructor threw out a few suggestions for upcoming dance classes. Instead of instantly writing them off, I sat down and thought about it. After a few days of deliberation, I signed up for a samba class that begins this week. It’s completely out of my comfort zone but I’m still looking forward to it. Who knows, I might gain a new favorite dance in the process.

What’s something new that you’ve tried?