First trips to Disney Parks

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Disney Parks are so important to our family, so of course we have been very excited to take Eva to enjoy them with us. Though she is still small, she has done wonderfully in the parks, and they truly make it easy for parents to bring babies along. Her first trip to Disneyland was when she was just shy of three months old, and we have already returned a few times. Last week, we took her to her first trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, and naturally we are already planning the next one. Here are some photos from Eva’s first experiences with the magic of Disney.

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Of course on her very first trip, we made sure to introduce her to her new friend, Mickey Mouse.

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Another important first was her first photo in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

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James can park his pram at his favorite structure in all of Disneyland. This former food and merchandise location has now been transformed into stroller parking.

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Looking back at these memories, it’s crazy to see how tiny she was on that first trip.

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Eva has been inside a number of attractions, including It’s a Small World.

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Here she is by the Mad Tea Party, dressed for the occasion.

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Another attraction that she has boarded is the Disneyland Railroad.

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On our trip to Florida, we stayed at the Ranchos at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.

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I remember when I first saw Spaceship Earth, and instantly fell in love with it. Being there with her for her first time was truly memorable.

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James was so excited to bring her on a trek through the Morocco Pavilion.

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Eva has now dined in a number of counter and table service restaurants on Disney property, such as the Columbia Harbour House which is one of our favorites at the Magic Kingdom.

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We explored some of our favorite spots in Animal Kingdom together.

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Some of the best moments in Disney parks are the spontaneous ones. We found ourselves alone in a section of Liberty Square with Mary Poppins, and Eva had a close up look at one of Mary’s famous accessories.

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I can’t remember the first time that we thought about bringing a theoretical future child to Disney Parks with us, but it was definitely very early on in our relationship. Now that she is here, all of our trips are extra special.

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San Diego

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For Eva’s first road trip, we decided to drive down to San Diego for a slightly different Southern California experience than she is accustomed to. We had visited a number of times over the past few years, and we were eager to see some old favorites, as well as have some new adventures.

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Our first stop was Balboa Park, where we were very excited to bring Eva to the California Tower, a definitive example of one of our favorite styles: Spanish Colonial Revival.

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Throughout the park you can find a gorgeous array of structures that were built for the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. Many are original, but some are more recent reconstructions.

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As we strolled around, we encountered several courtyards and gardens to keep cool in the summer sun.

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Another famous Balboa Park attraction is the San Diego Zoo. This was Eva’s first experience seeing animals other than kitties and puppies.

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My most exciting find at the zoo was this fluffy red panda, which I personally find infinitely cuter than giant pandas.

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We stayed at the Gaslamp Plaza Suites in the preserved Watts-Robinson Building. This was actually our second time staying that the hotel, the rooftop view having lured us back.

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Originally called Horton’s Addition, the district now called the Gaslamp Quarter lets you walk back in time through the San Diego of the late 19th century.

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On our second day in San Diego, we took Eva to her first baseball game, with the Padres hosting the Mariners. The Padres were wearing their pinstriped 1990s throwback uniforms, and Eva was dressed in a jersey and baseball cap fitting for the occasion.

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Perhaps some day we’ll take the train from Los Angeles into this elegant station rather than driving. We love how the tile at the Santa Fe Depot harmonizes with the architecture of Balboa Park.

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Ships from the United States Pacific Fleet are visible all throughout San Diego Bay.

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Though it was a fairly short vacation, we still managed to get a lot done and were plenty exhausted by the time we returned home. It’s exciting to see how well Eva managed on this trip, and we’re looking forward to discovering new cities with baby in the future.

 


San Francisco

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To celebrate our anniversary this year, we decided to take a weekend trip to San Francisco. We’ve made the drive up many times over the past few years. In fact, it was the first weekend getaway that we had together a few months into our relationship. Each time, we visit old favorites, and enjoy discovering something new as well. We realize that it will probably be a while before we take another trip without children, so we especially cherished these moments as a couple. Here are some of our favorite spots around the city from over the years.

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The first time that we visited the Golden Gate Bridge, it was completely consumed by fog. We could only hear the sounds of traffic while looking up into a blanket of white. Fortunately, we have now been able to see it on a clear day, and it is certainly a beautiful sight.

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Eating some tasty treats at the Ferry Building is a must during a pleasant stroll along the Embarcadero.

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In a city full of hills, Coit Tower makes Telegraph Hill outshine them all.

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We have not yet visited the California State Capitol in Sacramento, but it’s hard to imagine that it would live up to the grandeur of San Francisco City Hall.

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The architecture of San Francisco is definitely not afraid to embrace color. The painted ladies around Alamo Square are the quintessential examples of this. It’s fun to think about what color schemes we would use if we were painting some of them.

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The 49ers have been James’ favorite team since he was a baby. A few years ago we were able to make it to Candlestick Park during the 49ers’ final season there. It was not a very good stadium, but we were glad to see it before demolition.

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Of all the beautiful sites in the city, the Palace of Fine Arts is our favorite. The landscaping around the lagoon frames the monumental architecture quite nicely.

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The striking shape of the iconic Transamerica Pyramid makes the San Francisco skyline instantly recognizable.

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It’s wonderful that the cultural identity of Chinatown has been maintained for more than a century. The pagoda roofs, lanterns, and neon signs give this neighborhood such a dynamic energy.

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We enjoy visiting San Francisco often, but of course, we will be taking a hiatus for the next couple of years. Once our baby is old enough to roam the hills with us, we hope to bring it back as a frequent destination.


Coastal New England

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On our visits to New England, we have taken many scenic drives along the rocky coastline, admiring the maritime character of the region. Growing up on Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay, the water was always near, and although neither James nor I ever really sailed, the imagery of the sea was ever present. Here is a small collection of images we’ve taken over the past few trips that highlight the views of coastal New England.

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The Conimicut Light in Rhode Island and the Spring Point Ledge Light in Maine are just some of the many lighthouses that dot the New England coast.

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The rugged shoreline has claimed many vessels over the past few hundred years. What child in the area hasn’t thought of the treasures that they would find if they were able to explore one of these shipwrecks?

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The most famous ship that made it safely to shore has got to be the Mayflower, and on Burial Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, you can visit the gravesites of the Pilgrims.

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There are many beautiful historic cities in New England that have relied on the sea for their development, such as Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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Another city that prospered due to maritime commerce is Portland, Maine. The historical structures of the Old Port have been preserved and and now form a lively district of boutiques and restaurants.

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All over the region are relics from the Industrial Revolution such as this rusting pipeline in Stamford, Connecticut.

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The Mystic River Bascule Bridge in Connecticut is a drawbridge that is still operational. It’s fascinating to sit nearby and watch as the flow of vehicle and pedestrian traffic is periodically stopped for boats to pass through.

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Anyone who really wants to experience what life on the New England coast was like over a century ago, needs to visit Mystic Seaport. There they can board the Charles W. Morgan, the only surviving wooden whaling ship in America.

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When I see the rocky beaches of New England, I feel so much at home. It reminds me of the countless hours spent in my youth watching sailboats bobbing up and down while collecting sea shells from tide pools. I’m so glad that this is something that James experienced as a child as well, and that now we can rediscover it together.


Japanese Cuisine

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One could easily visit Japan, do nothing but eat, and still have an amazing trip. During our stay we managed to not only see some incredible places, but also experience some of the most unique and flavorful cuisine that we have ever had. Trying out all of the food, both familiar and new, was truly an adventure in itself.

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The first thing any visitor will notice when searching for food options in Japan is the consistent use of realistic plastic food samples at just about every establishment. We had heard of the concept before, but did not realize how universal it was until we were there. It was not only fascinating to see the attention to detail in each plate, but also very helpful when it came time to order food, since we could point to our exact desired dish when making selections.

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Perhaps our favorite meal of the trip was at Manzaratei Pontochoten, where we enjoyed a traditional Kyōto style meal at a small restaurant with prime seating at the counter. From our seats we could see the chefs putting together lovely little dishes, often ladling in broths and sauces from the various large bowls resting on the counter in front of us. Already one of his favorite foods in general, James proclaimed this was the best unagi he has ever had after his very first bite.

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We had several bentō boxes while on the trip. They were pretty and convenient to grab while on the go, and also fun to explore what each one had inside.

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Rāmen in Tōkyō is of course an absolute must, and we tried out a few different ones while on the trip. Ichiran was our favorite one of all, since not only do they have fantastic rāmen, but the experience of dining at one of the their restaurants was completely new to us. The first step is buying a ticket at a machine at the entrance. Then, each patron is seated in their own individual booth and given a sheet to fill out denoting their preferences on things like noodle firmness, spice level, aromatics, and richness. A small curtain separates the booths from the kitchen, and only the hands of the servers are visible as they place your order in front of you once it’s ready.

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Naturally, we were very much looking forward to eating plenty of raw seafood on the trip, and a simple conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Kyōto Station was one of the most satisfying experiences. For around one hundred yen per plate, guests simply pick up what they’d like from the belt, and stack up their dishes for a tally at the end. The fish was incredibly fresh, and we tried a few that we had never eaten before.

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Another must for the trip was trying out all of the street food. For this we headed to Nishiki Market in Kyōto – a long strip of vendors selling goods such as fresh seafood, pickled vegetables, and just about any ingredients that a local resident may need for cooking. Among the produce shops there are also several vendors selling hot food ready for eating on the spot. We walked through the entire market starting at one end, and made sure to get a wide variety as we made our way through. The tako tamago (candied baby octopus stuffed with quail egg) was James’ favorite, while the cup of fried chicken was some of the best I’ve ever had.

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One of our most memorable meals was at what is locally referred to as Piss Alley in Shinjuku. Contrary to what the name suggests, Piss Alley is a fun narrow street where you can sit in a tiny restaurant and enjoy delicious yakitori under the glow of hanging lanterns. After cramming into one of the restaurants, we ordered a great variety of meats and vegetables that were all lightly seasoned before being grilled to perfection over binchotan (Japanese white coals) right in front of us. We had friends who had just arrived in Japan, and we met up with them to share the experience.

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Tonkatsu is a traditional Japanese comfort food. Panko crusted pork cutlets and cabbage salad are served with a small bowl of sesame seeds on the side. We ground up the sesame seeds ourselves, and added our choice of sauce from little pots placed in front of us. The experience was fun and unique, and I brought home a little grinding bowl and sauce pot from a local market to recreate the meal someday.

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The variety of snacks found all throughout our trip was insanely impressive. From cat shaped chocolate popsicles, to obscure flavors of Pocky, and the best gummy candies I’ve ever had – there was no shortage of opportunity to try new things.

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Overall it’s safe to say that the cuisine in Japan is an adventurous experience. Almost every time we saw something interesting to try, we went for it, and were never disappointed. We were consistently intrigued with how most of the foods used the same types of ingredients that we are accustomed to eating in North America, but used in ways that transformed their flavor profiles.


Kyōto

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There are many beautiful sights in the city of Kyōto, which is just a few hours ride on the Shinkansen from Tōkyō. When planning, we aimed for our trip to coincide with the blooming of sakura. Luckily, we arrived right on time, and Kyōto offered a myriad of places to view them.

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The wooden lattices and paper dividers in our room at Hotel Kanra create an atmosphere of elegant simplicity reminiscent of the ancient capital. There was even a wooden bathtub made of Japanese cypress that we soaked in each evening we were there.

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A great place for hanami (the viewing of sakura) is the Shirakawa Canal in the geisha district of Gion.

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The path to Kiyomizu-dera through Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka is absolutely breathtaking. Traditional machiya line the narrow stone lane as it slopes up the hill from one pagoda to another.

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Ishibei-koji is a beautifully preserved quiet lane in the Higashiyama district that feels like something out of a painting.

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There are said to be over 10,000 torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha.

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Nijō-jō is a castle that was built as a residence for the Tokugawa Shoguns when they took trips to see the Imperial Court. We were able to go inside the castle and view the gorgeous wall and ceiling paintings found throughout. The castle is also famous for its nightingale corridors that make gentle chirping sounds as you walk on the wooden floors.

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Around the castle are gardens with meticulously composed stones.

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The Philosopher’s Walk is a serene path lined with sakura that travels past many temples and shrines.

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We were so fortunate to catch the sakura bloom at just the right time, but regardless of the season, Kyōto is wonderful. The city gave us a tranquil experience that was an interesting contrast to the high energy of Tōkyō.


Tokyo Disney Resort

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A very important part of our Japan trip was visiting the Tokyo Disney Resort, and Tokyo DisneySea in particular. In our many years of Disney Parks fandom, we have read and heard so much about this park, and after seeing it, we can definitely say that some of the best work Walt Disney Imagineering has ever done lies within DisneySea.

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So much of the park is about exploring on foot, rather than boarding ride vehicles. At Explorer’s Landing, there is so much to discover inside the fortress, as well as on the sailing ship docked outside.

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We dined at Magellan’s Restaurant, which is part of the experience of Explorer’s Landing. In the center of the restaurant is this large globe that subtly rotates while diners enjoy their meal.

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The fortress was built by the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, which is an organization that Imagineering has woven into many stories throughout the Disney Parks.

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The story of the S.E.A. continues at Hotel Hightower, where a member of the organization has had a strange mishap with an elevator…

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The scope of DisneySea is unimaginable. There is even an entire ocean liner inside of the park. We boarded the ship and had a drink at The Teddy Roosevelt Lounge.

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We had so many fun treats at the parks, but the little green dumplings filled with mochi were definitely the cutest.

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Mysterious Island is the base of Captain Nemo, and the home port of the Nautilus. It shares similarities with Discoveryland in Disneyland Paris, but it is much more extensive and provides a cohesive story.

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James’ favorite ride in the park is Journey to the Center of the Earth, which he puts right up there with the Disneyland mountains.

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Taking a relaxing gondola cruise through Mediterranean Harbor is a good way to rest your feet after so many great walkthrough attractions.

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Casbah Food Court has many hidden away spots to escape the crowds.

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Chandu the tiger is from my favorite attraction in the park, Sinbad’s Storybook Voyage. Its tone lies somewhere between it’s a small world and traditional dark rides. As soon as I saw this little plush I knew I had to bring him back home with me.

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We stayed at the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, which is right outside the gate of Tokyo Disneyland, similar to the Disneyland Hotel at Disneyland Paris.

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Of all the troubled Tomorrowlands that we have visited, the Tokyo Disneyland version is the only one that we wouldn’t consider broken. It feels like it still has an identity and is not just a messy stylistic mashup.

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James had looked at so many photos of this spot in Tomorrowland while working on various science fiction projects, and he was so excited to finally be there in person.

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The exit for Star Tours that leads into the top level of Pan Galactic Pizza Port really feels like you’re in a spaceport and gives this Tomorrowland a sense of place.

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Our favorite attraction in Tokyo Disneyland is Monsters, Inc. Ride & Go Seek. This was one of two attractions in the park that were highly recommended, but sadly the other, Pooh’s Hunny Hunt was closed.

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The whimsy of the exterior of It’s a Small World flows seamlessly into Queen of Hearts Banquet Hall.

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There are adorable homes for all sizes of critters in Grandma Sara’s Kitchen.

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Visiting a new Disney park is such a thrill, and it’s always surreal to see slight variations on familiar attractions. Disneyland, USA will always be our favorite park, but Tokyo DisneySea certainly gives it a run for its money.

 


Tōkyō-to

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We recently returned from a wonderful two-week long vacation in Japan. Although we have taken a number of international trips, this was our first time visiting a country where the culture and language were unfamiliar to us. Fortunately, everyone that we interacted with was extremely accommodating, and we were able to get by just learning a few Japanese phrases. During our time in Tōkyō, we stayed at the Park Hotel Tokyo in the Shiodome Sio Site in Minato-ku. Above you can see the spectacular view from our room that welcomed us on our very first night.

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Most of our trip was spent in the central parts of Tōkyō-to, and even though we were in the metropolis for many days, we still only explored a small amount of its numerous wards. There is much to discover in the area around Shinjuku Station, which has a number of interesting skyscrapers. Our favorite is the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower.

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A full size head of Godzilla stands over Toho Cinemas Shinjuku.

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Even though we saw Shinjuku during daylight hours, we knew we had to go back at night to see it lit up. The multitude of lightboxes filling the streets would make Las Vegas jealous.

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One of the best tucked away spots in the area is Omoide Yokocho, also known as Piss Alley. This tight, atmospheric alley is packed with tiny restaurants and great street food.

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Throughout Tōkyō, we saw many ads for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics. We took a walk around Yoyogi National Gymnasium, which will be one of the venues, and was originally built for the 1964 summer games.

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There are many buildings throughout Tōkyō that are quite distinctive, such as the Humax Pavillion and the Nakagin Capsule Tower.

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Tsukiji Market, known for its tuna auctions and many seafood vendors, is one of many outdoor markets that we walked through during our trip.

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There is certainly no shortage of massive shopping districts in Tōkyō, with Ginza being the most upscale.

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Traditional structures, like the Kabuki-za are sprinkled throughout even the most modern districts.

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The gardens of the Imperial Palace were closed on the day that we visited, but it is still a very pleasant walk around the palace’s moat.

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We were in Japan during peak cherry blossom season, which was truly wonderful. Though most of our sakura viewing was done in Kyōtō, we did find great stretches to walk under cherry blossoms around the Imperial Palace.

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The Sensō-ji Buddhist temple and the adjacent Asakusa Shinto shrine are part of a large cluster of sacred buildings with a surrounding market in the Asakusa district.

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Tsukiji Hongan-ji is another Buddhist temple that was designed to look much more like something you would see in South Asia.

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Beautiful houseboats line up at the docks on the Kanda River, waiting to take tourists on excursions.

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There are many ‘cafés’ in Shibuya-ku where you can pay to sit with cute animals. We spent some time with some new kitty friends, and we even got to hold owls!

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We took so many trains on this trip, which was very easy with our Japan Railways passes. Our most interesting train experience was certainly traveling at 270 km/h on the Shinkansen from Tōkyō Station to Kyōtō.

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On our last day in Tōkyō we caught a glimpse of Mount Fuji from our hotel window bidding us farewell. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more photos from our adventures in the land of the rising sun.


Disneyland Details

We take many trips to Disney Parks, both domestic and abroad, and the work of Walt Disney Imagineering has had a tremendous influence on our sense of design. We will be traveling to Tokyo Disney Resort later this year, and here we thought that we would share some of our favorite things about Disneyland Park, as we eagerly await what the Imagineers have in store for us in Japan.

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New Orleans Square is an environment that begs to be explored, rather than simply passed through. The streets take a winding path full of discoveries that are not evident from the waterfront.

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The masts of that ship rising up from the rooftops creates the illusion of a much larger environment. The space extends for miles in our minds because of these layers of depth.

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The implication of a world just beyond what we can see is also present on the second floor balconies. The set dressing creates characters who live here, such as the artist who is painting this picture. The props combined with “off-screen” sound make New Orleans Square feel so alive.

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Within the adobe archways of Rancho del Zocalo, we can rest our weary feet, shielded from the harsh sun of the American Southwest.

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Should we venture beyond the safe confines of the hacienda to see what awaits in the town of Rainbow Ridge?

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‘Character paint’ and ‘character plaster,’ seen here in Fantasy Faire, are great ways to communicate the idea of a lived in environment that has a sense of place.

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This crumbling facade hints at a rich, storied past. Many people have inhabited this space before, working with different materials, speaking different languages, and facing a harsh environment. We don’t know for certain just how this building came to look this way, but our imaginations can provide the details.

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The excellent forced perspective of the Indiana Jones Adventure is extremely convincing when partially obscured through the jungle.

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Be careful not to look into the eyes of Mara, or else this small glimpse of daylight will be the last that you ever see, as you board your troop transport in the Temple of the Forbidden Eye.

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No wonder Toad Hall needs so many fireplaces, being at the foot of that snowy mountain.

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When we arrive at Main Street, U.S.A. we are immediately aware that we are at a time of transition where the horse and buggy exists side by side with the motorcar.

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The gas lamps have begun to be replaced by the electric light, but the remnants of that bygone era still remain.

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Every piece of set dressing that you see in the shops of Main Street, U.S.A. is giving an idea of what types of people own these shops and inhabit this land.

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On a windy day, Mary Poppins is blown every which way on this weathervane atop Jolly Holiday Bakery Café.

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What lies beyond the visible walls of Fantasyland? The wide open vistas of Storybook Land provide our imaginations with the necessary context to fill in those gaps.

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These wonderfully composed, highly detailed landscapes are perhaps the most direct representation of the world in which the Disney animated classics take place.

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Immediately upon entering the queue for Snow White’s Scary Adventures, the tone is set with a glimpse into the Evil Queen’s dungeon, and the dread that she will stop at nothing to afflict our heroine with the Sleeping Death.

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From Frontierland a magic portal opens up, giving us a window into another exotic world. This is a special quality of Disneyland, which is different from the way that the much larger Magic Kingdom gradually transitions from one land to another.

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Space Station 77 seems to float above the horizon, promoting an optimism about space travel, and promising adventure.

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The hedges around It’s a Small World make the structure feel light and airy, maintaining the scale that the interior of the attraction works in.

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This boarded up tunnel is one of the last remnants of Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland, which was removed to build Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It is now a piece of real world park history that also functions as an in universe history for Frontierland.

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This British (we still like to pretend it is Swiss) settlement may have temporarily tamed the jungle, but we know from the Jungle Cruise and Temple of the Forbidden Eye, that in Adventureland, nature will always win out over man.

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While the Sailing Ship Columbia is in dry dock, her crew can find a hot meal and a warm bed at Fowler’s Inn. This sleepy area of the waterfront offers a contrast to the hustle and bustle of New Orleans Square.

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The calm stillness of the Blue Bayou lulls us to sleep before we are whisked down a waterfall into a dreamy underworld of decaying pirate corpses.

These are only a few of the myriad ways that Disney Parks have created the perfect setting for our imaginations to run wild. Experiencing new parks is always a thrill, but Disneyland will always be our favorite. Over the past 60 years, it has developed a set of quirks that give it a unique charm that is hard to beat.