Awaji Island and Tokushima trip

We drove down the coast of Awaji Island to check out the whirlpools at Naruto Kaikyo, under the Onaruto Bridge. It happened to be the opening date for the Uzushio (whirlpool) cruise season — March 1st. We were welcomed by an Awa dance team.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out the trailhead for Mt. Tsurugi in Tokushima. One of main roads to the trailhead was closed due to snow and construction. The townies near Mt. Tsurugi were no help.

The next day the rain came down hard so we gave up and headed home. We stumbled upon a roadside cafe surrounded by straw dolls a custom that started the town of Nagoro in Tokushima. One of women in town started to put handmade, real-sized human dolls where people (including kids) used to hang out… to replace the empty space after most of the locals left for the big city. We didn’t make it to Nagoro, but got some idea of what it must be like after hanging out in the cafe, full of humanized straw dolls…spooky!

Hiking in a (really) pink world

The mountain-top village of Yoshino in Nara Prefecture lives for the blooming cherry tree. Off season, the town is deserted — Meg and I have been here when the shops were all closed and we had the main street to ourselves. But not today. Now, in early April, the place is abuzz with tourists soaking up the views and enjoying the annual rite of admiring and walking under the snowy blossoms of these undeniably beautiful trees.


We broke the spell of Osaka last week with an impulsive, one-day trip to Yoshino and not too surprisingly were blown away by the colors. The wind was making a snowy storm of floating petals which added to the otherworldly, sometimes surreal feel of Yoshino.

True to form in Japan, there’s an underbelly to the beauty. The planting of some 30,000 trees in the hills around Yoshino comes at a price in that native species had to be cleared (and sometimes clear-cut) to make way for today’s vast fields of cherry trees. And the clear-cutting and felling of native trees is still going on today.

Don’t bother messing with today’s devotees of the cherry tree, however. They are single-minded in their search for the perfect view and the perfect spot under the trees where they can relax, eat their bento, and have a sip or two of sake.

The history of the cherry tree may be bittersweet, but today, with the town dressed in light pink and purple, it is easy to merely enjoy the spectacle.

Kumano Kodo Part II ~ Yunomine Onsen Hikes ~


After our stay at Kawayu Onsen (did you see Video #1?), we relocated to the slightly larger but still small town of Hongu, which we used as a base to hike two of the most popular Kumano Kodo routes — the Dainichi-goe and Akagi-goe (which essentially translate as the hikes over Mt. Dainichi and Mt. Akagi).
The small and ridiculously photogenic village of Yunomine sits almost dead center on the two trails (which extend out from Yunomine in opposite directions) and makes for a perfectly placed resting spot. Highlights of a stay in Yunomine are the 1,800-year-old Tsubo-yu, a tiny public bath built on the Kumano River (really no more than a creek that cuts through town), as well as the cooking basin on the water’s edge where locals and tourists hard-boil and eat “onsen tamago” or onsen eggs.
Check out our video of hikes in and around Yunomine.

Living the frugal #vanlife in Japan? Follow these nine simple strategies.


Shun the vending machine. The ubiquitous vending machine is one of Japan’s most enduring symbols. True, they are everywhere. And true, they can be a welcome sight when you need a rush of caffeine or something to quench a raging thirst. But you will pay a premium for the convenience. That coffee you just paid 130 or 140 yen for in a vending machine can be had for 105 in a nearby 7-11. The savings will be the same for that cup ramen, cold tea or beer you may be needing. Bottom line: Figure on a paying a ten percent premium when you buy from a vending machine vs in a store. So limit those vending machine purchases. (Business Insider Japan posted an excellent profile of vending machines and the vending machine industry. Worth a read.)

Shop smart for groceries — buy the mark downs. Almost every grocery store marks down produce that can’t spend another minute on the shelves, or items that are slightly bruised. Just like the markets in the US, right? So go for it, because the savings can be steep — figure 10 to 30 percent. The trick is finding out where in the store that rack of discounted items is located. No matter — just take the time to find that rack and load up on ready-to-eat-now bananas, apples, and lettuce.

Walk when you can. No exactly rocket science here, but with transportation costs on the high side in Japan, consider walking — even long walks — to get where you want, be it city walks for shopping, or heading to a restaurant, or in the countryside heading off to a trailhead. Just resist that knee-jerk reaction to jump on yet another subway or drive just because you can.

Cheap parking means cheap sleeping. I haven’t tried this yet but it’s on my Frugal VanLife to-do list. Which is to sleep in the van while parked in one of the many open-air parking lots you see all over in Japan. You see, while pulling over at the end of the day in the countryside is usually no problem, city boondocking is another story. You can’t just blend into the scenery on Japan’s city streets. In Osaka, the rate for 24 hour parking in in the 600 -700 yen range (6 or 7 bucks), and often you can find a lot that charges 500 yen or a 24-hour period. I say: park, set up your window baffles. and get some shut-eye. I certainly wouldn’t advertise the fact you are sleeping in your van, but if you can keep the sleeping on the down-low, this is a great way to a catch your nighttime Zzzzz’s in the middle of downtown anywhere, Japan.

Shop where parking is free. Outside of the frenzied entertainment districts where parking is rare, you should find plenty of free parking at various stores — LAMU for discount groceries, Konan for building supplies and storage solutions, 2nd Street for used clothing (see below), and Joshin for electronics are a few big brands that always have adjacent free parking. I’m not advocating turning your vanlife experience in Japan into one, giant shopping extravaganza. Just suggesting that when you do have to shop, you aim for stores that make parking a breeze and free. Free is good, yes?

Dollar stores are your friend. Not your best friend, mind you. Fact is, I’ve regretted buying certain items in a 100 Yen shop (not recommended for food, trust me), but when it comes to basics and basics-plus, you can usually find what you are looking for in a Japanese dollar store. Think rain gear, pens and envelopes, underwear and socks, slippers, snacks (not staples!), and basic pharmacy-type items. Why pay more than a buck if you don’t need to, right?

Fill up at “circle sushi” restaurants. Not every circle sushi joint serves top-quality sushi and maki, but many do. The experience is fun, filling, and (here’s a plus) usually have free parking — and far less expensive than most sushi restaurants, which tend to run on the pricey side in Japan. Look for Ku-ra Sushi for the best in frugal and good-tasting sushi fare.

Know your (free!) WiFi options. Free WiFi is as close as the nearest convenience store, which is an advantage for the traveler in Japan. Family Mart and 7-11, the two largest convenience chains, both support WiFi. Their networks are open, free, and widely used (you often see people standing just outside the doors, tapping a store’s crisp web connection). Sure, you can rent or buy a pocket WiFi hub, but if your connectivity needs are slim, convenience-store WiFi might be all you need.

Shop the second hand and discount stores. Two brands to remember while traveling Japan: 2nd Street and Don Quixote (which locals casually refer to as DONKI, pronounced “don-KEE”). The first, 2nd Street, is a second-hand store where you can replace that dying jacket or those busted up shoes. As well, day packs, winter hats, and all manner of clothing are offered at fair prices — and sometimes surprisingly cheap, sale prices. Brands run the gamut from high to low, North Face and Columbia to the anonymous Chinese brand. And some 2nd Street stores sell more than clothes (and look surprisingly similar to a high-end thrift stores in the states). Don Quixote is often referred to as the Walmart of Japan, but from what I’ve seen, it can’t compare in scale. DONKI does do deep discounts of everyday items — clothing, health products, liquor, electronics, housewares. YouTube channel “Tokyo Drew” posted a walk-through of a Tokyo DONKI store which shows off the business model and typical store layout (skip the first minute or so). We buy small instant heat pads in bulk at the local DONKI stores, as well as shampoos and clothing basics like socks and gloves.

Those are a few of our strategies for cutting costs and staying frugal. What are your go-to tips and tricks?

Walking the “Kumano Kodo”


We love Japan and want to see as much of the country as we can, but we don’t want to spend a ton of cash.

So we set out in a lightly converted mini-van to visit the countryside most guidebooks ignore, to eat local and wholesome food, to soak in backcountry hot springs, and to hike the trails that crisscross every part of the country.

We don’t have an unlimited budget so there’ll be no fancy travel companies to shuttle us around, no $100 meals, and no five-star hotels. That’s OK because we are in Japan on a long-term adventure — traveling and living to make our budget last.

This is our first trip to Kumano Kodo in Wakayama prefecture.

Here’s the vid. Enjoy!


Osaka Update: Two months in

tofu shop

It’s been two months since we kicked off our open-ended stay in Japan. We had a couple of goals in mind when we landed at KIX, but our primary focus was to see how it would feel to live like a local in Osaka — to try out a long-term, maybe even forever, stay in Japan.

We’d already sold the house and the car, and thrown out or given away about 90 percent of our possessions. And we were free of all job responsibilities — Meg was no longer working her shifts at the hospital, and the bnb had gone bye-bye with the sale of the house.

So on a brisk night in November, of 2017, we landed and in minutes were on the last bus from the airport to downtown Osaka where we were picked up by Meg’s brother and sister-in-law. Like we’d never left the place, I thought to myself.

Finally feeling the past 36 hours of travel catching up on us (we had a 24-hour layover in China), we stuffed Manabu’s tiny Honda Fit to the gills with luggage and headed to Meg’s family house in Taisho where we would stay for the first week or so.

The plan was to integrate into city life as purely as we could. We knew if we didn’t act like locals we could never feel like ones; that if we never slowed the pace and intentionally became self-sufficient city dwellers we’d never appreciate daily life in ways that would mimic a resident’s. Our mantra was simple: to live and ultimately feel like a local.

Here’s what we did

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Cover challenge, version 2.0

When we weren’t sure about our cover design, we thought it came down to the overall amount of yellow in the cover. But our heads were stuck inside some box and losing sight of the forest through the trees — thinking that a tint or hue or tiny tweak to color was going to impact visibility, reader interest, or sales.

It took two posters in the Scribophile forums (I’m a member) to help us see the real issue.

This is what we thought was such a big deal — the amount of orange-yellow tint in the two cover options.

“If the choices are just those two …the yellower version is more evocative. But I would suggest taking it even further. If your story includes murder — how about doing the image in red — or parts? or making it darker to appear more sinister … something that is more evocative of the story. Just a thought.”

This was from E.M Hale and he was so right, so true!

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Help us pick the perfect cover!


Self-publishing is the epitome of freedom. Self-published authors have so much of it — their story, their pub date, their channel, their price, their marketing plan, their plot twists, etc., etc. But all that freedom comes with a hefty amount of responsibility. The choice may be ours, but which choice is the better?

‘Nuff said about freedom, though.

We’re in the middle of some decision-making as it pertains to our cover and we need your help.

Of the two covers above, which do you prefer?

Hint, hint: the only difference is to the color palate. On the left, a golden-yellow tint. On the right, less golden. Lighter, brighter and leaning toward white.

If you had to pick between the two, which would it be?

Vellum to the rescue

December 25th, 2017. Christmas Day for most people — a day where family, presents, and if you’re lucky, snow greets you as you wake. Not us. Not this year, at least.

First off, we’re in Japan, where for all the Christmas music in the stores and blustery cold in the air, there is no celebrating of Christmas, per se. The occasional present is exchanged and the occasional cake is consumed, but the overblown mash-up of religion and markdowns doesn’t exist here. The second reason Christmas isn’t a factor for us is that Getting Even is exactly two weeks into its run on Amazon. Which means we are still in the midst of promotion, the occasional revise, and, to be honest, equal amounts of wonder and worry. And a bit of fatigue.

Notice I didn’t mention celebration. I can only imagine what other self-published authors feel when their book goes live on Amazon. You know, when the reviews, downloads, and money start to pile on up. For us, well, it’s been interesting.

With today’s post, I hope to begin the task of putting into words the steps we took to get our book live. One step, one post. You’ll probably learn more about our path to publishing then you might need to, but the goal is for you to grab a takeaway or two you can apply to your own publishing adventure. One thing for sure. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice, so why should you make it even once!

Today’s misadventure down memory lane goes back to preparing our book for upload to the Kindle store. Merely having a manuscript written, edited, proofed — what you might think is a manuscript ready for others to read — doesn’t mean it’s formatted for acceptance to the Kindle Store. You’re going to need a third-party application to massage your manuscript into final form that includes all the usual elements of a book — table of contents, title page, copyright page, acknowledgments page, bio, etc. We don’t think anyone needs to go overboard with design elements and fancy flourishes, but if you’re going to compete with the other million-plus ebooks on Amazon you ought to at least look the part.

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Day 12 of Getting Even, live on Amazon. Now, the reality check.

We are still learning the ropes of the self-publishing world. I just discovered that the price of the print version of my book includes a four-color cover. It means I can sell the book for $9.00 (no profit for me) with a full color cover! This might be basic to most Kindle authors but it was news to me. I originally designed a black and white cover page so the book wouldn’t be expensive.

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