After seeing what Seattle had to offer, after walking around some parks, big and small, and after I proposed to my girlfriend, I still had one last place I wanted to take her before it was time for us to go back to Japan: Mount Rainier. It’d been a while since I’d been there myself, so I was excited to strap on my hiking boots and take a long walk up from Paradise with my nice camera and lenses for the first time.
Before going, though, I wanted to make sure that the weather would be good. I didn’t want my fiancé to be cold while she tried to take pictures, but I also did want to turn into Micah-jerky, either. The day before we went, it would have been in the mid-60’s, but a day later and it would have been in the 80’s. I’d say we had nearly perfect timing with a hot-in-the-Sun-but-cool-in-the-shade mid-70’s day. We left early and got to the mountain before the rush hour traffic arrived, allowing us to get great parking up at Paradise. Our timing that day was on-point.
While my parents stayed at the visitor’s center, my fiancé and I went for a hike. We took our time, slowly climbing while getting lots of pictures. For me, the real highlight of the day was getting see wildlife up-close. Ground squirrels were everywhere and fearless, and we also got to see a mother grouse and her three babies. We even saw a marmot, but it was quite far away.
I wanted to get to a spot on the mountain called Panorama Point (I think), but after two and a half hours of climbing, we got hungry, so we descended back to the visitor’s center to have a late lunch with my parents. There are picnic tables at the visitor’s center, but instead we went just a short walk away and found a much better spot to sit down and relax.
My fiancé said that Mount Rainier was the highlight of our trip. I agree. We went to a lot of great places in Washington in our three weeks there, but Mount Rainier was definitely a place we plan to return to again in the future.
Recently, a friend asked me about places to go in Washington. The timing was perfect since I thought about places to go with my fiance while planning our trip this summer. Of course, Pike Place Market, the Pier, and the Space Needle are some good locations to hit, especially since they can be visited all in one day. But, when my fiance and I went to Seattle, we were worn out by the heat and crowds, so after a few days of resting and eating a lot of food, we were ready for more sightseeing. Knowing that we’d be sick of swimming in a sea of tourists, I planned on taking her and my parents out to a couple of the best places to visit in America. Yes, not just Washington, America. What are these places you might ask? They are the Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier.
Olympic National Park is a large forest about 3 hours west of Olympia. It is one of the premier national parks in the US. If you’re interested in light hiking, serious hiking, kayaking, swimming, picnicing, camping, or just interested in taking pictures and enjoying the view, you can do it there. Unfortunately, I’ve only gone a handful of times in my life, and I was a child when I went most of the time, so my memories of it are fuzzy. However, I knew that it was a great place to go, so I found some websites that give detailed information about all of the different trails and significant landmarks in the park. One place caught my eye: Lake Crescent.
My parents told me about the Hoh Rainforest and Ozette, but while they seemed interesting, I wanted my parents to be able to go (along with their dog), so my options were limited. Additionally, I had a secret mission to perform while at the park: propose to my girlfriend. After some looking, I found the place that I thought would be perfect for proposing. On Lake Crescent on the north side of the park, there is a trail called the Spruce Railroad trail which has a cool bridge about a mile and a half from the starting point. When I saw pictures of it, I decided that I wanted to propose there.
The water in Lake Crescent was a surprisingly clear, clean, deep blue. As I took more and more pictures of the water, I regretted not bringing some swim shorts. The walk along the trail was quiet and calming, but there was a problem: we couldn’t find the bridge. After about an hour and a half of some slow-paced walking, we finally came to a tunnel that I didn’t know about. Around that time, I expected to find the bridge, but even after passing through the tunnel, I couldn’t find the bridge. I had big plans for that bridge, so I was real bummed out when we decided to head back to the car. However, my fiance and I saw that there was a trail around the outside of the tunnel, and for fun we split away from my parents and took that trail. Much to our surprise, we found the bridge. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there were dozens of college students swimming and enjoying life on and around the bridge.
So, I aborted my mission and headed back to the car, wondering where I would propose.
After having our fun in the Olympic National Park, we wanted to go to Mount Rainier, but the weather on the day we wanted to go was no good, so we delayed it and decided to revisit some local places we had already gone before: Target, Olympia, etc. Then I decided it was time to take my lady to the South Center Mall, a large mall near the airport.
There are two major difference between shopping in Japan and shopping in the US: the amount of people, and the store employees. In Saga, there is a mall that I go to regularly that will be packed full of people on busy days. It’s noisy, with store employees yelling out in the halls about the days sales, kids playing, etc. In the US, even on weekends, the malls are quiet and relaxing. Well, they would be relaxing if the employees in all the stores would shut the hell up! Good Lord, do any of them stop talking? In Japan, the employees don’t bother you and aren’t going to try to start any conversations with you unless you try starting something with them. In the US, every employee is ready to pounce as soon as they notice you enter the store. You can’t just quietly enter and leave without someone coming over and giving a long speech about all the deals and the in-store services they offer. It is easily one of the worst parts of American culture (besides the eating culture, but that’s for another blog).
In contrast, the only time I expect to get harassed by a store in employee in Japan is if it’s a small store and I spend a lot of time inside, or if it’s a small business in a small town. Even then, it’s mostly a quick and painless experience.
Anyway, rant over.
At the mall, I was surprised to find a Uniqlo! I bought a bunch of t-shirts for souvenirs at Uniqlo in Japan, so I was a bit disappointed to find that Uniqlo had expanded its business since the last time I bought their stuff online in the US. lol However, I actually found the prices to not really be any cheaper than in Japan. In general, clothing was about the same price in the US as it is in Japan.
There was one store in the mall that really caught my fiance’s eye: Daiso, another common store in Japan.
It was an interesting experience. We found some products that you definitely wouldn’t find in a Japanese Daiso, like fried rice (that’s Chinese), shampoo, and a ninja doll (for $10, although Daiso products are typically a dollar). It was fun to find American snacks inside a Daiso.
It was a long day at the mall, but we had fun and headed home. I still had a problem, though. I still didn’t know where to propose. We still hadn’t gone to Mount Rainier, but I knew there would be way too many people there to propose there. I wanted some place quiet. So, after considering my options, I decided to propose at some local park. There are many parks near where my parents live, so I had a lot of choices. In the end, I decided to go to a park I had visited a few times before on my bike.
I was a bit worried when we first got there. There were a lot of cars in the parking lot, so I was expecting a lot of people to be there. Thankfully, we found an interesting, quiet part where nobody came. It was almost like it was designed to be some sort of secret spot in a video game. The water was almost black, and there was a tree there that had yellow leaves in August. It felt like that one place was experiencing autumn. The place felt special, so I knew that we could share a special moment there.
After I gave her the ring, we spent another 20 minutes or so doing a little personal photo shoot.
We still have Mount Rainier to climb, but that’s for the next blog.
About a month ago, summer vacation began in Japan. Right at the beginning of summer vacation, my fiance and I travelled to the US to see my parents. During our three weeks there, I knew I wanted to show my fiance as much of the beauty of Washington state as I could. She’s never been out of Japan, so it was like taking a child to a toy store for the first time. Everything was new and interesting to her. Just showing her the produce section of the local supermarket was fun!
I had three main places that I wanted to take my fiance while we were in Washington: Pike Place Market in Seattle, The Olympic National Forest, and Mt. Rainier. Before we went there, though, I just wanted to show her some smaller locations like Olympia, some local parks, etc. I took her to places I had taken pictures at before, like the Capitol Building or Burfoot Park near Boston Bay. It was the first time I had taken pictures in some of the areas since I had gotten M43 cameras (before, I’d taken pictures with an Olympus XZ-1). It was fun going back to my old stomping grounds and taking pictures with new eyes and new equipment.
Olympia is the capital of Washington state, yet is a rather small city. When I tell Japanese people what kind of town it is, they’re often surprised to find out that it’s smaller than rural Japanese cities like Saga or Tosu (Saga city is the capital of Saga prefecture and Tosu is a relatively large residential area with a large outlet mall). Olympia is about 50 square kilometers with about 50,000 people, whereas Saga city is about 430,000 square kilometers with about 233,000 people. That suggests that the population in Olympia is denser, but the farms around Saga pad those numbers. In population centers, Saga is unquestionably denser.
Downtown Olympia actually isn’t very interesting, save for the farmer’s market.
If you want to buy cheap fruits and vegetables, the farmer’s market is a bad place to go. But, if you want some good, cheap mexican food, then I recommend going. If you’re used to Japanese-sized meals, be careful not to order three dishes like we did. Everything will be jumbo-sized to a Japanese person!
After spending a few days just seeing stuff close to home, we finally made a trip to our first major location: Seattle. Taking the scenic route, we took a one hour ferry ride to Seattle and enjoyed the view.
While waiting for the ferry to arrive, we went inside the local convenience store to take a look around. I was surprised to find that they had some common Japanese snacks like Pocky and Chocorooms.
But, after about an hour of waiting, we finally got on board.
Once we landed, we found some parking close by and went to see Pike Place Market.
Pike Place Market used to be an Asian market. 90% of the merchants were Japanese at one point. During WWII, however, that changed.
You can also find the very first Starbucks at Pike Place Market, but I recommend going when there aren’t so many tourists. That place has a very long line to get in on busy days.
Of course, no journey to Seattle is complete without a trip to see the Space Needle.
I had never been up to the top before, so I decided to take Takae up and check out the view. I have to say, it definitely wasn’t worth the $30 for each of us. I would rather have spent that money on souvenirs at the base of the Space Needle, rather than a sunburn at the top.
In my next photo journal, I’ll continue talking about my trip to Washington State.