Dawn Train

I’m riding an empty train at dawn, watching the blue and misty world go by.

Japan train

shinkansen river


Scenes from the most beautiful train ride I’ve ever taken, watching dawn break from Toyama to Takayama.

It’s funny how suddenly you can find yourself accidentally reliving a dream. The sense of deja vu pushing at my consciousness brought this dream to the surface easily, and it made this silent and sleepy ride even better.

Of course you’ll have to trust me that the pictures don’t do it justice.


Autumn Mosses – Kyoto Fall Colors

In my dream I’m hoarding pots of mosses and all kinds of plants aflame with autumn color.


Kyoto autumn leaves



Moss Kyoto



Kyoto autumn leaves



Kyoto autumn moss leaves



Kyoto autumn colors






Kyoto autumn mosses



Kyoto garden autumn colors



Kyoto temple



Kyoto garden fall colors


Though I dislike crowds, I knew I had to risk it to see the fall colors in Kyoto. I’ve been waiting ever so patiently for my first autumn in Japan, and now that I’ve gotten a taste for it I’m hooked. You don’t have to smoke plants to get high off them, let me tell you. I could probably look at an infinite amount of beautiful fall-colored trees. I certainly understand, but don’t quite ascribe to, the intense obsession with cherry blossom season here, but the sight of one nice maple sends me into an excited frenzy. Combine fall leaves with a particularly cute patch of moss nearby, and I’m basically melting with happiness.

I probably always loved moss, but it was a 7th grade school trip to the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington that really cemented my obsession. With mosses, lichens, and liverworts everywhere you turned and a knowledgeable guide who was more than happy to teach me, I practically crawled my way through the forest learning about stairstep moss (Hylocomium splendens), sphagnum, liverworts, lettuce lichen (Lobaria oregana), and any other plant I could get the name of. Japan is, of course, a dream land for a bryophyte lover like me, with an abundance of colonies growing seemingly everywhere.

Even if you’re not specifically interested in mosses, I do recommend reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s poignant and informative book of personal essays about moss. Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses is one of those books that seemed to be written just for me, but anyone with an interest in nature, science, Native American history, or the environment will find this a quick but extremely satisfying read. And you may very well grow to love mosses as much as I do.


Korean Skincare Frenzy

We’re all looking for items for some event, but all I can focus on is picking up the Korean skincare products from my list.

It’s all I can think of.

I have to have them.


sulwhasoo first care activating serum ex


korean skincare sulwhasoo


polatam mask cosrx snail mucin essence


Anyone who knows me knows that when I get interested in something, I go a little overboard learning as much as I can about it, my relatively recent obsession with skincare being no exception. I’ve always been attached to evidence-backed science, and the constant inundation of snake oil and marketing ploys employed by the beauty industry was and is a huge turnoff.

But a few years ago I discovered sources for reliable (read: backed by clinical research) information about skincare products and especially ingredients. If you can make it esoteric and technical as to be off putting to most people, I’m probably get excited about it. See: orchids, Japanese cinema, gemology…this list goes on and on. So I dug as deep as I could, read about what ingredients have been clinically proven to give results, discovered tools like CosDNA, and learned how to better read and understand ingredient lists and look past hype and marketing. And I discovered amazing bloggers like the Snailcast crew (they’re my skincare heroes, really) who thoroughly do their research about the effects of ingredients, clearly discuss their individual skin types, and test for months before making recommendations rather than just try something for a week before regurgitating marketing copy.

It was through them that I fell HARD for Korean skincare. A lot of products are fairly easily available online, but it’s fun to haul in real life, so now every time I go to Seoul, I shop hard for skincare. We’re talking 12 hours straight (or more?) traversing the city for that particular product I have to have. It gets intense, but like I said, going overboard with my hobbies is just how I roll. The combination of science, experimentation, and self-pampering is just too fun. I’ll use any products as long as they give me results, and I’ve found so many Korean skincare products that I love, so I continue to travel down my black hole of Korean skincare obsession.

On my last trip, I got so overly excited about picking up some new skincare items I’d been dying to get that my dreams leading up to the trip all revolved around Korean skincare. Imagine skincare products raining down from the sky in a glorious heap. Only exciting to me, perhaps. Usually my posts are sparse on information since I’m usually just creating things inspired by a dream and I don’t have much to add, but because I spend an inordinate amount of time reading, spreadsheeting, and patting in skincare, I thought I’d talk a little about some of the products in these photos. Not all of them knocked my socks off, but I had pretty good luck, which I attribute to getting a much better sense of what I’m looking for in particular products and knowing my skin’s needs. I won’t go into detail or this post will be 5 miles long, but if you want to know more just ask.

You’ll notice that most of them are Sulwhasoo. The heavyweight champion of luxury hanbang-focused Korean skincare, I cannot get over their products. So many things about Sulwhasoo appeal to me: the beautiful packaging, the ingredients, the fact that it’s a brand mostly beloved by older Korean women…since I’m basically an old lady trapped in a young person’s body, that last point makes Sulwhasoo irresistible. But mostly I’m into the visible improvement I’ve seen in my skin as a result of using these specific products.

I’d been won over by their Snowise Brightening Masks, which are pricey but amazing, so I made a trip to the flagship store armed with rave reviews of some of their other products, ready to do some damage. Here’s what I picked up, including the non-Sulwhasoo products.

Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum EX

THIS. I was nervous about getting the extra large limited edition size, but it was just so beautiful, I couldn’t help it. I really wasn’t expecting to like this serum so much, but now I don’t know how I can ever go without it. The light liquid texture serum is packed with hanbang plant extracts like ophiopogon japonicus and licorice root extract. I use this at night after my chemical exfoliant (if I’m using one that night) and in the morning right after cleansing. It leaves my skin looking bright, even-toned, and just nice.

Sulwhasoo Capsulized Ginseng Fortifying Serum

Another serum that I’ve really loved. I’m fast acquiring quite an obsession with ginseng, and decided to go for the big guns with this serum. Unlike most herbal skincare ingredients, there is actually some promising research into the benefits of topical application of ginseng. Scientific evidence? Mmmm yes. It was enough for me to decide to buy this serum at least and see what it would do for me. In short, it’s gone a great job in improving firmness and elasticity and I’m excited to see how the rest of the bottle goes.

Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Mask

Too expensive to use as an everyday mask but these are great for events or when I want to treat myself. I think I prefer the serum more since it seems to have had a more noticeable longterm effect on my skin.

Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask

One of the more affordable products and beloved by many. It’s a sleeping mask that’s recommended for use periodically after all your other skincare. It smells like candied ginger, spreads beautifully, but sinks in fairly quickly. Usually on nights that I use this, especially because summer is insufferable in Tokyo, I don’t use much in the way of an occlusive moisturizer. And after using it maybe once or twice a week, I can say I do love waking up to even, “alive”-looking skin, as if I’d gotten a particularly good week of sleep. I don’t know about any long-term effects, as it doesn’t have any particularly strong actives, but its effects the next morning are reliable and a tube lasts a long time.  It’s a great gateway drug if you don’t want to drop big bucks on any of their other products.

Sulwhasoo Perfecting Cushion Brightening

My first cushion! I had to get it, I mean look at that case. I love this because it makes application and reapplication of SPF easy on the go, the coverage isn’t heavy but has a great finish.

COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

I love me some snail, and there is a LOT of snail in here. This essence is 96% snail, which is probably the reason it’s so goopy and sticky. I’ve long gotten over the idea of spreading snail slime on your face, so the snaily texture doesn’t bother me. It leaves my skin calm and happy and does a great job of soothing irritation and redness. It also mixes nicely with the next product:

LJH Vita Propolis Ampoule

This was actually a repurchase after I finished the bottle I got on my first trip to Seoul and had to have more. It’s famous for giving that propolis glow, and man do I love it. Great for day and nighttime use.

 Whamisa Organic Flowers Deep Rich Toner

I’m into fermentation and I love Whamisa, but the Deep Rich version of the toner was a little too much for me during the insane, humid Tokyo summer. I also find the finish to be a little sticky for my liking. I know a lot of people love this toner, but I’m a bit undecided about how much I like it since it has pros and cons for me, but I haven’t used a ton of moisturizing toners so I don’t yet have one I like better.

Polatam Water Gel Extra Force Mask

Really solid masks. They feel great on and don’t leave my face sticky or covered in residue.

Acwell Traditional Grain Syrup Mask

More of that hanbang! I really love these masks. They make my face feel great. I’m about to run out and I’m really, really sad about it.

Ausome Hydrating Double Mist

Bought this on a whim because I saw it on sale and didn’t really have any face mists. This Australian brand is associated with Whamisa so I was intrigued. It’s not bad, I do like how fine the mist is, and during the middle of summer if felt great to sit at home and mist my face all day, but I don’t think face mists are really something I absolutely need in my routine.

So there you have it, the result of far too much time spent reading about ginseng and and insistent and vaguely stressed subconscious.
In this dream:


Magic Bonsai

I’m admiring a group of bonsai that have been grown with magic, so of course they have their own magic as a result.

I wonder how I can learn to grow them.

They’re so beautiful, but I’m daunted by the thought.

Shouldn’t I stick to orchids?


Celine white boots


Tokyo bonsai museum Shunkaen


irene cream dress


shunkaen bonsai museum tokyo


drempt bonsai


shunkaen bonsai koi


I found the magical trees of my dream way out on the east side of Tokyo. Shunkaen had sat on my list of places to visit, and when I finally made the trek out to see it, it certainly did not disappoint. Nestled in an unassuming residential neighborhood, far from a train station, I discovered a tiny wonderland filled with priceless, ancient works of living art. Thousand year old trees that took your breath away, rows and rows of perfectly imperfect beings beyond comprehension. What a treat to watch the workers carefully clipping away, to marvel at the largest koi I’ve ever seen, to share a humble handmade lunch with the staff.


We wound our way through the stands of trees, through empty tatami rooms, feeling a bit like we were wandering around someone’s house, which we were. “See you next time” the energetic ojisan called to us as we bowed and traipsed back out into the street, head and heart rustling and creaking with the energy only trees can give you. Magical trees indeed.


Irene dress and pants / Celine shoes