We’re back from Japan. The weather was really great in Tokyo and Kyoto and I was really hopeful that when we returned to Chicago, that spring would be in full force, but it actually snowed little hail balls the day after we returned! On April 19. Blerg. We had a great trip. It was really fun and was definitely the most exotic place I’ve ever been. We saw a lot of amazing things and ate a ton of amazing food. And it was great to see our friends that we had not seen for a long time. I’m not sure where to begin with all the things we did on vacation, so I guess I’ll just start at the beginning.
Dallas and I have been talking about visiting Japan for a very long time. Like since 2005? Or 2004? (Note: We met in 2004.) Dallas’s family and the Matsuda’s grew up a few blocks from each other in Waimea on Kauai. Dallas and Tandy are the same age and Dallas brother, Jordan, and Tandy’s sister, Marissa, are the same age. They were very close as kids and spent a lot of time together and went on family vacations together, etc. One of our trips to Hawaii was for Tandy and Chris’s wedding and one of Tandy and Chris’s trips back home was for our wedding. Anyway, Tandy and Chris’s professions brought them to live in Japan back in 2004 or 2005 and we totally wanted to go visit them. Then I got laid off at the end of 2005. In hindsight, maybe it would have been the perfect time to go, but at the time we were very uncertain. Tandy and Chris moved back to Washington DC. We missed our chance…..
….. Until now. Tandy and Chris’s jobs brought them back to Japan for a 3 year stint and this time we were not missing out!! I mean, we could go there any time. … but having friends that live in Tokyo and speak fluent Japanese is definitely helpful! Also, as luck would have it, Tandy and Chris had a spare bedroom that we were welcome to use and Dallas and I had enough airline miles to fly to Japan for free. Not only that, but we had enough miles to fly back in first class! It all fell into place.
Dallas wanted to go to Japan in the fall, but I pushed for the spring, not wanting to put it off any longer! So in January we booked our flights for the April trip. That seemed like a big hurdle.. and after we did it.. I was kind of like “holy $*!#, we are going to Japan!! I don’t know anything!!!!” So I just started reading and reading and reading. I have only been to Mexico and Canada outside of the United States and both are really very easy to navigate. I have to admit Japan kind of freaked me out. Would people be able to speak English? Would we be able to find our way around? How does the money work? Tensions sometimes run high when we’re traveling and get turned around. Were we going to be constantly bickering?!? Ahhh! In hindsight, I shouldn’t have freaked out so much. Dallas got the international plan on his phone and Sprint allows for unlimited data, so we used it a ton. Also, a lot more people spoke English than I’d expected. There were only a few times when people looked at me with a blank stare. Also, especially in Tokyo, there is a LOT of English. Before we left we exchanged money at Citibank, so we’d have cash on hand when we arrived and wouldn’t have to worry about finding a place to get money. And the exchange rate is about 100 yen to 1 dollar, so pricing was pretty easy to figure out. Example: 1,000 yen = 10 USD.
One added bonus that we didn’t even think of when we were booking, but that I learned while doing research, was that we would be arriving in Tokyo at THE HEIGHT of sakura season, the cherry blossom season. This is so popular and well known in Japan!!! Only problem? As our trip got closer, the weather in Japan got unseasonably warm and everything blossomed early!!! It matched a 2002 record for earliest blooms EVER!
I know there are a ton of places, maybe less developed, less urban places, we could go where things are maybe more difficult to navigate, but now that we’ve done Japan, I feel more confidant about going a other places. I’ve been bitten by an international travel bug!!! But all that will have to wait. This was our big trip of 2013 (no Hawaii this year) and next year we’re for sure going to Hawaii for Dallas’s 20-year Kamehameha class reunion, so … it’s gonna be a while til we go anywhere else! At least I know I can do it when the time comes.
As far as our trip, we started out at O’Hare. We got there extra early, but that was ok. We chilled out at our favorite, Tortas Frontera, for food and drinks. We actually met a girl from Chicago who was living in Boston so we had a lot to talk about.
Our flight to Narita was a direct, 12-hour flight. In coach. But, it wasn’t full at all, so we could spread out a lot. I took photos of the food, just because I knew we were flying first class on the way back and wanted to compare. We had no idea what to expect in coach on an international flight and were actually quite surprised.
First up, snack mix.
This was the first time ever in coach that we had free beer/wine/liquor in coach. Also? Free movies on demand. Every seat had a screen in the seat back in front of it. And the movies were pretty current. Example: We watched Silver Linings Playbook, even though I already saw it . Still, Dallas chose to watch some anime on his iPad. It was a long flight so there was a lot of time to watch several movies!
Meal one was a weird mix of western and eastern: Lettuce salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing, a bun with butter, crackers and cheese, a brownie, bottled water, two pieces of sushi, and a choice of teriyaki chicken or steak.
Somewhere in the middle, it was dark and a lot of people were sleeping, we got meal two: A really crummy, super-cold turkey and cheese sandwich on a bun. And three pieces of candy.
Finally, a while before landing, we got meal three: Your choice of pizza or chicken with rice, fresh fruit and Milano cookies.
Overall, not great, but not the worst ever. Also, wayyy more than we expected. I was stuffed, actually!
Landing at the airport in Narita, I had to pee really bad. The fancy toilets at O’Hare have got NOTHING on the fancy toilets in Japan. Slightly intimidating at first, but by the end of our trip, I was sad to go back to the pathetic American toilets.
At the airport, we needed to purchase tickets on the limousine bus into Tokyo. Narita is not actually in Tokyo, kind of like how O’Hare is not actually in Chicago. We were to shuttle to the ANA Intercontinental Hotel in Tokyo, which was very close to where Tandy and Chris live. We ended up just missing a bus and had to wait about 50 minutes for the next one. Dallas sat with the luggage while I took the opportunity to exchange our JR vouchers for actual passes. More on that later. While I was doing this, I came across my first Japanese vending machine. Did you know that Japan has the highest number of vending machines per capita? There’s about one machine for every 23 people. They’re everywhere. And we grew to love them. I knew Dallas would want tea, so that was easy. I decided to try something new and just picked a pretty looking bottle. Big mistake. I tried to take a drink and nothing came out. Turns out it was a GEL!!! What the heck!
So, anyway. It looks like I took about 1,200 photos in 11 days!!!! I’ll be sorting through and posting here as time allows!