Random Thoughts on Travel in Japan

  • The people are incredibly polite and gracious and welcoming.
  • In order for me to dress like Japanese women, I would have needed to raid my mother’s closet in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I have never been that fashionable in all of my life.  The tailored dresses and heels and sweaters are beautiful, and expected on all.
  • Open toed shoes and bare legs are not the norm.
  • The weight loss industry that is so large in the US would fail in Japan.
  • If you ask someone for something, they will go out of their way to make it happen.  Please be careful what you ask for.
  • There is not a single word of Japanese you need to know in order to travel in Japan. A smile and open attitude will take you everywhere you need to go.
  • Travel is the most expensive part of being there; hotels and highways cost the most.
  • You MUST have cash to travel easily in Japan, credit/debit cards are not often used outside of the cities.
  • Use your resources, if you know someone who lives there, they have access to far more than you ever will as a tourist.
  • Visiting temples in Japan is a lot like visiting castles in Europe, once you have seen a couple, they all start to look alike.
  • Appreciate the ancientness of the country, in the US if something is 100 years old we start looking to replace it, recognize that some buildings are 700 to 1000 years old
  • Respect the roads, they are narrow and twisty outside of the cities and filled with people.
  • The food is odd, there will be flavors that your palate may never have tasted before, that’s ok, appreciate it in the spirit that it is offered, and eat ALL of it.
  • Personal space is mandatory in Japan, give it room.
  • Rock, paper, scissors is a national pastime and resolves all conflicts.
  • Anything can be purchased in a vending machine.
  • Above all, show respect. Loud and obnoxious behavior is not ok, arguing is not ok, being right all the time is not necessary, most Americans need to check that attitude at the door.
  • I want to go back!



Special Insert – Japan Travel Day 8

We interrupt this fabulous trip with a touch of the flu!  This is me sitting in a hotel room, not far from my Western (thank God) style toilet.  It sucks to be that girl, but thankful we didn’t have anything truly planned until the weekend.

I don’t normally dwell on the negatives, but with all the Ebola scare in the news, it made me start to think about how easily an epidemic can spread.  Let’s take my life for example.

On September 27, I was in Bridgeport, Texas (just outside of Dallas) with over 1000 people from 13 surrounding states.  While I didn’t have direct contact with all of them, I did personally handle items that were touched by at least 200 people, probably more.

From there, we went to Offroad Expo in Pomona, California.  62,000 people attended the expo.  Again, I didn’t have direct contact with all of them, but at least another 200 from several surrounding states.

Next stop, Seoul, Korea aboard an Asiana Air flight that held 400+ people.  From there to Osaka, Japan.  Within the next few days, we travelled by train within Osaka, by Shinkansen to Toyko, by train within Toyko.  Very crowded trains. In fact, we passed through the Shinjuku station no less than four times, Shinjuku has two Million travelers a day.  I realize that I am atypical of the general public, but what if there is an airborne disease that starts spreading before there are symptoms.  Can you imagine how many people could be infected?

I’m not a statistician, but if you took those numbers and extrapolated how many people could be affected over a three week period, it is astronomical.  No, I don’t have a life threatening disease, but just imagine if one of those who did was in my shoes right now.  Makes you think.

it’s a great big world

Travelling fulltime as we do makes us more appreciative and aware of how different the world is. Stereotypes are for uninformed, the more we get to know one another and get off the beaten path, the better off we all will be. We love being in the neighborhoods, no matter if we are in the US or in a foreign country, it’s where life happens.

the other fork in the road

Yosemite Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Okay, okay, I get it. We’re all fat, we put cheese on everything, or we fry it, or both (mmm, cheese curds). Our food tastes like shit, our bread tastes like sugar, and seriously, what is with those giant portions? We’re uncultured, ignorant, have stampless passports, that is, if we even have a passport (I can actually hear some of you nodding). I used to take personal responsibility for these opinions, embarrassed for being labeled in this way, shouldering the weight of the American Idiot.

And then I started traveling.

I would listen politely as people were eager to share their thoughts on America, before learning they’d only been to Los Angeles or New York, or, “Oh, well, I haven’t been there myself. I’ve just heard.” And since so few Americans travel (that’s the word on the international street, though not all that…

View original post 838 more words

Special Insert – Japan Travel Day 7

No way we’ve been here a week already, on the one hand, I’m exhausted, on the other, there is so much I still want to see.  Today we went to the Imperial Palace, it is downtown Toyko.  It is also a National Holiday today, just like in the states.  They are celebrating National Sports Day here, fifty years ago the Toyko Olympics began, in 1964.  In the US, we celebrate Columbus Day, what a different type of holiday.  Anyway, downtown, we are there early, we enter the East Imperial Gardens and begin our next walkabout.  A trip up to the Shogun residence that has since been reduced to rubble, we walked through bamboo gardens, around Samurai barracks, the place the 47 Ronan fought, all over the grounds.  Finally we made it to the double bridge for an incredible view.DSC_0018

From there we continued to walk the perimeter of the garden.  Like Big said yesterday, it seemed like ten miles or more.

Our next stop was the Modern Museum of Art.  They had a showing there of work by Hishida Shunso, exquisite painting on silk and paper from the early 1900’s.  This exhibit alone was worth the price of admission, beautiful works.  The rest of the museum was interesting, it was a reminder that art is a personal privilege, we all view it differently.

Big scaling the castle wall

Big scaling the castle wall

Dinner tonight was a true sushi restaurant, the boys ate here the other night, they were the first Americans to ever set foot inside.  Tonight we went back.  The sushi chef speaks English well, he spent twenty years in Thousand Oaks, for the last five years he has been back in Japan.  As we talked, he said he hasn’t had a need to speak English since he came back, he appreciated us coming in so that he could practice again.  Not many English speakers make it out to Ichikawa.  That has been obvious from the looks we’ve gotten.

My daughter reminded me tonight that this is our typical MO, go out in to the neighborhoods to see the sights.  This is how we travel in Mexico always, away from the tourist spots and out to where they don’t speak our language.  We do the same in the states, we travel away from the chains and look for restaurants that are mom and pop stores.  It is a fun way to live and always an adventure!

Special Insert – Japan Travel Day 6

Now that we’ve got the train figured out, getting around is pretty easy.  Of course, Rich prepped for today’s adventures, he has all the stations mapped out and a plan.  We are sightseeing on our own today, there are several spots on the list to see.

First up, Toyko Skytree.  It opened in 2012 as the tallest structure in the world, it was surpassed almost immediately by the Dubai building, but at 634 meters, it is pretty impressive.  Not only that, it is a huge attraction, there are busloads of people here.  We got off at the train station and walked through the neighborhoods about a mile to get to the Skytree.  We opted not to take the ride to the top, that looked like the wait would be hours, but we did a walk around the base, Josh got out his wide angle camera to get a photo of me with the tower behind me.  Not sure how I feel about needing wide angle, but it turned out well.DWC_0876

Next stop was the Senso-ji Temple, a Buddhist temple that was originally founded in the 600’s.  That’s 1400 years ago!!! Being from the US, that is an incredibly long time ago, we are such a young country. The structures are mostly new, having lost most of them during the world wars, but the grounds are old and sacred.  You wouldn’t know itvisiting there though, the mass of humanity that crowds the streets is incredible.  No way to stop and look at anything, the crowd just surges forward at  a slow pace.  We stayed in the center and took in the crowds and shops.  We weren’t looking to shop anyway, so that wasn’t really a problem.DWC_0867

It was good to get out on our own, we got plenty of smiles and laughs, plenty of stares, some people even patted Big’s tummy.  The rickshaw drivers that were lined up near the temple joked with us, but none offered us a ride, one asked if Big wanted to drive!  #lovemylife

Special Insert – Japan Travel Day 5

Valuable lesson learned today, “if you are going to read at all, read it all” Ichigaya and Ichikawa are not the same words.  We are changing hotels today, the first two nights were downtown in Shinjuku, the next few are in Ichikawa.  I know exactly where that is…NOT!  I knew where Ichigaya was, just three stops down from the Shinjuku station.

We wandered around the Shinjuku area for a bit, went to see the government building, wanted to go to the park, but that was not to be.  As we got to the park entrance, there were barricades proclaiming that someone in the park had dengue fever and the place was quarantined.  Wear long pants, long shirts, no bare feet.  I looked at what I was wearing, shorts, no sleeves and sandals, yay…that’s a no go for me.  So we skirted the park and walked through the mall area, took some pictures and finally boarded the train.  We were carrying all of our stuff, so not too excited to do marathons around the city. DWC_0816

We got off at Ichigaya station, found a Starbucks, we had a little time to kill before we could check in to our hotel.  Finally decided to make our way there, nothing looked familiar to the little map we were carrying, so we finally asked a guy.  He said, “Ichikawa?”  It sounded the same to me, after a little more pantomime and broken English, we realized we were in the wrong place, he walked us back to the train station and helped us find the line we needed and pick out the station – all in Kanji of course, so we couldn’t read it.  We bought our tickets and got on the train.  I had it figured out, it was 11 stops from where we were.

We got on the train and rode, one, two, three….nine, ten, eleven, this was not Ichikawa, we kept riding.  The train finally made it to the terminal, we got off.  We were obviously in the wrong place.  After consulting various maps, an app or two, Google and everything else we could find, we discovered we had ridden the train west.  We needed to go east, in fact, not far from where we were yesterday.  We got back on the train, passed the Shinjuku station (for the third time today), passed the Ichigaya station, and eleven stops and 63 minutes later, we were in Ichikawa.  A short sprint to our hotel and we were checking in to a full on Japanese hotel.  No English spoken here, Naozumi had found us a place to stay that no gaijin are at, it’s perfect.DWC_0819

We got lunch from a vending machine, well, not really, you order through the vending machine, but they bring you your meal from the kitchen.  Walked the streets to take in the local sites.  This is what Japan is about, I’m loving this!

Special Insert – Japan Travel Day 4

I am so nervous.  Every ten minutes or so, my eyes tear up.  I am trying so hard not to let the anxiety take over, but today is a big day for me.  We are meeting my daughter’s Japanese family today and it feels like a first date.

Last year, Haley spent six months in Japan, the first four were on tour with the Young Americans, the last two she lived with the Watanabe family on the outskirts of Toyko.  They loved her, and because I do too, I had to meet them.

At ten this morning, they sent Keith to retrieve us from our hotel.  Keith is an American who lives with his Japanese wife here in Toyko, he works at the school Ayako owns and is the best English translator they have. He came in to Shinjuku station, and walked to our hotel.  Turns out he was nervous too.  Keith led us back to the station and helped us find the line to take us to Mizue Station.  This was within walking distance to their school.  Ayako (mama) met us on the streets and introduced us around the school, we saw the class rooms for the youngest – age 0-1; then the 2-3 year olds.  They all waved and smiled.  We then joined Yukiko (mama sensei) in her office on the third floor of a local office building for some tea.DSC_0752

Next stop was the 4-5 year olds.  As we passed by them, one of them pointed and yelled “Haley sensei”  I smiled and said, “no, Haley sensei mama”  They weren’t convinced, everyone said how much we look alike.  I asked if I could meet Mutzki – he was Haley’s favorite.  When I went over to him and asked if I could take a picture with him, he pouted.  One of the Japanese teachers went to talk to him, turns out, he misses Haley and wanted her there, not me, I made him sad.

Mama and Mama Sensei piled us in to their van and drove us to Katsushika City.  We visited an old Shinto Temple there, we got our fortunes from the mechanical dragons, cleansed our hands in the fountain, lit incense and threw coins in to the box to pray for good luck.  Then we were able to enter the temple itself.  Filled with mystique, beautiful carvings, a Tori gate and monks chanting, it was very Eastern, not too many believers there, but an ancient feeling with all the dragons watching over us.

Lunch was next on the agenda after a quick stop in the restroom.  It was a traditional toilet cut in the floor like a trough, you straddle it and try not to get your clothes wet while you pee.  Fortunately, this wasn’t a new experience for me…1) I’ve been to Africa and 2) we often are offroad, I can squat.

We had lunch at Kawachiya, a freshwater fish restaurant that served eel and carp, among other things.  We had eel, eel heart, koi, octopus, and some very interesting other things.  I couldn’t describe it all if I tried.  Not all of the items are things I would eat again, others were delicious.  The meal went on for hours and then we walked down the longstanding souvenir shops.  The narrow walkway was lined with vendors, mostly food sellers, there were huge glass jars filled with cookies, dark green rice balls with red bean paste, mushed rice pods on a stick with a sticky sweet sauce, green tea ice cream.  I have discovered that my taste and that of the Japanese are not the same when it comes to desserts, give me a good old chocolate bar anytime.  But…we tried it all and ate with a smile.DSC_0771

Our return trip included a stop at the 100 Yen store, and then the long train ride back to Shinjuku station.  Shinjuku Station is home to 2 million passengers a day; Haley asked me yesterday…”didn’t I tell you to stay away from Shinjuku?”  “You did? Why?”  I could see her shaking her head thinking I never listen to her, she is probably right, what I would have heard was blah, blah, blah, Shinjuku…so when I was looking for a hotel, I thought, Oh!  Shinjuku, I’ve heard of that before!

I can’t begin to describe what it is like to discover you have a family in an alternate universe.  I am so appreciative of Ayako and Yukiko for making us feel so welcome, that anxiety I was feeling, it went away as soon as I met them.

Great day, great to meet family, so glad we took the time, truly a highlight of the trip!

Special Insert – Japan Travel Day 3

Today is a travel day, we are taking the train to Toyko because we have a date tomorrow with family.  Rather than travel with all our luggage, we took out what we thought we needed and took the larger pieces back to Naozumi’s house and stashed it there.  With loaded backpacks, we checked out of our family hotel and headed down the tollway toward Osaka.  It was much different in the daylight, lots to see, a little bit easier too since now we know the system and have yen in hand.  The first challenge was returning the rental car, following the GPS only gets you so far, we went in circles trying to find the space, but figured it was good practice for when we have to get to the airport to go home.

Next stop, the train station, we bought tickets to get to Shin-Osaka and then to Toyko via the Shinkansen.  The Shinkansen is the famous bullet train, since 1964 it has been operating on a precise schedule.  We took the Nozomi line in to Toyko Station, then transferred to Shinjuku station and got off.  The mass of humanity in the train station was overwhelming, I just tucked in behind Rich and let him part the seas.  We stand so much taller and wider than the locals, they don’t hesitate to get out of the way.DWC_0828

From the Shinjuku station, we found our way to the street level and after consulting the map for a few minutes, Rich asked a young man if he spoke English, he politely said “no, no, no” but an older guy was walking by and stopped to help.  We told him the hotel we were looking for and he found it on the map and sent us on our way.  A fairly quick walk and we checked in to the Washington Main Hotel.

Our room is quaint, it has three single beds lined up in a row.  The toilet has all the same controls we’ve seen on the other ones, but this time they offer a description in English too.  The air conditioning only works when you are in the room, but there are night shirts on each of the beds.  Of course, they are built for smaller folk, Josh put his on and couldn’t move his arms, he looked like the TRex from Meet the Robinsons, Great big head, little bitty arms!

Special Insert – Japan Travel Day 2

This morning I am grateful for friends.  We are on a terrific adventure in Japan, a significant language barrier, but a smile gets you anywhere.  We got up this morning feeling good, no jet lag yet.  Our plan is to go to the Tsuda Racing shop, we have a rental car with GPS, we have Wi-Fi so we are able to communicate, now if we can just get the two working together, that will be great.

Rich is on Messenger communicating with Naozumi while I get ready, it turns out that GPS will only take us part of the way to their home.  As we prepare to leave, Naozumi messages and says, stay there, we will meet for lunch.  When we look outside, he is in the parking lot next door and inviting us to lunch.

We ask him to order for us and the lunch that comes to the table is beautiful.  Soup with udon noodles, the kind you slurp; beef with rice; some sort of pickled vegetable and this neon yellow fruit like substance.  I tried it all, ate most of it, couldn’t get the hang of slurping my noodles though, and neon fruit – only ate one.

Everyone from the shop has joined us, there are eight of us, including Naozumi’s wife and brother.  Everyone pretends they don’t speak English, but small bits come out that sound college educated to me, no hesitation at all.

After lunch, we drive up the mountain to their home. DSC_0730 The family home is there, as is Naozumi’s home and the shop.  We are surrounded by trees and some water, not far from the shop is the competition area where WE Rock Japan takes place, it has a concrete bowl, a large boulder field and many other potential competition areas.  Today is concrete day, the large boulder field is being concreted to secure the rocks in place.  Three loads of concrete are coming in and being sprayed in a watery slurry.

Five young men are armed with hand trowels and a small hoe to shovel the slurry around.  They work tirelessly for the afternoon.  The pump truck operator isn’t as big as his concrete hose, Josh jumps in to help move the hose around amid comments and laughter, all we understand is “sumo.” DSC_0726

We take a trail ride around the property and learn more about the family.  As afternoon slides in to evening, we go back to the shop to prepare tepanyaki style barbeque.  There is beef, mushrooms, and peppers on the grill.  Rice in the cooker, and an interesting combination in the pot.  I jump in for all of it.  From the pot, I have selected a sliced potato (or so I thought, it may have been taro), a square something – turns out to be tofu, and a boiled egg.  The men in the room approve, I have shown I am not afraid.  They pass down the Japanese mustard for the pot concoction.  It’s a little strong.  I wrinkle my nose and they laugh.

The lunar eclipse is happening in American at 4:20 a.m.; because we are in Japan, we are seeing it in primetime, a beautiful site over the treetops.

Special Insert – Japan Travel Day 1

Two days at Offroad Expo in Pomona, the second of which was spent curing a hangover I earned on my birthday.  By Sunday night, I was worthless, crawled in to bed around 5:00 pm and crawled out again at 5 am.  We are going to Japan today, and there are just a few things I need to get done before we go.

Flight was at 12:20 p.m. and it was a long one, first to Seoul, Korea, then to OsakaJapan plane-Kansai.  It was a great flight, lots of room on Asiana Airlines, and they fed us all day long.

First, we had lunch.  Almost immediately after take-off, they served beef or ??  I opted for ??  It was a Korean bowl, rice, vegetables, some beef, red pepper paste and rice.  They added Kim-chi and soup to round it off.  It was delicious, even if I wasn’t familiar with all the flavors.

Next was grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, and then at the end of the flight, they fed us again, a delicious chicken dish with huge mushrooms, gravy and more rice.  The flight was super comfortable, I was impressed.  We finally arrived in Osaka about 9:00 pm Japan time.

Next stop was the car rental agency, they had the cars lined up outside, we pointed and smiled “I bet that one’s ours.”  It was tiny.  Sure enough, a quick stint of paperwork and the petite little Japanese girl led us out there.  It took me a minute to realize I had to get in on the other side, it is right hand drive.  Rich got in and the Japanese girl knelt in the seat beside him to show him how to use the GPS. Yes, it looks like a clown car, yes, we are too big for it.

GPS engaged, we took off for the hotel that Naozumi Tsuda had arranged for us; 60+km down the road, I couldn’t tell you what direction.  It seemed to take forever to get out of the city.  And then, our first challenge hit.  A toll plaza.  We hadn’t yet picked up any yen because Naozumi was meeting us at our hotel with yen.  The lane we pulled up in was the wrong one.  We gave the universal sign for I don’t know.  Raised palms, shrugged shoulders and a smile.  The attendant figured it out and sent us on our way.  Next toll plaza, we again picked the wrong lane.  Complete language barrier, the attendant just sent us through.  Third one, we did it again.  Attendant says “creditcardo” Oh, yeah, we’ve got one of those, he swiped it and we went on our way.  From then on, we looked for the green lanes and just handed over our card, worked like a charm.

The only disarming part is the ETC machine in the car starts yelling at us in Japanese whenever we get close to a toll plaza, between that and the GPS girl giving turn by turn instructions, that is a lot of noise in our little itty bitty clown car.  We are driving a Nissan Kix, right hand drive and with three fat Americans in it, they are going to have to replace the shocks when we get done.  Add to that heading out in to the mountain country and we are really wearing on the engine, it isn’t great on acceleration, the three cylinders are getting a work out.

Naozumi met us at the Hatagoya Inn, I still don’t know what town we are in, but the beds are super comfortable and the pillows are buckwheat.  The toilet has more controls than I’ve ever seen and the shower was hot.  Loving life today!