Visiting Japan has always been a dream of mine. The “About Me” page that I used to host here listed Japan as my dream vacation for around a decade, and before that, I can probably trace the roots of that desire to at least age 14 or 15. It started with anime (and video games, to a lesser degree), and evolved over time into a deep appreciation for the country and its culture. Getting to finally go this past month was an incredible experience that I hope to be able to have again without waiting another 18 years.
I’ve flown internationally only once before, but flying to Central America (and Canada, I would assume) is quite different from a transpacific flight. Our flight to Belize was a regular six-across Southwest 737 (or something similar). Flying to Japan was a wildly different experience. We flew ANA (All Nippon Airways), which is a Japanese airline, and while we were economy class, it was the nicest economy seat I’ve ever flown in (10 seats across also makes it the biggest). If you ever get a chance to go to Japan, I’d highly recommend this airline based on my one experience with them.
We flew into Haneda airport, got through customs, swiped ourselves through the monorail station (more on that later), converted a small amount of cash to yen, and that’s about how long it took me to make my first mistake. Everyone in Japan stands on the left side of the escalator, and there’s either another standing line or people walking on the right. I stood on the right, like a dumb American, and blocked people from walking. Whoops. Didn’t make that mistake again.
Japan is very orderly, something I really love about it and missed immediately when we landed back at our home airport and had to contend with American escalator “etiquette,” by which I mean one person taking up the whole moving walkway at RDU. It’s not just escalators, either. Most people always kept to the left side of the sidewalk, just as it’s sort of standard to keep the right side here in America, but people aren’t always great about.
We found our way to the hotel, which I knew would be small, but wowzers, was that jarring to actually see in person. If you are claustrophobic, you may not want to stay in a standard Japanese hotel room. I am not joking when I say that the open space in our hotel bathroom was as small as one of the bathrooms on the airplane. The room was just a place to sleep, so it wasn’t a big deal, but it was one of those things I was kind of done with toward the end of the trip (and there are very few things on that list).
The Japanese train system was very interesting. It’s one of those things I think I would hate if I lived there (due to rush hour), but as a visitor, it was incredibly convenient. You basically just put the English Suica app on your iPhone (or get a physical card if you’re an Android user or a Luddite), add some money to it, and swipe your phone on the terminal when you enter and exit a station. We probably spent about $10/day on travel, which is super reasonable, and there was a station a two minute walk from our hotel. Rush hour (and I would assume the last train of the day) was not a super pleasant experience though. Trains are so packed that people push in like sardines (still somehow in a very polite way) and brace themselves against the door frame until the doors close and their place on the train is secured.
Dining in Japan was really interesting for a couple reasons. Many Japanese restaurants have ticket systems when you walk in. You select what you want on the machine, pay, and you get a ticket that you hand to a person behind the seating area. The meals we had were generally inexpensive (some of my favorite stuff, like chicken katsu curry, was only around $7) and there is no tipping in Japan. We didn’t go to any fine dining places, but I generally felt like America could learn a thing or two from how the Japanese handle casual dining.
I couldn’t possibly give a daily play by play, but we got to visit a lot of incredible places, went to a bunch of neat shops, and ate some delicious Japanese food (some of which is not available here and I miss terribly). I’ll let the pictures do the talking here. WordPress’ gallery system is a little weird, so I’d recommend just scrolling down rather than clicking a picture and looking at the slideshow view (the portrait orientation pictures are stretched in that mode).
This trip was such a wonderful experience, I really can’t wait to go back. If you have the means to go to Japan, I’d highly recommend it.