Sunday, April 10, 2016

Japanigans Shenanigans

Oh heyyyy! I mean, Kon'nichiwa!

I returned from my trip to Japan a couple weeks ago, then promptly started my MBA program the next day! Between working full time and going to school at night and the added commute it takes to get to campus and recovering from jet lag and trying to make time for a social life as well....I'm beat, kids! But I'll post about grad school on a different day.

Today, this is about Japan!

Japan, Japan, Japan. Here's the thing: this trip was challenging for me. Probably my most challenging trip to date. And that is hard for me to admit, considering all the people I know who have seemed to travel there without a hitch. (Just me??) I want to stay real about that in this post because I know social media often portrays one picture when the real story might be another. Obviously my experience isn't necessarily a reflection of Japan or its people so much as it was things to do with my personality/taste buds and some unfortunate perfect storms of mistakes leading to costly/discouraging setbacks here and there. I will say upfront that overall, I do look back on this trip with fondness for the good parts and people that I loved :)

SO! I saw amazing things in Japan, I took amazing pictures, I had an amazing travel buddy...and yet, challenging! My other international trips felt more accessible to me. I think one mistake with this trip was to cram 3 cities into one week, which meant by the time I felt oriented in each city it was time to hop along to the next one. As someone who has felt confident and secure on all previous trips, it put a dent in my travel confidence to feel so overwhelmed on this one. And, it seemed like the phrases and politeness we used in one city would work well and in the next city would result in getting waved away or yelled at. I am sure tourists experience the same thing anywhere in the world, depending on who they interact with, but somehow it was a first for me.

Also, the food was admittedly difficult for me, which I didn't expect. I had a few things I loved -- like some fabulous sashimi at the fish market in Tokyo, and some amazing bowls of ramen. A lot of the times though, the flavors and textures I encountered didn't sit well with me (turns out Japan is really into tofu and I am...not so much...haha). Obviously this is all personal preference, and I'd never want to deter anyone who might actually have the right palate for this country. But for me and my travel companion, it meant a lot of feeling hungry and....just going to own up to this...eating at McDonald's four times just to feel full on something familiar. (Probably equals the number of times I've been to McDonald's in the past two years combined haha) (More of an In 'n Out and Chick-Fil-A girl, myself.)

This trip taught me a couple key things:

1) I want to be much more compassionate toward tourists and refugees in my own country. How overwhelming it is to feel like you can't read any signs, the food feels really foreign, and it's hit or miss if people will help you out or turn you away. I neverrrr want to make anyone feel that way! And I can't imagine experiencing those barriers AND having no home country to ever go back to. Makes my heart hurt. I was so, so, so, so grateful for the people along the way who answered our broken-Japanese questions or walked us across train stations to find trains we NEVER would have found on our own, etc. Heart throbs for those beautiful people!

2) Next time I travel to an Asian country, I'm hiring a guide! I definitely got a confidence boost whenever I figured something out on my own (who's your daddy, Kyoto metro map), but the time/money spent on the setbacks would have been soooo nice to avoid. With a guide (or just a friend who speaks the language), I could have enjoyed all the amazing sights without all the time/money/frustration spent figuring things out. Plus, Japan is super safe. I kept thinking how much worse those hard moments would have felt in a country where I'd also have to worry much more about my safety when things went wrong. Lessons learned in advance for next time!

3) Life is a continual practice in patience, both with myself and others. I kept thinking along the way, "Why isn't this easier for me? No one else told me they had a hard time in Japan. I've never had such a difficult time while traveling." At one point on this trip, I lost the key to my Airbnb somewhere in Tokyo. It was embarrassing and frustrating to email the owner and have her come meet us to give us a new key. On another day, we missed a flight boarding time (not the takeoff time -- the boarding time) by ~10 minutes and were not allowed to board. We could literally see the boarding area from where we stood, but no amount of pleading could sway them, and we ended up having to purchase a new flight for 2 hours later that was no cheap replacement (and weirdly no easy feat to purchase a new ticket -- one example where I felt like something that should have been so simple seemed so out of my reach). Literally, we sat in the airport's cafe after that in crushed moods while Lionel Richie played over the speakers. It felt right, haha.

With all of THAT you can see all the beautiful pictures :) Please note how CLEAN everything is in Japan. Seriously, spotless subway cars with freshly vacuumed, plush benches. I loved that about this country. And I will say, if I ever find my way back to Japan I will feel much better prepared and more confident going into it. Lessons learned in not cramming too much into a week-long trip and assuming it will be as easy to figure out as other trips somehow were!

The lows on this trip were low, but the highs were stunning. Enjoy!

Indoor slippers always and forever:

The guy guarding the ramen place:

The magically delicious ramen at said ramen place:

Fish market in Tokyo:

This egg salad sandwich on the train had all kinds of raw fish in it. I like raw fish but not so much in my egg salad, haha. Also I thought I ordered turkey but that's how it goes sometimes:

The photo booths in Harajuku were UHMAZING:

One course of the many-course meal at our traditional Japanese inn. Loved this place, struggled getting half this meal down. No insult to them -- again, just apparently learned on this trip that I'm not crazy about really legit Japanese food, though how I wish I was!

Michelle is happy that the meat in this course was cooked :)

I would begin every day of my life with a steamy indoor hot tub overlooking nature if I could:

Vending machines are a THING in Japan! Our approach was to toss in some yen and gamble on a picture. I loved this green grape soda with pieces of aloe. Not pictured: hot cans of hot chocolate and coffee. Now THAT I could go for in my home city.

No creeper-petting the women. Rules I can get behind.

The torii gates -- a must-do if you're ever in Kyoto!

A cat cafe! I like cats and yet this was a horrifying experience. haha

Bamboo forest at Storm Mountain:

Sunrise pic on one of those spotless subway cars:

Ocean break in Okinawa....

....home country of Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid!

This CD is a hilarious story. Michelle and I stopped into a grocery store to get snacks, and we saw this delightful puppy CD in a bin that we thought was labeled "4 for 20." Score! So we put it in our pile and then enjoyed it in our rental car (yes, I drove on the left side of the road! champion!) Later while checking the receipt, we deciphered that it actually cost us $20. Haha. It was full of such gems, though!

I really wanted to see tons and tons of cherry blossoms on this trip but we were about a week early for the full bloom. Caught some ambitious early bloomers though:

Into the ocean in Okinawa! Michelle went scuba diving and then we both went snorkeling. They're not in any pictures, but we were literally swimming amongst schools of neon fish. It was amazing.

American Village in Okinawa

Our fearless dive-shop friend, Yuma!

And that's all! Sayonara!


Melanie said...

Oh yes, I totally agree that travel is hard. Sometimes it's the place itself, sometimes it's the pace, sometimes is being around people (even people you like ) 24/7. I LOVE travel, but I think I appreciate all of my trips more in the memories than I do in the actual moment, which isn't to say that I don't enjoy myself, it's just more of a blend of emotions while it's all happening.

I think one of the most valuable things about foreign travel is the empathy it creates.

I had literal nightmares that I'd be called to Japan on a mission. I was afraid I'd starve because I just can't stomach fish or any type of seafood. Instead I was called to Argentina...and I was a vegetarian at the time.

Jael said...

Can someone travel and ALWAYS have things go off without a hitch?? I can't imagine. There are too many variables when traveling. I've never been to an Asian country, but one of my most stressful travel moments happened in an English speaking country! My husband was at Cambridge for a 6 week course and I was flying out to see him for 2 weeks in the middle of it. He was supposed to meet me in London and we would stay overnight in a hotel and then travel to Cambridge together the next day. We had a meeting place and a meeting time prearranged. Should have been simple, right? Well, we made a number of mistakes, one of which was that we didn't have international phones. I also flew in on one of the last flights of the night. So after I landed I couldn't find my husband and couldn't get in touch with him. He wasn't where we said we would meet. So I waited and waited and walked around and waited and finally got on the last train out of the airport that night and went to our hotel, hoping he had checked in and something had happened and he was waiting for me there. Nope. So I'm in tears by this point, it's like 2am and there's jetlag and everything else. A couple hours later he finally shows up. Turns out we were waiting in similar but different spots, and he just kept waiting for me, long after the trains had stopped running. He eventually ended up taking a VERY EXPENSIVE cab ride from the airport to our hotel. I had been scared out of my mind that something had happened to him, obviously still hadn't slept, was scary! And that was in England, for crying out loud. Anyway, point of the (very long) story was that while sometimes the struggles in trips make the best stories, sometimes they aren't funny, and so they don't get talked about. Instagram is for the highlights, yeah? I think the difficulties of travel are always worth the trip though, at least so far! I haven't had an experience bad enough that made me go "well, I wish we just hadn't come." It's always worth it. And judging by your pictures, Japan was DEFINITELY still worth it!
This ended up being way long. I apologize. And in hindsight, I haven't had anything "big" happen while traveling; I mean, I've never lost my passport/wallet or been a victim of crime or...been abducted? But I still think it's at least as common to have a trip with at least minor setbacks than to have one go perfectly. You're not alone!

FWIL Sentimental Blog Content said...

Um this looks amazing, even with the frustrations. Can you labeled this "The amazingly beautiful, unique, and clean hangry experience"? Because I feel like that's the vibe I'm picking up.

Jenna Foote said...

Good to know. I am the least picky person on EARTH and really want to visit Japan for mostly geeky reasons (read: Nintendo headquarters) but I know about 2 words in Japanese and fear all the unexpected setback scenarios you mentioned. We actually almost missed a connecting flight from Detroit to Orlando in January, and the lady standing there at the gate yelled at us in a thick Chinese accent that THE DOORS WERE ABOUT TO CLOSE and THE PLANE WAITS FOR NO ONE as we frantically shoved our passes into her hands. I almost cried because we literally ran a mile or two (60 gates -- not a joke) with a couple rolly suitcases and backpacks to get there in time. I mean, my legs have never screamed at me so much in my life as they did in that moment. Plus I had to pee like whoa, and the second I sat in my seat after taking a whizz on the airplane potty, the plane took off. It was terrible. AND THAT WAS IN AMERICA WHERE I SPEAK THE LANGUAGE JUST FINE. So I don't want to relive that experience. I think if I go to Japan, I'll hire a guide. Or maybe take my aunt with me. She's Japanese, haha.

Beautiful pictures. You definitely helped sell me on a Japan trip!

carlarojasz said...

How cool!!! I'm such a fan of your blog!!!