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!
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 said.....now 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!