My Trip to Japan: Vacation & Engagement

I’m so sorry I missed posting two weeks ago, but I have an excuse! You see, I knew I had my Japan vacation, but I wasn’t expecting to get engaged there. It turned my life a little topsy-turvy with all of the sudden wedding preparation on top of my fall internship.

Though it isn’t my usual fare, I thought I’d make up for my lapse by sharing the highlights of my vacation. It was about 17 total hours of travel time to get from Baltimore to Japan. First, we flew to California, which was the longest domestic flight I’ve ever taken, but nothing unusual. When we disembarked, we had some time to get dinner and stretch our legs, and I was astounded by how pricey the shops in the international terminal were.

For our international flight, we flew ANA, which is a decision I definitely don’t regret. I managed to sleep so well that I was barely even jetlagged when we arrived. The timing worked out perfectly.

ANA meal
The food was remarkably good, too.

We spent the first day playing video games with the friend I was staying with, since we were too tired to actually do anything tourist-y. We took the commuter train from Tokyo to his place in Zushi, which is a little beach town about an hour outside of the city. The trains were impressively clean, ran on-time, and were easy to navigate even without my friend with us. Once we’d settled in some, we went to the grocery store, which was an education in and of itself.

The grocery store had an amazing selection of mushrooms and fancy breads, though the trickiest thing to figure out was what sauces to buy for the food I was planning to cook: even with a translator, it’s hard to guess at tastes. The “apple” meat glaze wound up tasting almost identical to A1 steak sauce, for one thing.

So seriously that the problem occupies a surprisingly big role in their national museums. 
So seriously that the problem occupies a surprisingly big role in their national museums.

In some ways, the hardest part of cooking on my Japan vacation was dealing with the recycling. Japan, being an island that embraced consumer culture sort of … abruptly … after the war, takes waste disposal very seriously.

They take recycling VERY seriously.
There are multiple ways you must sort the recycling, and if you do it wrong, it’s on camera and they sometimes send the police to your house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We woke up the next day and went to Tokyo, since it was so close. Most of the things we wanted to do were around the Tokyo Bay area. We hit the mall first, for lunch, and I was shocked by how American it was. Most stores had English lettering and the styles were immediately familiar: places like Aeropostale and Starburcks. We did manage a fairly authentic lunch and then I got Godiva ice cream, because why not? We looked around for a kimono for my mother, but came up empty and went back to playing tourist.

statueoflibertytoky
I certainly wasn’t expecting the miniature Statue of Liberty, but it’s just one indicator of how startlingly American everything felt in the Tokyo Bay area.

We saw a life-sized Gundam statue, walked along the beach, visited a carnival with an art installation that others have taken better pictures of than I. DMM.Planets Art was amazing, though, and if you ever have a chance you should absolutely do it (but wear shorts).

I never did figure out why there were so many buried anchors scattered around the riverside park, but I'm happy with the photo.
I never did figure out why there were so many buried anchors scattered around the riverside park.

One of the weirdest things about the whole Japan vacation turned out to be the water: the bathrooms were amazing, for one. It was pretty weird how the toilets in the airport played nature music while you used them, and I’m not a fan of bidets, but damn did the showers impress me. I’ve never had that much space to shower, before… though the hotels tended toward the tiny side, as you might expect. I still don’t understand why they need a size of bed between twin and double.

Moreover, the water pressure was unbelievable. Water fountains were generally hard to find, which meant we bought a lot of water bottles in the vending machines (exacerbating their waste problem with plastic bottles, unfortunately), but the handful we did find shot easily several feet into the air.

Later that evening we went on a dinner cruise. We were the only foreigners there, but the hostess spoke amazing English and was super nice. I am assured by my fiance (!) that the toro was excellent, but as I am not in the habit of eating raw fish, no matter how freshly caught, I stuck to the tempura and other delicacies. It was delicious, and for the price, mind-blowingly amazing.

If you are ever in Tokyo, you absolutely must go on one of the river cruises for dinner.
If you are ever in Tokyo, you absolutely must go on one of the river cruises for dinner.

The couple who shared the table with us were very kind, and were clearly on a date of some kind: both wore kimonos. Because of that, I was startled by how often she took selfies and he played Pokemon Go — which we bonded over, a little, despite the language barrier. There were toasts, and complimentary booze in every variety. The rainbow bridge was gorgeous all lit up, as were the other boats on the water. Even the trees along the shore were decorated.

We spent one more day in Tokyo, first visiting a beautiful gorge that was billed as “an ancient pocket of nature hidden away in Tokyo.” It was filled with shrines and people, and fun things like little bamboo stands. After that we hit a museum, which was interesting but I’m not going to belabor it: most of what I learned can be gleaned from Wikipedia.

The ladies at the store had fun modeling, though. Would you believe she's in her 70s?
The ladies at the store had fun modeling, though. Would you believe she’s in her 70s?

Since we struck out with the kimono at the mall, my friend asked for suggestions on where to look from one of his local friends, who happens to also be his real estate agent. To my shock, she offered to take us shopping in Yokosuka, which is the naval base where my friend is stationed. There’s a kimono shop there that had kimonos for sale or rent, but my mother wanted silk, so we wound up buying a rental wedding kimono for her. It was more expensive than I had expected, but it had so many more parts than I had expected, too.

Apparently, western women often re-purpose obi as table runners and pillowcases, which horrified me. The idea of cutting up such an expensive piece of brocade still makes me twitch. We were there for several hours, partly because of the language barrier and partly because it turns out I was buying the Japanese equivalent of a wedding dress for my mother… who had mostly just wanted a silk robe.

Ah well. I got it for the rental price; they gave us a hell of a deal for being American… even though the credit card “bounced” the first time and we had to go back a few days later to make sure everything had gotten sorted out.

They bow. You feed them. You run out of food. They immediately leave.
They bow. You feed them. You run out of food. They immediately leave.

We left Tokyo and got a hotel in Osaka, which was in convenient travel distance from Kobe (which had beef as amazing as you’d expect) and Nara, which I wanted to visit because of the sacred deer.

Which you can pet.

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE.

It smelled like you’d expect (i.e., a petting zoo) but the monastary was far more impressive than I thought it would be. Apparently a few centuries back the Emperor and Empress abdicated and built Buddhist temples in their old age.

Then, you know. I got engaged. As one does in Japan surrounded by the most mercenary semi-divine deer the planet has ever seen.

the best part of the whole japan vacation for sure
It was, of course, perfect.

Except that the mountain he took us to the next day was even more amazing. We took a tram to the top then walked down through an unexpected herb garden — we’d gone because of the waterfall, but the garden was amazing. All sorts of useful, beautiful flowers and herbs and shrubs, with little benches and vendors (and a castle) scattered throughout as you walk down the path. At the midway station it splits off onto a road that takes you to a trail leading to the waterfall, which was marred only by the fact that I couldn’t swim in it.

Is that not the most amazing swimming hole youve ever seen?
Is that not the most amazing swimming hole you’ve ever seen?

Since I was so bummed about the swimming hole, we spent our last day in Japan at the beach. All of the locals were wearing wetsuits, which made me worry that the water was cold. Most people were windboarding, though there wasn’t much of a breeze. When we realized that the water was actually quite warm, we attributed the wetsuits to a Japanese quirk, like maybe they’d adopted a California fashion.

Nope!
Nope!

They were worried about the jellyfish. Like I should have been, even though there weren’t any signs.

beach
It was a beautiful beach though.

We cut the beach trip short — I got a stung a lot, and the treatment the lifeguards had didn’t help that much. It was just a spray bottle they kept nearby, no English necessary. I just showed them my arm and they sprayed me down.

Still, it was a fantastic vacation and I got to try a lot of fun foods, do a lot of fun things, catch up with an old friend (who is, incidentally, the dark-haired guy in a bunch of these photos)… plus, you know.

Get engaged!

As you might imagine, I spent the plane ride back embroiled in wedding planning. In fact, I’m meeting with a potential venue this afternoon! Does anyone have any advice?

Let me know what you think!