Random musings on traveling in Japan…

I’m on the shinkansen (bullet train) to my next destination (photographing snow monkeys, apparently in the rain) and figured it’s as good a time as any for a blog post. It was either that or study and there is just enough movement that I feel studying might give me a touch of motion sickness, so…

Those who really know me know that Japan is like a second home to me after I lived here as a college student studying abroad. It’s already clear that this trip isn’t long enough, tho it may be a couple years before I have a chance to return (I’m still determined to try to go to the 2020 Olympics and my old home stay family offered to help buy tickets so, perhaps…) I have several friends who are either planning trips here soon or hoping to come in the near future, so I’ll use this post for some random observations and tips…

If you are bringing a laptop and it has a 3-prong grounded plug, bring an adaptor. Yes, I forgot one. Well, I forgot that my current laptop even has a grounded plug until the day I left. I still haven’t had a chance to go find one. Otherwise, outlets here are basically the same 2-prong outlets we have and power is 100 volts, so most US stuff will work here (especially modern chargers and laptop cords that have built in converters.

Yukatas are folded left over right. The other way is how the deceased is dressed for a funeral, so you wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a walking corpse. (Do Japanese zombies wear yukatas or kimono? Hmm…) Women tie them at the waist, men at the hips. As an aside, they don’t fit as well if you are busty (or if you have a big gut, I’d imagine)…

Japanese robo-toilets, as I like to call them, are pretty awesome. (So much so that my mom bought one after her first trip here.) I have always loved the heated seats, but never really understood the attraction of the bidet function until taking this trip in the midst of a Crohn’s flare up. (As an aside, I had quite the experience trying to explain Crohn’s disease and an ovarian cyst in Japanese to my old home stay family.) But the toilet paper at my eco-friendly ryokan is like sandpaper, so the less I use, the better…

Speaking of robots, the Robot Restaurant (which isn’t really much of a restaurant) in Shinjuku is something not to miss no matter how short your visit here. I don’t know how to describe it, really, but I was talking to some first time travelers about it and said I imagine it’s similar to dropping LSD. If you do a little advanced research, you can often find discounts, like at this site. The neighborhood it’s located in, Kabukicho, is historically a red light district, which is apparent as you wander the area. Still, it’s worth the visit. After all, where else can you see Godzilla roaring and breathing smoke every hour on the hour?

Schlepping luggage on rush hour trains isa miserable experience. Well, rush hour trains are a miserable experience. If you are going to be on the rail lines during busy times, don’t expect much sense of personal space – it doesn’t exist. I literally had a guy leaning against me because he was was too busy texting to hold on to a handrail or hand strap. The same is true in the stations – people are rushing here and there, often without regard for other people, so don’t be surprised if you get jostled, cut off, or crowded. As polite as the culture is here, that kind of goes out the window during rush hour and in big train stations, generally. (Think, LA rush hour drivers, but on foot.)

Shopping and dining in train stations is a good thing. Some of my favorite restaurants are in the underground shopping centers attached to train stations.

The JR East shinkansen have free WiFi. They also usually have food and drink carts that come by, but I haven’t seen one yet (and I didn’t have time to get a snack before I left).

Just like driving is on the opposite side of the road from the US, the same is true of walking. People generally tend to walk on the left side of the sidewalk. On escalators, stand to the left, walk on the right.

Japanese ofuro/bath tubs are heavenly. They are deep enough that you soak submerged up to your shoulders – the ones at my ryokan (which proudly states it is LGBT+ friendly, incidentally) are filled to the top and the water literally spills out as you submerge yourself. The water is so hot that you really only want to soak for a short time. A little bit about bathing etiquette – you wash before you bathe because the bath water generally is not replaced for each person. My ryokan actually has a sign posted explaining this. There are usually handheld showerheads and small wash bowls, as well as soap and possibly shampoo. Basically, use these to thoroughly wash yourself off (I prefer the showerhead to the bowl, but the latter is more traditional) before getting in the tub. The same is true at onsen (which you use fully nude -no swimsuits or towels – even if other people are there). I’m determined that I will have a Japanese-style bathroom built if I ever own a house…

My train is nearing my destination, so I’ll wrap this post for now. I may keep updating it or I may do a second post.

Any questions or suggestions on things I should add? Hit me up in the comments…

The adventure begins… with chaos

Hopefully the start of my trip does not set the tone for the rest or it’s going to be a crazy, chaotic adventure.

The chaos began at LAX. Despite oversleeping, I got to LAX with sufficient time (thanks to short lines at security and having CLEAR – I haven’t seen LAX that uncrowded in a while. The forecasted rain didn’t hit until I was safely inside the auditory, which was a plus. But that’s where the adventure started. When the rain hit, it hit hard and was accompanied by thunder and lightning. Our flight was delayed – the crew announced that when there is lightning, the ground crew had to take cover for safety, so they couldn’t load baggage. Plus, a plane that took off right around our scheduled departuretime was struck by lightning on takeoff and had to return.

The flight was relatively uneventful, despite some turbulence. But then…

Our already-delayed flight was supposed to land at Narita airport but a plane skidded off the runway earlier in the day. Narita only has two runways, so the closure of one created chaos. As we were approaching Tokyo, the flight crew announced that there was an incident and we were going to divert to Haneda due to the long line of planes waiting to land. The lady sitting next to me, and many others on the flight, had connecting flights at Narita – I’m glad I didn’t have that added chaos!

Once we landed, the co-pilot aligned that the captain made the decision to divert because we would have been in the air another hour and we didn’t have sufficient fuel. So we sat on the plane for close to another hour as we awaited further instructions. They were apparently debating whether to reposition the plane back to Narita or let us off at Haneda. The decision was eventually made to deplane at Haneda, so they brought out air stairs and sent shuttles our way. On the positive, immigration and customs had one of the shortest lines I have ever seen at an international airport. I expected huge lines due to all the diverted flights.

While Haneda is normally consider more convenient than Narita, that isn’t necessarily the case when you are traveling at rush hour. There is a convenient express train that goes from Narita to Tokyo station. I planned to take a taxi from there to my ryokan (a Japanese inn). Instead, I took the monorail, which was crowded with rush hour passengers (but, fortunately, had luggage racks) and had to transfer to the crowded Yamanote line (a popular commuter route).

But I made it. And I went to sleep early. Now to meet my old home stay families for lunch…