Friday, April 11, 2014

Japan Day 1: Planes, Bullet Trains, and Mt Fuji

Lucky capture of cherry blossoms and Mt. Fuji 

Day 1: After staying up until almost 1 am, we woke up about 4 am to leave for our early morning flight. We made a short connection to Chicago, followed by Toronto (wrong way!). It made for a LONG travel day, finally arriving in Tokyo about 4:45 pm, about 6 am the next day (Iowa time). 

I unfortunately do not sleep well, if at all, in planes or cars. So I was pretty wiped out when we finally arrived in Tokyo. Despite the long day our flights went smoothly and much faster than I anticipated. It was helpful to be able to choose movies to watch from my own viewing screen at my seat. There were a bunch more movies I wanted to see but didn't get to...that's a good thing-- less time to get bored. Things I did not or sleep.

Some cinnamon pretzels for breakfast in Chicago...He looks way better than I do on such little sleep!
I was very impressed with the terminal we were at in Toronto. They had cozy little tables and nooks with ipads for general use with free wi-fi. We grabbed some food and bought a few neck pillows (lifesavers!) while considering whether we should be a pack of those oh-so-Canadien maple candies or a bag of ketchup chips. Somehow we escaped without any of this.

As we were waiting for our bags in Tokyo I said to Abe, "I'm so glad we checked bags this time." Normally we are carry-on people. It wasn't too long after we found out Abe's bag was stuck in Toronto. And wouldn't arrive for days...It took like what seemed forever to get all settled at the bag claim desk, only to need to make it through the rest of immigration.

If you ever travel in Japan, you need to get a Japan Rail Pass. The JR trains run throughout the country and are an affordable way to get around on many of the bullet trains and subways. You do have to purchase in advance, before arriving in Japan, and activate them once you arrive. Unfortunately for us, the line was VERY long. They finally opened another counter and we booked a train into the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. We also exchanged our dollars to Yen (1 yen is almost equal to 1 cent) and rented a cell phone so Abe could contact some of his friends. And strangely the first people we met in Japan was a family from Des Moines. (Cue: "It's a small world after all...")

(Also, on a side note, 7-11 is a very popular company in Japan and a great place to make international ATM withdrawals. I think you may even be able to do money exchange as well.)

~4 hours of sleep in 2 days..but finally on a train into Tokyo
This was a frustrating way to start our trip, but more so because we were supposed to meet our friend's mom Aiko so we could get the key for her place where we would be staying in Tokyo (talk about generousity!). We had limited ability to communicate so she was stuck wondering if a few Americans were lost on the streets somewhere. She kept going to the police and train stations asking if they had seen any Americans. We were so glad to arrive and she generously took us to eat at a local restaurant. It was Italian and we had escargot. Not what you'd expect in Japan. I was disappointed we couldn't go with her to dinner earlier where the cherry blossoms were being lit for the night.

I had no trouble sleeping that night as I missed a whole night's sleep by that point already.

Day 2: We did wake up earlier than I would have liked to get an early start on our trip to Kyoto. Aiko made us breakfast -- ham, toast with cream cheese, steamed cabbage with a soy saucy-sauce, and juice. I was thinking, "This is how Japanese people stay thin...they eat cabbage for breakfast!" Not sure if that was a Japan thing or just an Aiko thing but I thought it was a good idea!

Looking (and feeing) tired

She helped us navigate our way through the subway station and onto the JR train to Kyoto. She was heading home to Osaka, just a stop past Kyoto, so that worked out very well that we could ride together. I was so happy to meet her. She was such a neat lady, a professor of economics, and a former commissioner for fair trade in Japan (the only woman).

Aiko-san and Erin-san

Kyoto was 3-4? hours away by bullet train from Tokyo. I honestly cannot remember how long as it was a blur--maybe beause I realized that I can sleep (some) on trains. Sometimes. After jet lag sets in.

My first bullet train

We caught some great views of Mount Fuji on our way!

I love the little Japanese truck and the future rice fields in this one!

The Japanese call it Fuji-San. I think it is fun to say!

I think we got some good ones, especially considering they were as we sped by on the train!

We arrived in Kyoto about 12 or 1 pm. After leaving our bags at our hotel, we made our way back to the train and to Nara.


Mom said...

Looks like a cool trip. Glad Abe got to take you.

Rachel Culmer said...

I didn't know you went to Japan. That is awesome!

Marci Wittwer Butterfield said...

Cant wait to read about the rest of your trip.. so far it looks awesome.. and I am totally jealous of the toilets. hah.

Erin said...

Thanks for making me laugh Marci!