I recently got back from a trip to Japan that I took with my friend Debra. The trip was planned since July, and I was really excited for it. I had not been to east Asia yet, and I was looking forward to seeing a very different culture. We went for ten days at the end of March, and we both thoroughly enjoyed our trip. Debra lives in San Francisco, so we flew separately to Tokyo and met at the hotel we were staying at.
The flight over to Japan was a particular treat as I cashed in some miles to fly Japan Airlines first class to Tokyo. The service was so outstanding it really must be experienced to be believed. Hopefully everyone will be able to experience something like it at least once in their life. When I was making my seat into a bed to get some sleep, one of the three flight attendants who were serving me asked if she could make the bed. She then brought out a mattress, made the bed, and tucked me in! They were very attentive to my seafood “allergy” (that I don’t like to eat it) and it was just out of this world over the top.
Tokyo was our main shopping portal to Japan. While there were plenty of the “normal” international shopping stores in the city, what’s great is there is so much you’ve never seen or heard of before. It was fun to take in these new shops and items, and I did restrain myself pretty well. But, when there are amazing stores like Tokyu Hands and Loft, it was easy to get a little carried away.
One thing about Japan was immediately evident: the Japanese love to serve you, they love stationary, and above all they love to wrap up your purchases in as many layers as possible. One item I purchased as a gift was wrapped in wrapping paper, placed neatly with a bow inside of a shopping bag, and then covered with a plastic bag to protect the shopping bag as it was drizzling outside. And honestly, they took such pleasure in offering that service.
We next went to Kyoto via the bullet train, or Nozomi Shinkansen. These trains go 190 mph, and what was amazing to me is the frequency at which they run. Not only are there bullet trains leaving every 3-10 minutes during rush hour, but also there are the slower version of the bullet trains and the “regular” commuter trains. Obviously Japan chose to invest in this mode of transportation long before other countries and that investment has clearly paid off with nice, fast, reliable train service. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a similar train service from Washington to New York?
Kyoto was simply stunning. We had the good fortune (and planning efforts!) to be in Japan during the height of their cherry-blossom season, and Kyoto is particularly well known for these gorgeous trees. I had pictured the trees showing up in large parks in Japan (similar to how they’re around the Tidal Basin in D.C.) but instead I was pleased to see they were just everywhere, lining streets and canals all over Japan’s cities.
Some of Japan’s largest and most significant temples were in and around Kyoto, and they all had such lovely gardens that were very well maintained. We even took a nice day trip outside of Kyoto to a monkey park and bamboo forest.
Lastly, we had a few days in Osaka before we headed home. It is Japan’s second most populous city and it felt very futuristic. The highways were elevated through downtown, so it felt very “Jetsons”-like at night seeing the cars “fly” through the metropolis.
All-in-all the trip was great. I was pleasantly surprised to find Japan not too expensive, either – definitely not cheap, but probably cheaper than most European cities.
We flew home via San Francisco, where I said my goodbyes to Debra. I’d love to go back and see Japan’s countryside so hopefully that wish can be fulfilled soon.