Planes, Trains, & Soba Noodles – Our family back in Japan Days 1 & 2

October 14th, 2011

First of all, this trip blog is a collaborative effort by my husband and myself. We are taking turns by writing every other day. I’ll start us off with the first two days.

This is our 2nd visit to Japan. We made our first trip in April 2010. I suppose you could say that we fell in love with the country, food, customs, culture, and people immediately. When we got home, we started to dream of returning again.

We started off our journey by hopping on an American Airlines plane. My husband had saved up enough frequent flyer miles to put himself and I in Business Class (our teen son was in Coach). I have to say that any upgrade from Coach is wonderful. The seats really recline, and the meals, free alcohol, and staff treatment make the long flight much easier to bear.

We arrived at the Narita Airport about 3:00pm Tokyo time. As we had crossed over several date lines, we had miraculously jumped forward 14hrs. Yeah, we were going to be feeling that soon. We bought tickets for the Skyliner Express train (approx $90 for the 3 of us) to Shinjuku Station. Shinjuku is the heart of the Japanese financial district. Approximately 3 million people go through the station PER DAY. It is controlled chaos, and super easy to get lost in the crowd. I may be short at 5’4″, but my son & husband are easy to pick out in the crowds.

From Shinjuku, we walked the kilometer to our Hilton hotel. Ahhh! It felt wonderful to be on the ground, and to collapse on a bed. As we had been up for 25hrs straight by this point,we decided to grab a snack in the guest lounge, waste some time reading e-mails, and get to bed early.

Hello, JET LAG! If you’ve never suffered from jet lag, let me just fill you in on what you are missing. You can’t sleep when you are supposed to. You are dead tired during the day. You feel like a zombie with no energy for about three days. Your internal system is hungry at 3am, and your intestines are all mixed up. Jet lag is your punishment for a great vacation.

On that first night, I woke up at 3am FULLY awake. I layed in bed for 2hrs more, begging my brain to turn off. I never could go back to sleep. My husband and son woke up around 4:30am. We had an early 6:30am breakfast, unpacked, and headed to Akihabara, via the subway system.

Let me just say that the Japanese do public transportation EXTREMELY well. They pride themselves on having each and every train arrive on time. Should there be a delay, they will give you a note. That way you can show your teacher or boss why you were late. Trains are RARELY late. When they are, it is usually due to what they call “human accident” (someone has committed suicide on the tracks). The train stations, tracks, and subways are spotless. The trains may be very crowded, but people aren’t rude, don’t push, and are happy to give up their seat to the elderly, parents with small children, etc. That’s something you never see in the New York or Chicago train system.

Did you know that Akihabara translates to GEEK PARADISE in Japanese? Ok, it doesn’t, but it should. This district is full of electronic stores, robot assembly shops, and toy stores. There are alleyways full of tiny shops selling anything from tiny computer components to spyware for personal use. My husband and son could probably spend our entire vacation in this district. Electronic items (i.e. cameras, phones, games, computers, etc.) that are for sale here, won’t be hitting the US market for at least 6mo. Any geek would love a preview of future geek gadgets. My guys are no exception.

We did notice in Yodobashi (HUGE geek store) that prices are higher for electronics here, than in the US. We saw a 60″ plasma t.v. that goes for $3000 in the US, selling for $8000! Talk about a price increase!

After having lunch at Yoshinoya (Bulgoki-bowl of rice covered in grilled beef and onions), we headed to Kabukicho. This is an area of town that is filled with tiny restaurants and super loud Pachinko parlors. Pachinko is kind of like an upright pinball machine. As gambling is illegal here, you win stuffed animals when you hit it big on your machine. You then take your prize to the shop next door to the parlor, and exchange your stuffed toy for money. That way, it looks like you are selling your toy to the shop, instead of gambling. Interesting, huh? These parlors also blare music so loud, that you clearly hear it outside with their doors closed. We’ve never gone into a parlor, but our ears feel like they have.

We headed back to the hotel for a hot drink, and early bedtime. Ah jet lag, you are a cruel travelling companion. We also wanted to get a good night sleep, as we were seeing a Kabuki performance tomorrow afternoon. I was really looking forward to that.

For Tuesday’s blog, go to Tony’s blog. I’ll post the url tomorrow.

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