Japan 2014 Trip Summary

This trip was amazing! It was educational but it was also tiring. Lots of walking, taking trains and buses and dealing with immense crowds made it quite tiring. But it was great to not only see another country but the country of my roots.

What I Liked
The thing I came home most impressed by was their level if courtesy, politeness, sense for order and an individual sense of belonging to one society (not a “me first” society). I’m still in awe how millions of people can travel through their train system everyday in such an orderly way. People line up at designated spots and simply wait their turn. No pushing. No shoving. No butting in. Everyone makes an effort so that all can fit on the train. So thoughtful! This allows many people to exit and board the train in less time in an orderly fashion. When people are stuck away from doors but need to get off, a simple motion by the person and a walkway opens up allowing the person to leave. At crosswalks, people wait until the light changes regardless of whether or not cars are coming. I’ve noticed that this used to be the case here too but has changed. Japan is a society of greater order and patience. I only saw one person go ahead and cross. He withered his way through the waiting crowd and crossed against the red light…..he was not Japanese. Their reputation for being polite has been known but to experience it was a real treat. Even on the roads we saw acts of working together instead of the “me first” attitude that is so popular here at home. There were a few places where two lanes would merge to one. Traffic simply alternated doing a zipper effect. At one point two taxi’s got their timing messed up at went at the same time and stopped to avoid a collision. One taxi driver simply motioned for the other to go. The second taxi driver bowed and went ahead. No horn honking and fists flying like here. They all just work together and because of their selflessness, everything works better.

We visited five shrines on our trip – Kamakura, Tokyo Zenkoji, Yasukuni, Asakusa and Meiji. They all had similarities but at the same time something to make them unique. It was very interesting to see these great structures. We also participated in a Shinto prayer with my cousin and her family at the Kamakura Shrine. That was nice to experience.

While there are still many smokers, they’ve done a great job of making separate smoking spaces. We were in a coffee shop that had a sealed smoking room. I was really surprised that even though the door was opening and closing that we could not smell anything. There was also no smoking in the train stations nor the trains. We never saw any traces of anyone going against this rule.

Everything and everywhere was very clean. From the hotel room to the trains to the taxi’s. Everything was very clean. The taxi cars were like new. Even though they were not, they smelled like new. Very clean inside. We also didn’t see any graffiti. Very clean city.

What I Didn’t Like So Much

First, they need to improve their immigration system. It took a little over an hour after we got off the plane to make it through immigration. Lots of people were not happy. After spending 13 hours on a plane and then having to stand in a hot and stuffy area for over an hour wasn’t a fun way to begin a trip.

While their transit system is amazing, it can be very time consuming and exhausting to go places. Just to travel to Gora to view Mount Fuji, it took a good few hours and multiple trains, Shinkansen (bullet train), street car and two cable cars. Due to the crowds there were some long line ups. By the time we got there we had to hurry and then start making the trek back so we would not miss any trains back to Tokyo.

Again because of their amazing transit system we went with the plan that we could make Tokyo our base and tour around. This is what we did and it sounds great in theory but is really exhausting. The walking, standing, line ups and crowds make it pretty exhausting to go anywhere. Now, I know some if this is probably good for our physical shape. Walking is great exercise. But to do this day after day when we are not used to this style made it exhausting. It would be better next time to perhaps travel around a bit. Stay in one spot and tour for a few days then go stay somewhere else. Next time.


Generally though I have no real complaints. No regrets. I would do a few things differently next time. But this trip was educational and very much enjoyable. Everything about this trip – good and bad – we’re great to experience. I can also now say that I have been to Japan!

Last Meal

We arrived at Narita airport early and decided to grab one last meal. The airport has a mall with many places to eat. This one had good prices and the food looked good.

My meal…..


Deniz’ meal…..


Last Day

In some ways it feels these past two weeks have gone quick and at the same time it feels like we’ve been here a while.

For our last day, we visited the Meiji Shrine. Located in Shibuya, Tokyo this Shinto shrine sits in some beautiful landscapes. There are numerous walking paths that cut through tall trees. There are also a few ponds that contain catfish and poi. Here’s a pic of the tori gate. I took all my other pics with my DSLR.


Another Rainy Day

Another wet day today. It actually rained pretty hard today. Being a crappy day we figured we would look into how and where to get our train tickets from Tokyo to Narita airport. Instead of departing from Tokyo station, we learned we can catch the Narita Express (N’EX) from Shibuya station which is closer for us. We got to the train station, just two stops from our station (Gaiemmae). We walked all around and could only find machines so we carefully bought our tickets from this. Only afterwards while searching for one of the stores we found the ticketing office. Figures.

The Sakura still looks nice although it’ll only be a matter of days before it’s all gone.




We visited Asakusa today. It has a shrine and a series of streets lined with shops and millions of places to shop for souvenirs.


We started looking around for a place to eat and found the same place Deniz had eaten at on her first trip to Japan. It’s called Asakusa Umaimon Azuma. ¬†She had no idea how to find it again, it was just pure luck. Deniz had a salmon sashimi plate (can’t recall the menu name).


I had “Jo Chirashi”, which is a chef’s selection of sashimi and tamago (egg) on sushi rice.


Both our dishes came with clear soup that had a Sakura flower in it.


I took this picture of the place on our way out.



Deniz got her wish! The Sakura is in full bloom all over the place. While out for a walk we found this shrine off a lane way from a busy main strip.


There’s huge cemetery behind our hotel. Sakura trees line the walkways. There were many people out walking and taking pictures of the Sakura.



This ‘n’ that #2

So now that we’ve been here a week time to reflect on the positives and negatives.

On the upside….

We are still very much impressed by the level of politeness here. From buying something at the corner convenience store to being one of a billion people on a train platform. Everyone is so polite. I’m still amazed that with the intense crowds, nobody pushes or shoves nor does anyone butt in. If that happens it’s usually a traveller and not a local. Everyone lines up at designated lanes for the trains in an orderly fashion. When getting off, everyone gets off in an orderly manner as well. I find this truly amazing given the amount of people going through this system. While on the Shinkansen (bullet train), an officer comes by to check tickets. As he and anyone else working for the trains leaves your car, the walk towards the door, turn, bow, walk out backwards through the door and then leave.

On the downside…….

While there have been many things impressive about this trip, there have been a few frustrations. First is around money. Very few banks will accept foreign cards. Also, very few small town places accept credit cards. Our Suica cards (transit cards that can be used for trains, buses and merchants at the train stations can only be topped up with cash. The strange thing is that you can buy tickets and charge it to a credit card but you can’t top up the Suica card with a credit card. Before going to japan, take lots of Yen out and also have a Visa or MasterCard.


Today seemed the best day to go see Fuji-san. Tomorrow we will be spending time with my cousin as it is her daughters birthday. The rest of the week has either rain or partly rain in the forecast.

It was another exhausting commute. We took one train to Shibuya station. There, we took the subway to Shinagawa. At Shinagawa we took the Shinkansen…….known on that side of the globe as the bullet train…..to Odawara. We then had to buy separate street car tickets and squeeeeeeze onto the street car heading up the mountains. After about 8 stops, we then lined up again and had to buy cable car tickets. This goes part way up. At that point we all line up again and get onto another cable car, with two options to depart. From the cable car, the view is amazing. But once off, there are places on the grounds to take pictures of Fuji-san. Frustrating!

The winds were strong again today. It was a pretty noisy night with the winds howling away. It cleared the air though and made it possible to see Fuji-san from the 19th floor windows by the elevators.


Here we are waiting to board the Shinkansen. You can see the special barriers they have at most train/subways.



The cable car and Fuji-san from the cable car.