Monthly Archives: March 2011

Why We’re Still Going to Japan

DD and I have been planning a trip to Japan for well over a year now.  In January we decided on when we’d travel (Springtime, for hanami, or cherry-blossom viewing season), bought our plane tickets and began to make concrete plans as to where to go, what do do, where to stay.

On the 6th of March we also ordered our Japan Rail Pass – an all-you-can eat train pass that enables you to travel all over Japan by Shinkansen, or bullet train.  Note that it’s available to foreigners only, sold in increments of 7, 14, and 21 days.

4 days later, on Thursday evening, (March 10th) as we were getting ready for bed, reports of the Tohoku earthquake hit the news.  When we rose the next morning, we listened and watched with horror at the unfolding news of the crisis, of the ensuing Tsunami, of the ominous damage to the nuclear power plants in Fukushima, the possibility that the Tsunami might reach Hawaii and the shores of the US West Coast.


Over the course of that dreadful first week, we’ve been on wait-and-see mode, staying on top of the news, scouring the internet for first-hand accounts of the situation in Tokyo and other parts of Japan.  I was definitely struck by the copious amounts of information that was available, or made available by numerous bloggers, Japanese news sites and especially, Twitterers. There were accounts by numerous private citizens, official agencies (the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office; the US Ambassador to Tokyo, John V. Roos) and various news reporters.  We were especially glad to see that NHK, Japan’s Public Broadcasting Network, had begun streaming live, 24-hour news.  And I’ve also been glued to my Japan Twitter list for timely updates.

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What We’re Bringing

We managed to “finish” most of the packing by last night. DD even had some extra room in his teeny carry-on! I was pretty relieved that I was allowed to bring a medium-sized suitcase, though it’s smaller than what I packed for our 2 week trip to Paris and Spain in 2009. I did also manage to squeeze in an extra bag for omiyage, though… and DD’s carry-on means that we may be able to check another piece of luggage if we needed to procure it on the trip… This may not look like much for 3 weeks, but we’ll be hopping around and traveling on trains quite a bit, staying 2 days in Takayama, 1 night in Shirakawa-go and 1 night in Kanazawa. The forecast for those places in Gifu call for snow. In Osaka and Kyoto it seems a tad warmer – similar to our high 40s/50s during the day; colder at night where the temps are forecast to drop into the 30s. Part of me now wonders whether I’ve brought enough to keep me warm.

And while we wish we could say that we’re bringing the puppy, she’s just there for cuteness. We’re heading down to LA today, where she’ll be staying with my parents, grandma and grandpa.


The Arrival

Taken around 19:10pm

HIkari Shinkansen at Shinagawa Station

While long, the process of getting from Narita to Osaka, I’m happy to report, was quite straightforward and utterly lacking in any sort of stressful near-misses or complications.  Essentially we arrived at Narita Airport around 3:10pm, got through customs and immigration and finally made our way down to the train station by 4:45pm.  There were so many helpful individuals at Narita, whether it was the information desk clerk in the basement floor of the airport near the train stations, or the JR clerk who exchanged our JR pass vouchers for actual passes, apologized profusely when she found out the next rapid Sobu express to Tokyo was leaving in about 3 minutes (we declined and opted to take the next one arriving in another hour), most helpfully booked us reserved seats on the Hikari Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka-Shin, and gave us exceptionally detailed directions in great English.

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So far, so good…


We Arrived at LAX around 8am, and managed to check luggage and get through security in about 45 minutes, but in a very relaxed, wandering and unhurried way. We were particularly elated to find out that we had the entire row of 3 seats to ourselves. やった!!

There seem to be relatively few people traveling internationally today; our gate seemed like a bit of a ghost town in the beginning.

We stopped at the one restaurant in our part of the terminal — Marina Bar –and decided to grab a bite: a couple of hot dogs for our last meal in the states for a bit. Too bad Pink’s downstairs was still closed. DD was particularly elated to find a bottle of Shichimi though, to sprinkle over his sauerkraut-and-neon-green-relish-and-nacho-cheese-topped-hotdog.


No beer available yet at 8:45am, and DD couldn’t find a Starbuck’s for coffee… Not a great terminal, unfortunately.


Japan – Trip Planning

Red Fuji - Wikimedia Commons

We’ve been planning our trip to Japan, and I wanted to provide a list of resources that have helped tremendously.

Paul’s Travel Pics – wonderful, well-organized, highly-detailed, supremely useful site with tons of fabulous photos that recount the travel adventures of a couple after my own heart. Paul and his wife organized their Japan trips according to what foods they wanted to sample; indeed – those of you who know DD and I know that this is exactly how we roll as well.

Hida Takayama Ryokan & Hotel Association – wishing to book Ryori Ryokan Hanaoka (based on Paul’s recommendation), I emailed them and received swift and speedy response with confirmation of our reservation. – amazing resource for possibly everything you may want to know about Japan. Most helpful were the “How to get in/out” sections that often listed particular train lines and whether those lines were covered by the JR Pass.

Japanese Guest Houses – English booking tool for some lovely Ryokan and Minshuku.  I used this tool to book our UNESCO-world-heritage designated  Gassho-Zukuri Guesthouse, Yokichi in Shirakawa-Go.

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Day 1: Breakfast at Kuromon

Om nom nom nom sushi!

Breakfast at Kuromon Sanpei

A note: These update posts will be pretty minimal – but I’ll try to write with as much detail as time allows, as well as include photos.

Where to begin? Even while wandering around at midnight in the Dotonbori, a quintessential Osakan entertainment district, running parallel to the Dotonbori canal, one couldn’t get a true sense  of the crazy energy from even more Osakans and other Japanese (very few foreigners here, from what DD and I can tell) who emerged and filled the streets around the Kuromon Market, Den Den Town (or Osaka’s version of Tokyo’s electronics district, Akihabara), and the Kappabshi Dogugai, a restaurant-supply area also filled with eateries and other food establishment.  After we got to the end of the Dogugai, we managed to stumble upon the Takashimaya department store, where we encountered one of Japan’s fabled depa-chika food halls for the first time.

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