It was fucking amazing. We went over a large swath of Honshu over two weeks and saw so much… From Tokyo’s megacity to tiny towns in the countryside, built right on the sides of little mountains. It’s astounding how so many people live with so little space.
We stayed in 8 or 9 different places, from nice hotels, to tiny apartments to luxurious Ryokans.
I walked into every arcade I saw just to stroll around it. Arcades in my part of the US don’t really exist anymore. In Japan, they’re 5 story complexes that house hundreds of machines. I think we saw at least 4 or 5 giant buildings completely run by SEGA, so while it seems like they’re almost dead here in the West, SEGA is thriving in the land of the rising sun, albeit a different beast entirely than what I knew growing up.
The people are so polite and fastidious. A city of 40-some million people and surprisingly little trash. Whenever we had a confused look on our faces (mainly trying to figure out the trains and buses) it was merely a few seconds before a random person would approach us and try to help us get where we were going.
We toured several museums, walked over 100 miles and climbed no less than 5 mountains.
Then when we had to come home we were reminded how different our culture is. The flight attendant smashed our luggage after we placed it gently in the overhead bin and closed it. He was attempting to cram another bag in the small bin with our bag full of breakable items we intentionally did not check. We caught him soon enough and told him we had fragile things in the bag and would be happy to try to move it ourselves to accommodate other items, and asked him to please stop smashing it, and we were met with the typical American passive aggressive snark you’d expect out of a teenager.
After landing, we had to take a train back out of the airport. Now keep in mind, we’d ridden probably a hundred trains in Japan over the previous two weeks with no issues at all. First train we get on in America? Big black dude pacing angrily on the train platform screaming every few seconds some incoherent nonsense. We get on the train (several cars away from the insane person) and at the first stop the train’s conductor announces that there’s a “slight” delay ahead. We sat at the station for 33 minutes. In Japan, we had one late train. It was probably less than 60 seconds late. The entire time we were stalled in this train car the people behind us had their phones blaring some noise that only by stretching one’s definitions of the word “music” could be considered a song.
Almost every single person on the trains in Japan either had their phones out or was asleep, and we never heard a sound from either.
I had some of the best and worst food I’ve ever eaten in Japan. Now I’m not big on seafood to begin with, so I knew this trip might be difficult for me in the culinary realm, but you’d be amazed at what sort of food selection there is in Japan. Apparently waffles are pretty big in Japan right now, and there are little waffle stands in the various train stations with lines of people waiting. Some of the best Indian food I’ve ever had from these 3 Indian dudes in a tiny shop in Akihabara. These guys spoke Kanada, English and Japanese pretty fluently and made terrific naan. We had several types of Ramen, soba, udon, and sushi and didn’t have a bad experience with any. My finicky digestive system probably had fewer gutaches in the time I was there than any equal stretch of time in the past 5 years. Probably something to do with their almost complete lack of dairy. Lots of dishes in Japan apparently have recipes that call for cooks to the throw an entire fish into the bowl, and we saw quite a few whole sea creatures in our finished meals. To my great dismay, the Japanese people just do not understand breakfast. They make spectacular dinners and lunches but breakfast I think is a mystery to them. No sausage in sight, kielbasa is absent, “bacon” apparently means something else that just translates to “thick piece of ham”, nobody knows how to scramble an egg, pancakes and french toast are seen as dessert foods and even the Japanese Denny’s insists on serving your meals with rice and miso. I missed American breakfast dearly. That said we passed a bunch of bakeries and let me tell you, those guys know how to make a pastry. Also for some reason the strawberries I had in Japan were probably the best I’ve ever eaten. Smaller, but so much more tasty! I tried to tell myself it was just some sort of bias my brain had created because I liked Japan so much, but I really think they were better!
We walked a lot. I said 100 miles before, it was probably closer to 110, maybe more. We learned quickly how important our recent shoe upgrades had become. Even with new shoes and insoles, giant blisters lined my toes. A nightly soak of my feet in a hot bath helped immeasurably. Strangely enough, after all that walking and climbing (there’s roughly… 80 bajillionmillion stairs in Japan) my legs and back didn’t get sore at all. Tired each day, yes, but only my feet actually hurt.
The things that we saw were incredible. Seeing Japan from the tops of some mountains was breathtaking. I was trying to figure this out earlier, but I think you can’t really be anywhere on Honshu without being within 100 miles of an ocean. Seeing the coastal communities from elevated heights was simply wonderful.
I told my wife on the plane that statistically, there would probably be an earthquake while we were in Japan, but also statistically that we wouldn’t feel it, likely because it would be far enough away or small enough. Well. We were jolted awake at about 1:30 AM on the ninth night by her phone making some crazy Star Trek-esque alarm followed by the words spoken from the phone: “jishin desu”. Now typically when alarms start going off on my wife’s phone while we sleep, I get pretty ornery about it. I hate having my sleep interrupted, and we were particularly exhausted after a day of several long hikes. I grabbed the phone grumpily and fumbled with the buttons in the dark. I use Android phones and she’s always had iPhones, so I don’t know exaclty where all the buttons are so it takes me probably 5 seconds to turn the damn thing off. She’s awakened by my grumpy mumblings and asks in a sleepy haze what’s going on and I start to tell her that she should have silenced her phone before we went to sleep, but before I can start to speak I notice that we’re sort of wobbling. We’re on the second floor of a decent sized apartment building and we’re shaking and swaying pretty noticeably. It’s probably worth saying now that “jishin desu” means “IT’S AN EARTHQUAKE” and this is Japan’s early warning system in place to send alerts to people when tremors are detected. All I can manage to say is “earthquake”. We both freeze. We have no idea what to do. Back in the states we live approximately a lightyear from the nearest fault line, so we have no experience in this area. We hear frantic foot steps on the floor above us and I start looking up “what to do during an earthquake” on my phone. A few seconds later everything settles down and what I’m reading says to “expect aftershocks”. We are still on the futon mattress, just laying there in the quiet and the dark. But we’re still physically quite exhausted from the prior day’s events and we are both back to sleep inside of 5 minutes. The next morning I got glares from my wife as she said “you said we wouldn’t feel it”. Stats be damned, we experienced a 5.6!
I planned every day far in advance and while we didn’t get to every stop on my list, we did probably hit 90+% of them, and we managed to check out a lot of things I didn’t have planned.
I already want to go back. I missed Sega Fes by ONE DAY, because I didn’t know it was happening when I booked our flights.
None of the shops I visited had an Orta Xbox (I’m still looking), but one of them had a copy of the Limited Box of Skies of Arcadia signed by the dev team. Unfortunately it was marked “not for sale”
I could write for days about this trip and someday I probably will, but I gotta get some shit done today.
If you want to go, please go. It’s a blast.
Just buy good shoes.