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Published: July 21st 2013
Something about Japan makes me happy. We arrived tired, hungry and so thirsty (thanks AirAsia for making passengers pay for everything including water) but we were still happy. We landed too late to take the train to any reasonably priced accommodation so we slept in the airport, and still we were happy. Sleeping in airports isn't the best way to feel wide awake and ready for adventure in the morning, but something about Japan gets us excited enough to not care that we got a total of three hours of interrupted sleep. It’s not one specific aspect about Japan that makes us love it, it’s all of wrapped up in one neat, efficient, playful, kind and beautiful package.
The instances that make me love Japan flooded back the moment we got off the plane. Japan takes fingerprints as part of the immigration process - I remembered that. But I couldn't remember if it was the thumbs or index fingers. Not wanting to embarrass myself, I was paying attention when the lady in front of me went through. I suffer from travel-induced germaphobia. Normally I’m not over the top about avoiding germs, not that I enjoy being exposed to them, but
while traveling I’m over the top. Getting sick on arrival to a new country is awful. I try hard not to touch anything unnecessarily on the plane, I hate when I’m given finger food like peanuts and I use too much antibacterial hand spray. I've even thought about bringing wipes to clean off the tray and arm rests - it’s that bad. So as I’m standing in line recalling the fingerprint part of immigration I’m also thinking of how gross that is that I have to touch those scanners. But what Japan says goes so I prepare myself to prioritize washing my hands once I get through. The lady in front of me is heading to the counter when the immigration guard stands up from his booth, leans over and wipes off the finger scanner. The travel-induced germaphobe just fell more in love with Japan. Everything is thought out here.
After I stuffed my arms full of maps and travel brochures to read during the airport slumber party we headed to the 24-hour convenience store. After chugging water and eating a tuna onigiri way too fast I realized in the bag were hand wipes. Japan really has this travel
germaphobe thing under control!
Usually I feel a bit like a bum sleeping in airports. Not so in Japan. Case in point - the guys in the seating bay next to us. Four Japanese men had set up the ultimate airport picnic. One had laid down his suitcase and covered it with a picnic mat. With beers, meat skewers and other snacks on top the four of them laughed most of the early morning together clad in Hawaiian shirts. I assumed they were waiting for the 6am flight to Honolulu. This picnic made me feel better about loitering in the airport until the trains began running again in the morning. Getting in and out of the airport when the trains are not running is absurdly expensive here in Tokyo.
It's all the tiny bits that come together so perfectly in Japan. I love that they wear surgical masks. They do so, not predominantly to keep from getting sick, but to keep other from getting the illness they have. It’s done in a courteous way to keep their sick germs to themselves. I’m all for this - but I know if I stepped onto US soil or a domestic
flight within the US wearing a surgical mask I get some stares, or be detained or testing for SARS or mad cow or whatever the US media had deemed the scary disease of the week.
My one piece of travel advice for visiting Japan is to walk - everywhere. The best small neighborhoods, shops, shrines, antique stores are all buried in areas travel guides have never heard of. Sort of intentionally we moved into a neighborhood we had never been to before so we've been walking holes and blisters into our feet since we arrived, but it’s always worth it.
One of our walks occurred mid-morning after the garbage and recycling has been collected. The recycling system requires several bins to keep the plastics from the cans from the glass. Once the recycling has been collected the bins collapse into a flat, easy to carry back into the house piece of plastic. Someone thought about that design - someone has thought about almost every aspect of the way Japan functions, and I love it for that. Everyday I see something that reminds me of the intelligence present in this culture.
It’s quite hot here. Coming from Bangkok
we should be used to hot. We sort of are but Tokyo hot is full-sun heat, not the overcast that is frequently the case in Bangkok. We had sunburned noses for the first few days here, new freckles appear daily by the dozens and we’re sporting flip-flop tan lines. We've quickly caught on to the Japanese way of walking in any sliver of shade whenever possible, including waiting 20 or so meters away from the crosswalk in the shade waiting for our turn to cross. Iced coffee is now offered at all the convenient stores. To get it, head to the Popsicle freezer, take out the cup of ice, pay for it and then fill it up via the coffee machine. Someone thought about that design too.
Japan offers endless opportunities to try new stuff. This week Bob picked up a bag of chips, appearing to be white Cheetos, but with a cup of Pepsi next to it. No question we had to try this one. Were these chips really Pepsi flavored, or were they telling us to enjoy these chips with Pepsi? They were indeed Pepsi flavored Cheetos, and they fizzed in your mouth. It was awful -
but worth trying.
Two and a half weeks left of Tokyo wandering until we return to the US.
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