Our Japan trip was amazing. It was so good to be back after 16 years; nostalgic even, as if I was returning to a dream or a prior life. The surroundings were familiar, but different in some ways from what I recalled from my two years in Japan years ago. When I first went to Japan in 1998, it was like I was going into the future given the technology disparity between the US and Japan – the mobile phones in Japan were amazing, more functions were automated at the time and so on. But I felt that less this time around, since no matter where you go in the world today, people have the same iPhones and earbuds and apps and games. I did, however, appreciate the food more this time around and had more cultural context to understand what makes the Japanese culture unique. And it is unique. It is orderly, clean, and respectful in a way that much of East Asia is not. Japan is a fantastic country.
This trip also marked my first trip to Tokyo, and wow, what a fantastic city. The size and scale of the city is incredible, both in terms of humanity and infrastructure. We stayed near Shinjuku Station, which is the busiest train station in the world. As someone who has commuted daily through New York’s Grand Central Terminal, I was used to a busy train station. But let me be clear: New York has nothing on Tokyo. Nothing. Shinjuku alone has around 3.6 million people a day traveling through its tunnels, walls, shops and connections. And there are multiple other stations in Tokyo alone that are almost as busy. It was incredible to see the morning rush hour. And in the evening, I was amazed to see that 11:00 pm felt almost as busy as 6:00 pm, not that I should have been surprised given the hours the typical Japanese salaryman works. But still, it was impressive and overwhelming.
One of the trip’s highlights was the day trip to Kyoto. Yes, that’s right, with our JR rail pass and thanks to the shinkansen bullet train, we were able to make a trip to Kyoto and Osaka from Tokyo a “day trip.” It was a long day, but we did it. We visited some sites I had never seen before, including Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari Taisha and the Gion District. Kyoto has a much different feel from Tokyo and was worth the effort to visit while there.
We also spent a day in Kamamura just south of Tokyo along the coast. It was a quaint, touristy place and we walked the streets and hills of the town exploring the Buddhist and Shinto temples, including a temple built into a cave where the promise to visitors is that if they wash their money with the natural spring water from the mountain their money will double. We’re still waiting to see our Yen double from such a washing.
Overall, it was a great trip. Japan is a country that, despite its quirkiness, I still think I could live in. I fit there, even if I am a tall, white gaikokujin. But that’s just me. I am not sure my family would fit there. And were I ever to have an opportunity to move there, I am pretty certain that doing so would result in a substantial downgrade in comparison to our way of life here in Salt Lake City. Living quarters are smaller, working hours are longer, commutes are exhausting, housing is more expensive, not to mention the language difference. My time to move back to Japan has passed; I just don’t see how it could ever make sense with four children and our current lifestyle. But I do hope to visit again and can only hope it doesn’t take another 16 years.