Friday, December 23, 2011

Japan - the details.

Most of you reading this have probably already seen the many photos Aaron and I uploaded to Facebook, so I'll go ahead and use this post for what's it's meant for - the details.

It just so happened that I had off Thanksgiving day and the day after. I knew I was up to a 4 day weekend so I went ahead and took off the Monday too. That gave me 5 whole days to make a trip. Aaron has been wanting to go back to Japan for years. He served as a missionary there from '01-'03 and hadn't been back. Since Hawaiian flies to Japan we figured we should go! Why wait? One of Aaron's friends lives in Tokyo, so we gave him a call to see if we'd be able to hang out. He told us that he was already planning on taking off of work that week, so it'd be a perfect time to visit! We were sooo excited. (I later found out that his birthday was during that week).

I became obsessed with checking the flight loads. There's an online system that tells me how many open seats there are on every Hawaiian flight. Employees fly standby, so your chances of getting on the flight (for free) depend on whether or not there are open seats. I could also view the standby list, which showed me where I fell according to priority (employees board first by seniority, then family, then buddy passes of active employees, then retired employees/buddy passes). Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday there weren't too many people traveling to Japan. Aaron and I got on the flight, and sat next to each other (which isn't always the case when you fly standby - since you're last to board the plane). Hawaiian is one of the few airlines that still gives you pillows and blankets (and not just for international travel).

We got to Japan at night. Aaron's friend Tim picked us up in his cool race car. We got in the opposite side of the car and went down the opposite side of the street (like most of the world). The next morning we went out determined to tour Tokyo for all it's worth. It wasn't really cold... but colder than Hawaii (high 50s). We got to the train station and Aaron bought me a drink from the vending machine (which are on every corner). He handed me the can and I almost dropped it - it was hot! Not super hot, but it was very warm on cold hands, especially when you aren't expecting it. I'm telling you... warm hot chocolate cans from vending machines would do awesome in DC and NYC... why are they just in Japan??? I have no idea. But I freaking loved it!! And, to top it off, Japanese phones can be scanned at vending machines to purchase stuff. Pretty cool.
 The train was an experience of its own. There are lots of little ads everywhere, mostly of girls with dyed light brown hair, fake light brown contacts, and fake upper and lower lashes holding the product near their face - either smiling or winking. It was pretty funny. The rings that are attached to the ceiling on the train are quite small - they're good for Japanese hands but really wouldn't work too well in America.
 We got off the train and went straight to Asakusa - a Japanese temple. We walked by the street vendors admiring the different types of nick-knacks and snacks. We came upon the incense and the shrines. Really cool to see in person in the heart of Tokyo.
We walked around Tokyo and I noticed that some cars, mostly taxis, had their side view mirrors of their cars on the hoods of the car! So funky looking. We went to the imperial palace and saw some cool gardens. There were some gorgeous lime and lemon colored leaves on the trees. We even saw some dignitaries arrive at the palace in a horse and carriage - now that's not something you see every day.
We ate an amazing birthday dinner with Tim and his family (wife+3 kids). We had Shabu Shabu - thinly sliced meat cooked on the table in hot broth. The pot was split into 2 sections, one for the broth and one was a miso flavor for vegetables. We also got odon noodles to cook. We had an all-you-can-eat special and loved every bite!!!!!!! Seriously can't get that taste/quality anywhere else. The booth was really cool too, it was private and the table was set into the floor w/space for your legs. The kids loved feeding the fish that were swimming under the clear floor near the entrance. It was a super cool place that we'd definitely go back to.

Now this is getting really long... so I'm going to start listing off some other stuff we did/I noticed.
    •  There are french bakeries in Japan, which seems odd. But the pastries are more Japanese than French.. but there's definitely the influence.  
    • Most homes have heated toilet seats- awesome if you live in a cold place. Also, they have two different types of flushes depending on... well you know.
    • Tim and his family have a Honda "Odyssey," however they should have a completely different name for it because it's not an American Honda Odyssey at all! Its like a sedan in size, but it looks super sporty. The back seats can fold down into a trunk - its really cool b/c you can have the extra seats or space when you want it. The cars in Japan are totally different from the ones in America.
    • When you pay for something you put your money/card into a small dish. You don't hand it directly to the cashier. And when they hand you something it is always with two hands, and of course they bow.
    • FYI Tim and his wife Hikari both speak English. Tim is actually from Australia and Hikari is from Japan. Their kids are ages 7?, 4?, and 2? (I think). The oldest one could speak a little bit of English, and understood the fact that I didn't know Japanese. The younger two, forget it! They were talking up a storm to me in Japanese, and I just smiled and nodded. Haha. Despite the language barrier the kids and I got along great. You can play with kids without speaking :) The funny thing was, that since I didn't understand what they were saying, somehow I though they were saying intelligent things. But when the others translated for me I figured out that I wasn't missing too much by not understanding since it was just jibber jabber anyway. Hah. The English words the little ones would say - me, no, bye, and good morning!
    • We went to an onsen - pretty much a public Japanese bath. A place with a bunch of different types of hot tubs and a space to shower and everything. It was a memorable cultural experience... I'll leave it at that.

    • We went to the best ramen noodle house in Japan (well technically it's rated the #2 one in all of Japan). It was freaking awesome! Made from scratch with so much flavor. Seriously it tasted nothing like the ramen noodles you by for 20 cents here. Soooo good. Definitely going back there.      
    • All the girls were wearing tights/leggings under shorts. That was the fashion thing. Along with bows, lots of bows...
    • After you buy something they will tape your bag shut so nothing falls out.

    • If you are feeling sick in Japan you wear a hospital mask in public. Period.
    •  I discovered Japanglish! It's what happens when you translate Japanese literally into English. And it's pretty hilarious. (i.e. Honey Wedding)
    •  We got purikura! It's a high tech photobooth that can fit a lot of people, it prints a bunch of images you can exchange with friends. And I guess the people there go kinda crazy and add tons of stamps and stuff to the images before they get them printed. There was this weird setting that enlarged our eyes and smoothed our skin. It was fun to do w/everyone :)
    You know, we did more stuff, but this was the stuff that stuck out most in my mind. We had 4 whole days there. We are so grateful for Tim & Hikari's generous hospitality. It was an awesome trip. And we're already planning on going back!

    P.S. For bragging rights I just have to say that we got to sit in first class on our way back and we paid a total of $86 for two round trip tickets to Japan ;)