Arriving into Tokyo from my flight in Chicago brought back many memories. For 1995, 20 years ago marked my first visit to Japan, exactly on this same Chicago – Narita flight. Luckily, the plane was a brand new 787, which also shaved off about 3 hours of flight time due to efficiencies that technology has brought to aviation! Arriving in Narita, I was excited about this trip, as every trip to Japan is a fun experience for me.
I arrived in the evening, and it was already dark and rainy. Weather forecasts had said due to typhoons that the weather would be rainy most of my time. I sat on board the train that went straight from Narita to the hotel I had planned to be easy access to both Narita and Haneda for my business partner coming in from St. Petersburg, Russia.
I got checked in, and went to a nearby sushi restaurant. I felt pretty good, a little tired from the journey, but more so excited to be in Japan. As I entered the tiny restaurant, I asked if they were open, and they welcomed me in. Only one other man sat at the counter, and they seemed a little nervous. Once I started speaking, they all laughed in relief to find out that I could speak Japanese, and they joked about how awful it would have been had I only spoken English, as they were too nervous and scared to try.
The sushi was fresh and I ate chef’s recommended. We chatted about why I was back in Japan, my time there as an exchange student, and how Japan has been such a big part of my life. The man at the counter joined in, telling us about his travels to France. He was very fascinated in my stories and the restaurant owner and wife were intrigued as well. By the end of the dinner, we had all laughed and discussed many topics, and while I was feeling quite tired at this point, I was enjoying this serendipitous meeting and engagement with strangers which is always my joy of travel.
As I got my things ready to go, the old gentleman sitting at the bar pulled out a 5 Euro bill and gave it to me as a ‘present’, as he said I would have more likely use of it than he. I bid everyone a gracious farewell for conversing with me, and with that, my trip to Japan officially began.
That night, I texted with Vlad as he arrived at Haneda late at night. I told him exactly how to get to the hotel and which exit was easiest to put him on the street right in front of the hotel. The next morning, we texted again and he set off to arrive at the airport. I estimated when he would arrive, so stood outside the hotel looking for him. After a bit, I went back in to make sure I hadn’t missed him some how and alerted the front desk that he would be checking in just in case I didn’t see him. After a while, he appeared from the underground and we got to finally meet face to face for the first time. He was excited and eager read-t0-go, so we started our day with my plans to see Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ginza.
Watching Vlad’s excitement seeing these sights for the first time was allowing me to relive my love of Japan and explain things about Japan to someone who was interested in hearing them. Together, it seemed as though we fueled each others’ adventure and though these are places I’ve seen many times before, it was easy to be excited about them again because they were new to someone else.
The next day we headed to do the Yamanote route where we went to Meiji Jungu, Harajuku, Omotesando, met up with my friend Shoko, went to Shibuya, and Shinjuku. We walked a ton throughout the days so each night was nice to relax at our comfortable Apa Hotel.
The next day we did Odaiba, and took the monorail over to see the sight of Tokyo from a distance. We then toured around Shiodome to get some good evening views of the city atop the Dentsu building.
We then did a day trip to Kamakura, so Vlad could see a bit of outside Tokyo and see another ‘major sight’ for day tripping from Tokyo. The trip down was fun to see the sights from the train, and once we got into Kamakura village, the walk around town was nice to see how most of Japan really is. After exploring a bit, we had a nice ‘German lunch’ at a german cafe and headed back towards Tokyo. When we arrived back, we hit up Shiodome and Ginza again for some great evening and night shots.
The final day in Tokyo was spent walking around Tokyo Station, Ueno, the Imperial Palace, and simply exploring all over the city.