Monday, April 19, 1999

spring break + Japan trip report

Spring break has ended for me, and I am now back in school. The break was pretty fun as my family went to Japan for eight days. We left on the 10th and came back two days ago.

Dad has visited the Land of the Rising Sun countless times for business reasons, so this trip wasn't exactly new to him. But my mother and I had never been there before, so it was an exciting experience for the two of us. That doesn't mean Dad didn't have a good time; he actually really enjoyed showing us around. After all, this was a vacation and not a business trip. :-)

Days 1 and 2

Our adventures began with a serious mishap that almost cost us the entire trip. Long story short, none of us realized my passport had expired. You see, passports issued to children under 16 are generally valid for only five years, compared to ten years for everyone else. As my parents had forgotten about this rule, they did not check mine before leaving. Funnily enough, the clerk at SFO didn't notice anything wrong either!

Transpacific flights are usually pretty boring, so it's a good thing I brought my Game Boy. The in-flight entertainment also wasn't too bad as we got to watch Ring and Enemy of the State on the plane. Ring was one of those corny Japanese horror flicks, but it had its scary moments. I'm more of an action nut, so I liked Enemy of the State better.

The long and tedious plane ride was finally over, and we arrived in the land of samurai and robots. The Japanese customs officials at NRT had sharper eyes, and my invalid passport was quickly spotted. Uh-oh.

The agents immediately brought us to their office. They then placed us in a waiting area while they decided what to do next. Although we weren't arrested or anything, the situation was particularly worrying as there was talk of sending us back home. After what seemed like hours, the agents came to announce their decision: my parents and I would be allowed to stay in Japan provided that I get a new passport as soon as possible. That was an incredibly close call for sure. Phew!

Speaking of passports, our next stop was the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. On the way there, it came to our realization that the only reason we were allowed to stay in Japan was probably because the embassy was so close to the airport. I'd say we were very lucky indeed. The new passport was ready after another lengthy appointment, and the three of us were finally free to be on our own. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring parts of downtown Tokyo, including the beautiful Ueno Park.

Day 3

Japan is notable for its electronics market, so we decided to check out Akihabara, the technological center of Tokyo. This was where all the video games and other neat stuff were sold, and it was really fun to browse through store after store. We even bought a souvenir at one of them: the Japanese version of Pocket Bomberman for the Game Boy. The manual was obviously in Japanese as well; while I do not understand Kanji, the controls were not too hard to figure out.

Day 4

The highlight of the day was Mt. Fuji, arguably Japan's most famous landmark. Our tour bus took us high up on the mountain; it did not go all the way to the top, but we nonetheless got some great pictures. However, I was preoccupied with Pocket Bomberman and ended up missing many of the scenic views. Yeah, that was pretty dumb. This was undoubtedly my biggest regret of the trip. :-(

There was still a lot of time after the tour, so we headed to nearby Hakone to see the famous Hakone Shrine. We then took the Hakone Tozan Cable Car to Mt. Komagatake and rode the Hakone Komagatake Ropeway to the top of the mountain. This was a really neat experience, although it's not for people with acrophobia!

Day 5

Next on our itinerary was Kyoto. I've got to admit - I always get confused between Tokyo and Kyoto because the names are anagrams. The cities are about 300 miles apart, so we got to Kyoto via the Shinkansen bullet train. This was the best part of part of the trip; zipping through Japan at 200 mph and watching the scenery pass us was totally exhilarating. We bought our lunch and some chocolates on the train even though everything was expensive. It was around ¥1,200 for a bento box if I remember correctly!

The train arrived in Kyoto about two and a half hours later. Kyoto was a lovely place; all of us really enjoyed strolling among the beautiful cherry blossom trees. But there weren't too many attractions in the area, so we headed back to our hotel afterwards for some well-deserved rest.

Day 6

Our travels took us to Nara, the former capital of Japan. We explored the historical city for a while before stopping in Nara Park for a picnic lunch. The park is famous for its Sika deer, and tourists can buy food to feed them. Unlike the deer in America, the ones here were not only unafraid of people, but very aggressive. Some of them even tried to grab the food from me before I could give it to them. Impatient much?

The three of us went on a bus tour of the city after lunch. It made numerous stops at temples and other historical places, and we got a good glimpse of the local culture.

Day 7

The day began with a subway ride to Osaka, which wasn't too far away. It was well past noon when my parents and I got there, so we stopped at a noodle house for a late lunch before leaving the train station. I should say the noodles were quite good.

The bad news was that my father lost his favorite hat at the eatery. He was in a bit of a hurry and had accidentally left it on the table. Although Dad quickly realized this and rushed back to the restaurant, it was too late as the hat was already gone.

Some of the waiters indicated they had taken it to the lost and found office, so that was where we went. While the language barrier made it difficult to describe what the hat looked like and where we had lost it, one of the personnel was kind enough to accompany us to the noodle house. But when we got back there, all of the waiters denied ever seeing the hat. I bet someone is very happy right now. *sigh*

That "someone" is obviously not Dad. He had worn that hat for over ten years, so it meant a lot to him. But there was nothing more we could do, so we decided the best course of action was to enjoy the rest of the trip.

Speaking of which, Osaka was a lot like a mini-Tokyo. One thing I noticed is that Osaka had very few electronics stores in comparison despite also being a modern city. On the other hand, there was no shortage of historical sites. Among them was the famous Osaka Castle - an impressive piece of architecture, considering that it was built in the 16th century. I think even Bowser would be jealous!

It started getting late at this point, so we took the subway back to Kyoto. I think we would have been able to spend more time in Osaka if it wasn't for the hat incident.

Day 8

This was our last day in Japan, so we had to prepare for our trip home. But first we had to get back to Tokyo, which meant we were in for another bullet train ride. The second time wasn't quite as exciting as the novelty had mostly worn off, but I still enjoyed it just as much.

We arrived in Tokyo and found our way to the airport. I suddenly had a craving for Japanese snacks, so we bought some Caplico Sticks at one of the gift shops. They were actually pretty good. All of us were tired from going so many places, so we didn't do much other than wait for our flight back to San Francisco. Only when we boarded the plane did we realize our trip was almost over. We bid sayonara to Japan as the plane began to accelerate down the runway.

It was time to sit through another long flight. But this one wasn't too bad either, mainly because Pocket Bomberman and Metroid II: Return of Samus had kept me busy - at least until the batteries in my Game Boy ran out. Our experiences in Japan became the main subject of our conversations, which helped us pass the time quickly. The plane ride was over at last, and we were safely home.


The run-in with the Japanese customs officials and the loss of my father's hat were unfortunate, but those incidents did not make the trip any less fun. In fact, it's sometimes those little mishaps that make a vacation more memorable. On the other hand, the best part of our adventure was the bullet train ride to Kyoto; it's a shame we don't have these high-speed rails in America yet.

I really liked Akihabara as well, especially because of all the electronics stores there. On the subject of which, I've actually already beaten Pocket Bomberman. Damn, that game is addictive. The other neat thing about Japan is that there are vending machines everywhere; the streets are literally lined with them. We had the opportunity to try several types of Japanese drinks during our stay.

Dad knew his way around the place fairly well due to having taken dozens of business trips there, so we weren't worried about getting lost in a foreign country. On the whole, the trip totally rocked.

In any case, it's time to move on as spring break is over. However, I have a bad case of the holiday blues right now, not to mention that the jet lag is still hitting me pretty hard. That said, I'm somewhat excited to see all of my friends at Egan again. :-)

Currently playing: Pocket Bomberman (Japanese version)