April 8-10, 2017
Five thousand miles. And then some. That’s how far we had to travel from our home in Orem before we’d touchdown in Japan, many hours later. Our first stop was dropping off our kids at a friend’s house. Thankfully, the farewell wasn’t too tough, and Alicia and I soon found ourselves kid-free and heading to the airport.
Our first leg would be SLC > LAX on Saturday afternoon; a simple 1.5 hour flight. When you’re staring down a 12 hour flight, 90 minutes is child’s play – and it was. After the usual privacy violations by TSA and a short flight, we were at LAX before we knew it.
Since we bought our tickets to Los Angeles separate from our tickets to Tokyo, we had to get our luggage and heft it on over to the International Terminal—about a 15 minute walk away. It was a welcome walk on a chilly spring night after sitting on an airplane.
We were still several hours away from boarding our 12:50am flight, and after being unable to find the JAL check-in desk inside the very crowded and busy terminal, we set up shop outside to wait for an hour or so before trying again.
After marching around the whole of the terminal, we finally found the JAL check-in area just a few minutes before they were going to be opening for our flight. We checked in without any difficulty and headed over to Round 2 with TSA. Surprisingly, it went much easier than Salt Lake.
This was the last stop before Tokyo! We were so excited. The international terminal at LAX is very nice inside, and was a pleasant place to wait for a few more hours before we would finally be boarding our flight. We both had some dinner from the over-priced food court, walked around the over-priced high-end retail stores, and just sat around and waited. Eventually it gets pretty boring.
Finally, around midnight Sunday morning, it was time to start boarding our flight. The line was long, and it took awhile to get on the plane.
A peculiar note about JAL airplanes – they don’t have the vents for blowing air! Made it a little uncomfortable actually. Gets kinda stuffy on an airplane!
Stuffed somewhere in the middle of coach, we both did our best to sleep between bouts of watching movies. We took off at 12:50am Los Angeles time, which was 1:50am Utah time, so we were already quite tired. I can’t sleep on a plane, so I took some ZZZquil to knock me out. Spoiler alert – it didn’t knock me out, but made me really groggy. In the end I still barely slept. I did sweat a lot, though!
Finally, 12 long hours later, we were over land again.
Tokyo: 5:00am Monday
We touched down bright and early Monday morning at Haneda Airport – a very lovely place! Customs was pretty quick and easy. Upon exiting Customs we came across a shower facility in the airport. Since I was stinky and sweaty I quickly determined that spending $10 on a shower would be a great idea. And it certainly was a great idea.
Next, we hopped on the Monorail that would take us to Tokyo Station. Thankfully it was running by the time we got there so we weren’t stuck at the airport in the early early morning. The ride was nice–we had arrived on a very lovely day in Japan and the weather was perfect. I broadcasted an Instagram Live video (unfortunately, it wasn’t saved anywhere) and chatted with a few friends that happened to be available to watch.
The monorail took us to Hamamatsucho station, where we’d need to take a JR City train to Tokyo Station. Our first train transfer! How exciting and rather undramatic.
Our plan was to spend the morning wandering around Tokyo before getting on the Tokaido Shinakensen and head off to Nagoya. We dropped our big luggage off in a coin storage locker, and then ventured outside to grab breakfast at one of the many, many convenience stores all over Japan.
But, that didn’t happen. Tokyo Station is in the business/government district and… there weren’t any convenience stores. Just big buildings. So we went for a walk towards the Imperial Gardens just a short distance from Tokyo station. It was only 7:15am so we had a long, full day ahead of us!
This area of town was kind of empty as far as people, it was honestly kind of weird since we knew how many people were in Tokyo. It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. We soon made it to the grounds of the Imperial Palace, an area with a huge field covered with these really cool crazy trees. Hundreds of them.
For the next hour or so we wandered around the outside garden of the Imperial Palace. Cherry blossoms were blooming and there was scattered pink. It was very calm, peaceful, and very pretty. It was a good walk to stretch our legs after a long time sitting on an airplane.
After about an hour wandering around Alicia and I were both hit with a pretty powerful feeling: hunger. We were starving. It had been several hours since we’d eaten on the airplane, and even then we didn’t really get full off of that, so our stomachs were pretty empty and starting to get pretty angry.
But there was no food in sight. I pulled up maps, and found a convenience store close-by, and we started to walk over to it. But it wasn’t there; at least not at street level. This was getting frustrating! The Japan I remembered had convenience stores EVERYWHERE, and I couldn’t find one ANYWHERE. We decided to hop on the Subway for a few stops and get out in a different part of town, maybe we’d find luck away from all the government buildings.
We got off after a stop or two, and started to look for food in the Subway shopping network. A lot of stations will have little shops and restaurants that are filled with all sorts of goodies. We first found a little teeny sandwich shop that had lots of prepared sandwiches for purchase. We grabbed one and a drink. Then, a few minutes later we found a delicious bread shop and decided we needed more breakfast and had some food there too. It was SO GOOD. It always is. I love these little bread shops.
After getting some food in our stomachs we decided that our traveling was finally catching up to us and we were tired, and ready to head to Nagoya a few hours earlier than we’d planned. We were only about 1/2 mile from Tokyo Station so we popped up to ground level for a walk through the city. It was very clean, and not very busy. It really was a gorgeous morning in Tokyo.
When we arrived back at the station, it was now time for us to activate our JR Rail Passes. We found the redemption center inside one of the domes, and had to wait in a line to get our passes checked and make sure we had everything valid, and to fill out our application. From there, we went to an office inside the station and stood in another line to actually activate our pass and get our tickets. This took less than an hour so it wasn’t a terrible wait; the staff was pretty efficient at taking care of us. They do this every single day.
With our passes activated, it was time to catch a ride to Nagoya. Thankfully, we were able to find the coin lockers where we’d stashed our luggage. Alicia had to go to the bathroom, so I sat on the floor and just observed the busyness of Tokyo Station.
Soon we made it to the train platform, excited for our first ride on the Shinkansen and excited for some time to take a break and relax and sleep. The Shinkansen platform is such a cool place, these things come and go so quickly and so efficiently. Tokyo Station has over 400 Shinkansen arrivals and departures every single day! That is moving so many people.
Suddenly we were off! We ended up on the Kodama train to Nagoya which takes the longest to arrive since it makes all stops, and sometimes has to wait at stations for the faster Hikari and Nozomi trains to pass. It took us a little less than 3 hours to make the trip, which is about an hour+ longer than it could have taken had we taken a faster train. But that’s okay, we both needed a rest. Shinkansen are very spacious inside, so stretching out and taking a nap was no problem.
We pulled into Nagoya in the early afternoon and then headed for the Subway to catch a short ride to the Sakae District where our hotel was. A few weeks before our trip, I had to re-arrange our schedule and change my AirBNB’s, and ended up needing a hotel on our first night. I picked a cheap one and… it delivered as expected. It was clean, but the mattress was hard as a rock. Good thing we were both exhausted!
Once checked in, we took a nap for an hour or so and then got up and got ready to go meet my dear friend Taka for dinner. He met us at our hotel and we walked about 5 minutes away to a little restaurant that had Gyoza – and it was so good! Taka was great company, we had a great conversation and ate yummy food until we finally had happy tummies.
In 1999 I lived in a city north of Nagoya called Inuyama. Taka lived there at the same time too. Taka met the missionaries shortly after I left so I did not meet him while I lived there, but he became good friends with one of my good friends who served in Inuyama after I did, and I met him that way.
Taka totally saved my butt on my first trip back to Japan in 2007 when he took me in after I completely failed to book a hotel for myself. His little apartment became my headquarters for that trip. Taka is a kind, generous man and one of my favorite people! It was so good to see him again in Japan.
After dinner, Taka dropped us off at our hotel. Alicia was more than ready for bed, but I wasn’t quite ready to go to sleep. I was finally in Japan after a 10 year break and I was gonna make the most of every day! So I grabbed my new neat Fuji X-T20 and went out for a walk around Sakae. It was a fun way to end a very, very long day.