A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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Category — Japan

Our Time In Japan

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Japan is one of the most fascinating (and confounding) places we have have visited. It is also near the top of the list of places we would like to return to one day.

Our summary thoughts and recommendations for Japan are here and our pictures from Tokyo and around are here.

May 11, 2009   2 Comments

My Neighbor Totoro

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It’s fair to say we traveled to Japan to pay homage to Hayao Miyazaki.  To provide a point of reference:  Think of Miyazaki as the Japanese Walt Disney.

A genius in any language, Miyazaki created beloved films like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Caroline and Conor grew up under Miyazaki’s magic spell, and we made the pilgrimage to the western suburb of Mitaka to visit the Ghibli Museum which showcases his work.  The museum’s recreation of his imaginative work space is worth the price of admission – but there is much more to see and experience.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside the museum.  But take our word for it: If you value imagination and creativity – and you find yourself in Tokyo – take the train to Mitaka and visit the Ghibli.

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May 11, 2009   1 Comment

Staying Healthy In Japan

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Leaving behind the colossal public spaces of Beijing and their complementary chaotic jostle of hutong walks, we headed for the tight spaces of efficient Tokyo.

Delightedly, we explored March’s springtime streets around our hostel in the Asakusa neighborhood.

We crossed bridges, breathed the aroma from delicate cherry blossoms, photographed shrines and gates, selected our favorite sushi from the conveyor belt, and at night, basked in the glow of a million neon lights. Always accompanied by an orderly abundance of people.

Many wore a common accessory: a spanking white surgical mask. Providing a sense of sanitary strangeness, Tokyo dwellers wore the masks with business suits, kimonos, t-shirts and jeans, or Harajuku frills. Even toddlers were in on the look.

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Our new friend Michiko explained that besides being pollen season, people were sensitive to spreading germs since they’re living so close together. In fact, signs in the subways instructed riders on the etiquette for blowing noses. “Do it at home,” the cartoon chides.

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Although I can’t really imagine tucking a surgical mask’s loops behind my ears as a part of my daily going-out routine and smiling at friends in the grocery store from behind my white safety square, once my awareness was raised, I must admit that the uncovered sneezer on the train seemed a threat to us all.

May 8, 2009   1 Comment

Discovering Japan

May 6, 2009   1 Comment

A Few Nights At the Ryokan

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It’s hard to find a reasonably priced hotel room in Tokyo — especially when Japanese school children are on spring break and the cherry blossoms are in bloom.

There are plenty of hostels, but they tend to be booked well in advance. Brand name hotels can run US$500+ a night and independently owned hotels aren’t much cheaper.

The search for a room for less than US$200 led us to a ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn.  Our stay at the Homeikan Honkan made our visit to Tokyo truly memorable.

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A ryokan room is a simple rectangle.  There is a straw tatami mat on the floor.  During the day, the room is set up as a sitting area, with cushions on the floor around a low square table.

In the evenings, the innkeeper comes to each room to make up the bedding – double-layer futons on the floor.

Each guest gets to use two robes – a light cotton robe and a heavier yakutura to use when its cooler.

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What distinguishes a ryokan, though, is its public bath.

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May 4, 2009   3 Comments

Tokyo Without A Clue

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We arrived at Tokyo’s Narita Airport with no guidebook, no map, no yen and no clue.  One thing became apparent right away — Japan does not yield its secrets easily.

Here’s what we learned in our first twenty-four hours in Tokyo:  Not much English is spoken.  Affordable Internet access is hard to find.  Few ATMs accept foriegn bank cards.  Credit cards are of limited use.

Yet the Japanese people are extremely helpful and gracious, even when communications barriers are insurmountable.

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May 1, 2009   6 Comments

Observed in Tokyo

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A Shibuya street band, playing an energizing mash-up of 1970′s funk and old-school big band. Sounds crazy, but it worked!

April 30, 2009   1 Comment

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