I've traveled a lot throughout my life and from an early age at that. I've been all over Europe and the U.S. and made a couple of visits to our northern neighbors (eh?). I've experienced jet lag and slept well into the evening, missing an entire day because my body's internal clock was very confused. Nine hours was the biggest time difference I had experienced, until recently. Tokyo is sixteen hours ahead of Phoenix. Sixteen hours. I was prepared to drink gallons of coffee and spend endless nights, tossing and turning in my hotel room bed. I slept like a rock and woke refreshed every morning that I was in Japan. Thanks to a little advice from my fellow teacher chaperone who has made the trip countless times, I avoided disaster. The trick? Stay awake on the flight to Japan. It wasn't hard to do with a slew of movies, shows, and games to choose from, as well as service nearly unlike any I've experienced (British Airways you're a close second). Singapore Airlines made our flight a breeze.
Nine students, two teachers, and three parents, we made our journey to Tokyo with a stop in L.A. Out of the many airports that I've spent hours or mere moments in, running from one terminal to the next, clinging desperately to my bags, it was clean and modern (at least the international terminal was).
We had a few hours at LAX so we scattered to find something to eat. While some students didn't hesitate to get some Panda Express, I had a harder time deciding. There were some good options. That's right, no Sbarro Pizza or Subway in sight (phew).
I opted for a tasty Farro Tabouleh salad. It was light and scrumptious. My only complaint was that I'd prefer more greens and less farro, since half of it was that. The fennel added nice crunch and the feta was perfectly salty.
After a look about the stores and resisting the temptation to buy anything before I'd even arrived in Japan, I sat quietly at our gate while the students played cards on the floor in a corner. Eventually we boarded the two story giant that was our airplane. It wasn't long before we were already being pampered and made comfortable.
I was settling in, putting my coffee in its place, tucking my bag under the seat, unwrapping my blanket, and positioning my pillow just so, when a smiling fellow with a steaming hand-cloth came my way.
I cleansed my hands and returned it to another smiling face. I learned from a parent that it's customary for women to use it just to wipe their hands, where as men can use it for their face as well. I may have dabbed a brow here and there. After getting the menu and perusing the dinner and drink options, I knew exactly what I wanted to try first.
My husband had told me about the Singapore Sling, so it was the first thing to try.
Look at that pretty red color. It contains gin, cherry, pineapple, and orange as it's main ingredients. It was very sweet, so one was plenty for me. After a couple of hours in the air, we were fed.
I chose the Japanese option as my meal which consisted of a cold noodle salad with wasabi, scallions, and sauce, a veggie salad, and a rice cracker. For the main meal, I had white fish, veggies, and sticky rice.
My dessert came when I was half way through my meal, which was perfect because my own, adorable, personal ice cream was rock hard.
I entertained myself quite easily by watching four movies (12 Years a Slave, Philomena, August Osage County, and Labor Day) all in a reclined position with a pillow at my back and a blanket wrapped around my body.
When we did land in Tokyo, it was around 8pm and I figured the train crowds would be dying down and our trip to our hotel would be rather quiet.
I was wrong. There were crowds of people just going home from work, or coming from having drinks with colleagues (which is a ver popular custom and happens many times a week). The above photo is from approximately 10pm!
We eventually made it to our hotel. This sculpture of sorts was right outside and served as a good landmark.
Knowing that the hotel had a continental breakfast, I woke up ready for a bowl of cereal, maybe some fruit and a big cup of coffee. When I walked into the breakfast room, I didn't see a big plastic cereal dispenser, pitchers with milk, a basket of bagels, or even a bowl of fruit.
Breakfast consisted of miso soup, different seaweed salads, broccoli, a slaw, and bread. I couldn't believe my eyes and my tastebuds were certainly confused. It was morning right? The coffee cups were itsy-bitsy, so I filled up two. I was actually rather delighted at this new discovery. The miso soup in Japan is not nearly as salty as it is everywhere else that I've had it and the seaweed salads were very refreshing and light. Surprisingly it kept me full until lunch and sustained me throughout our morning of walking and adventure seeking.
We gathered in the lobby of the hotel and jumped, ever so eagerly and lightly (without suitcases and carry-ons) on to the shuttle bus which took us to the train station. It was Friday morning and the smell of coffee from the Starbucks wafted in the air while the noise of heels and dress shoes clicked on the flooring. When we hopped off the train and into the beautiful, yet humid day, we were greeted by the sight of two large red buildings that read, SEGA. The students were ecstatic. We split up and went our ways in groups, exploring Akihabara. It's a big shopping and entertainment area for many things electronic.
We went into a few of the arcades where there were rows and rows of neon, flashing games, some with people sitting like zombies, tapping the red button, then the green, then the red button again, repeat. The most fun was on the streets, looking in the stores, watching the different people.
This girl had just won a samurai sword from a game. She and her friends couldn't hide their excitement, well except the girl on the left.
These girls were advertising and handing out flyers to promote different kinds of anime series, which you can buy in these cramped and filled to the brim stores.
I was looking forward to many things before I headed to Japan, but one thing in particular stuck out, food. I couldn't wait to eat sushi, real sushi, ramen (none of this 10 cent ramen), green tea ice cream, and anything else that I could get my hands on and anything that I hadn't eaten before, but more on that tomorrow. Don't forget your chopsticks.