Day 13. We reached the end at last.. no matter how much we tried to put it off. It was time to come home. We ate our last onigiri, I lovingly tucked away my many acquired kitties, and we bid Japan a sad sayonara.
We wouldn’t go hungry for breakfast as we had the day before; we had delectable dango (that’s a breakfast food, right?) to start our day. And they tasted all the sweeter when coupled with another exciting installment of JMTV.
Next: trains. After a short hop to Kyoto Station, we boarded the Shinkansen. There was a vendor on the platform selling bento; I was all too happy to give in to another opportunity to participate in the minutiae of Japanese life. We also picked up some onigiri for the train ride (I still hadn’t tried any yet!).
The ride back to Tokyo seemed shorter than the trip out somehow. The scenery whizzed by, and I was fascinated with the odd colors elicited from my polarizer through the train window tinting.
Halfway to Tokyo, we broke into our cute bento and onigiri. The wrapping on these little rice balls is brilliant! They’ve designed a wrapper that separates the dry seaweed from the moist rice so the former doesn’t get soggy, yet unwraps in such a way so as to prevent an unpleasant bite of plastic. I was once more impressed with the Japanese ingenuity.
NEX brought us to Narita Airport, where we managed to scoop up the last of our sought-for souvenirs before submitting to the 10-hour flight marathon. The plane was delayed, and we ended up taking off two hours after boarding.
Suffice it to say, after a trip like that, we were exhausted. I had wild hopes of writing out many of these blog posts and editing photos during those distraction-free hours, but in truth, I mostly slept, amidst a movie and reading. I just wanted to check out for a while.
When we finally reached Vancouver, BC, we set our clocks back (how was it morning again??) We now knew we were in for the treat of customs – oh boy.
We had heard horror stories of reentry being far worse than leaving, even as obvious Americans. We weren’t expecting it to be quite so (relatively) painless, and we weren’t expecting to face it all in BC.
- Checkpoint 1: a person asked where we were coming from and checked our tickets and passports.
- Checkpoint 2: another full-blown security (including the whole works of taking off shoes, belt, etc.; Aaron even got a pat down due to a pen in his pocket). We’ve flown a lot, so we know how the game is played, but we simply weren’t aware we’d be facing this again after takeoff.
- Checkpoint 3: immigration. This was nothing like we expected it. We were under the impression we’d have to declare all of our souvenirs and prove I didn’t purchase any of my expensive camera gear in Japan. Instead, we simply faced an automated kiosk that took a picture and had us answer a few basic questions. One asked if we had souvenirs valuing more than $800 per person. With a simple “no” checkbox, we were done. That was it. No proving anything.
- Checkpoint 4: we took our printed pictures to the manned counter, identified pictures of our baggage, and passed through another set of guards.
- Checkpoint 5: we showed all of our documents to a (soulless) officer, who asked about where we were coming from and our reason for visiting. One final stamp, and we were through the gauntlet.
We continued to our gate, stopping by a counter to exchange our yen back into dollars. They couldn’t take anything smaller than ¥50 (of which, we unfortunately had many). Had we known, we would have been more careful about spending our smaller coins. No big loss either way. Additionally, they didn’t have any American coins. In the end, we were left with American dollars, a bunch of yen coins, and a handful of Canadian quarters. Ah, money.. you silly thing.
Hungry for lunch (or dinner, or an early breakfast??), we naturally gravitated toward the most Asian-looking establishment in the food court. Boy were we disappointed. The server behind the counter was a zombie, lazily slopping food into our containers, and the gal who handled the monetary exchange literally tossed the receipt on top of our food without so much as a sideward glance. After the genuine Japanese courtesy to which we had grown accustomed, this was simply appalling. And then the food itself was far from Asian. It was laden with sugar, dried out, and bland. We missed Japan already.
After an uneventful hop across the border, we were home. No more customs (which surprised us); we just walked off the plane, grabbed our bags, and were done.
Over 36 hours, and it was still Saturday.
We stayed awake long enough for some pizza and a Miyazaki film (which we thought fitting) before crashing at 8pm. Needless to say, we were glad to still have one more day to recoup before reporting back to work.
- Onigiri is cleverly wrapped. As long as you follow the pictorial instructions on the package, you shouldn’t eat any plastic.
- Tokyo Station is even more crowded on a Saturday.
- Pasmo cards are turned in with a ticket master at a Pasmo gate (look for a subway). This can be done in Narita Airport.
- Japan airport security is very similar to ours (laptops, liquids, metal, etc). We did not need to take off our sneakers, but Aaron’s bag went through the X-ray 4 times to vet out the iPad, GoPro, video camera, and a pile of remaining Japanese coins.
- Only larger coins (¥50 and up) can be exchanged in YVR. They also don’t carry US coins, so expect some Canadian coins if your exchange results in any change. Also, do what you can to spend your smaller coins in Japan.
- You will miss the Japanese hospitality when an airport food vendor carelessly tosses the receipt on top of your lunch.
- Stay to the right. Stay to the right. Stay to the right. You aren’t in Japan anymore.
Baka gaijin moment of the day: The Japanese version of TSA requires all electronics be pulled out of your bag: iPads, cameras, coins, etc. Remember this to avoid having your bag rescanned four times.
Overall, it was (of course) an incredible trip that has left us memories for a lifetime. We will go back, and the experiences there have already reshaped our lives. I can’t encourage others enough. Go to Japan. You won’t regret it.
Things I’ll miss:
- The cleanliness
- The utter lack of crime and constant sense of security
- The manners/respect/(not-so-)common courtesy
- Honesty and integrity with everyone – no one is out to scam you; no one will steal your things
- Omnipresent vending machines – with hot drinks
- Standing on one side of the escalators to allow others to walk on the other side (honestly, this just makes so much sense)
- No expectation of tipping
- Sane/non-intrusive homeless population
- Heated toilet seats
- The fun train station tones
- The expectation that most people walk (run) or bike
- The orderly lines to board the trains (allowing for others to get off first) – the fact that we haven’t figured this out yet marks us as inferior beings
- Awesome sushi track delivery
- Entertaining English
- Incredibly reliable and frequent trains
- Amazing food wherever you look
- Designated outdoor smoking areas (that are easy to avoid) and the societal discouragement from smoking elsewhere
- Everything is cute! From the maps and no smoking signs to graffiti and food
- JMTV – I could have this playing in the background all the time (though the videos would be understandably distracting)
- Cats EVERYWHERE
Things I won’t miss:
- The crazy/impatient drivers
- The packed trains
- Bicycles on the sidewalks
- The need for so much cash
- The lack of language fluency (which I could change)
- Less respect for women
- High-pressure society
- Smoking in the restaurants
- The general disregard for the environment
Return trip bucket list (in no particular order):
- Cat Island
- Go back to Fushimi Inari Shrine (during the day)
- Go back to the Arishiyama Bamboo Grove (during the night)
- Mt. Fuji
- Witness a street festival (Tanbata, etc.)
- Spend a day wandering in yukata/kimono
- Stay with a Japanese family for the day-to-day experience
- Hiroshima for the history
- Go to a true onsen
- Owl cafe
- A Japanese beach
I seriously thought about what might be my “most memorable moment,” but I really couldn’t come up with anything specific. Every day was a unique and exciting experience.
Good luck with your own travels. If you find yourself in Japan, have some taiyaki for me ^_^