Monday, October 28, 2013

Japan: Arrival in Tokyo and Bus Trip to Karuizawa.

"To awaken quite alone in a strange town
is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world."
~Freya Stark

Remember when I went to Italy with the Salt Lake Vocal Artists? Well, I went on tour again. This time to Japan!

I had never been to Asia prior to this, so I was really looking forward to it. In many ways I felt very much at home because so much of they way they do things reminds me of my life in San Francisco. But, of course, there were a lot of new sights and new discoveries.

Flying Delta route SLC-PDX-NRT (hooray for racking up SkyMiles!), we departed Salt Lake City at 11am on Thursday, October 10th and arrived in Tokyo on Friday October 11th at about 5pm. Yeah... we basically skipped a day.

I was a little sad too board our plane from Portland to Tokyo to find that there were no individual entertainment screens, like there usually are and were advertised for this flight. Since I planned to sleep, it wasn't that big of a deal, but it was a little sad. The plane clearly was an older plane.

As soon as we passed through Customs in the Tokyo-Narita airport, we went to the ATM to get some Yen since Sawako and Shimaco, our guides, told us that it was a three-day weekend and a lot of the businesses where we were going wouldn't take card. I also took the opportunity to buy a box of Pocky, a water bottle, and a couple postcards and stamps. I even wrote out those postcards. After asking the lady at the airport shop if she could put them in the mail for me, I quickly learned that post boxes are hard to find and no one will do it for you. (Those postcards never got mailed the entire trip.)

This is me, looking not half bad for having traveled to the future. 
Finally, when we all had a chance to retrieve some Yen from the ATM, we boarded our bus to Tokyo. Apparently, the Tokyo-Narita airport is actually quite a distance outside of Tokyo and on a Friday night in rush-hour traffic, it took us quite awhile to get there.

Our destination was the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center, where they had a plated dinner of salisbury steak awaiting us. All I wanted to do was go to bed. I was so tired. Much to our surprise (and delight) all the rooms were single rooms. I think we were all happy to just go back to our room, strip our clothes off and fall into bed (on the hard rice pillow).

You may notice the bathroom looks slightly different in these photos. That's because over the course of the week, we stayed at the NYC two different times and so I had two different rooms with virtually the same layout, but slight differences. Oh, and don't mind my laundry hanging up in that photo. Also, the combined bed/bathroom photo is not two photos together. That is the wall. The room was that small, but just big enough.

Did you catch that one must step UP to get into the bathroom? That's how every bathroom in every hotel we stayed in was like. It's about a six or seven inch step up off the floor.

I was so afraid that I'd be too jet-lagged to wake up in the morning, so I slept with the curtains and window open and also set the alarm on the 70s-era console next to my bed. To my surprise, I woke up about every hour from midnight on. We also experience an earthquake, about 5.0 on the Richter scale, at some point in the night. (Again, a reason I felt "at home.")

Finally at about 3:30am, I decided I was up for good and I'd take some pictures of my view. I totally do not know how to use the settings on my camera, but I stumbled on a night vision one. It was totally dark outside, as evidenced by the photo above. The two following were taken after I found the night-time setting.

When the sun started to rise, I was still wide awake and just about fully re-packed. We were heading out to Karuizawa that morning.

After what seemed like a mile walking with all our luggage to meet the bus, down several flights of stairs, we found that the bus couldn't load there and we had to walk all the way back to where we began. We certainly got a workout that first morning in Tokyo, and we even beat the bus back

That morning on the bus, Sawako passed out our breakfast, which was a foreshadow of many of the meals to come: Sandwiches. :) I think the Festival was trying to be very accommodating to us sandwich-eating-Americans, as well as, keep the cost of feeding us to a reasonable amount. But we had SO many tiny sandwiches the whole trip.

The sandwiches were actually pretty good that morning and seeing water bottles in foreign languages is always fun. That was one really great thing about the Festival feeding us: they kept us very well hydrated with water bottles available all the time. It was really great.

As we wound our way around Tokyo and out of the city, it was fun to see things that are distinctly Japanese.

Hondas. (Especially the Honda Fit, like mine!)

Bikes and more bikes.

Gardens in the middle of the city.

And interesting freeway structures. Oh... and did you realize that in Japan they drive on the left side of the road? I didn't remember until I got there.)

Interestingly, the countryside of Japan looks very much to me like the countryside of the U.S. or anywhere in Europe. Fields and fields.

Something that is distinctly Japanese, in my experience, are their rest stops along the highways. They are like full-on food, grocery, and souvenir strip malls.

The rest stops really are fabulous!

I was furiously trying to memorize that last of my music. We had 25 pieces in our repertoire and it was really difficult to get it all memorized this time. But luckily, I had a beautiful view to watch out the window also.

 And finally we arrived in Karuizawa! More on the Festival and the beautiful town of Karuizawa next!


by Kimberlee St. Clair said...

SPOILED! I am so, so jealous. Japan is on my list. And singing in Japan... so fun! I love you, my friend! Thanks for sharing your adventures.

Sharon Neu Young said...

I too am totally jealous of your travels, but I think in a good way. I LOVE that you have these adventures. While I want to go too, all I can think for you is, "More! More!" Thanks for posting about your awesome adventures!