I’ve come to realize traveling with people isn’t always sunshine and roses. My 2011 All-Over-Japan trip felt like 3 trips in one. And our fearless tour guide was awesome, but I think this style of trip was a little more intense than I am used to. I am a napper by nature, and given my druthers, I’d sleep 9 hours a night. On top of my usual take-it-easy evenings. So, fast pace is not my pace.
It’s funny how you think you can walk pretty fast, go on walks everyday, walk faster than many folk at work. Perhaps your legs are of a respectable length. But then when you hang out with people who are a few notches closer to “in shape”, you are the slow poke. With a couple pieces of luggage, you are sludgy slow.
Suddenly you realize that, even though your legs are moving constantly and your oversized calf muscles are in overdrive, you appear to be in a relative state of suspension. You companions grow further distant. You fall though space and time as shorter Japanese people swirl around you in a vortex of train station rush.
If you go on a trip with a bunch of excited teens, don’t expect them to be quiet and subdued. I wouldn’t undo my group trip for all the world, but it had a few drawbacks.
Sure, it’s fun to know that most Japanese people can’t understand your rapid English conversation. You can talk about anything, right? It’s a magic bubble of immunity in public spaces where surely no one who understands English is actually inhabiting the same audio space as you. Oh? No?
I think many of the younger peoples I was with in Japan 2011 were more anime-manga-game-focused. I like some of those things, sure, but I don’t think everybody was as much of a foodie as I was. AM.
We were in the Prince Hotel, a hotel in a mall, basically. I think it’s in Ikebukuro? I thought I’d have a ton of time to explore the mall, but it didn’t work out that way. When I did sneak away, I found this little gourmet store, kind of like The Fresh Market in the US.
Those were the best of times.
Onigiri rice balls that looked gorgeous with jewel-like ikura on top!
Kinda of ordinary yogurt drink!
Fancy chocolate I’ve never seen!
One day during the 2013 trip, I wasn’t feeling up for the day of hiking to come (meaning I wasn’t drinking nearly enough water, a bad vacation habit of mine). I had a long morning of reading and breakfast, then out for a walk around the little historic town. The drainage system through the town is hundreds of years old, really cool to see. I loved going at my own pace, exploring whatever I wanted. I visited a historic royal villa. It was a vast traditional style house, absolutely gorgeous. The grounds had a fantastic garden with stream and, to one end, a bomb shelter. It was fantastic!
As the younger crowd of the 2011 group buzzed through the Takeshita Dori (aka Alley of Small Trendy Clothes and Lolita gear), I was drawn beyond the too-tight clothing stores to the far end. From there, I saw it. Like a narrow monolith of joy. It was a Japanese Godiva store.
I used to work in a Godiva store in Florida, so my fondness is based on my chocoholic nature as well as nostalgia and curiosity.
Now that was something relevant to my interests. They had old favorites as well as unique treats, like ice cream tarts. A highlight of the trip.
As a librarian, you would think I’d have enough of libraries, but I’m always interested in visiting libraries on vacation. Even in my home state of Florida. So libraries in Japan- even better! In 2013, I had a chance to check out a little library in Kyoto. Looked it up, used my Nexus tablet map/GPS to find it, bam!
Checked out the picture books, the only thing I can even partially read. Then settled down to read a book I brought with me. There weren’t many chairs, but a few in front of the stacks. And lo and behold, a scene from my everyday life! A Japanese dude answers his phone and talks in a normal voice, not even trying to keep it down. Then a staff member shuffles over and gives a whispered little Japanese statement to him, obviously something like, “I’m sorry, you can only use cell phones outside.” I had to strain not to laugh out loud. It was my life in a parallel world.
The point is, as much as I tend to get as lost as a dizzy goat gone sideways, there’s ways to get back. And sometimes when you group travel, you might rush through some things. And who am I kidding, I’m a shy lady, and sometimes being alone is less stress. There’s exceptions to that rule. As a foodie, I want to go to restaurants, but dining alone is a little weird. Just you. Just sitting there, alone. That empty seat across the way isn’t talking. Nobody to chat with about the food. Nobody to consult if you use that one bowl as a sauce or soup or if the salt goes on the shrimp or the shrimp goes on the salt or how much derision the waitress will beam out through her eyes if you make the wrong choice.
I’m open to a friend coming along for future trips, but going solo is all right. I can do whatever I want and get up whenever I want! I can even spend the day going from crepe shop to crepe, eating ALL THE FLAVORS! Or staying in and reading if I’m not up to it. Or taking pictures of all the Tokyo stray cats. Hee hee, the freedom!