Home from Japan

Hit and Miss #316


T and I are back from a few weeks in Japan. Mindboggling to write that, not least because my brain’s in another timezone and suffering from yesterday’s 24 hour travel day (which, thanks to timezone trickery, was less than 12 hours of time on the clock!), but also because I’d never seen myself traveling much before meeting T, who’s encouragingly expanding my horizons with each great trip we take together.

Scrambled observations:

  • It was hot!
    • Low to mid 30s most days, and humid to top it off. This scared me, as we were gearing up to go! It got to us one way or another every day, but was also not as bad as I expected. We ate/drank electrolyte-y things, so we actually absorbed water, which definitely helped.
    • Japan’s also a country that knows and accepts that it gets hot! It felt very fine and normal to be sweating buckets (though mad respect to folks who can wear long shirts / pants and layers in that heat), and air conditioning was never far off (spilling directly onto the street from nearly every store, which was a bit odd from an energy efficiency perspective).
  • It was quiet!
    • Even amidst many people—whether on the train or in bustling neighbourhoods—the sound level was comfortably muted. There are a bunch of written and unwritten rules in place to help this along—and, helpfully, these rules are actually followed.
    • This was reinforced coming home, whether on Ottawa’s LRT or while walking through our (admittedly busy) neighbourhood. There was much noise! Even as I write this, the street noise is noticeably louder than it was at and around our busiest Tokyo accommodations.
  • Reliable transit is such a gamechanger. Even when taking buses to get around, it was always more or less trustworthy enough to plan around. Contrasting the start of our journey home to the end is illustrative (see the annex at the end of today’s issue for those points of comparison), but it has a huge impact on your ability to conceive of doing things—even far away things!—when you trust you can get yourself there when you mean to.
  • Another refreshingly reliable service was luggage forwarding. Overnight delivery to nearly anywhere in Japan, for a very reasonable price. And it just worked, whether going through your hotel or dropping off at a nearby service centre directly!
  • Fun interactions included:
    • 7/11 clerk in Asakusa, who we saw daily for breakfast and who asked us about what we were seeing, while also excitedly telling us the history of the imagery on a souvenir we’d bought.
    • Couple in their 70s sitting beside us at a sushi spot, who gave us tips on what to try while eating an astonishing amount of food themselves (and laughing uproariously the entire time).
    • The kind and enthusiastic server at an Uji teahouse, who taught us how to make and enjoy different types of tea.
  • We saw some cool things:
    • Kanazawa is such a lovely city. We only really saw its historical downtown, but what a place that is. We didn’t plan for it, but there was a jazz festival on while we were in town, with loads of free gigs at neat venues, like shrines and parks. Kenroku-en was also a wonderful garden escape in the middle of it all—we visited multiple times and found so much to love (it lives up to its designation as a “National Site of Special Scenic Beauty”). Though it was really hot, we had a great time bopping between spots and listening to jazz along the way.
    • Uji was a neat trip out of Kyoto. While the teahouses and leafy streets were great fun, I also enjoyed the park describing historical methods of water management on the river, and their connection to the area’s tea industry.
    • Exploring the D&DEPARTMENT store in Kyoto and eating at their cafe / restaurant in an old temple building—the food, atmosphere, and view were all superb. Reading about and seeing their application of “long-life design” made me nod my head a bunch.

I realize it’s very easy to go to Japan, fawn over it, and miss its gaps and issues. Fair! I also don’t have the energy to engage in a big ol’ critique. It was a nice change of place, and a good contrast in some ways to what does and doesn’t work back home. I’m really glad we went, but I’m also glad to be home with T and A.

All the best for the week ahead!


Annex: Tokyo to Narita to Montreal to Ottawa

  • To get to the Narita airport (an hour outside of Tokyo), we had a bevy of subway options leaving every few minutes, to get us to a number of different trains that’d get us to the airport. The one we took was a forty minute trip, with the train maxing out at 160km/h—the fastest any VIA train can go, but not particularly fast compared to other high-speed rail trips we took in the country.
  • Experiences at Narita and Montreal airports were pretty comparable. International airports, they’re fine.
  • To get home from the Montreal airport (the nearest major international airport, two hours away from Ottawa), we had to first get to the VIA station. Though only about 2 kilometres away, the only direct public transportation connection is a shuttle that leaves “every 45 to 60 minutes” and has no apparent schedule. Taking a taxi or Uber even that short distance is a minimum $20+, due to airport pricing. (That was about the price of our ticket from downtown Tokyo to the Narita airport, for contrast.)
  • Once at the station, there are four trains a day connecting us to Ottawa, a trip of just over an hour and a half by train (thanks to the trains approaching that 160km/h max speed, this trip is, to their credit, faster than driving!). At least we got to ride one of the new trains!
  • Once in Ottawa, we took the LRT home, which was relatively full (less frequent service with only half a train will do that) and grindingly slow. Considering the fare, distance, and time it took us to travel, it would’ve been entirely reasonable to just take an Uber or Lyft.