Monday, July 23, 2012

Hello Japan Friends!

With Nick out of town for two weeks of conferences in Hawaii, I decided to leave my calendar wide open in the off chance a flight opened up on Space-A for me to meet up with him. As luck would have it, a Friday afternoon flight was heading straight there, so I packed up my bathing suits and sundresses, closed up the house, and drove to the terminal crossing my fingers.

I arrived to find out that the flight was no longer traveling east and instead was heading west to Okinawa, Japan. Bummer! My dreams of spending the weekend at the Ko Olina resort were quickly squashed. Luckily I have played the Space-A game before, so I was not at all surprised and only mildly disappointed.

Coronado neighbor turned traveling buddy!
With a whole unscheduled week ahead of me, I sat down in the terminal to check out some options. I had a Facebook message from my friend Kristi, my former neighbor in Coronado who now lives in Japan. She was writing to tell me how excited she is that we are both going to be on the East Coast in a few months. I replied on a whim and said something like, "Hey, can I come visit you... like tomorrow?"

A few hours later when I got home, I lugged my disappointing Hawaii bags back into the house and checked for her reply, which was simply, "Come on!!" I was going to be sensible and fly out two days later, but was met with the news that Kristi had already lined up a babysitter for Sunday night to go to a lantern festival in Tokyo. Yeah, I need to go to that, I thought. So at 10pm I booked a flight to leave the next morning. I repacked my bags, found a last-minute ride to the airport, and just like that was off to Japan!

First Japan visit in 2010!
While this trip wasn't technically on the calendar, it wasn't a completely whimsical decision to go either. I went to visit my friends Mary and Kristi back in September 2010 when I first moved to Guam (a trip that was also booked with less than a week's notice... sorry Japan friends!). Nick was away on his first long work trip, and my friends in Japan were smack in the middle of their first foreign deployment. The unexpected visitor (me!) was a welcome distraction while their husbands were away, and I got to see Japan, my first glimpse of Asia.

Japan's very own Tofu Fox!
Looking back, I remember that the nuances of traveling there were completely overwhelming at the time. Despite being a comfortable traveler (or so I thought), I had no concept how my friend Mary was navigating the crazy, confusing network of trains in a language that didn't even use a recognizable alphabet. Everything from the food to the transportation to the customs seemed so foreign.

As our overseas tour is coming to a close, it has been on my radar to slip in one final visit there to see my friends and to do a few more exciting things in Japan (which, conveniently is only a three-hour flight and one time zone change away!). My friend Mary has been blogging about her adventures and discoveries for the past few months as the Tofu Fox. It made me realize that there was a lot I missed on my first trip simply from being in a fog of misunderstanding. I wanted to visit Japan within the context of the many other fascinating countries I have traveled to so I could better appreciate how truly unique and extraordinary of a place it is.

Two years later, I had a very different experience in Japan. I felt like I could actually get around the city on my own if I needed to, and rather than spend the moments in my brain fretting over the city's complexities, I now had the space to focus on its captivating intricacies. Everything there is so beautifully decorated and delicately presented. A small part of me is envious that my friends have been able to live somewhere so different, so elegant for their overseas tour... while I was sloshing around in a muddy jungle.

And with that, here are some pictures from my first couple of days in Japan!

Lantern festival in Tokyo
 I wish I knew what the lanterns are for aside from beautiful beach decor.
Have some crazy architecture
And some really awkward train signs! 
Like Singapore, Tokyo loves its order and its signs.

Hi friends!! Meeting up with Mary and Annika and kiddos on Omotesando-dori 
for a day of shopping and lunching and shrines!

Japan has lots of fun surprises... like an energy drink that shoots out of a cooler. 
Nice catch Kristi!

So great to see this little guy... I have known Will since he was three months old. Now (somehow) he is about to start second grade!
And last time I saw Bean he was six months old. Now he is covered in ice cream and wants to get out of his stroller :)

Sights along the gorgeous wooded stroll to Meiji Shrine

We arrived during a wedding procession! What luck!!

I love the sea of tourists that formed a little paparazzi pod on the left, including Mary :) She got much better pictures than I did with her fancy camera and front row seat. See them and read more about the weddings we saw that day and the shrine on Mary's post here.

Entrance way at Meiji Shrine
Hi friends! So great to see everyone!
We unknowingly went to this area on a very eventful Monday. It was a school holiday, and there was a massive protest as the nuclear power plants began reopening in the previous weeks. We later learned there were over 170,000 people present for the protest. It was hands down the most polite and orderly protest I have ever seen (that's Japan!).
A few people crossing the street
The fabulous outfits were everywhere. The Japanese are always dressed to the nines, but this particular ensemble caught my eye. So chic!

And, oh yes, there was Zara :)

The same Zara we stopped by almost two years ago... 
 look how much Annika-chan has grown!

I think it's safe to say we've all grown quite a bit in these past two years abroad. My friends in Japan are also wrapping up their overseas tours, and I'm crossing my fingers that Mary's family will join Kristi's in being our neighbors on that side of the world too. So grateful for Kristi and Mary for hosting me during two wonderful trips to Japan. Definitely goes to show that you never know where the friendships of this small Navy world will take you... and if you're lucky, maybe even twice.


  1. I love your spontaneity! Glad you had such a great time!!

  2. What a great trip! And I hardly think you have been sloshing around in a muddy jungle!!

  3. Thanks for such a fabulous visit! Several photo observations...the heat and whiny kid seem to have made me a bit crazed. Annika has GROWN UP SO MUCH. And you and I always have fun together, no matter where we are. Thanks for the repeat visit! Fingers crossed!

  4. I love your impromptu trip! Japan is amazing and you've done a great job at spending time in Asia while you can. Great signs, sights, and yes- Annika is so much bigger now!

    Also, Zara... love it :)

  5. You so Lucky as the Asian would say ! Now get back to the States I miss you guys


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