Next week, I’m going to Japan. It’s my first real visit there. I say “real visit” because back in 2004, on my way home from Thailand, my friend and I stopped in Tokyo for a long layover. After arriving at 6am, we left the airport, saw the imperial palace, realized Tokyo in January is a lot colder than Thailand in January, and camped out in a Starbucks until the sushi restaurants opened for lunch. After eating a luxurious sushi meal, we went back to the airport.
That was my only time in Japan. I’ve always wanted to go back, and luckily, now I am. Next week, I’ll be heading on a two-week G Adventures tour around Japan, and then I’ll be spending some extra time in the country to visit all the places not included on the tour.
Now, I’m a huge Japanophile. Despite never really having been there, I’m obsessed with Japan — the food, culture, temples, technology, architecture. I love it all. Whenever I get a home, Japanese art will play a predominant role in it. Out of all the trips I’ve taken in the last few years, I’m most excited about this one. I’m giddy with excitement. Why? Let me count the ways:
1. Sushi – I love sushi so much, I would eat it for breakfast. Anyone who knows me knows about my sushi addiction. I suspect breakfast sushi will happen a few times.
2. Tokyo’s Ginza District – I’m looking forward to the famous shopping/nightlife area of Ginza and the maddening crowds that go with it.
3. Mt. Fuji – I’ve always wanted to climb this mountain and see the sunrise. Now I get to!
4. Bullet trains – Let’s see if they really are faster than a speeding bullet! And if not, their supposed comfort and luxury will be just as good.
5. Kyoto – The town full of Zen gardens and temples looks to be one of the most picturesque in all of Japan. While I won’t get to see all 2,000 this visit, I’m going to try my hardest.
6. Hiroshima – The atomic bomb memorial looms large here and as a history buff, how could I not see this city?
7. Tokyo Fish Market – The vast majority of sushi in the world comes through this market. As a sushi lover, I can’t wait to see one of the world’s busiest and largest fish markets, even if it means waking up at 4am. The inner fish market recently moved to Toyosu and is now know as the Toyosu Fish Market, however, the outer market (where you can find food and shops) is still in place.
8. Tokyo subway – People always talk about surviving the London Tube, but the Tokyo subway is the real labyrinth. Bring it on!
9. Osaka – Travelers mention this city a lot, and I want to find out why!
10. Sushi – Did I mention I like sushi?
11. Zen Buddhism – When I was college, I got into Buddhism. I studied Tibetan Buddhism, but I’m looking forward to learning more about the Zen style.
12. The Emperor’s Palace – I only got to see the outside of it last time. Time to see more.
13. Hokkaido – Just another name I keep hearing. It’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas in Japan, and I like beautiful things.
14. Sake – I love sake and want to really learn about the different varieties and purities. I plan on taking a class. Is a sake class similar to a wine class here in the States?
15. Samurais – Because swords and noble warriors are cool. Samurais might not be around any more, but I bet there’s a museum for them somewhere.
16. Karaoke – Because nothing says I’m turning Japanese more than belting out some Lady Gaga with drunk Japanese businessmen!
17. Pod hotels – Sleeping in a pod-sized hole? Sounds interesting.
18. Geisha bars – Hey, why not? When in Rome, right?
19. Sumo wrestling – What could be more entertaining than watching two enormous guys try to push each other out of a circle?
20. Castles – There are a lot of castles in Japan. After seeing so many European ones, I’d like to see how another part of the world does it.
21. Technology – Looking forward to getting a sneak peek of the future.
22. Puppy cafés – Because space is so tight, few people have dogs at home. So they go to cafes where they can play with puppies. This I have to see!
23. Cherry blossoms – I’ll be catching the tail end of the cherry blossom festival, and there’s nothing I’m more excited about.
24. Sushi – OK, that last item was a lie. I’m most excited about the sushi.
25. Nagasaki – Another place I’ve heard of!
26. Crowds – I’ve seen crowds in Asia, but Japan takes it to a whole new level.
27. Lake Ashi – Hot springs? Picturesque view of Mt. Fuji? Sold!
28. Hiking – Japan is supposed to have beautiful pine forests with scenic hiking trails. I hope that rumor isn’t a lie, because I love a good hike.
29. Politeness – The Japanese are uber-polite, respectful, and don’t take what isn’t theirs. I’m going to test that theory out by leaving a wallet on the train and seeing if it gets returned to me.
30. Tai chi – I used to do this in college, and waking up early to practice in a park is on my list.
31. Hello Kitty – I’m sort of behind the times, so I have no idea if this is still a thing, but I’m hoping it is. If not, I’m sure some other quirky thing has replaced it.
32. Japanese fashion – The Japanese seem to dig everything retro and ’80s and then combine it with a mix of hipsterism. Japanese fashion confuses the hell out of me, but I can’t wait to see things like this:
33. Kabuki theater – Traditional Japanese theater sounds like a great cultural activity.
34. Ramen – I want to sit in some back-alley, 100-yen ramen shop with my face over a warm, steaming bowl of delicious ramen noodles.
35. Square watermelon – I’m sure it tastes like regular watermelon, but it’s square. I got to have a piece for the kitsch factor.
36. Anime – I don’t get the whole anime/manga cartoon culture. Maybe going over there will help me figure out why it’s so big.
37. Japanese toilets – A toilet that warms my butt, cleans itself, sprays water, and plays music? Going to the bathroom never sounded so fun.
38. Sushi – See a pattern here? I bet you can guess what food I’ll be eating the most the next few weeks.
There’s a lot I am looking forward to doing in Japan, and with only about 2.5 weeks there, if I hope to tick off all 38 things on this list, I’ll be quite busy. But since this will probably be my only trip to Japan for a while, I’m OK with that. It will be a good kind of busy. Now, is it Sunday yet? I want to fly now.