12 Days of Something V: The One Where I Went to Japan

I thought this was a nice plant to take a picture of.
I thought this was a nice plant to take a picture of.

Back in late-August/early-September (the International Date Line messes with things), I finally did the journey to Japan that a lot of people would like to do. I committed to do this a year from the day this post goes up after I got some encouragement from my mother who is no longer with us. Even several months later my feelings on the trip overall are mixed basically because of one fact, the longest conversation I had with any single individual while I was there lasted 45 seconds. (The 2nd longest was probably the guy at customs welcoming me into Japan at 25 seconds.)

So the typical agenda might be for the 2 week trip that I took to start in Tokyo then head to the west of the country to see other cities like Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, etc. then head back to Tokyo to spend a few days. I actually kind of did the same thing except I actually started in Okinawa. I found out fairly quickly that there is a good reason accommodations are so cheap at that time of year down there, the temperature that never went below 30ºC. My general discomfort in just a little under 3 days there probably means that I can rule out future summer trips to anywhere near the equator.

Iejima is a nice looking island with a sad post-war history.
Iejima is a nice looking island with a sad post-war history.

Okinawa is very different from the rest of the country. By far it is the poorest prefecture in Japan. Investment in public transportation infrastructure is a given on the main islands. In Okinawa, there’s a single train line that serves only a portion of the capital city of Naha. There are buses and ferries too, but they aren’t going to go long distances in a brief period of time. That meant I needed to rent a car and get used to driving a right-hand drive car on the left side of the road rather quickly.

I made it to Koshien...for an NPB game though.
I made it to Koshien…for an NPB game though.

The journey in this Toyota Vitz was to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. It was a couple hours of driving out of Naha. While there is a toll road that shortens the journey by about half I would advise anyone against taking it because Okinawa Route 58 is without a doubt the most scenic drive I’ve ever done. There’s plenty of elevation changes as it winds along the coast with many small towns and villages (and the military bases in Kadena) and with it will come the realization sitting in traffic that over half of the other drivers are also in rental cars. It’s a tourism-based economy after all. The Aquarium was quite an experience with the largest tank I have ever seen. I did take the Expressway back and got to experience the varying atmospheric conditions that occur in the mountains, while traveling at high speeds

Even in Japan, university students have the same dietary standards as they do elsewhere (picture taken on a potato).

I also visited the Shuri Castle while I was in Okinawa. It’s one of those places that is hard to judge because it was built as an approximation to what was there before it was destroyed in the war. Signs were all over the place that indicated things to the effect of “this is how we think this worked.”

After a brief interruption for a fighter jet sortie, my flight back to the mainland was on as I was scrunched against the window by a pair of drunk Germans. The rest of the trip was pretty stereotypical otherwise.

Yes, this meant trips to Matsumoto, Kyoto, Osaka, the Hanshin Koshien Stadium, Hiroshima and various parts of Tokyo before I finally headed back home. I’d provide more details on this, but I’m afraid I’m probably boring you guys to death with the details of my trip.