Dreaming of Japan

A few days ago I went into our local AAA office to get an international driving permit. We plan to travel to Japan this summer and I may be doing a bit of driving there. It is a small expense that might result in a bit of convenience during our trip. You need passport pictures for the permit, so I had them taken at the AAA office. As I sat down to have my picture taken, the person operating the camera advised me to take off my glasses. I complied, but commented that I need my glasses to drive. The response from the person was “Glasses have to be removed in all passport pictures.”

So I went home and took a look at my passport. I’m wearing glasses in the picture. I took a look at my previous passport which had been returned after it was replaced at renewal. I’m wearing glasses in that picture too. Hmm . . . either the camera operator is misinformed or the regulations have changed. It is no big deal either way. I’m pretty sure that a careful observer could tell it is me in the pictures.

International travel is a big deal for us. We haven’t done too much of it, unless you count trips to Canada, where we have traveled fairly frequently. Other trips have been more rare. I have made four trips to Costa Rica where we have a sister church. The last time Susan and I used our passports was a trip to England when our daughter was living there.

The trip to Japan is something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time. When our children were in high school they participated in a 10-day sister cities exchange and traveled to Japan. We hosted Japanese students in our home for 10 day exchanges and had a Japanese exchange daughter for a year back then. We imagined that one day we would travel to Japan, visit our sister city, see our Japan daughter and meet her parents. This summer we’ll be doing that, made possible, in part, by the fact that our daughter and her husband are now living in Japan. They’ve been there for more than a year, so we’re eager to see them face to face.

I visit with people who travel outside of the United States on a regular basis, some who take multiple trips every year. They develop a set of skills that ease the process of dealing with luggage, long airline flights, airport security, customs, immigration and other details of international travel. We aren’t as practiced with all of that. On the other hand, we know the basic procedures and aren’t intimidated by the prospects of travel. Although neither of us speak Japanese or read the language, we are fortunate in that most of Japan is really well set-up for American tourists. Our rail passes for traveling around inside of Japan came with a detailed book, in English, that explains the railway system and has clear instructions for finding the correct train and making sure that the travel goes smoothly.

It got me to thinking about how we might seem to international guests who visit our country. Actually, there are quite a few Japanese tourists who come to the Black Hills to see Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse mountain carving, the game in Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Badlands National Park and much more. Many of the Japanese tourists arrive in tour buses with guides who speak Japanese and facilitate their welcome to our country. Sometimes I will see couples or small groups of tourists walking around downtown and taking in the sights. I make a point of saying, “Hello” and smiling, but that is usually the extent of our contact.

We will arrive in Japan at Narita International Airport, one of two airports that serve the city of Tokyo. By anybody’s standards Tokyo is a big city. Wikipedia lists the population of Tokyo as 13 million, but that is just the city limits. It is a conglomeration of urban sprawl that reaches well beyond the prefecture. A 2014 report by the U.N. said, “Tokyo is the world’s largest city with an agglomeration of 38 million inhabitants.” Imagine the entire greater Los Angeles area plus the entire greater New York area. You get the picture. There are a lot of people.

And we are, for the most part, country folks, accustomed to our small city and lacking in urban skills such as using mass transportation, managing ourselves in crowds and navigating urban areas. Fortunately for us, instead of heading from the airport into the midst of the city, we will board a train and head away from the city to a more rural and isolated area in the north of the island to begin our trip. Our days of visiting Tokyo city and nearby Nikko city will be in the presence of our daughter and son-in-law and our exchange daughter and her family. Later in our trip we will make visits to other parts of Japan by ourselves, but by then we will have become comfortable using our train passes and looking for signs that have directions in English. We’ll also have the tools of Google translator and the simple fact that many Japanese nationals speak English. Add to that that graciousness of the Japanese people and the fact that it is a very safe place to travel and we are set for an excellent adventure.

Our departure is more than a month away. We’ve got a lot to do before we depart. But we have our tickets and a rough outline of our travel and we are growing excited. I spend a bit of each day thinking about the trip. It will be exciting and fun for us. I’m glad that we haven’t traveled so much that such a trip might be considered routine. Having a very special trip with many once-in-a-lifetime experiences is a real treat.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!