In Japan!

There is a real advantage to having the opportunity to return to a foreign country relatively close to the first visit. We are back in Japan after less than a year. It is a very usual set of circumstances for us. We have never made back-to-back trips to another country before. In a way our visit to Japan last year was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We felt so fortunate to have that experience. This year we have returned because we have a new grandson here and we can’t wait to meet him today. The trip will involve riding on Japan’s fastest train and a connection to a short train ride to the town where our daughter and her family live.

This morning we are aware of how much things change and what a unique place Japan is.

Back in 2006, we had a wonderful sabbatical, funded by the Lily Endowment. One of the things that the sabbatical enabled was travel. We visited sacred sites in the United States and in Canada before fling to Australia for more sacred sites and a visit with colleagues and friends there. During the driving portion of our trip, we had a small family emergency that required a few phone calls to keep in touch with family members and help to support one another. Our cell phone service was spotty as we camped near the US-Canada border, not far from Glacier Park. I remember stopping alongside the road in a small town where we could get our cell phone to work and finally making contact. Later that same day, we found a second place where we could make a phone call after driving through miles of area where there was no cell phone service. Part of that experience was a higher than usual cell phone bill when we allowed our phone to roam for service and it connected with a tower located in Canada. We learned quite a bit from the experience.

Now, just 13 years later, our cell phone plan allows for us to use roaming data and voice connections. We have a travel plan that covers international trips. Yesterday, our son drove us across the Canadian border to Vancouver where we caught our flight to Tokyo. Our cell phone worked in Canada to send messages to our family. Then, upon arrival in Tokyo, the phone worked to help us find directions and make contact with our exchange daughter, with whom we had dinner last night. The presence of wireless internet on the train and in the train station allowed us to connect with her.

Returning after having been here last year helped with all of our connections. Our flight was a little late, due to many flights arriving at the Narita airport at the same time and our having to be sequenced into the arrivals pattern. From the airplane we took a bus to customs and immigration, where there was a hug number of people entering the country. Fortunately the Japanese immigration system works quickly and before long we were through that process and on to pick up our train passes before boarding the express train to Tokyo. Having been in Tokyo station less than a year ago helped us find our connection with the local train to Ueno, were we met our exchange daughter. The local trains were very crowded, but we weren’t intimidated by the crowds and our experience of last year gave us confidence to board the crowded train car and make the trip with a minimum of hassle.

After dinner, we found our hotel by using the cell phone as a moving map with directions. It had been a very long day for us. We finally made it to our hotel room 22 hours after we had gotten up in the morning. We both had a little sleep on the airplane, but not much.

Yes, we are in Japan. Our room has less bare floor space than our camper back home. And the bathroom is equally as small as the one in our camper. However, there is a high-tech toilet in the bathroom with a heated seat and various water jets for cleaning. The water faucet in the bathroom is another piece of high tech engineering, with dials to set the temperature and direct the flow. A single faucet supplies the sink and the shower and bathtub.

Our room consists of the bathroom, a corridor with a small desk and a small place to set a suitcase, and the area where the bed touches three walls of the room. But, this being Japan, there is a television mounted on the wall at the foot of the bed that is as wide as the bed itself. We aren’t into watching television that much, but it is necessary to use the television to find out the Wifi password, instructions to use the heating/air conditioning controls and other information.

It will take us a while to get our sleep patterns adjusted to the new time zone, but we are buoyed by excitement. We’ve successfully navigated this much travel, we’ve remembered enough about using the trains to have gotten where we needed to go with a minimum of hassle. And today we get to meet our new grandson face to face for the first time. We are so excited to be with our daughter and her family.

Along the way we had a conversation about a family member who has become, as he ages, reluctant to travel. An experience with a cancelled flight left him nearly unwilling to travel by air. He doesn’t like to drive long distances and a trip across the state to visit his daughter and her children seems like a big deal to him. He, like us, has a new grandson that he has not yet met because he didn’t want to leave home. In contrast, we are reveling in the experience of travel and the excitement of our new grandchild. I can’t imagine not making the trip. Family is so central to my life that the inconvenience of travel is a small price to pay for being together.

We are here and we feel blessed to be able to make this trip. There is a lot more to this story as it unfolds.

Copyright (c) 2019 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!