mm513: Japan – Travelogue 1.1

February 16, 2013

So, feeling a bit rusty after more than a four-year hiatus, and reflecting a totally internal need to get some content back into the ether, I’m repurposing a couple of personal travel journals. Because both are lengthy, in excess of 30 pages (Word document pages, that is), I plan to slice them up into more digestible form. I will try to resist the urge for much after-the-fact content or style edits, especially content. This is Yr (justifiably) humble svt, circa 2000, and the following documents an amazing (for us) adventure, and where my head was at nearly 13 years ago. Your comments are always welcome.

Lynne and Steve’s 30th Anniversary Extravaganza: Our Japan Adventure

Hayama – Yokosuka – Yokohama – Tokyo June 21 – July 1, 2000

Our story so far:
As our son Dan, a lieutenant in the US Navy, is presently stationed at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan,
we decided that we had a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit a country that we’d always been curious about, but had never dreamed would be able to visit. So, after a successful bid on (sponsorship opportunity!) saved us $500 per ticket over the lowest quoted rate for the dates we needed, we read a little, packed a little more, and set off on our journey.

Weds. 2000-06-21 – Thurs. 2000-06-22. In transit.

Out of the house at 6:00, flew first to Houston (Priceline’s caveat: must accept connecting flights to get the good price). Made easily what I thought might be a tough, less than an hour, connection. Never had flown a 777 before; it’s large, four pilots and 15 cabin attendants large. Even in economy, we were reasonably comfortable, except that it was a very long flight – Houston to Narita took almost 14 hours flight time! It. Was. A. Very. Long. Flight. Got to Narita, Tokyo’s international airport Thursday afternoon local time. Dan was waiting for us right after we breezed through customs – what a site for sore eyes, indeed!

Took the bus to Terminal 1, where we hooked up with the base bus. That trip took a little over 1-1/2 hours, which was good considering it was rush hour.

Drove to Dan’s place in Hayama, about 10 km from the base. Tiny, fender-scraping parking space, right on a busy two lane highway. Shoes off in entryway, Japan style. Three stories, two rooms per. Entry level: spare bedroom (catchall storage) and big bathroom (including washer-dryer). Main level (up steep, small-treaded staircase): living-dining-computer room, a decent sized kitchen, and a half bath. Top level (more of those tricky stairs): large bedroom, with Dan’s bed and a small nightstand and chair, and a very spacious, walk-in closet. Very new (I could write a page about the bathrooms, and perhaps sometime I will).

Thursday night, which to our Chicago bio-clocks was still the middle of the night Thursday morning, did little but visit, eat some tortellini from the freezer. To bed early (which we discover Dan does every night, since his alarm goes off at 4:50). That sort of set the pattern: to sleep early (especially for SN), awake early (Poor Richard would be so proud). Did we mention THE SKYLIGHT IN THE BEDROOM??? No daylight savings – sun’s up at 4-something this time of year!

Fri. 2000-06-23. Hayama.

Friday a.m. was rainy. We had breakfast together at 5:15am, and Dan left for his 20-minute drive for work at 5:40. We were on our own, and Dan promised to get home early in the afternoon. We napped a lot, trying to adjust to the time difference: 14 hours.

We took a short walk up and down the busy street in front of Dan’s duplex, and, at Dan’s suggestion walked down a narrow alley (however, all the streets are impossibly narrow, so this was a street!). Although the Naval Base is located in Yokosuka (pronounced Yo-kooz-ka), Dan actually lives across the Miura peninsula in the beach resort town of Hayama. So, we walked down this twisty narrow street, past immaculately gardened expensive-looking homes, to a beach.

Sloppiest thing we’ve seen in Japan, by far. Small rowboats and surf gliders scattered around, and workers busy putting up (or rebuilding) what we guessed were concession stands. The rain of early morning was mostly gone, but the sand was wet, so we didn’t linger.

Dan finally got home that afternoon, apologizing unnecessarily for stranding us all day (we napped, and read, and napped, still catching up). We took a walk together, to get a feel for his neighborhood.

The streets are photogenically hilly, but impossibly narrow, and most in his area don’t have sidewalks, just a painted line along one side separating the road from a two-foot wide walk/bikeway. There’s no parking permitted on the streets, but there are always double-parkers. Which need to be maneuvered around, which means a driver crosses over one’s lane (if indeed there’s a lane actually marked), or waits until opposing traffic clears to do so (if you can see it). Many curves have mirrors perched strategically, to help that evaluation. And this is not mentioning the motorbikes and motorcycles, weaving their way around traffic. Put this all together with the right hand drive, drive on the left character of Japan’s cars and roads, and I’m very happy to be a passenger and a (very careful) pedestrian here, thank you very much.

Thankfully, many of the cars are tiny. Dan, who has an ’87 Toyota Mark II (in the US it was a Camry, and indeed it looks very similar to the Camry Brian and Pam drove until about two years ago), is envious of those micro vehicles (“look how easy they’d be to park!”). One of my favorite activities this trip has been to read the names of Japanese cars we pass by. I should have written them down. The Japanese car manufacturers, and indeed, Japanese marketers of all kinds of products, love English words. Even if they’re not certain of their meaning, English words are emblazoned on their cars, their soft drinks, their posters. I don’t think they really care whether the words make sense in English; there’s apparently a cachet to use them.

Now, it’s probably the time to say something about the street in front of Dan’s house. It’s National Route 134, according to the signage readable by us. And, as mentioned above, it also has a name, which I still don’t remember, beginning with “S”. Most of all, though, is that it’s busy. Motor bikes, motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks, buses, LARGE TRUCKS; all zooming by (all in defiance of a posted 40-kph speed limit – sounds like at least twice 24 miles per hour to these ears).

This goes on all day, and all the noisy night, and all this audio stimulation is less than 12 feet from his windows. Now, when I was growing up, I used to love to stay overnight at my Grandma Daisy’s house. Her guest bedroom looked out on busy Ridge Avenue in Evanston, cars and buses swooshing by all night long. That was exciting to a young boy, and in an odd way, restful. National Route 134 is another species of nighttime comfort altogether. If 45 seconds goes by without something zooming by, we start twitching. It took some getting used to.

And, virtually everywhere we’ve been so far, especially Dan’s neighborhood, is hilly (I had remarked in the morning, as we wound our way down to the beach, how much the area reminded me of California, with houses perched on hillsides, and with a low, semi-tropical appearance). So, we walked down, we walked around, we walked up, for a mile or more, with our eventual target the Sotetsu Rosen, a supermarket.

Looked like our neighborhood Jewel. Except of course for the produce (4 apples, ¥1600 — that’s nearly $4.00 an apple, folks!), and many other items which seemed extraordinarily expensive. And all the packaged goods, some with English (Cream Cheese Cake snacks), most without. One could write a book, I guess. We picked up some snacks (ask Lynne about Pokey’s), giving me a chance to maneuver Japanese money for about the first time. So far, so good. Then we walked back, enjoying the pretty, if compact, gardens in front of many of the homes. Lynne tried to get some photographs of some of them. Hydrangeas seem to be in bloom right now, and look lovely.

The “go home from work” tune on the public address system in the neighborhood (culturally different enough for you?) suggested that it indeed was time for dinner, and time (hurrah!), for our first Japanese meal. Dan took us to a place he likes (on his route to work) that serves soba noodles and ramen noodles. It’s a diner-like place, very clean.

Dan was disconcerted because the displays on the wall over the counter with the dishes illustrated (ideal for pointing, a must with our limited language resources) was gone! He attempted to order soba noodles, we got ramen. No problem, it was delicious. A deep bowl, served with chopsticks. Lots of goodies besides the noodles: vegetables, meat, seaweed, pickled radish, etc. Everything delicious. Then you drink the broth to complete the meal. Excellent. And, no embarrassing moves with the chopsticks. Back home to a quiet evening of conversation and reading, and early bedtime (Dan, a hard work week; we, still sorting out what time it was).