Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Christmas in Japan

Over Christmas 2013 and New Year's 2014 I went to Japan!  I was there for two weeks, with a platonic friend.  I took 2,500 photos.  (Although, in fairness, tons of those are different angles and exposures of the same thing.)  It was insanely expensive, even keeping costs as low as possible... probably as much as my previous two priciest vacations put together.  Maybe more.

You may be realizing that it's already three weeks into January, and you'd be correct, even factoring in wackiness with the international date line.  The reason is that I just haven't come up with much that was interesting to say about the trip.  I went into it sort of cautiously, not sure exactly what to expect, and I still found myself pretty disappointed overall.

The general areas we went to were Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Okinawa.  Tokyo is basically New York City except I can't read any of the signs and nobody is attractive.  Osaka is just a crappier version of Tokyo.  Neither one of them had much of particular interest to me.  I expected them to be... I dunno, more different than New York.  Certainly there were interesting experiences, including just the strange challenge of getting around in a city using only public transportation and little to no English.  And the half dozen vending machines on every corner.  But all it really did is reinforce in my mind just how little my desire is to live in a big city.  I just felt... uncomfortable... the whole time.  (For those of you who don't know me very well, I live in the suburbs of Seattle.  I can be in Seattle in 15 minutes when I feel like it, but my house has trees and deer and raccoons and it's sublimely quiet and I don't have to be around people.)  And it also reinforced in my mind that Japanese guys are not The Kind of Asians I Like, for what that's worth.

So yeah, Tokyo and Osaka suck, and if for some reason I were ever back in the country, I'd definitely skip Osaka entirely, and maybe spend a day in Tokyo.  Kyoto, on the other hand, was pretty cool.  It's pretty touristy, but in a good way: ancient things like shrines and temples.  Unfortunately there are a few thousand people at each of the attractions along with you, and the shrines and temples all charge admission and are trying to sell as many things to you as possible, but there are some undeniably cool things to see there.  And Okinawa is warmer and prettier, and there are islands nearby that are relatively unpopulated that are interesting to explore—I'd definitely do more of that on a theoretical second trip.  (And the Okinawans were way hotter.)

I think that some areas would have been a lot more interesting with a car, Okinawa especially, as there isn't a comprehensive train system there like there was elsewhere in Japan.  Not having a car restricts you to the most touristy (or commuter-friendly) areas in cities, and really limits your options for getting out and exploring.  Kyoto was easy to walk around in, but our inn that was half an hour outside the city was in a really beautiful and interesting area, and as I walked around there, I wondered if that's what I was missing out on by sticking to public transportation.  Nearly all of the most interesting things I saw in Japan were when I was far away from the nearest train station.

The other possibility is that I'm just not used to not being in total control of the vacation, and I couldn't enjoy myself giving up that control.  All of the best trips I've been on have been my agenda and my plans, either by myself or with someone who wasn't terribly picky about what we did.  But this trip gave me a distinct feeling of lack of control—I was an equal partner in the planning (already notably less than 100%), and being without personal transportation strongly contributed to that sensation as well.

So if there are lessons to be learned here, they're:
  1. I am not good at enjoying vacations where I feel like I'm not in control
  2. This is probably something I will need to work on
  3. Two weeks is too long to go on a vacation
  4. Mainland Japanese guys aren't really that attractive

What's that, you just wanted pictures? Well fine then, just look at the pictures, jerk.

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