The Vanns Land in Japan

Next Month, Christina and I are taking by far the biggest trip we have in our 5 year marriage (and our lives).  We're going to Japan.

We had originally planned to go on a Japanese tour with my brother, sister-in-law and nephew, but they had to bail for financial reasons.  Christina and I had already commited to saving for the trip, so we figured, "what the hell?" and planned to take the plunge on our own.

I have always wanted to go to Japan, and even studied Japanese in college.  I wish I had kept up with my Japanese, because 95% of it is gone.  I know some basic sentence structures and can fumble my way around Katakana and Hiragana, but I've been trying to play catch up these past few months with audio books, iPhone apps, anything to try and get some key phrases to stick.

We are planning a 10 day trip, and will be hitting just about the breadth of the southern portion of Honshu (the big crescent shaped island in the middle).  Another very good reason for our trip is to visit Christina's step-brother and his family, who are stationed at the Iwakuni Marine base on the very western edge of Honshu.

 

Christina is a planner and we're both worriers, so we put our computer science and project management hats on to plan out a nation-spanning trip over 10 days.  We knew we wanted to go to Kyoto, to see a Sumo match, and of course Tokyo and Iwakuni.

The best and cheapest flight for us will have us leaving early morning Friday and arriving in Osaka late afternoon Saturday.  Unfortunately there aren't any big commercial airports west of Osaka, so that is the closest we can land before heading to Iwakuni.  Flying into Hiroshima would have cost an extra $1000 or more, and we are sticking to a budget!

So, we'll hit the ground and immediately hop on a train for Iwakuni, arriving about 8:30pm local time.  Christina's step-brother John has graciously agreed to meet us at the train station in Iwakuni and take us to dinner.  It'll be great to see a friendly face in such a foreign land.

Iwakuni is the first leg in our trep from West to East across Japan.  It is a long distance, but the shinkansen and Japan Rail (JR) trains are very efficient.  The above map gives you some idea of the distance we'll be traveling.  From end to end it'll be like going from Champaign, IL to Pittsburgh, PA.

Iwakuni is a great city to visit, turns out.  It is "in the country" and doesn't get a lot of tourists, and it has the feel of "old Japan", so I'm excited, even though it'll be much harder to find people who can speak English.

Two days later we will take the train to Kyoto, where we will spend the next two nights in a nice, romantic Ryokan, which is a Japanese style Inn, usually with hot springs, communal baths, and tea ceremonies.  We're going on a Geisha tour and checking out a tea ceremony and of course taking lots of pictures of the Temples.

Next, we take a one-day excursion to Nagoya to see the Sumo Tournament!  Sumo Tournaments are serious business in Japan, and every other month a different city hosts a 2 week tournament.  In July, it is Nagoya, which happens to be smack-in-the-middle of our trek East.  Tickets are pricey, but it'll be worth it.

The next day we head out to Tokyo, the biggest Metropolis in the world.  I used to think of Tokyo as a large city, but it's actually 13 wards, 24 cities and several villages all tangled into a giant web of concrete and neon lights.

We are spending 4 nights in Tokyo, and planning for Tokyo has been just as complicated as planning the whole other half of the trip.  Mapping out subway routes, finding a hotel and finding the best restaurants.  Tokyo literally has some of the best shopping, best food, best museums and entertainment in the world, so we want to make sure we don't miss out.

Since Tokyo is such a big part of our trip, I'll be making a separate blog post just about it.