Our Trip to Japan

May 10 -
May 20, 2002

We Arrive in Japan

Friday - May 10, 2002

After months of planning, my daughter Jennifer and I (John) left for Japan on May 9th. Counting the Houston layover, the entire trip took about 19 hours. However, due to the time change, we actually lost over 30 hours. So we left the morning of the 9th, but didn't arrive in Tokyo until the afternoon of the 10th. Contrary to my expectations, our flight actually curved up over the Gulf of Alaska rather then taking the straight path. Along the way, we watched several movies and played some video games via the little personal flat-screen monitor mounted on the seat ahead. We did manage to catch a few hours of sleep on the plane, but by the time we arrived, we were running mostly on adrenaline. Customs took about 30 minutes.

Here we are met by our host family. Their daughter had stayed with us for a month as part of a student exchange program a few years ago and we had come to think of her as family. They had invited us to stay with them for a few days before we headed down to Hakone.

Our first view of Tokyo as we drove to the home of our host family, which was about 3 hours from the airport. Shinjuku and Ginza are two famous sections of Tokyo.

Fortunately for Western tourists like us, virtually all information signs, both for traffic and in train stations are in English as well as Japanese.

We finally arrived at where would be our home for the next couple of days. Even though the houses were very close to each other and close to the road, they still each had their own fence and gate along with many trees, plants and gardens.

Just inside the door is the genkan where you leave your street shoes.  The Japanese have very strict rules for wearing the appropriate footwear in specific areas. First are the streets where you would wear your regular street shoes. Then the corridors of the house where you would wear slippers. Next are the rooms with tatami (reed mats) floors where you would go in stocking or bare feet. Finally there are the toilets and bathrooms (yes, they are separate rooms) which have their own slippers for those rooms only. When you leave your street shoes in the genkan, they should face out with the heels against the wall.

The standard width for a neighborhood street in Japan is 4 meters. That works out to 13 feet. The streets are 2-way, but cars are expected to drive down the center of the road and just use caution to pass each other.

Below we celebrated our arrival with a feast of welcoming. In true Japanese fashion, we sat on the floor around a low table.

During the meal, each of the family members introduced themselves (in English, for our benefit). We followed suit and told them a little of ourselves as well. We felt truly welcomed in their home.

For dinner, we had temaki-zushi, which is home made, hand-rolled sushi.

First, you clean your hands with a wet towel. To prepare the sushi, take a small sheet of nori seaweed. Then use the shamoji (rice spatula) to scoop a small amount of rice from the wooden sushi-oke bowl. The rice is spread on the nori. Now add extra ingredients like avocado, cucumber, scallops, sweet omelet, raw tuna, raw salmon, crab meat, squid, salmon egg, lettuce, and more. Wrap the nori into a cone shape, dip in soy sauce (and wasabi if you are brave) and eat.

It was delicious!

Much to our delight, we slept on a traditional tatami mat floor with Japanese futons. At the foot of the futons is the closet in which the bedding is stored during the day.