My husband and I returned from our 2-week vacation to Japan in early April. We were happy, tired, reinvigorated, reflective, and appreciative –the feelings that can come from a meaningful trip. It was a trip we had originally intended for our honeymoon, a dream of J’s ever since he studied Japanese in high school, and one big food adventure after we had discovered Daikokuya ramen in Los Angeles as college students and watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi last year. It was the trip that celebrated a year of big changes in our lives –a transformation of our health, close friends moving back home, and renewed family relationships. I love vacations during milestone moments. The distance grants me the perspective I need to appreciate the big things and the small day to day.
I could dedicate several entries to Tokyo and Kyoto; each were magical cities in its own right. When friends and family ask about our trip, I never know how to convey my experience. I usually start with something familiar or popular, such as our dining experience at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Roppongi Hills and comparing it with Sushi Bar Yasuda, wandering through the Tsukiji Fish Market in the afternoon, being swallowed up by the crowds and lights of Shinjuku at night, overlooking the panoramic views of Tokyo from the New York Bar in Park Hyatt, or visiting DisneySea theme park where the lines are 4 hours long and filled with Japanese teenagers in matching, colorful attire. For Kyoto, I make sure to share stories about the gorgeous sakura blooms that fan out over our heads in the Imperial Palace Park, the mystical bamboo groves in Arashiyama that stretch on endlessly, and visiting beautiful, old temples and pavilions. It was like traveling in time to the future and to the past.
Small, everyday events rarely make it into our anecdotes, but deserve just as much credit for making the trip memorable. There was the tiny, dry ramen restaurant Abura Soba that we discovered in our Tokyo neighborhood that housed one of the best bowls of noodles we ever ate. The third time we ate there followed an all-you-can-eat shabu shabu dinner; we couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Japan without a final dinner at Abura Soba. The streets and subway stations are immaculate; there was not a trace of garbage on the ground. The curious obsession with Kit-Kats that range from the popular matcha green tea, the seasonal sakura and green tea combination, the cheesecake, the roasted rice tea, and to the oven-baked kind. The genuine hospitality and warmth of every worker we met was amazing, ranging from hotel staff to cashiers to waiters. In Kyoto on a drizzling night, we were lost in a maze of alleyways. A waitress from a nearby cafe graciously escorted us a few blocks away to the Shi-Shin Samurai Cafe we were searching for. I loved the way we could completely immerse ourselves in the crowds. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals on the metro and were swept up in a sea of salarymen and women in well-tailored business suits and tan trench coats. Although the crowds were hectic, we never felt self-conscious about being tourists.
I loved the quiet metro ride across Odaiba Bay. Every time the train circled around the city, I caught my own reflection gazing out at Tokyo Tower, a rising ember from the stretch of blinking buildings.
During our last night in Tokyo, we stood on the pier that overlooked the city skyline. I thought about where I was in my life years before that exact moment. Roughly five years ago, J and I were in the process of searching for our new home together. We were frustrated with the process and our families, and we argued often. It was the first, grown-up thing that we done together. I wanted to tell our younger selves that it would turn out okay, especially for our relationship. In a couple of months, you’ll have a lovely home where you’ll begin your lives together. The photos that line your walls will include future milestones of your engagement in Hawaii, your wedding day, your honeymoon in Spain, and soon, of this trip across the world to Tokyo, Japan.
We snapped one last photo together, the city peeking out behind us, and bid Tokyo goodnight. We were ready to go home.