During the winter of 2015-16 Dimitri was at his best developing and arranging a three-week trip to Japan. His inspiration was Anthony Bourdain’s 2011 “No Reservations” show that took him to Hokkaido to eat sea urchin (uni), crab (kani) and soak in hot springs (onsen). Dimitri found a book on line called Rice, Noodles, Fish by Matt Goulding (with a forward by Anthony Bourdain) that was an excellent guide to eating in Japan. Coincidently, Audre asked for an eating guide on Anthony Bourdain’s Facebook page and actually got a response. That response recommended Rice, Noodles, Fish! It was a perfect guide for our culinary trip to Japan.
Our trip to Japan was a great success. It was wonderful to be traveling again but Japan turned out to be a delightful destination. We ate very well, soaked in onsen, had lunch with Katsusuke Yakota (who we originally met in Jakarta in 1994) and discovered a little more about Japan.
During our last trip to Japan in 1998, we did not spend time in Tokyo. We arrived at Narita, spent the night at a hotel there and then took the train to the Izu Peninsula where we stayed at an onsen (and had a rendez-vous with Katsu and his wife Midori). The only other place we visited during our 1 week stay in Japan was Kyoto. The trip this year had a one week stay in Tokyo followed by two weeks on the island of Hokkaido. We visited 5 places on Hokkaido: Hakodate, Noboribetsu Onsen area, Otaru and Sapporo. This is a map of our stops in Japan:
We arrived at Narita and found all of the shops we needed, as well as an ATM. Dimitri had arranged for a device to convert cell network to Internet that required we pick up a package at a designated post office counter at Narita. That device allowed us to have maps, tracking and all kinds of other useful aids while we were walking around towns.
Dimitri had learned that the Shinkansen bullet train had been extended all the way to the Shin-Hakodate Hokuto Station on Hokkaido and that it had started operation on the 26th of March. We went to the JR ticket counter and bought our first class reserved seats. Then we went to the other ticket counter to buy a subway pass. We were able to complete all of our Narita tasks efficiently and then we took the subway to the stop near our hotel. We got a little screwed up because of poor instructions from the ticket seller. We had a tour of Tokyo by subway. We should have followed Dimitri’s instincts and changed trains where he thought we should have instead of following the advice of the ticket seller. Dimitri does advance route planning and so his instincts are informed and typically correct. Oh well. We got to the hotel with a little help of a station master (and by changing subway trains just as Dimitri thought we should have).
Immediately we were struck by how quiet Tokyo was. Yes, it was night but even so, there were no honking horns. We checked into our hotel, got to the miniscule room and then walked to our dinner restaurant.
Our lasting memories of Japan from this trip are how clean and quiet it was, no matter how crowded. In addition to how quiet, clean and orderly Japan was, we were impressed with the subways, buses and trains. All of our trains were precisely on time and clean. The subways were fast and frequent. There were toilets everywhere and they were clean. Generally there was a Toto toilet with a heated toilet seat and all of the amenities we love. The onsens we visited were very clean and generally well designed. The people were courteous to us and to each other (except in a crowded subway where we never were offered a seat--unlike South Korea or Mexico for example). Their bowing was frequent and repeated.
We were lucky and saw blooming cherry blossoms. There were so many varieties in Tokyo that even if some were beyond their prime, others were in full bloom. We thought that when we got to Hokkaido (where we were at the 43˚N, east of Vladivostok) we would be too early for the cherry blossoms. But we were lucky. Three days before we left, cherry blossoms, hyacinths and magnolias burst into bloom. It was really beautiful. To read about our stay in Japan, click on Older Post below (doesn't make sense but that's the way it works).