Japan Journal #2: When Things Don't Go According to Plan

Japan Journal #2: When Things Don't Go According to Plan

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I've been home for 5 days or so, and I've had so much trouble getting myself to write this post. As a blogger, there's a lot of weird pressure to put a positive spin on everything for the sake of the reader. I kept getting stuck on how I was going to spin the last week of my trip to be some sort of positive learning experience. And I'm not even someone who aims to be "inspirational" or anything. I fully embrace negativity in most aspects of life and blogging. While I definitely learned a lot during my trip, that doesn't make some parts of it shitty. And that's ok. So I'm just going to take the time to write an honest post, because I think that's more valuable and interesting anyway.

If you missed part one, you can read it here. Buckle up, girls and boys. Where did we leave off?


As some of you may know, I've gotten into CouchSurfing - a site where you can find free accommodation/friendship while traveling. I hadn't done any surfing, I had only hosted people and had wonderful experiences. For a month before our trip I spent AGES trying to nail down as much budget accommodation as possible and had 2 CouchSurfing hosts lined up for the last leg of the trip.

Ok, anyway, we took 7 different trains (9 hours) to get from Tokyo to Kyoto and went to our host's apartment. Within 15 minutes there, we felt so uncomfortable that we had to leave. The apartment was one of the most disgusting places I had ever seen in my life. Trash everywhere, things rotting, grime coating everything, and to top it all off - cockroaches. Kyoto isn't a poor, rural area. This is a big, modern city and the rest of the apartment building did not look at all like this guy's apartment. I don't have high standards at all, but it was unacceptable. I felt grossed out and I felt offended and I felt sort of duped. Why would somebody invite people into their home if it looked like this? You don't make money. It's completely voluntary. You can have literally any other hobby. Play a video game! Ride a bike!

So it's 11 pm or so and we're alone at night in a new city with nowhere to stay. I was really upset, both because of the circumstance and because I had spent so much time trying to find accommodation and I had fucked it up. I try not to be hard on myself, because he had 16 references and only one mentioned a messy bathroom. It's just hard to have plans that you worked hard to make fall apart. So I cried in my pajamas in a weird cowboy themed restaurant in Kyoto (surreal) for a few minutes then started looking for hotels. We ended up having to drop a surprise $120 to stay in hotels for the next couple days. A good thing that came out of it: I got to experience the public bath they had, which was one of the weirder/most relaxing times I've ever had. We had a place to stow our luggage and sleep, so we put everything behind us and focused on visiting many of the beautiful shrines in Kyoto. What's interesting about Kyoto is how much older it is than Tokyo. It felt very different.

Fushimi Inari Taisha was one of my favorite places in Kyoto. You may know it from the Thousand Torii Gates (the rows of red wooden gates featured in many photos). I didn't realize it was actually a mountain that you climb until I was too far in to turn back. It was hot as fuck, but I'm so glad we took the time to go all the way up and explore the little paths that ventured off the main path. There were wild cats living there!

Another shrine I loved was Kokedera, the moss shrine. It's smaller and less well known than the big ol' Kiyomizudera or the bamboo grove (both of which I went to), but it's sooooo enchanting. It felt like I was in another world. And now I really want to get some moss terrariums in my life. BEAUTIFUL.

At this point in our trip, we felt sort of lonely. Many people had insisted that that a lot of Japanese people would be coming up to us randomly to use their English or take photos of us, which is a weird promise to make anybody. And it totally didn't happen. Ever. It's hard to explain how isolating it is to be somebody who isn't Japanese in Japan. It's to be expected, of course, but it's really intense how separate we are. We're not necessarily treated badly or anything, we're just made to feel like we live in separate, impenetrable bubbles. A perfect representation of this loneliness was one day we were walking through a market and we spotted a white guy on a bike. He wasn't the first non-Asian person we had seen, but we also had learned on this trip that non-Asians are not always English speakers! SURPRISE! He spotted us and smiled, then I smiled, which made him grin even bigger and blurt "Hey, guys!" I hadn't seen someone so excited or outgoing in a long time. It brightened my mood entirely, and then he was gone.

I had scheduled one night where we'd stay in a hostel, and it ended up being one of our favorite nights of the entire trip. The owner was sooo nice and his friend introduced himself to us. He studied English, so he wanted to speak with us and we ended up chatting for hours into the night. A hostel guest from South Korea also joined us, and she was an absolute doll. It was really fun talking about the differences in our languages and cultures. In Japan there are vending machines literally everywhere outside with soft drinks, cigarettes, and alcohol. We told them that we have snack vending machines in America and everyone at the table started HOWLING with laughter. There was laughter abound that night.


We had been alerted by our friend who got us buddy passes that people were getting stuck in the Tokyo airport for weeks, so very sadly we had to leave early and from the central Japan airport. Our plan had been to spend our last days in Tokyo, but, again, my plans were falling apart. It was hard. There were a lot of things I didn't take photos of, because I assumed we would be back. Since we had made friends with the hostel owner that night, I asked him if he had any openings at the hostel for one more night. He didn't, but he agreed to let us stay at his other property for a meager $30. I was so grateful.

After that night we headed to Nagoya and managed to fly out of Japan on the first available flight. And, WAY outside of our plans, it was to Hawaii! Getting to fly business class on an international flight almost made up for what happened next.


We were stuck in Hawaii for 5 days. I know, I know, it sounds just AWFUL. But let me clarify. For one, there was the initial (and very long) "where will we stay for less than $300 a night" panic. Luckily, I found out that Lindsay from Lindsay's Library lives in Honolulu and she graciously let us sleep in her beautiful home. We stayed with her way longer than we should have, but she was so nice and made us feel so welcome. Every day at 4:30 am we went straight to the airport. And then we waited through all of the flights, getting our hopes up that we'd be let on and being crushed each time it didn't work out. If you're flying with a buddy pass, you never make any progress on the standby lists. You're always lowest priority. Also, when we first got to Hawaii I made the joke "I can't wait for the Hawaiian music that I assume plays all the time." The airport actually never stops playing Hawaiian music. I nearly went insane. Thankfully, one day we were able to go to the beach, and another Lindsay and her husband showed us around the island a bit. It was so lovely. I never thought I'd go to Hawaii, or at least I wouldn't until I was much older and richer. O'ahu is a beautiful island and I'm delighted we made new friends during our short time there.

Aloha, mother fuckers

But the airport wore me down so much that I was crying multiple times a day by the end of our lengthy lei-over. Delta help desks are much meaner and less helpful than one would think. But airport strangers are much kinder. A woman I was having a friendly conversation with about Hawaii and Japan and traveling shook hope back into me by giving me $100 while her husband wasn't looking, completely unprompted. She told me she was "being obedient." I'm not religious, but I can't help but start tearing up just typing this. People are amazing, you guys. They really are and I'm so grateful for everyone that I've had the opportunity to meet on this trip.

We did finally get out of Hawaii. Seattle was where we had our lowest moment, however. I'll keep it short. Delta's servers went down. Great timing, right? We got in at 11 pm. The flight to Minneapolis was at 12:50. Then it was delayed to 3 am. But we were still giddy, because it looked like there were plenty of seats and very few people on the standby list. The gate agents started working through the standby list late. We were two people away from getting cleared. They suddenly were unable to clear standby people for seats, even though there was plenty of room. The flight was about to time out, meaning they would have to cancel the entire flight if they didn't push out (look at all this airport terminology). They closed the doors on us even though there were ten seats open. I sobbed like a baby in public.

A bunch of flights were all cancelled and there was no way out. We caved and had to spend $400 extra on tickets to Phoenix then Minneapolis through a different airline. It was so dreadful, but I'm happy to be home. It was hard to adjust initially, coming from a society that's generally very quiet and polite then ending up at the Seattle airport where rude strangers are coming up to me or complaining loudly to nobody in particular about being stuck in the airport for a few hours (cry me a river). Honestly, my amazing time in Japan feels very far away now and I already want to go back. I'm so grateful that I had the opportunity to go there with good friends, for the time I had there, and for the people I met throughout the entire journey.

Maybe I will make a list of things I learned after all.
  • So much about how airports work.
  • I know so little Japanese.
  • I knew enough Japanese.
  • If something sounds interesting, but it's a little off the beaten path - do it.
  • Start conversations with people. Meeting people was the best part of our trip and we did far too little of it. Only good things came from the conversations we did have. At a bar in Kyoto we met a random French man who we ended up going to the best tonkatsu restaurant in the city with. It was a great night. In Hawaii, we got $100 off a car rental just because we took the time to have a friendly conversation with the woman at the counter. You can find kindness anywhere you go, it's incredible!
  • If you feel uncomfortable, do something about it. Fuck politeness, even in Japan.
  • Don't ever think that things can't get worse. They totally can.
  • When planning, severely overestimate how much money you think you're going to spend on a trip.
  • Try the free samples.
  • Don't take the tentacle sushi off the conveyor belt, it's not worth it.
  • Let yourself sit still if you need to sit still.
  • Press all of the buttons on the fancy Japanese toilet.
  • Book bloggers are STILL the nicest people in the world.
  • You can never prepare for everything.
  • Take time to really appreciate every good thing in your day.
  • Always bring duct tape with you.

If there's anything you want to know about traveling in Japan or about Japan in general, please let me know! I'm considering going more in depth about certain topics people are curious about. I certainly didn't get to cover everything in these journals.


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