Date: Fri, 22 May 1998

Tokyo - day one.

We left the hotel and took the bus to the airport. Naturally, the JR rail pass office was closed until 11:30. It was only 10:00. I went to the info desk and asked where the TIC office was and if the JR office in terminal 2 was open any earlier. She then told me the rail pass coupons could be traded in at the reserve booth. We rode the Narita Express to Tokyo station, the JR to Ueno, the subway to Iriya, and finally walked 8 blocks to Sakura Ryokan. By now we've learned several things:

1. the Japanese like stairs.
2. they have a lot of them.
3. suitcases, no matter how well designed, are heavy.
4. they get REALLY HEAVY by the 10th flight of stairs.
5. especially when you are carrying two.
6. when travelling overseas, pack light.
7. always follow your FIRST plan and take ONE suitcase.
8. preferably a light one.

Covered in sweat, we happily left our bags and headed to Akihabara. We had terrific ramen for lunch, then wandered a bit. Kel was in love with the LD and manga stores. Damn electronics are cheap! If you thought the PCS craze was big in the US, PHS here is HUGE! Everyone, and I mean everyone, is walking around with a phone. And they are *seriously* tiny. the biggest ones are half the size of the average cell phone in the US. We then went to Shibuya. I forgot the number for the Japanese Fencing Federation at the ryokan. Doh! We discovered that Mr. Bean and The Nightmare Before Christmas are both really popular here. As are these silly-looking leg warmer-looking socks that schoolgirls are wearing. We then went to Shinjuku. Kel got tired, so we gave up and went back to the hotel. We got dinner at 7-11 (yes, that 7-11) and now Kel's sleeping pretty good. As I will be in about two seconds. --- M

Date: Sun, 24 May 1998

Tokyo day 2.

Well it's official. Kel's sick. She started getting sick on the plane, and it got steadily worse. She has a slight fever (99.3) and her throat is sore. We bought her some throat spray last night. She was somehow surprised that I knew how to ask for that. We both woke up at 5:30 today, which is better than the 3:30 we woke up at yesterday. I think this time it was just because it was light out already. We headed to Akihabara to go buy a camcorder. Boy, I can NOT make decisions. We had lunch at the same ramen shop we went to yesterday. After much deliberation, I bought an export model handicam. I almost bought a mini DV one, but the one I could afford was not as cool as this one. this one's got a display screen and a readout of how much battery time is left. Plus it does widescreen. Kel was feeling bad, so we went back to the ryokan so she could rest. I went out and got a thermometer and some ice cream for her sore throat. She kinda has her ups and downs, so we're taking the day for her to rest. She's sleeping now. She thinks she picked up the bug her niece had when Kel went home for Mom's day. :/ Kinda a wasted day, but a) she's more important and b) we'll be back to Tokyo. And maybe she'll get better by tomorrow. -- M

9PM. Fell asleep. Phone just woke me up. It was my host parents! I stupidly left their number in Austin, so I called Mike for it earlier. He could only find their FAX number. I sent them a FAX asking them to call. So they did. They sounded very excited to have us visit. I told them Kel was sick and they were all concerned. I told them she would be better tomorrow (I couldn't remember how to say 'I hope'.) They're going to call in the morning and see how she's doing. With all the sleep Kel's getting, she'll probably be a lot better. I am *not* looking forward to lugging those bags back through the train station... Getting better at this Graffiti thing. -- M

Date: Sun, 24 May 1998

Tokyo - day three.

Woke up at 4am. Kel woke up as well, and said that she was feeling better. Not perfect, but better. We attempted to go back to sleep and eventually did, despite the *lovely* sun streaming through the window. Lovely BRIGHT sun. I woke up again at 7:30, and took a shower; I let Kel continue to sleep. I finally woke her up so she could get ready. 9am rolled around. Knock knock. Hai, I yelled. The door opens, and my host father walks in! Call, my butt - what a jokester! While Kel continued to get ready, Otoosan (father) and I went downstairs and had a chat with the person who runs the ryokan about the trip we're about to take. He agreed with my host family that it was a little difficult to do the trip we planned. I also met a foreigner who was now a translator who was staying in our ryokan. He started out like me, but kept studying and lived in Japan. His Japanese was darn perfect. We gathered up our things and headed out the door. Otoosan rode the subway with us a few stops and got off to go home, with plans for us to visit later in the day.

We went to Harajuku today! (This is Kelly by the way.) We visited the Meiji Shrine; it was so pretty! I saw two wedding processions and the shrine caretakers who look like Rei in Sailormoon, same outfit and everything. It's a lot of green in an otherwise gray city. Then I was finally hungry so we found a restaurant. I've been pretty sick but not that bad. (Reports of my assimilation have been greatly exaggerated. :)) So, being the brave culinary adventurer that I am, I ordered a hamburger steak. (Marc's host family laughed when we told them that. ) Right now we're on a LONG train ride so I'll let him tell the rest. Oh, by the way, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!! I MISS YOU!! -- Kel

After Harajuku we went to Shinjuku. I kept being worried because Kel wasn't talking much. That was only because her throat hurt though. We clambored past the 15000 swimsuits and Sesame Street stores and headed down the moving walkways to the Century Hyatt and Toocho, the Metropolitan Gov't high rise. Up in the observation deck, despite the rainy skies, we could see all of downtown Tokyo from above. We left there and walked back to the train station to catch the trains out to my host parents'. When we arrived in Aihara, it was raining. I bought an umbrella and we walked the three blocks to the house. I felt like I was in one of the many dreams I've had since I left.

We were happily greeted by Otoosan, Okaasan (mother), Yoshiko (my host sister), and were introduced to Kim, a Korean woman who was one of their homestay students, but was also visiting. She's currently a programmer working for LG Hitachi. We all talked for a long time. Okaasan kept trying to talk to Kel in Japanese, and stuck a piece of paper in between us so I couldn't help her. 'Eigo wa dame!' (no English!) she kept saying. We worked on the trip a bit and then Kel went upstairs to take a nap. We watched some sumo, and Okaasan asked me all kinds of questions about work. I discovered that although I've forgotten a bunch of Japanese, overall I'm still comfortable with it, and it's still a straight 'understand', not 'translate'. When dinner was ready, I woke up Kel and we had fried squid, grilled chicken on sticks (yakitori), and bamboo. Oh yeah, and another Japanese staple, beer. :)

We talked some more, but Kel remained mostly silent because her throat hurt and, as my host father was so fond of pointing out, embarrassed. (hazukashii!) They said everyone is shy the first time they have to speak only Japanese, even Kim, even the French student they just had, even me. Since she was having trouble swallowing anything but rice, they whipped out a box full of brown, squiggly things. Kel politely put some on her rice, and then went, 'Ooooh! They'' She took a bite and smiled. How does it taste, I asked. 'Fishy.' We finished dinner and Otoosan drove us to the station. Yoshiko gave Kel a heavy shirt since it was cold; Kel was surprised. Now, back at the ryokan, we listen to Douglas Adams on CD, eat ice cream, and get ready for our trip to Sapporo. -- M

Date: Tue, 26 May 1998

Eyes popped open at 6 this time, but we also went to bed later than usual. Kel was feeling much better last night; in fact, she said she felt better except for her sore throat. This morning I checked again and her fever was almost gone. Last night Okaasan said that if Kel wasn't better to postpone the trip a day. Her throat was still sore, but overall she's feeling better, so we decided to go.

Kel had a brainstorm yesterday. She said, why don't we combine the suitcases into one and leave the other two at Okaasan's. I asked them if it was okay and they said yes, and we could even have them delivered to their house for 3000 yen. Okaasan filled out the paperwork and Otoosan called the ryokan to explain. So this morning we nixed anything we didn't really need and combined the suitcases. I'm happy to say we fit everything into the middle sized suitcase. Kel told me she was proud of me! It's really heavy, but one heavy case is better than three light ones. I went down to talk to the ryokan people. I checked out and a man came and got the suitcases. I also made a reservation for our return to Tokyo.

I then asked the otoosan (this is what you call the proprieter of a ryokan) to help me make some reservations. He gladly got me a reservation in Matsushima, and scrambled to get me ideas of places to get in Sapporo. He said that the ryokan in Matsushima didn't speak English but because I can speak Japanese, in general it would be easier to get reservations. It was at this point I realized that I was having a whole conversation in Japanese and didn't realize it. wow. Guess I'm comfortable again. :) However, Kel was tapping me on my shoulder because our shinkansen was leaving in 20 minutes and we didn't even know how to ride it with a rail pass yet! We thanked the otoosan and rushed off to the subway.

I dropped money for the umpteenth time again while getting subway tickets (note: 160x2 does NOT equal 300 no matter how much you push the button) and we scrambled on to the crowded subway. At Ueno, we raced into the JR ticket office and quickly got tickets for the shinkansen. We still had 10 minutes until the train left. We walked up to the gates and dropped the magnetic card ticket into the slot. The card popped up as usual, so I started to walk through. These electronic gates popped out and grabbed my leg. I thought the suitcase had set it off, but the same thing happened to Kel. The gate guard came over, we showed our rail passes, and he let us through. At the second set of gates, beep - same thing. Ah, we're learning. Everyone else gets TWO tickets. We have to show our rail passes. And don't try and go through the auto gate.

We raced down stairs to the track (which wasn't on the ticket) and got there just as the train was arriving. Double decker train, we're in car 8 on the bottom. It's a lot roomier than a plane, and the seats recline a lot further. The down side of being on the bottom is that there's this concrete wall blocking your view. But I can see that we're hurtling along at 140 plus MPH! :) Well, I'm starving, so I'm gonna go get some food. -- M

:: Beginning : Tokyo : Matsushima : Hakodate : Sapporo : Kyoto : Hiroshima : Beppu : Shikoku : Tokyo : The End : Travel Notes ::

Marc Hernandez :: Kelly Bickford