Tuesday, September 19, 2023

An Initial Foray

I'm back.

In the same way as when we went to Tokyo, we stayed up for about 28 hours, then went to bed based on local time. We left Tokyo at 6:20 p.m. yesterday, and through date lines and time zones and other kinds of wizardry, arrived at 10:30 p.m. on the same day. 

Came home, took everything out of my backpack and sorted it, then finally went to bed about 1 a.m. Slept 6 hours. I'm a little bleary, but functional.

I'm going to write about this trip for weeks, because we saw and did so much. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We went to Tokyo, Minobu, Kyoto, and Osaka, and every place was distinct and fascinating in its own way. 

For me, there were four defining elements of Tokyo (where we started). First, it's incredibly safe. To walk down any street at any time and not have a care in the world is such a staggering feeling. You don't have to wonder if someone has a gun. You don't have to wonder if someone is sizing you up as a target. It was incredibly relaxing. 

Second, it's quiet. It's the biggest city in the world, but it's quieter than my neighborhood in the U.S. No one is loud talking on the subway. No one talks on their cellphones in public. No one has loud motorcycles or cars, with only very rare exceptions. No leaf blowers (that was just great). Everything is geared around the environment being peaceful. It was wonderful.

Third, it's unbelievably clean. You almost never see a piece of trash on the street. Most big cities have some combination of foul smells, but Tokyo has no foul smells at all. It's cleaner, by far, than any city I've ever been to in the U.S., no matter the size.

Here's the fourth element, and it blew my mind: it's cheap. I don't mean cheap in terms of quality, because the quality of everything is staggeringly high. I mean how little everything costs. The YEN-USD exchange rate is at it's best level in over forty years. 

Bottle of water from a vending machine? 80 cents. Nice t-shirt? Ten dollars. Nice pair of jeans? Twenty dollars. Great meal at a nice restaurant for two? Twenty-five dollars (and no tipping). Nice hotel? A hundred dollars. Everything is so inexpensive that I struggled to wrap my head around it the entire trip. I Googled costs of various cities and Tokyo is 30% cheaper than GRAND RAPIDS, for God's sake. It's unreal. I thought we were going to break the bank on the trip, because I expected Tokyo to be as expensive as San Francisco, but I was totally wrong.

Even our flight was cheap, because Eli 22.1 checked every day for months and we wound up getting round-trip tickets from Grand Rapids for $1200 each. 

Like I said, I'm a little bleary, so I'm still trying to organize my thoughts, but I'll have more tomorrow. 

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