After months of anticipation, my wife and I were sitting on a plane flying to Japan on our way to visit our son. We were excited to attend his wedding reception in Tokyo. I won’t bore anyone with the details of a 14-hour flight. It was fairly smooth and non-eventful despite all the horror stories in the news about air travel these days. Mostly, I watched movies and tried to fall asleep. The three-plus hour film “Babylon” starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie almost did the trick.
After a smooth touchdown at Narita Airport, roughly 50 miles north of Tokyo, we made it through customs with minor confusion. We were greeted at the arrival gate by my son and his wife. (In Japan it is customary to get married in a civil ceremony, and then at your wedding reception at a later date). After lots of smiles and hugs, we lugged the luggage through the airport terminal to the train station that would take us to Tokyo. It was nice to have help carrying our heavy bags. There’s no way to pack light for a 10-day trip.
Tokyo is a huge city. My son suggested we stay in a hotel located near centrally-located Shibuya Station so we would have access to all of the commuter railways without having to switch trains. A little over an hour train ride from the airport took us straight to Shibuya Crossing which was a five-minute walk to our hotel. Making our way across the world-famous intersection was quite a feat. The crowds of people flooding the crosswalks were overwhelming. There are live web-cams dedicated to this gigantic intersection if anyone wants to check it out.
The Shibuya area is like Times Square only a million times larger. Despite the crowds, one of the first things I noticed about Tokyo was how orderly everything is. No one would dare cross the street against the light. Everyone waited patiently for the green crossing signal. The term “dodging traffic” doesn’t exist in Japan because there are no people darting into the street.
My son had second thoughts about our hotel’s location. Not only were we in a foreign country, but we were dropped into the middle of the busiest section of one of the world’s largest cities. Although the hotel room was small, the convenience was worth it. We were steps away from everything Tokyo had to offer. After check-in, we had a cozy welcome dinner at Zaraku, a local restaurant. Meals in Tokyo consist of a wide variety of foods in small portions. We returned to the hotel after dinner to retire early in the hopes of adjusting to the 13-hour time difference. Midnight in Tokyo was basically our 12 o’clock noon, so this was going to take some getting used to.
My son and his wife returned to our hotel in the morning to chaperone us on our guided tour of Japan. I was happy they were able to take time off work to spend the next ten days with us. It makes a huge difference to have translators traveling with you. We started our day at the Meiji Jingu Shrine, located in the heart of Tokyo. The hustle and bustle of the city was soon forgotten once inside the gates of this lush forest full of greenery and giant trees. The shrine was established in 1920, to commemorate Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken who took the initiative to create the foundation of a modernized Japan.
From there, we made our way to a beautiful restaurant at the top of an Yebisu skyscraper. We barbecued our food Teppanyaki-style on the grill in the center of the table. My wife got to celebrate her birthday in Tokyo which was quite a thrill. The view of Tokyo from the 45th floor was breathtaking.
The following day, we headed for the Tokyo business district to board an open-top double-decker bus for a guided tour of Tokyo landmarks, including Tokyo Tower, the Emperor’s palace and the Rainbow Bridge at the coast. After lunch we visited Akihabara, the famous anime and manga district. This section of the city was a cartoonist’s dream. I could have spent all day browsing the shops. After lunch we traveled to the place in Tokyo where my son and his wife met for their first date.
On Friday, we visited my son’s apartment, a few train stops outside of the Shibuya area where we were staying. The quiet neighborhood was the perfect getaway from the activity of the past few days. I was happy to see the place my son now calls home. I can see why he fell in love with Japan and all it has to offer. After a relaxing afternoon and a good cup of coffee, we were ready to return to our hotel to prepare for the wedding reception on Saturday. That’s an entire story in itself.