A LITTLE LONG & OVERDUE JAPAN POST

Wow. It has been such a long time since I have updated everyone, but do not worry… I am back! First off, I would like to state 3 different realizations I had while on the voyage from Hawaii to Japan:

#1: There are only so many different ways you can prepare veggies, fish, and beef.

#2: My bed at home was so comfortable.

#3: I love my life

The past 12 days on the ship were an emotional rollercoaster for me. There were definitely some ups and downs, but in the end all of it was worth it. Within a few days after leaving Hawaii, I caught a cold virus that was going around the ship and boy was that a fun time. Let me just say that being sick from a cold and seasick from the large swells we came across is NOT a fun combination by any means. Whenever I am sick, all I really want is to be at home in my bed therefore being on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean made me really homesick. Once I recovered, all went back to being just cheeky and I continued to count down the days until we arrived in Japan.

Japan blew me out of the water. Before coming on Semester at Sea, I was excited for Japan, but it was not one of the main countries I was looking forward to visiting. Once everyone boarded the ship and began to plan, my excitement for Japan grew more and more. Getting off the ship in Kobe, I was nervous because most of my friends were headed up via bullet train to Tokyo. I stayed behind because on the second day I had a field program for my Macroeconomics class. I wasn’t really looking forward to it, but I ended up having an interesting time. Around 9am, my class met to leave the ship and we boarded our bus to Osaka to head to the Bank of Japan and then the Osaka Securities Exchange. The Bank of Japan is similar to the US Treasury, and the Osaka Securities Exchange is similar to the New York Stock Exchange. We finished our field program around 3pm. Afterward, I rushed back to the ship to change and pack my things to head up to Tokyo and then Kyoto.

One thing they emphasize here on the ship is that “SASsers help SASsers”. This another way of saying how everyone on Semester at Sea is a community on and off the ship. My original travel plans for Tokyo were to wait on the ship for some of my other friends in field programs to return and then travel together, but since I finished so early, I thought I would get a head start. So, I asked two people in my macroeconomics class if I could tag along with them to catch the bullet train. Back home, this is something I never would have been comfortable doing. The thought of me asking two strangers if I could travel with them to a foreign place just seems unheard of, yet for some reason I felt completely safe and comfortable doing so in this situation. Everyone on the ship is so kind and really does live up to the “SASsers helping SASsers” standards (my friends on the ship are probably laughing right now reading this). It is so true though. All of us are looking out for each other even though we really may not know one another. It is amazing.

Arriving in Tokyo was electric. The feeling of the city is so upbeat and cool. On every corner you will find something out of the ordinary yet fascinating, and the people here are so kind. Coming from the south, hospitality was something I was very used to but Japan takes it to a whole other level. Many times locals went out of their way to ask if my friends and I needed help getting to our destination, or they would approach us at dinner and give us suggestions on where to go and what foods to try. Even people in the subway, who couldn’t speak English, tried their best and one even missed his own train because he was helping us find the correct train.

I have never visited a more welcoming country in my life.

After a 2 hour bullet train ride, my friends and I finally arrived in Kyoto. Coming from the upbeat city of Tokyo, the calm and traditional city of Kyoto was a nice change of pace. Instead of staying at a regular hotel, we decided to stay in a traditional Japanese ryokan.  This was quite the experience. Our “beds” were these twin sized mats on the floor and our “showers” were a community bathtub located in the middle of every floor. Yes! A community bath tub. It is exactly what it sounds like. I am pretty sure I got a solid three hours of sleep here, but it was definitely worth the experience. The next day consisted of lots of walking around Kyoto and trying to figure out how to get to the next temple. (If you ever find yourself in Kyoto, you need to go to the Golden Temple. It is beautiful.) Something I really loved about Japan was wandering off of the beaten path and finding the best places. For example, my friend Evan found out about this traditional indigo house where this couple lived and dyed and designed their own indigo clothing. The man of the relationship was the one who colored the garments while the wife designed. This tradition was passed down to the husband from his dad and the many generations before. While we were here, the wife gave us a tour of their home beautifully decorated with exclusive and traditional Japanese art and also let us try on some of her designs. One story she told us that I thought was interesting was how Hermes has come to them several times asking them to dye their famous silk scarves but the couple turned them down due to the fact that Hermes offered them basically nothing to do the labor.

Something I really loved about Japan was wandering off of the beaten path and finding the best places. For example, my friend Evan found out about this traditional indigo house where this couple lived and dyed and designed their own indigo clothing. The man of the relationship colored the garments.  The wife created the designs. This tradition was passed down to the husband from his dad and to him from the many generations before. While we were here, the wife gave us a tour of their home.  It was beautifully decorated with exclusive and traditional Japanese art and she also let us try on some of her designs. One story she told us that I thought was interesting was how Hermes has come to them several times asking them to dye their famous silk scarves, but the couple turned them down due to the fact that Hermes offered them basically nothing to do the labor.

The last night in Japan was the best. My friends Evan, Lily, Lindsay, and I split away from the rest of the group in Kyoto and decided to spend the last night in Osaka. On the way, we contacted several hotels trying to find a room for the night and were successful on our third attempt. The four of us hopped off of the train and headed to our hotel not really knowing our plans for the night. After checking in and getting settled, it was about 8:30 so we decided to go get some dinner not knowing that all of the restaurants close so early in Osaka. Therefore we, being the young female travelers that we are, decided to “treat ourselves” to a nice dinner at a nice hotel and where do we end up going? The St. Regis. Yes I know, judge me all you want but the story gets better. We arrive at the hotel, sit down to eat, and order appetizers as our main meal to share. In the middle of our meal, the head chef came to our table and chatted with us. His name is Palo and he is from Italy. As the conversation progressed, we learned about his life, his family, and even some of his past. Once the conversation finished, he thanked us for coming, and wished us luck on our journey.  Then the waiter came out with two large trays of samples of every dessert from the menu as well as wine for the table. It was all “compliments of the chef”.   Full from our amazing meal, and thankful for what had just happened, the four of us headed back to the hotel and went to sleep. It is hard to explain but have you ever had one of those days and/or nights where you are just so incredibly happy and content with life? Yep. This night was one of those.

Before leaving Osaka, Lindsay and I had heard about these popular Japanese department stores named Takashimaya in our Retailing class on the ship, so we decided to visit one on our way back.  The whole bottom floor was gourmet food stands. I am 99% sure that the food I ate here was some of the best food that has ever come in contact with my taste buds. First off, I am a HUUUUGGGEEEE food person sooooooo this place was heaven on earth. SO. MANY. FRESH. SUSHI. STANDS. Eager and hungry, the four of us decided to spend the rest of out Yuen on food here for our “last supper”.  We spent about 2 hours walking around picking out all of the food we were going to eat. I got fresh tuna rolls, salmon rolls, eel rolls, spring rolls, a plethora of sauces, coconut shrimp, chocolate truffles, and a small box of dark chocolate macaroons. LITERALLY HEAVEN ON EARTH. We were all jumping for joy with excitement to eat this meal but then ran into a problem: where were we supposed to actually sit down and consume this epic last supper??? We thought the table outside of a Starbucks was the answer to our problems but were proved wrong after we were told mid-meal that outside food was not allowed. Four girls. Endless amounts of food. So many boxes. In the middle of Osaka. Walking around with our hands full. Quite the sight. (This was probably one of the funniest moments of the trip)… Shortly after, we found a taxi and took this last supper over to the garden outside of our hotel and finished it there. Then, we hopped back on the good ole JR Rail Line and was back on the ship headed to China faster than you can say Arigatōgozaimashita.

I 100% ate my way through Japan and while doing so, I met the most kind and welcoming people I have ever come across. Japan definitely made me optimistic for the rest of my voyage and the rest of the countries. Right here and right now, I am declaring that I WILL return to Japan and that it will be incredibly hard to top this port.

Here are some of my photos from Japan…

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