Friday, March 18, 2011

Our First Evening in Tokyo

We left Houston at 6:30 am on Wednesday and got to Japan at 3:30 pm on Thursday. There is a 15 hour time difference. The main airport is in Narita, so we had to take a train into Tokyo. We had to change to a local train once reaching Tokyo. The train system in Tokyo is amazingly efficient. You usually only have to wait 2-4 minutes to go in either direction. It's amazing. Anyway, by the time we took the trains and got to our hotel room, we were really tired. Alex hadn't slept at all and I'd only had two 30 minute naps. We checked in and then got back on the train to go explore a little bit and eat some dinner. We were trying to stay up until at least 9 pm.

We went back one train station to Ueno. We decided to walk around a bit. This was our first 'taste' of Japan and my first shock was that we were the only non-Japanese people we saw! The train station is kind of like a plane station - there are a few restaurants and small shops inside. We headed outside to check out the main streets.

This isn't a very good photo, but we stopped and listened to this street performer.

Besides the train system, bicycling is the primary form of transportation. We got used to seeing bikes parked everywhere - and dodging them while we walked! We even watched official 'bike parkers' (my term) who would repark the bikes by picking them up & placing them closer together! It took us awhile, but we finally figured out they are locked around the back wheel so no one else can ride them.

We'd read about these "Capsule Hotels" before we left, and Alex really wanted to stay in one. The closest we got, though, is this photo. The 'rooms' are actually just little cubbies, usually stacked 3 high, where you can sleep. It sounds kind of claustrophobic to me! Most of them are for men only and are used by workers who miss the last long train ride home.

Here's my brother getting us train tickets. You have to look at what stop you are at and where you are going and pay that amount per person. Children's fares are less than adult's. My brother would push a photo that showed 2 adults & 1 child, and then buy another ticket for 1 adult. (His girlfriend traveled with us the first 3 days.) This was much easier after we figured out how to switch the machines to English!

Here's a photo of the complicated train routes. My brother did most of the planning, though I was figuring it out in the end.This sign doesn't show the stops in English, but most of the signs were bilingual.

I think this photo is actually from the next morning. It is kind of funny that my camera didn't know I was in a different time zone, so the photos aren't actually sorted by my Japanese days! Anyway, I liked that some train cars were for "Women Only" during the morning rush hour. We had to watch for these signs as my brother wouldn't have been allowed!

Our Hotel in Japan... It's Not Like the US of A!

Our hotel in Japan was definitely not like any we've been to in the US! We stayed at Uenokoen Candeo in Tokyo. My brother had warned us that most hotel rooms in Asia are very small, and he was right! Unfortunately, I didn't take any photos. But, Alex & I shared a double bed. There was a long table underneath the window. Besides that, there was very little floor space. If you put your suitcase down, there was just barely enough room to walk beside it. And, the bathroom was very tiny, too.

On the bed, there were 2 of these lounging outfits for Alex & me. We only wore them the first evening, though I used the slippers several times. You can put this on and walk around the hotel in it.

We were on the 11th (of 12) floor and only heard a siren once. Otherwise, we didn't hear anything. This is the view from our window. It's hard to tell, but on the far left you can see the mountains! My brother's room was on the same floor, but he had a wall next to him so he couldn't see the mountains... sorry, brother!

We took a lot of photos of signs that we saw. It reminded me of Jimmie's Collage! Anyway, we got the giggles over this sign posted by our hotel window: "In case open the window, be careful of invasion of AN insect." (emphasis mine) Another sign that gave us the giggles was the one that you would leave outside of the room when you wanted your sheets changed. It basically said that "This customer would like to change sheets." I was thinking, "Yes! Sign me up! I want to change sheets while on vacation!" OK... maybe it was funnier when you were sleep deprived. We were dealing with a 15 hour time change!

This isn't really funny, but it did take some time to grasp. Something we found interesting in Japan was that it isn't very acceptable to eat or drink while you walk. This is kind of hard when you're traveling! Anyway, along with this attitude came a serious lack of trashcans! We'd walk & walk and not find a trashcan. But, sometimes when we were in a restaurant (fast food) and needed to throw away trash, you'd have trashcans - up to 4 of them - each labeled differently in JAPANESE... no English! We'd have to play detective to figure out what went in which trashcan! Oh, and I was SHOCKED at how many signs DID have English on them also! There is a LOT of English in Japan! Well, especially around Tokyo.

One last room shot... my brother says these are common in many countries, but I've never seen one. To turn on the lights, any lights, you have to put the keychain into this switch. My mom says it's to conserve energy as you can't leave the lights on while you are gone! Anyway, I was thankful my brother could help us out with this one!

Lessons from Japan's Crises

We have been closely following the news out of Japan - especially as we left the country less than 24 hours before the major earthquake and tsunami. Since then, they have also been dealing with the scare of a nuclear meltdown. Here are a few resources we are using:
Brainpop - We have a subscription, but they also offer a free video every day. (You can also see this by using an app.) The past few days have been about nuclear energy, though today's is about Mercury as the MESSENGER reached Mercury. This is a great site to help you get background on current events.
CNN Student News - Alex & I really enjoy this 10 minute newscast every morning. They have been doing a great job of covering the news coming out of Japan and the rest of the world.
JASON Mission Project - I signed up for a free account and the "Infinite Potential" course was free. (I did this awhile back, so I'm not sure if everyone can access or not.) I got an email from them today that they'll be having a live podcast about tsunamis. We won't be able to watch it, but I did go to the Infinite Potential course and have started watching the section about tsunamis. I haven't finished it, but will watch it with Alex today. It is Mission 2.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Views from the Air: Mt McKinley & Anchorage, Alaska

We had beautiful views of Alaska on our trip to Japan. I hadn't realized we'd go so far north.

You can see a chunk of ice (iceberg?) in the water near the bottom center of the photo.

In the top left of the photo, you can see Mt McKinley - I believe it is the 2nd peak. Mount McKinley is the highest peak in North America. It was named McKinley in 1896. McKinley was elected president later that year. It sits in Denali National Park and is known to the Athabascan Indians as Denali, "The High One" or "The Great One."

After seeing all of the mountains, the flat area around Anchorage was surprising.

Beautiful frozen rivers near the coast.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Japan's Earthquakes & Tsunami

I've been responding to emails, texts & phones calls this morning. Some of my friends are asking if we are home yet. Others and letting me know they are thankful we are home. By the time I got out of bed at 8 this morning (having jet lag...Alex was up from 1 am until 5 am), I heard the news: Japan had been hit by a major earthquake & tsunami along with other earthquakes. I am so thankful we are home and safe. But, I am praying for the people of Japan!
We were mainly in Tokyo, which was not where the tsunami hit and was not the center of the earthquake. However, it was affected. I understand the train services are down. We rode the trains multiple times every day. Most of the people of Japan either use public transportation (we also used the subways) or ride their bikes. The trains are PACKED. In fact, I've seen photos of 'pushers' who push the people into the cars. We never experienced pushers, even during rush hour, but you do pack yourself in tight! I can't imagine if we'd been on a train when the quake hit. Or in a terminal. It is really crazy already with that many people running around. And, Alex was often the only child out of thousands of people. I'm wondering, as people rushed to get outside, how bad it might have been.

I've also heard that the tip of Tokyo Tower was bent. This is us (me, my brother, our new Japanese friend, Alex, and my brother's girlfriend) after we'd climbed down the steps of Tokyo Tower. I can't imagine being in that structure, which is a lot like the Eiffel Tower, during the quakes. Were people rushing down the stairs?

(Last photo I took in Japan showing trains delayed. Cause: Quake) 
I am praying for Japan. I loved it there. It was an amazing trip. And, I'm hurting for those who are affected by these disasters.

My brother's best friend's wife is from Japan. Her parents still live in the area directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami. We have yet to hear if they are OK. Please pray for them!

Thank you for your comments, thoughts, and prayers - Dana

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We're Home from JAPAN!

Hi, everyone! Alex & I are back from Japan. We spent 4 days in Tokyo and 1 day on a 'day trip' to see the Snow Monkeys. I have so much to share with you all! I will try to get started later today.

(photo in front of a torii gate near the Zojoji Buddhist temple)
We didn't get home until midnight last night and our bodies are having trouble adjusting back to Central Standard Time. It is almost 3 pm on Thursday here. It is 6 am in Tokyo. We left Japan at 7 pm on Wednesday evening and got to Chicago at 3:30 pm on Wednesday afternoon. That's weird, isn't it?

Anyway, it was one of the most amazing trips I've ever been on, though I have loved just about everywhere we've ever went. We are actually headed out of town again tomorrow (yikes! lots of laundry & unpacking to do before then!), but then we'll be home for several weeks. We will be headed to St Louis the 2nd weekend of April for my 2nd half marathon.

I hope you all are well! And, I hope you are enjoying your school year!