It was pouring so I splurged and asked the front desk to call a taxi. The cab hit a traffic jam; I was impressed there could be one in Shimoda. The driver started down a maze of tiny back alleys that didn’t appear to be legit driving routes but as long as the car didn’t get stuck in the narrow passages what did I care?
We ran up to the ticket taker at the station, who pronounced, “Tickets, no good!” He shook his head, made an “X” with his fingers, and indicated I should get into the ticket purchase line. I could feel Charlie’s anxiety rising.
“Wait, wait! Are we gonna miss our train? Are we gonna miss our flight back home?!” he asked.
“No, Mr. Worry Wart. We’re not going to miss either,” I said calmly, although I was feeling anything but calm inside.
And so began a very stressful day I wrote about that night. I can feel my anxiety rising as I write this, so I won’t go over it again.
We did get to Tokyo and we ended the day with me watching Crazy Rich Asians and Charlie watching Charlie and Chocolate Factory.
He had requested Titanic but his mother nixed that. Probably not the best choice the night before a 13-hour trans Pacific flight anyway.
We arrived early at the airport, well before Fred and Hiromi, who were coming to see us off. We had our last meal in Japan; I gave Charlie my raw egg so he got to slurp down two, which made me gag.
We walked around and checked out the shops. “Tokyo banana” was some kind of gift thing but not a thing I was curious enough to purchase.
I bought books—a collection of Japanese short stories; Kazuo Ishiguro’s Artist of the Floating World, and A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute (which has a WWII South Pacific theme).
Following a comment in the introduction to the short stories written by Murakami Haruki (as his name is used in Japan), I hit upon my favorite Japanese-themed book so far, The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. All these somehow led me to another great book with a WWII South Pacific sub-theme, A Gesture Life, by Korean-American author Chang-rae Lee.
Each of these has brought me many hours of absorbed contentment, some laughs, and some pain due to difficult content.
We turned a corner and there were Fred and Hiromi with Charlie’s cousin Ichiro. They had planned to take us out for breakfast but since we’d beat them to it, Plan B was coffee and ice cream. Charlie grabbed Fred’s phone and dove into Pokémon Go while Ichiro played on Hiromi’s phone.
Next, grandma treated the boys to many games in the top-floor arcade while I grabbed my last chance to by “authentic” plastic souvenirs.
At last we walked across this bridge, where I took photos of grandparents and grandsons, who put on faces like they were being tortured.
Charlie and I walked through security, waved good-bye once more, and boarded our plane.
And that was Japan!
People have asked me how much it all cost. I did do a reckoning and estimated my tab was around $4,000 all in for the month, including airfare and minus the $1,000 I got for subletting my duplex.
A person could do better by skipping the Nara Hotel, which was the outlier for accommodations. But then they would miss out on the all-you-can-drink rooftop deal.
Meilparque Hotel: $107/night for a tiny, sterile room with glaring lights but a good breakfast and close to three stations and a major shrine
New Tohoku Hotel: $101 for a filthy/worn but quiet room with good beds and breakfast and great location
Air BnB in Omiya: $73—you get what you pay for
Hotel Monday Toyosu: $99 for a microscopic room near the fish market
Nikko: Annex Turtle Inn, $87, horrid beds but homey with a lovely onsen
Kyoto: Koiyama Hotel, $67, spotless, kitchenette and washer, hard beds
Nara Hotel: $149, charming, enormous room, free shuttle
Koyasan: Shojoshin-in Monastery, $120, including two fantastic vegan meals per day, futons
Shimoda: $94, lovely views and room but futons, no internet