Planning for a Return Trip to Japan

Fourteen days, and counting.

Two weeks from today, I’m off to Japan. Again. Relax, this isn’t going to turn into a yearly thing. If I’d had a choice, I’d probably be going to Australia this year, maybe New Zealand. But I’ve got a good reason for going back to Japan.

Chris is getting married. Of course, you already knew that. It was just a question of when and where. I’d been suggesting Hawaii, partly because it was (roughly) half-way between Japan and North America, but also because I’d never been there.

But it ain’t my wedding. It’s going to be held in Toyohashi (about two hours south-west of Tokyo by shinkansen). So Down Under will have to wait for another time. For my closest friends, I’ll gladly travel halfway around the world.

Last time I was in Japan, I spent most of my time in the Tokyo area. This time, I want to see more of the country. The furthest away I got was Shizoika, which was in an effort to see Mount Fuji. This time, I’m going all the way down to Hiroshima, then working my way back up to Tokyo, and even north to Nikko.

But I won’t be travelling alone. Back in October, I gained a travel partner. This came about from a discussion we were having over dinner at my Aunt and Uncle’s, celebrating Nana’s six-month anniversary at being in Calgary. Most of my family knows Chris quite well, and were asking about Chris’ then-recently-announced wedding. What was the date? What were the plans? Was I going?

When I replied that I was going back (wouldn’t pass it up for anything), a voice suddenly chirped up: “Can I come?” It was Jen, my cousin (Uncle Mike and Aunt Brenda’s sole child). She had a giant, hopeful smile. For a brief moment, I thought against her coming along — I kind of wanted to travel solo. But then I realized that having a person to travel with would be a lot more fun.

“Sure! Why not?”

The look on Mike and Brenda’s faces was priceless.

Needless to say, there were monetary issues to resolve before Jen could actually be allowed to go. My family is, if nothing else, very supportive. Nana chipped in for a sizable portion of Jen’s costs, her parents covering the rest. But by the time Jen’s 15th birthday rolled around in November, it was a done deal. Jen was going to Japan.

We leave 25 March, going through Vancouver. Jen and I will be seated side-by-side the whole way out and back. (Heck, for over two weeks, we’ll be tied at the hip.) We arrive 26 March (owing to the International Date Line) and begin our little adventure.

This adventure, unlike my previous one, needs a little planning. For example, we had to get Jen familiar with Japanese food. She’s going to be eating nothing but for two weeks. Then there’s the need for footwear. My shoes would not survive two weeks’ of walking about.

This is what I did last Saturday. I hadn’t really even thought about until I almost absent-mindedly walked into the R ‘n R store next to Sumo Sushi in Eau Claire Market. The odd little squeak emanating from my old shoes was enough to irk me into new shoes. The need for walking shoes, combined with a desire for something I can hike in, led me to a long afternoon of shoe shopping.

Hey, when you’re going to spend $120 on a pair of shoes, you make sure you’re buying something that meets your needs.

The next step of planning is the list of destinations and activities. I tasked Jen to pick out all the places she wanted to see in Japan, with the caveat that we wouldn’t likely be able to see it all. Far easier to whittle things down than it is to find more things to see and do. Her list was lengthy, but well thought out.

I started looking at the lists on Sunday night. The list was long and organized by prefecture (the Japanese equivalent of a province or state), so while it wasn’t too hard to figure out where approximately Jen wanted to go, it wasn’t particularly obvious how easy it would be.

Using a rather nice map from, I plotted out the key areas in the list on Monday night. Much to my delight, about 80% of them were on the shinkansen lines. This made them easy to get to. (There were a few that were quite some distance away, on what I can only assume are the much slower local lines.)

Tuesday ended up being a complete waste of a day at the office. There was no work to be had at all. Luckily, this gave me a chance to sit down with the lists and the map, and try to figure out how the heck we were going to spending all of our time in Japan.

I was delighted yet again to find that a first run-through of an itinerary produced something that not only covered a lot of ground but allowed us to attend the major events without difficulty. It’s a little tight in a couple of places (we’re spending only one day in Kyoto, for example), but has some flexibility if we want to play with things a bit.

Well, at least that’s what I want myself to believe. This morning, Chris called me on the draft itinerary, saying: “You are out of your fucking tree.” While I had been fairly proud of the itinerary, there was a reason I’d CC’d Chris when I sent it out to Jen and Aunt Brenda. I needed a sanity check.

Reality: Two weeks to experience a slice of Japan. Now, it’s possible to do the itinerary in two weeks. That doesn’t make it a good idea. We’d literally be spending hours in some places before going onto the next. As Chris so wisely pointed out, there’s no time to experience anything. Jen and I will be in parts of Japan even Chris hasn’t been to (some he hasn’t even heard of). If we’re going to actually experience something, then perhaps we need to slow down.

Two weeks. I haven’t been looking this forward to a trip in a long time. It’s going to be an interesting one, to be sure. I just hope there’s enough time to finish planning before we leave.

‘Cuz there won’t be any time once we get there.