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Japan 2016: Introduction

On April 2, 2016 I boarded a plane at San Francisco International Airport heading for Narita International Airport in Tokyo, Japan. Alongside me for this journey were Elsie and two of our friends, Jarques and Tina. It was the start of undoubtedly one of the best vacations I have ever been on in my entire life. The food, the people, the culture, the transit, the density, were unlike anything I had ever experienced.

While the impetus for this trip probably started close to two decades earlier when I played my first video games from Japan, planning started in earnest about six months prior. Jarques and Tina sent Elsie and I a YouTube playlist of Mark Wiens trip to Tokyo which was all the catalyst we needed. We looked at all of our schedules and determined that beginning of April was the earliest all of us could get time off which just so happened to coincide with the perfect tourist season in Japan. Late March to early April is when cherry blossom season begins which is also the beginning of spring which means perfect temperatures for being able to traverse Japan with just a pair of jeans, t-shirt and hoodie.

After determining that we could all take two full weeks off, planning began as to what we wanted to see/do in Japan. The first (and probably most obvious) was to gorge ourselves on the finest foods Japan had to offer. After watching Mark Wiens videos on Tokyo as well as Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe we determined that spending a week in Kyoto and then a week in Tokyo would give us perfect launching points to visit the surrounding regions. We located some Airbnbs and then moved on to picking our excursions for each and every day of our trip. I could easily write thousands of words on how we did this but I'll save that for another article. Long story short was after a long night on Google (accompanied by a couple of bottles of wine) we had our entire trip planned out.

One major thing I would like to highlight for anyone considering going to Japan is getting a JR Pass. Essentially it is an unlimited travel pass for Japan Rail for whatever duration you purchase. It is only available for purchase outside of Japan and can then be redeemed once you arrive in the country. The great thing about it is that you basically never need to buy any other rail passes for your entire trip because Japan Rail covers the majority of Japan. We used it to catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Koyto and back which would easily have cost more the JR Pass if we had bought tickets locally. Also, we used our JR Pass for the entirety of our stay in Tokyo because even the local trains were Japan Rail. If there was only one piece of advice I could give to someone going to Japan it would be get a JR Pass.

My trip to Japan was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life and I wanted to make sure I remembered as much about it as I could. Every night before we would go to bed I would write a Facebook post to catalog everything we did that day. Being retrospective really helped me recognize how much we actually fit into every single day while we were in Japan. It was shocking how many minute details would slip our minds even though we had experienced them less than 12 hours before. Japan was just such a barrage on our senses that it was easy to forget. It also served as a great tool to keep family and friends back home apprised of what was going on as well as a travel guide of sorts for those who wanted to replicate parts of our trip.

As the one year anniversary of this vacation approached I started looking back at those posts and got nostalgic. Since I hadn't started this blog by the time I went to Japan all of my writings are locked into Facebook's platform which is something that has always irked me. So, on this one year anniversary, I thought it would be fun to repost those daily summaries exactly one year after they were originally posted on Facebook. I'll definitely edit/clean them up a little bit since I was writing them late at night using my iPhone and I'm sure there are typos and grammatical errors abound but I want to keep the spirit of those posts.

So for the next 14 days I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I enjoyed writing them one year ago.