The Laramee Filter: pseudorandom thoughts, subsequently put on the Internet.
Tom Laramee
Date Published:
July 15th, 2023
Word Count:
1,408 (10:00 read time)
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We Went to Japan (にほん に いきました)

(And It Was Amazing)

I recently took the kids to Japan and while I have a lot to say about the trip overall, I'll likely only be able to hit some of the highlights today.

First off, it was amazing(とても すばらしい)[1]. We had what was easily the best vacation we've ever taken, and while we were there we met many wonderful people who, each in turn, made our trip that much more meaningful and fun.

Secondly, the people of Japan are incredibly kind. We had people go out of their way when we hit them with a すみません。 しつもん が あります。[2]. And it wasn't one person, nor some kind of exception. It was nearly everyone we asked.

While the trip wasn't long enough, we visited four cities with highly variant populations, and therefore got to experience more than one area while we were there, and that made the experience richer.

Personally, I found Tokyo to be incomprehensibly large. The engineer in me wanted to know how basic infrastructure like water, natural gas, and food distribution works at such a hopelessly large and complex scale. I thought about how only one train station seems overwhelmingly complex as a distinct/separate unit, and then considered how it was just one cog in a massive machine that sprawls across most of the country; a machine that operates with the precision of a luxury timepiece.

It's unfathomable really[3].

Osaka was a little more toned down, but still large (20M) and somewhat gritty, and there was an interesting cast of characters on the streets (day or night). It's a very vibrant and interesting city.

Kyoto seems very livable. By the end of our stay it was easy for me to imagine living there for a few weeks (or months) of the year and shopping at a local market for food to cook up for some amazing meals.

And of course Hakone is, essentially, the best spa and hot spring you've ever been to (and also the place where we had some of the best meals we've ever experienced). It's a sort of relaxation paradise.

Here are two of my favorite photos from the trip:

しゃしん いちばん: A Posh Sushi Place Called Seamon In Ginza (Tokyo)
A Lucky Reunion Indeed: We Met Up With the Matsushita Family for Shabu-Shabu in Osaka
(Clockwise from front left: Ran, Miki, Delphine, Yura, Alina, Tom, Koichiro, Rino)

Also, we took a couple of short movies: 1. Kyoto Canal, Daytime, 2. Alina, Cooking Yakiniku, 3. Kamo River Frogs, 4. Shinkansen Arrival, 5. Giant Osaka Crab.

(NOTE: They're all short .. less than 40 seconds .. and all less than 60MB in size)

Our high-level itinerary was as follows:

We got pretty good at navigating the transit system, as we took many trains. This included four trips on shinkansen, which are the Japanese bullet trains and which put other countries' public transit systems to shame.

Some of the most helpful aspects of our planning for the trip were:

  1. Having a SoftBank mobile phone. Used for walking navigation, cabs, and calling restaurants. I’m not sure if I could have gotten by without this. WiFi is not enough. Many restaurants do not offer WiFi.
  2. Bringing Yen (cash). Having this got me out of multiple tight spots (like a bus that only takes Suica and cash, and a similar restaurant). Many places only take cash (eg: one Yakiniku place, Itto)
  3. Studying the trains before you depart for Japan. Both Shinkansen and the local subway lines we would be taking. Knowing how to ask for the right thing is a great first step. Also note the name of the subway line you’ll need to take and a couple of major stations at which it stops, so you know which track number to go to.
  4. Asking for help at strategic points in the train stations. Some of them are just so big it’s overwhelming (I’m looking at you Shinjuku). People are very friendly and many go out of their way to help. My first experience was intimidating and I asked for help often those first two days. By the end of my trip, I no longer needed to ask for any help (that is, until Ueno Station on the last day, whereupon I needed much help)
  5. Speaking some Japanese (すこし にほんご を はなします[4]). Many Japanese people we met either didn’t speak English or spoke very little. Being able to articulate basic needs in Japanese was incredibly helpful.
  6. Knowing who Ohtani is. Also Ichiro Suzuki. Also that Japan just won the World Baseball Championship. This is all a big deal in Japan and Ohtani is a national hero. It's difficult to overstate how iconic and important Ohtani is in Japan.
  7. Having a two-prong USB cube and charging cables with you at all times. I relied heavily on my phones (both of them) throughout the entire trip.
  8. Knowing where to get Yen if you need it. There are currency machines at many train stations and any Lawson’s store with an ATM will allow for a withdrawal from a foreign account (Lawsons is popular, there are many of these stores).

Since photos do such a better job of providing insight into where we went and what we saw, here are some [randomly selected] photos from our trip.

A Sampling of Photos From Our Trip
Our First Breakfast in Tokyo Was a Traditional Japanese breakfast and Included Fish, Miso Soup, and Rice.
The Suite at Gen Hakone Was Amazing. That's a Hottub, On the Deck, With 105° Water.
I've Never Seen Anything Like It: That's the Breakfast Table at Gen Hakone (ごちそ indeed).
We Got Caught in a Little Storm at the Top of the Hakone Ropeway.
First Authentic Ramen (Tonkatsu) Was at a Place Called Mannen in Osaka.
Yura Reunion Over Shabu-Shabu. She Even Brought the Bravocado We Gave Her During Her Visit to Seattle.
Matsushita / Laramee Family Reunion. The First, Hopefully Not the Last.
The West View from Abeno Harukas, Looking Towards Osaka Bay.
Osaka Is a Really Nice City. It's Hard to Believe It Has 20M People In It's Metropolitan Area.
Two Thumbs Up for Yakiniku at Itamae Yakiniku Itto in Osaka (Plus Help With Cooking)
The Staff at Itto Was Super Friendly (the Crew Seemed Like They All Got Along Really Well).
We Stopped By Animate in Osaka and It's a Manga Enthusiast's Paradise.
Takoyaki at Honke Otako Hozenji in Osaka: We Consumed 26 of These Between the Three of Us.
Taken From the Observation Deck at Osaka Castle.
More Yakiniku at a Place Called Yakiniku Mase. It Was Unbelievably Delicious.
The Waitress at Yakiniku Mase Would Make the Perfect Aunt.
It Was Unbelievably Hot in Kyoto and Umbrellas Were Quite Common (and With Good Reason).
The Front Room of Our Guest House in Kyoto, Maru Izumiyacho.
The Kamo River Was On One Side of the Guest House, and This Beautiful Canal Was On the Other Side.
There Is No Hospitality Like Japanese Hospitality: That's Breakfast at Maru Izumiyacho.
We Spent Some Time at Fushimi Inari Shrine In Kyoto and Were Lucky Enough To Catch Part of a Ceremony.
One of Our Dinners in Kyoto Was At Pontcho Hiro and It Was Delicious.
The Canal At Night Was Beautiful. This Was After It Had Rained Heavily Earlier In the Day.
The Staff at Maru Izumiyacho Was Amazing. It Was Sad To Say Goodbye.
We Were Always Rushing Through the Train Stations. We Took This One In a Hopelessly Busy Spot in Kyoto Station.
The Infamous, Ubiquitous, Signature Sushi Zanmai Pose.
Dinner at Seamon Ginza was Easily the Best Sushi I've Ever Had.
Unbeknownst To the Chef, Delphine Has Been Drawing Him During the Entire Dinner.
[1] "Very wonderful."
[2] "Excuse me. I have a question."
[3] And brilliant.
[4] "I speak a little Japanese."