Cost: $840 (plane) + $290 (JR pass) + $210 (hostel) + $750 (other)
Highlights of Places Visited (Bolded are favorites):
Nagasaki: Loved just walking along the pier in the evening. We bought fireworks, beer, and sake for a very memorable night.
Himeji Castle: Largest standing castle in Japan. Lots of cool history and sights.
Disney Sea: Rides are way too kiddish to enjoy, but the rest of the park offers some amazing sights built with Japanese attention to detail. It’s a place that I enjoyed just walking around and taking random pictures while soaking up the environment. Fire and Water show every night at 8 pm over the summer.
Nikko: Lots of old temples, liked Himeji more.
Ghibli Museum: I enjoyed all the interesting sights but was truly floored when I saw physical proof of the dedication Hayao Miyazaki has towards his idea of perfection in animation. Every frame in his most recent movie Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea was drawn by hand without computers. To hone his art, he had 3 large bookshelves full of art and stories from all over the world. Prior to this, I merely enjoyed his movies. Now, I can appreciate every little manual imperfection. I also got to see my cousin for the first time in 6 years since he lives close to it.
Harajuku: People dress up in cosplay (maids, goth, anime) every weekend and it is a good place to buy clothing. Fun experience.
Mt. Fuji: More a test of will than anything. We started our hike at 11 pm and I reached station 8.5 at 5 am. It was dark, cold, raining, and generally miserable due to our lack of preparedness.
Japanese convenience stores are great to eat at. 7-11, Lawson’s, Daily Yamazaki, etc… all carry decent quality foods: onigiris, yakitori, bento boxes, and mochi.
Japanese culture prioritizes manners. Everything begins on time (not a minute later), endless thank you’s for buying $5 worth of food, no worries about theft (Derek knowingly left his bags unsupervised for 30 min at the train station), helpful towards people who are clearly ignorant, take great care to not intrude or take more space than necessary. Despite very rarely seeing a trash can, Japanese people can hold onto their trash until they do.
Japanese standards for girls puts an extremely high priority on looks and much less on intelligence. Aiko tells me of her friends taking an average of 1 hour each day to put on make up and the constant use of umbrellas when walking outside. Cuteness is emphasized over hotness (whatever age you guess a girl to be, add 5 years). Having a crooked tooth is considered cute on a girl and not much emphasis is put on teeth straightness.
No one leaves their house in sloppiness. Whether to go out shopping, or just pick up mail, people look much better than Americans. None of this American shorts and sandals, at least not without a cool shirt. Somehow, crocs are fashionable. Sunglasses are rarely worn despite the sunlight damage because they cover the eyes, something very important in Japanese communication. Also, Yukatas look amazing on girls.
American things are highly valued. English, hip-hop music, Gap, Disney, white guys… Places like Denny’s are considered high-class for young adults.
Japan is tight on space. Rooms are barely bigger than the bed, capsule hotels are popular, parking lots use machines to place parked cars right next to each other via rotation and insertion