Adventures in Japan – Preparation is Key

A year ago tomorrow, I departed St. John’s airport, on a 2-week trip to Japan. This turned out to be the most exciting adventure I’ve gone on (except, of course, becoming a parent). Over the next two weeks, I’ll be posting about each day in Japan: Places, people, and experiences that have stuck with me over the last year.

As some of you may know, Virginia and I visited Japan in April of 2012. It all started when Virginia found out that she’d be going to Taiwan with Rotary International on a Group Study Exchange. We’ve both been fascinated by Japan for a long time, and since she was going to be going through Narita airport anyway, why not take advantage of the opportunity?

Shinjuku, Courtesy of Google MapsSince Virginia was very busy getting ready for the GSE trip, I ended up doing a lot of the planning for our vacation in Japan. We decided that, since we have a friend who lives in Osaka, we would spend a week in Tokyo and a week staying with our friend. I managed to score a very reasonable price on our hotel room (averaged at about $100 CDN a night) on, and the location was in Shinjuku, near Aikikai Hombu Dojo (the central dojo for the type of Aikido I practice) as well as Shinjuku station, one of the main train stations in Tokyo.

While Virginia was in Taiwan, I investigated lots of different things to see and do while in Japan. One of my personal goals was to practice with three teachers in particular at Hombu Dojo:

  • Osawa Hayato Sensei, the new Technical Director for the Canadian Aikido Federation
  • Wakasensei (Ueshiba Mitsuteru Sensei), the great-grandson of O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido
  • Doshu (Ueshiba Moriteru Sensei), the grandson of O-Sensei, and the current head of the Aikikai

  • I looked at their schedules, and when I was planning to fly in to Narita Airport, and realized that I would be able to take in a class with each one of them before Virginia arrived; after all, I wanted our vacation to be one we had together!

    My next task was to try and learn some Japanese. I knew there was no way I’d be remotely close to fluent, but since I’ve practiced Aikido for a few years, I knew at least a tiny bit. I spent weeks watching videos online, and practicing quietly at my desk on my lunch breaks. I found the content from to be excellent, as well as some older videos a friend pointed me to: I’m Yan. At the very least, I figured I know how to say hello, excuse me, and count to 10 (thank you Aikido)!

    A lot of time was also spent looking at different travel guides. I bought the Lonely Planet Guide to Tokyo, which provided a great base for my research. Another resource that was invaluable was WikiTravel. The information there was especially helpful for planning our time outside of Tokyo – the people who contribute to this site have got some really excellent information. Finally, I met with a good friend and fellow Aikido practicioner, as she had been in Japan about a year earlier. She was able to provide some really essential advice about how to get around, as well as some pointers on the etiquette of the Aikikai. All the information ended up collated in a Google Spreadsheet, and a couple of Google Maps. I found WAY more than we could do during our relatively short trip, so I broke out our “schedule” in to the things that were somewhat set in stone (such as the Aikido classes), and everything else went in to a list of possibilities. In retrospect, this worked out very well, since it meant we didn’t feel pressured to move on from one activity to the next – we could take in whatever it was we were doing, and really live in the moment.

    Finally, the time came – 24 hours to departure. Checking in to my flights had never been so exciting! My father-in-law was kind enough to offer me a ride to the airport, since my flight departed early in the morning. I spent the night before the flight at my in-laws home, though I hardly slept at all. Part of that was excitement, but a lot of it was actually planned. After doing a lot of reading over the last few years on sleep, and on jetlag, I decided to try an experiment: Sleep as little as possible until I arrived at the hotel, to try and force my internal clock to reset to local time in Tokyo.

    Tomorrow: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

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