Japan - October, 2008

2008 has been a difficult year marked by stressful family situations and the third company closure I have experienced in three years. As the year progressed, the economic outlook grew more and more dismal and the US dollar plummeted in value, but I never doubted that we would make our long-anticipated trip back to Tokyo and Kyoto. On bad days, I consoled myself with memories of the jostling crowds of people in the streets of Tokyo, the surprising stillness of the parks jumbled among the skyscrapers, and the pure pleasure of experiencing a place that is so different from Hawaii.

By late October the exchange rate was about 100 yen to the dollar. We would have to economize even more than usual, but we were hopeful that we could keep expenses for food and entertainment under 10,000 yen ($100) a day. We did actually came pretty close to that. We ate mainly at small noodle and donburi shops or picked food up at convenience stores. The only expensive places we visited were the Osaka Aquarium and Tokyo City View. We used our United mileage plus miles for the airfare, and, fortunately, we had 50,000 yen Walt had purchased the year before when the exchange rate was 128 yen to the dollar.

Shortly before we left Hawaii, we went to the local JTB travel office to purchase our Japan Rail Passes. The $460 each we paid for a 14 day pass seems like a lot, but we were able to use the pass for all our travel except for a couple of subway rides in Tokyo, If we paid for each train ticket individually, it would have been quite a bit more.

The passes were sold to us by an exuberant young Japanese woman who had just returned from a trip to Japan. Since the passes cannot be bought in Japan and they are only sold to foreigners, she clearly relished the fact that she had been able to obtain one. She explained to us that if we made a reservation for a train from Tokyo to Kyoto and then changed our minds about when we wanted to leave, we could just throw away that reservation and make a new one. If we went someplace and decided it was boring, we could just hop on a train and go someplace else. As she spoke, she waved her hands about as if she were ripping up a ticket and throwing it in the trash can.

During the trip, as we traveled around with our Japanese friends, they would often ask to see our passes and then gaze at them wistfully. Most travel in Japan is undertaken on public transportation, so a pass like this is truly a thing of value.