Vacations need rest days. They help with the jet lag, especially, and give the body much-needed rest, especially if you've been doing a lot of walking, with a constant supply of steps. Seriously, Japan is rumored to be one of the most modern nations in the world; yet escalators are in shockingly short supply. I expect it out where my in-laws live; it is relatively rural. Tokyo is a large city constantly molting it's old skin for something new. Escalators. That's my advice to the powers that be in Tokyo.
Our plan was very simple. Get up, eat breakfast, meet an old friend, then head to Himeji.
And that's what we did.
There is a new (I suppose...) breakfast chain called Nakatamago, which I guess is supposed to imply the center of an egg; that's not the word for egg yolk. There isn't a dictionary entry for “nakatamago.” And I'm spending way too much time on the name of the place. Let's get down to the food. It was very simple, and very cheap. For a few bucks we got an egg sunny-side-up, a bowl of rice, and a bowl of miso soup, with tea. Was it a delicacy? Nope. But there's really only so much you can do with a sunny-side-up egg, and they did enough.
All of us were really tired, so we sat around the hotel until it was time to leave and go find our friend at Tokyo Station.
If you've read previous posts, you know about taking the wrong turn out of the Mitsukoshi department store that led to a long out-of-the-way jaunt through Tokyo. As we walked to the station, we turned right out of hotel, then right on the large main street that I knew went to the station. Ten minutes later we walked past Mitsukoshi. We were right at our hotel. Nice job navigating by me.
As noted in the post about day 2, the shops at Tokyo Station are all inside the station. That's not 100% accurate. There are things to do in the surrounding buildings, and I'm certain we could have found more had we explored. It's hard to overstate how tired we all were, and it showed in our general grumpiness.
First order of business was to find a locker that would hold our luggage. We managed to get two of our three carry-on sized suitcases in, along with our backpacks. Hanako's we towed around.
Seeing old friends is one of the great rewards of travel. I've been blessed in that I have acquaintances in many countries. Connecting with fellow travelers is a joy. I recall when I first came to Japan twenty years ago. I chose to live in the Osaka region because, in Tokyo, many of the foreigners at that time were unwilling to sit and talk to strangers. But when I went to Osaka, I was sitting in a park just … looking, when a group of Americans came over, welcomed me to the city, and sat and talked. Maybe I was just lucky, but it made a strong impression on me. Not that Tokyoites are unfriendly; far from it. In general, kindness is everywhere in Japan. Dave Barry told a story of a businessman who looked like he wanted to commit suicide because he couldn't help the bungling foreigner find his way. That still holds true.
Masako lived in Nashville and was one of our first friends there. She is one of those truly wonderful people, easy to laugh, and with a laugh that makes you want to hear it over and over. Like my wife, actually. The two of them together are immeasurably happy, it seems, constantly laughing and enjoying the simple existence we all share. We went to a tonkatsu restaurant named Tonkatsu Tazumura. It bothers my wife that my son eats so much tonkatsu. It is a breaded and deep fried pork loin, and he and I share a love of it. If you're a American southerner in Japan and need something “familiar” to eat, then eat tonkatsu. What's more down-home than deep fried pork?
Food eaten, we walked to the Imperial palace again, seeing a park we missed the day before. It is all large water features, and Masako's son is a bit overwhelmed, and I make a wager with myself how long it will be before he is soaked. It was a near thing, once or twice. But he made it out unscathed (or un-wet, I suppose).
Back at the station. Goodbyes said, we rush to our train. We'll take the Nozomi Shinkansen to Himeji. That's the fastest train in Japan. It is an experience. Advice: if you take the train between Tokyo and Nagoya/Kyoto/anyplace-west, ask to get a seat on the side that will have the best views of Mt. Fuji. We didn't, and had to crane our necks around other people to see it. Mt. Fuji is on the bucket list. Someday I'll go up it. For now, I'll have to be satisfied just looking at it outside the train window.
None of us slept on the train, but it wasn't for lack of trying. There should have been wi-fi, but we couldn't connect, which is another of those first-world problems we experienced often.
Home. Himeji is that to me: home. One of three that I claim. It fits the definition: home is where the heart is, right? Why I love it there is hard to explain. Perhaps it is because I grew up in Himeji. Not in the “growing older” sense, but in that I matured. In Korea I was beaten down a bit, and in Himeji I discovered who I was. And even if I lost track of that path in later years, when I return to Himeji, I find it again.
Inlaws' apartment, happiness, good conversation, then, exhausted, a hot bath and bed. Sleeping on a futon is difficult if you've not done it in awhile, and I feel I'll need a trip to a chiropractor before the trip is over. But that's okay. An easy price to pay.