Saturday, December 19, 2015

I AM Going to Japan

All right.  It's done.  I bought my airline tickets yesterday.  I am going to Japan.
Here's my itinerary so far...
April 13th - Fly out of LAX to Haneda International Airport.
April 16th and 17th - Attend HalCon (はるコン)in Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture.  
April 27th - Fly out of Haneda back to LAX.  
That's it.  
You'll notice a big gap starting the 18th to the 27th, comprising the time period after HalCon, the science fiction convention I'm planning on attending ends, and my flight back to the U.S. takes place.  From the beginning, when considering this trip, I'd been telling myself that it didn't make sense to go halfway across the world to stay only a weekend for the convention, or even a week.  I've not been back to Japan since 2007.  I need to make sure I spend at least a couple of weeks there to see a good piece of it.  
That's what I've been telling myself.  So, when the travel agent told me they had a really holiday sale on a round-trip ticket (I'm about half what I paid in 2007 to go there) for that time period, I booked it.  
Now to plan the rest of the trip.  
First, some caveats to myself.  I am always filled with caveats.  If caveats grew on trees, I would have an orchard the size of the San Joaquin Valley.  
The biggest one I have is to make sure I don't over plan this trip.  There is a lot I would like to see and do.  Way more than can be done in two weeks.  I really ought to hone it down to two or three things that MUST be done and focus on them.  
A good admonishment.  Makes sense.  Sounds like the basis on which to formulate a plan.  
What two or three things MUST I do?  
Well, I have some categories...
Things Left Undone
There are one or two of these.  For instance, when I was in Kyoto in 2007, I went to the Fushimi-Inari Shrine.  This is a shrine that is famous for having a series of torii gates that go from the base of the mountain the shrine sits next to up to the very top.  It's a two hour walk to get to the top.  
When I went to visit the shrine in 2007,  took a wrong turn and got separated from my group.  I missed a presentation of a shrine maiden dance that was being held for the group, and found myself marching toward the top of the mountain passing through those torii gates.  Once I came to realize that they wouldn't have made a tour group climb all this way to see some shrine maidens dance, I made a decision to get to the top of the mountain.  
I didn't make it.  About an hour or so into the climb, I realized that I needed to hurry back in order to be on time for our bus.  This was a disappointment to me.  I told myself that if I ever returned to Japan, I'd come back and finish that climb.  
I guess that time is approaching.  
Baseball would be another thing.  Not so much a thing undone, I went to a Japanese baseball game in 2007 and watched the Bay Stars beat the Giants (Go, Bay Stars!), but it is something I'd like to do again.  Now that I understand the differences between how Japanese and Major League baseball games are experienced, I want to go see some of the famous stadiums in that country.  There's the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, the Nagoya Dome in Nagoya and the Koshien in Osaka.  
Did you know that Babe Ruth played in Koshien Stadium?  Back in the 30's, during a exhibition tour of team made of big league all stars playing Japanese team.  I've heard they have a plaque at the stadium commemorating his visit.  I'd like to see that plaque and have my picture taken in front of it.  
It wouldn't make sense, though, to simply repeat all that I've done before.  
Things I've Not Seen or Done Yet
There's a ton of those.  Famous places that I've heard of.  So far all of my travels have been on Honshu Island, the biggest of Japan's four major islands.  Kyushu has Nagasaki, a name well known around the world.  And Hiroshima, which would be along the way.  I've met several people in my language group that come from Shikoku, the small island tucked in between Kyushu on the west and Honshu to the north and east.  There is a famous pilgrimage on Shikoku, the Shikoku Henro, that takes about 30 to 60 days to visit a string of 88 temples associated with a famous Buddhist monk named Kùkai.  I've seen documentaries about it and have imagined myself taking it one day.  
I don't have two months this time.  Maybe a couple of days...?  To start...?  To finish later, like reaching the top of the Fushimi-Inari shrine...?
This seems really daunting right at this moment.  It reminds me of how I felt when I went to Japan back in 2007.
Prior to that trip, I never thought of myself as someone who "traveled."  I made road trips now and then, to visit my folks back east, or to get to a convention a few hours drive away.  But traveling the world was something other people did.
Leading up to the trip, I began to worry about "what might happen if..."  If I missed my flight...?  If I missed my connection...?  If I lost my passport...?  All of these things can wreck your plans, even more so if you're someplace where you barely speak the language.  
The biggest fear I had, though, was a little different.  What if...  The trip didn't live up to my expectations?  I had built it up so much in my mind, I began to wonder how I would feel if, once I got there, it proved to be not worth the effort I put into getting there. 
That didn't happen.  Not by a long shot.  The trip was such fun, so much better than what I hoped for, that I made a point of going to every WorldCon since then.  Montreal, Melbourne, London...  All places I've been to in the world.  And, the little Japanese I had command of at the time was sufficient to get me to see and experience other things that I remember fondly.  
Once more, I find myself expecting, hoping, for a wonderful experience.  This time I'll be on my own, though.  This time I have a better command of the language (I hope).  But I'm hoping I'm not trying to repeat something that was a one time offering.  
I guess the only way to know for sure is to go there.     


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