Participation and Preparation Serve to create an Exceptional Experience.
Akihaba….what? My mind couldn’t quite comprehend the word. I asked my son to repeat it.
“Akihabara, mom. That’s the place I would like to visit if I could choose a travel destination.”
I was at a bit of a loss. I was familiar with a lot of places, but I had never heard of Akihabara.
“Where is it?” I asked.
“Japan,” was the reply.
In my never-ending love of travel, I decided this particular year to have my sons more involved in choosing our vacation destination(even though I was paying the bill). I had my reasons. First, they were young adults, and their input was valuable. Second, I noticed that my oldest son was having a lousy year at college. His classes were difficult, frustrating(Civil Engineering). His whole demeanor became lackluster. Possibly this vacation could be something positive he could focus on. And lastly, I hoped to encourage enthusiasm for family travel no matter how much change was on the horizon for our family(the alarm I felt nearing the empty-nester phase).
Akihabara, I quickly found out as my son pulled it up on his computer screen, was a district in Tokyo that was known as the mecca of Anime and Manga. An avid follower of this Japanese form of entertainment, he was interested in visiting the shops that sold this art in a variety of mediums, from books to videos to figurines.
So, the journey began before we even set foot on Japanese soil. I suggested to my son that he look up all the places he wanted to visit in Akihabara. This way, we wouldn’t be wandering around wasting time and missing out on all the cool stuff he hoped to find. I asked my youngest son what he would like to do in Japan. As a theatre major, he immediately said, “let’s go to a kabuki theatre.” And I filled in the rest of our itinerary with cultural sites, must-see landmarks, eateries, and parks.
We chose May to visit Japan. May had lots of pluses. First, the peak season hadn’t started yet, so prices were lower. Second, the rainy season was near its end. Third, tourists flocking to Tokyo hadn’t begun, so crowds were relatively small. But in a city of 38 million(Greater Tokyo), I don’t know how we could avoid crowds.
As I searched the internet regarding our pending trip, I came across three great tips that helped our vacation run exceptionally smoothly. First, rent a pocket wifi when you arrive. Second, buy your train pass before arriving in the country. Third, download a Japanese translator/language program.
Japan is definitely above the rest where technology is concerned. Rental pocket wifi shops were at Narita Airport, but I had found a site online where I could have a pocket wifi delivered to our hotel. The wifi gave us access to all the essential navigation tools we needed during our stay. Google Maps, TripAdvisor, Yelp, making reservations, and more. It allowed the independence we sought to enjoy our trip. And gave us a better price point than our own U.S. carrier. Kudos to YouTube contributor “annaleeandjess” travel vlog for suggesting this.
Regarding the train pass known as Japan Rail or the JR Pass, I had heard that Japan had one of the most efficient rapid transportation systems in the world. Taking the train to get around made sense. We were going to see a little more of Japan. Suggestions came from my son’s friends that visitors outside of the country got a discounted fare when they purchased tickets before arriving. The JR not only had a train from the airport to Tokyo but also had a circle line that stopped at major sections in the city and was part of the Shinkansen(the bullet train).
Lastly, having a smattering of Japanese could only serve to enrich our experience while in the country. I downloaded a free app on my smartphone. I learned a few helpful phrases and had the translator speak for me when I was at a loss for words.
I used visitacity.com to get a sense of how much we could see in a day. It suggested day itineraries and allowed me to adjust the itinerary to our needs. Google maps gave me a sense of distance between sites and attractions to further help with scheduling.
With a customized itinerary developed around our interests, abilities(I still had kids that liked to sleep in), and dietary habits, we were on our way to the Land of the Rising Sun.