We spent two and a half weeks in Japan, Nov. 21st through Dec. 8th, and it was, just as I expected it to be, amazing. Japan, for me, feels effortless, exciting, interesting, convenient (safe food, walkable streets, and clean bathrooms matter a lot to me), endlessly explorable, and full of small delights.

I was afraid that it would change from when I came first, but although, almost all the constituent parts of the experience changed, the whole remained remarkably consistent. It’s strange that places don’t change much, even if one does completely different things or comes at different seasons. For instance, whenever I come to Venice the weather is lovely and there’s an interesting exhibition going on, whereas whenever I come to Russia, be it July or December, it’s cold, miserable, and Day of the Paratrooper.

Things that changed:

  • Instead of traveling alone this time I went with the whole family – all six of us for the first week, and four for the subsequent weeks. This means that our time was very structured and that we barely ever walked. The first week, in particular, was structured by Amazing Spouse in half-hour increments in an act of sheer heroism. None of my usual “roll out of the bed whenever, exit the hotel in a random direction, eat on the way” and no “spend an hour reading in this cute cafe” – we ate three sit-down meals a day and didn’t search for variety.
  • It was November and not May which greatly increased the frequency of persimmons, children in fancy outfits (November is the month for 3-5-7 celebrations), and, oddly, flowering cherry trees (I did not expect fuyuzakura aka winter cherry).
  • There were fewer school children out and about.
  • It was cold. “T-shirt and overshirt and puffy vest and jacket and hat” cold. And dark by 5 pm, so random wandering around time was cut short. This means that gardens and parks closed early and that there were fewer creatively-dressed teenagers around and way more elegantly-coated ladies.
  • It was crowded as heck. Everyone wanted to see momiji fully as much or more as we did. I never thought I’d queue up for an hour for anything other than staple food, let alone for maples, and yet – it was completely worthwhile.
  • Fall foliage and not temples or restaurants, was the theme of most days. Mind you, fall foliage happens in temples and around restaurants, and we visited both – but the foliage was more striking and noticeable than the buildings.
  • We went to museums! Tokyo National Museum, MIHO, Osaka Castle, Nara Crafts museum, Nara Toy museum, Iwasaki garden (and especially mansion), Drum museum, Samurai museum, Sword museum, Hokusai museum, Yayoi Kusama museum, and finally Team Labs (which is less a museum than a museum-sized installation, but I’m including it anyway) – these were unexpectedly more memorable than temples on this trip.
  • We stayed at hotels with onsens, which means there was no going-out-to-bathe.
  • We did more shopping (or, at least, more window shopping) and more animal petting visiting a dog cafe, Bengal cat cafe, and capybara cafe. I love capybaras, although on a nearer acquaintance, cats are definitely more awesome.
  • And, of course, because of traveling as a family and because of the cold I was out-socialized by the end of each day, and completely incapable of noting things down. I did sketch, however, and will try to recreate what I saw in each day based on that. At some point. The issue, of course, is that I don’t have a clear audience for this – future me is academic, adult kids even more so, outside blog readers a remote and unlikely possibility, and the guy I wrote to last time was right here with me. Crying in the wilderness is, if not sensible, understandable enough, but traveloguing? Not that I’ll let the lack of an audience stop me 🙂

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