First Impressions: Tokyo, Japan

Two days after Calum’s graduation from UNT we boarded a plane bound for Vancouver, where we would transfer planes to Tokyo. It was a long journey—the flights themselves lasted about 15 hours in total, and even after we touched down in Japan it was a long journey from the airport, through customs and to our AirBnb apartment. We landed at Narita Airport, which is actually pretty far away from the Tokyo city center…

tokyo_city_map narita air

Our first impression of Japan was on the train from Narita to Tokyo. It might sound cheesy, but on this leg of our trip we both realized the significance of the scenery in Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki’s animated films. Seeing the Japanese countryside from the train was like seeing the village in “My Neighbor Totoro” brought to life…not in the sense that we felt like magical creatures would appear, but in the sense that we realized how these animations captured some of the ordinary aspects of the countryside that are magical in themselves. The thick green vegetation, the small village houses, the rice fields…of course there is much more to Japan than that, but it was a great first impression.

totoro movie poster japanese
A Japanese movie poster for My Neighbor Totoro. Source: wikipedia

By the time we reached our train stop for the AirBnb I was literally falling asleep with my head on my suitcase. Many parts of traveling have gotten easier for me with experience, but pure exhaustion is hard for me to fight.

The first thing that we noticed about our “home” neighborhood in Tokyo is that it was so quiet. We hopped off the train around 7:40 pm, and though there were many people out walking or riding bikes by themselves, there were no large groups of people gathered, and it was overall very quiet on the streets. Just like Seoul, Tokyo also manages to keep some parts of the city concealed in a bubble of quiet, even while other parts of the city are a 24-hour raging party.

Tokyo red shrine gate Calum's pic
A lesser-known shrine in Tokyo. Picture by Calum.

After getting our bags into the apartment we walked across the street to the supermarket and the convenience store and grabbed an assortment of random packaged foods for dinner. While Calum worked on setting up the apartment Wifi and heated up some foods in the microwave, I scarfed down a pastry, took a shower and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the floor.

I mean, the bed was literally on the floor. That’s traditional Japanese style (and pretty comfy!).

More later!


Big City Beijing (Day One)

The first stop on my big trip (not counting a layover in San Francisco) was Beijing.

I arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport at 4:30am. Yep, that’s not a mistake. 4:30AM. Just in time to see the sun rise from the tarmac.

Also, before I left, Calum told me half-jokingly that I was forbidden to ride on escalators during my time in China (due to a series of accidents on escalators there last year). We joked that if the first thing I had to do when I stepped off the plane was take an escalator, I would just turn around and ask to go back.

Sure enough, the first thing that I saw when I stepped off the airplane was an escalator. BUT I GOT ON!

Anyways, Mariia was waiting for me on the other side of customs/immigration. The feeling of seeing a friend again after a long time is amazing…but I’ve found that after ten minutes it is like we never were apart, which is even more amazing. What I mean is that we start talking and sharing updates on our lives as if we are just catching up after a busy week, rather than a very busy year.

We took a 45 minute taxi ride from the airport to Mariia’s friend’s apartment where we would be staying. The first two things I noticed about Beijing were the humidity and the pollution. The morning I arrived the sky was gray and there was visible brown haze on the horizon…I’m told this is normal for Beijing, and this day was nowhere near some of the worst they’ve seen.

30 degrees Celsius = 86 degrees Fahrenheit ( Chart credit:


Don’t worry, it was nothing like the picture on the right. (Photo credit:


When we arrived at the apartment, Mariia’s friend Ana (This is her English/Russian name, she is Chinese) welcomed us and made us noodles for breakfast before we left to start our day.

First stop: Starbucks, of course.

Seasonal frappuccinos offered at Chinese Starbucks during my stay (Photo credit: me)

The rest of the day was dedicated to relaxation and a little bit of exploring. Mariia showed me around her school, Beijing Foreign Studies University, and I took a picture at the university entrance. We stopped by one of the small grocery stores on the edge of campus and the employees remembered Mariia from her frequent visits. We then headed to Mariia’s favorite nail shop near the campus and got mani-pedis, as we discussed before I came. 🙂

Me, in front of Mariia’s university (Photo credit: Mariia)

The next highlight of the day was getting a traditional Chinese massage. I honestly think this massage is what enabled me to keep pushing through the next few days despite some Jet Lag and muscle stiffness from the long plane ride. This type of massage involves every part of your body, even your hands and fingers.

By the time we got back to Ana’s apartment that day though, I was completely exhausted and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

More highlights from China coming soon!