Bye Japan Travel Blog | Chapter 6

r.j. kushner
5 min readApr 10, 2024

For our last full day in Japan we took a “Tokyo highlights” tour. Another bus, this one manned by a man named Yoshi. Our first stop was the Imperial Palace, a huge venue in the heart of Tokyo where the Emperor lives with his wife and daughter and the occasional Airbnb guest. The emperor is 64 and, we were told, comes out every year on his birthday to give a wave to the public.

The palace was mostly hidden by bushes and a big rock wall. Out front is a pond, a rock garden and around 1,000 black pine trees, which we were told are a symbol of endurance. It was sunny and quiet, but what was loud and clear was the Emperor’s refusal to come outside and debate me.

Asakusa Senso-ji Temple, the oldest temple in the city and our second stop, was packed. We walked in and immediately lost our tour guide, despite her waving an extendable stick with a little sumo wrestler plushy on the end of it.

There’s a big lantern in front of the temple that weighs 700 pounds, and, after eating in the market leading up to the temple, I could sympathize. I started off with a sugar bun then had soy noodles with seaweed and an egg. I ate the noodles and egg with chopsticks while sitting on a rock and three pigeons gathered around for my droppings. I tried to defend my territory at first but eventually gave in. America, Japan, it doesn’t matter — it’s the pigeon’s world.

Later in the outdoor market on Nakamise-Dori Street, we walked by an older man wearing a T-shirt with Charlie Brown on it and bold white letters that said, “Tell Me The Story.”

The Tokyo Skytree Observation Deck, our final stop, is a big white pointy structure that provides views of Tokyo from 460 meters in the air. There’s no real way to know exactly how high up that is, but it’s high enough to satisfy that universal human urge to build a city and then build a big pointy thing so people can view that city after waiting in a line for about an hour and a half.

At the top floor we got our picture taken seated on a fake cloud. Perhaps affected by the altitude, I posed by lifting one arm up in the air (like “hooray!”). I knew immediately after that I was not happy with this pose; it’s simply not a pose I would normally do and does not represent who I am. But there was no second take and the cameraman, apparently wanting to hurt me, said, “Nice pose.”

To round out the trip, for dinner we went back to the sushi place we tried on our first night in Tokyo — Standing Sushi Bar — despite Google claiming it was not open on Saturdays. I was amazed by how much more confident we were this time compared with the week before. We took our seats and ordered too much food like professionals. It was a different chef this time, but I managed to make brief eye contact with him during an insane but fleeting moment of courage when I considered asking him for a spoon.

The next morning, after cold pancakes in Ginza at a cafe called Kan Coffee, we walked to catch an express train at Tokyo Station to get to the airport. We ended up at the wrong train station gate, however, so we had to haul ass. The station was packed, a popular theme, and as we ran I accidentally smacked several men and women in the leg with my luggage. Fortunately, I think I was able to make it up to them all by saying, “Oof, sorry!”

We made it on time for the train, and at Narida airport I consoled myself with a teriyaki chicken sandwich from McDonald’s. It was sweet and salty and sensational with a just a hint of a crunch. America is not ready for this. We are simply not mature enough to handle it.

In the line to get a vending machine water we stood behind a young girl with a letterman jacket that said, on the back and in in big yellow letters, “I’m not afraid of death because I’ve already been to hell and back — Viet Nam 71–72.” Talk about shirts that go hard. Still, I’d like to try wearing it to a job interview someday.

On the plane to Taiwan for our connecting flight a big baby sitting next to me cried and cried and finally fell asleep watching the new Wonka movie. I can’t blame her, as I had a similar experience with that film. She should have rewatched The Last Samurai like me. It ruled, despite the airline editing out the weird shower scene we all love.

During our final flight to Chicago, the captain informed us we’d be encountering some “bumpy air” and for the first time it occurred to me — how can air be “bumpy”? Is some air more rumpled than other air? I have been in public restrooms that might suggest this, as well. In any event, the plane shook us around like a Yoo-hoo for about 30 minutes.

“Goodbye” is one of the few words I knew going in to Japan, and it was the hardest one to say upon leaving. Endings can be glum, but they do occasionally have their rewards. For instance, on the way back home, Nhi finished crocheting her chubby dragon. It looks like this:

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r.j. kushner

Dubbed by the New York Times as “all out of free articles this month.”