I've posted a photo set of highlights from our recent trip to Japan & South Korea. A larger set of photos, with more detail on each city (Tokyo, Kyoto, Seoul) can be found here.
I thought our trip to Japan & Korea was expensive until I got home and updated our stock portfolio (ouch).

Jet lag is *nasty* after 27 hours of continuous travel, moving from a +13 hour time zone. Special bonus accomplishment while coming home: our 777, thanks to a 170 MPH tail wind, traveled in excess of 700 MPH. So far this is the fastest I've ever traveled, and as close to the speed of sound as I'll likely ever get (unless I hitch a ride in an F-18 some time).

Secret garden.

Leaving Seoul and soon-to-be-distant (again) friends. Five year reunion held in the sixth year; hopefully we'll see them again soon. The world is small but still big, and Seoul is a city almost too large to comprehend. Travel takes a lot of energy; we miss home but still wish we could stay longer. Seems like we've been away forever, but the trip went so fast.

Esme and a friend.

Leaving Kyoto for Seoul today; shinkansen to Tokyo then an airplane...long day of travel ahead, but some old friends at the end. Some Kyoto observations:

  • I made a Florence reference in my Tokyo entry on 10/6, but that was only referring to the flavor of a relatively small district around Shibuya station. More appropriately, based on my limited observations, I think one could refer to Kyoto as the "Firenze" of Japan.
  • Tokyo is a modern city, so the high-tech, the modern, the sometimes-ugly...they all blend together fairly well into a hyper but energetic and attractive mess. In Kyoto, the new and the old do not blend so well. For example, take the Higashiyama district, with its beautiful traditional architecture and multitude of shrines and temples. On its western, southern, and northern edges, it collides with a landscape of 70s-90s vintage horrid-modern masonry and curtain wall mid-rise buildings. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the overhead power lines and transformers everywhere.
  • In contrast to the above point, one of the most beautiful things about Kyoto is the fact that you can be walking in the midst of what feels like a concrete jungle, and then suddenly come upon a wooded shrine in the least expected place. When this happens, it's like discovering an oasis.
  • I can't get the ubiquitous phrase 'onegai shimasu', in that high-pitched 'may I serve you' voice, out of my head. So kind, but so strange.
More later...

Tokyo Sunrise.

After five days in Tokyo, we're leaving for Kyoto today. It's been a hybrid relaxing/intense few days, but an amazing experience so far and a lot of fun. Few random observations about an American family traveling in Tokyo with two young children:

  • Tokyo's non-orthagonal configuration makes many of its districts feel (but not look) like older European cities. Our first night, wandering around Shibuya station, felt a little like wandering around central Florence (if you squinted your eyes until everything became a little blurry).
  • The city, considering its size and intensity, is surprisingly quiet. At Shibuya crossing, thousands cross at every light change without a word--you can almost hear the footsteps. If it weren't for traffic noise, and the blaring noise from video screens on buildings, there wouldn't be much noise at all. Drivers do not honk at each other.
  • People move smoothly and efficiently everywhere. Even with the crushing crowds on the metro and Yamanote line, we never felt unsafe or overcrowded, even with kids in a stroller.
  • Tokyo doesn't have any public trash cans. You 'pack out' what you use, just like when hiking. Public restrooms don't have paper towels, and often don't have air dryers. You carry a small cloth handkerchief with you to dry your hands. This, and many other examples exist everywhere of efforts to make a small footprint, individually and collectively.
  • Service and courtesy are amazing. No less than five separate individuals attend to us on our way from the front door of our hotel to the elevator. But these same people navigate the metro stations without regard to anyone around them, and might just run you over if they're in a hurry.
  • Japanese people love our kids; they get a lot of smiles and a lot of photos taken of them.
More to come from Kyoto...