This translates into our Top 5 Facepalm moments in the Land of the Rising Sun.
1) The Baggage-Porter Lesson
This is ZeFolks’ shortest packaged trip ever, by being just 1 week long. And with that, this is also the more-or-less coldest trip that they are going to have. With my Mom and I being adamant on having 1 outfit per day, we decided to load up on several overcoats as well. That resulted in our party of 3 adults and 1 4-year old to have 3 medium suitcases, 1 large one and 2 carry on trolleys. That’s a lot of clothes for just 1 week.
We were fine with the fact that that seemed to be “a lot.” What we didn’t expect though was that hotels in Japan had no porters. Unless you were staying in the Ritz or something of the same class, you were pretty much on your own with regards to your luggage.
We stayed in 3-star hotels and even though the rooms were HUGE (by Japanese standards) and the amenities, all top notch – you had to roll your own bag up the elevators. Surely, this isn’t anything but a first world problem, but still. Among us three women in our family, we had 24 overcoats. 24. That’s like a spring collection, right there!
So now, let us take a moment of silence for the invention of the spinner suitcase.
2) The Sukiyaki Dinner Lesson
We were nestled snuggly in bright-eyes Dotonburi in Namba, Osaka. A Sukiyaki dinner was lined up for the night. As we dunked our mushrooms, Chinese cabbage and slices of meat into the hot pot in front of us, I went back to the “stock cart” and got us some more meat and oddly enough, sausages. My Mother insisted that we shouldn’t “eat that much” and that it was “nakakahiya.” I pointed it out that the others in the group were doing the same. It was a little bit of an argument.
My Angkel then asked if this was the only thing we were going to eat. My Mom, reassuringly, answered, “Soup lang to.” (This is just soup)
Having a huge chunk of cabbage in my mouth, I snorted and honked out my laughter. I had to tell her that the soup WAS dinner.
There’s a giant hot pot in the middle of the table. That alone gave you a clue that it would pretty much be the “centerpiece” of the meal. And THAT’S why everybody was hoarding the beef and the sausages.
When that was cleared up, Operation Stock Pot was in order. Tonie was humming the Mission Impossible theme, which she remembers from watching The Lorax, and we headed out to hoard as many veggies and meat for our hot pot.
Lesson, before you go diet-timid on dinner, make sure that you ARE having another course.
3) The Wakarimasen Lesson
Japan has a lot of tourists visiting it. And although most of their signs have English translation, outside of hotel lobbies, you will have a hard time finding someone who speaks English.
Wakarimasen means “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand.” And for the most part, it was the only thing I uttered along with, “sumimasen” (excuse me), “gomennasai” (I’m sorry) and “kudasai” (please).
During our traditional Japanese dinner at our traditional Japanese ryokan in Hakone, my Angkel blew his top off because of an unbroken language barrier with one of the dining room attendants. It was, like, the ONLY time I’ve seen him like that in the past 3 years. I thought he was going to start grabbing his left arm or something at the rate he was having his episode. And this happened, BEFORE dinner. So, ummm… that made things awkward to say the least. It was a good thing that after dinner, he got up and apologized to our tour guide/interpreter for the scene he caused. Episode, over!
The thing is, with the Japanese language, you really do need to have a translator on you or have as much as you can on hand. The translations aren’t as easy to figure out as opposed to Italian or Spanish words. You’ll tire out your armpits with the sign language you are TRYING to pull off and really, you HAVE to make an effort to learn a bit of Nihongo.
TIP: Always attempt to pronounce it as quick as you can. They apparently understand it much better when you breeze through the word quickly than taking the time to annunciate each syllable.
4) The Disney Sea Lesson
The line to a food stall and (inset) the waiting time for Toy Story Mania – that’s 220 minutes, y’all!
With our family’s imposed mission to visit all Disney resorts around the world, our visit to a Disney park in Japan wasn’t going to be missed. We decided to spend the day in Disney Sea instead of Disneyland as it was unique in the whole Disney Resort system thing. It was the only one of its kind and it was in Tokyo. Unfortunately though, we had to visit on the WORST DAY in the entire year. Even worse than the Christmas season, visiting during Spring Break is the worst thing ever. Oh wait, there’s something even worse- Spring Break AND a Saturday.
In all my life, in all the times I have been challenged by Mr. Walt Disney, this was the very first time that I went inside a Disneyland park and was NOT able to ride a single attraction. Not one.
That pretty much took the cake in our trip. And I knew that were pretty much in for some trouble just for being there on a Saturday were rides usually averaged on the 2-3 hour waiting area. On top of that, it was the dead of Spring Break.
We really couldn’t do anything about it, it was the only bad card we were to be dealt with in exchange for the lovely cherry blossoms. And we played that said card as much as we could.
When we arrived at Disney at a little past 10 in the morning, the first ride nearest to the entrance, Toy Story Mania, had a wait time close to 4 hours. I could’ve watched all 3 Toy Story movies before I even got to the ride! And the Fast Pass tickets were already out. Next door, to the Tower of Terror, waiting time was a little over 3 hours. And as for the Fast Pass, return was scheduled at 7am.
The rest of the day looked the same for us, minimum of 3 hours waiting time. Even for food stalls, the lines were impossible. Who waits 30 minutes for popcorn? Not hotdogs, not burgers, not even magical-mystical deep fried Oreos but popcorn. Even souvenir shops had lines. It was like lining up to go inside a super-exclusive club except that it was a souvenir shop.
In short, Disney Parks – NEVER on a Saturday and NEVER on Spring Break.
5) The PAL Baggage Allowance Lesson
Turns out Philippine Airlines allows TWO (2) PIECES of 23-kilo baggage allowance for flights in an out of Tokyo AND Nagoya. Kansai doesn’t share the same privilege but knowing that in advance would’ve allowed us to carry additional boxes of Green Tea Kit Kats for pasalubong-and personal consumption! We only have, like, 7 packs of those and we are rationing them like we were in a deserted island.
One family was able to bring home 2 boxes of the green good stuff back home and we are writhing in jealousy of that family. We want more!
6) Finally, the Shopping Lesson
Everybody knows that Japan is an expensive country. Tokyo is considered to be the most expensive country in the world so it does make sense to not shop there for stuff that you would be able to find elsewhere – like international brands and other stuff.
Someone in our group bought a Taylor Guitar. That’s his trip and not ours but it turns out, Taylor guitars are actually 60% cheaper in the Philippines, in your local RJ Music Store -and that’s a statistic coming from Mr. Ramon Jacinto himself, eh! And Taylor Guitars aren’t even Japanese. It’s an American brand.
As for everybody’s favorite Uniqlo products, well, their flagship store in Ginza district is actually 40% more expensive compared to the stores in Mall of Asia or North Edsa. So thanks, I’ll buy super-duper-soft cotton shirts in Mall of Asia instead.
It’s like that one time I went to France to try and buy my Angkel a Lacoste shirt, it actually was more the $50-60 more than if I bought it at the Panama outlet store. Yes, I country-name-drop now.
For us, our illogical shopping raid was for authentic Sanrio products. After years and years of buying Divisoria items, we decided that it might be time to finally pay royalties to the large-headed white cat. After that short stint of wide-eyedly paying for stuff, we’re back to our Divisoria-style Hello Kitty products.
The lesson here is, before you blow your load (that’s what she said) on buying whatever “seems” like a bargain- make sure that it really is, compared to the world market (and not comparative to your local conversion, like what we ALL are guilty of).
We survived Japan and all of its quirks. Despite all of the facepalm moments we have, we still love every second of it. Even the Happy Meal is quite ecstatic about the place, I mean, 2 whole weeks later and she’s still going, “Arigato Gozaimas.”