My 81-year old grandmother is now a first-time passport holder. She has never been out of the country and has only flown on a plane ONCE in her life, over 15 years ago, on a short domestic flight to visit her sister in Xi’an.
Her health is not too good. She needs to always carry around her insulin shots, and though she looks fine, her legs are often stiff and in discomfort, making it so that she can’t walk long distances. These days, she doesn’t like being away from home too much and has no desire to travel.
But my aunt and uncle have been wanting to bring her out of the country for a while now, because let’s face it, she’s not getting any younger and what better time than now to travel while she can still move?! And plus, with my grandpa being gone now, getting out of the house will do her good. So at their persistence, she let them get her a passport. But she believed that she’d never use it.
But the chance came sooner than any of us imagined.
When my Auntie Hui (the one who hooked us up for a day of pear picking) in Tokyo had 4 days free and invited us to visit, we all jumped on the chance. Well, my aunt, uncle, and me did at least. My grandmother took some convincing. But since this was such an impromptu trip, we literally had one day to decide, and may have peer pressured her into saying yes. ;)
4 days and thousands of pictures later, we’ve returned from Japan with my grandmother fully in tact and in higher spirits than ever. She is the full embodiment of the message that anyone, at any age, can travel!
It’s still going to take me a while to sort through all my photos. And I’m not sure yet how I’m going to document our Japan trip. I may stray from my usual style and do more of a diary style. This has been such a monumental trip — My grandma’s first time abroad! The first time we all traveled as a family! And my 30th birthday trip! — that I would like to do it proper justice.
But for now, I want to do a (not so short) re-cap as well as any random ramblings that come to mind. So here’s what we got up to:
Nov. 10th – Flew to Tokyo
We started the day with grandma’s homemade dumplings (my favorite!) and a mango mousse cake for my birthday. and then it was to the airport we went!
Side note: The most amazing thing about traveling with an elderly person? PRIORITY BOARDING for our entire group! This was the first time ever that I got to go on the plane early. It felt so special to not to have to stand in line with everyone else. :P
And a second side note: I’m so used to flying cheapo airlines that Japan Airlines was practically like luxury! Every seat had a large seat-back screen, we got a blanket if we wanted one, and they even served dinner on a 2.5 hour flight (with Haagen-Dazs ice cream)! Best flight experience I’ve had in a lonnnnng time.
And then my grandma set her foot on foreign soil for the first time ever! Auntie Hui greeted us at Tokyo Haneda Airport with a bouquet of beautiful peach roses. For me, because it was my birthday. :)
A third side note: My grandma and I only shared one carry-on luggage between the 2 of us, and about half of that was filled with food to take to Auntie Hui. This is not as impressive as it sounds. Because my grandma insisted on wearing on her body literally every single piece of clothing she was planning to wear for the 4 days. As in… she wore her pajamas under a sweater, under a light puffer, under a peacoat (and just about as many layers on the bottom too!). Sigh… she’s funny…
Visited Odawara Castle
On our first full day, we took the metro to Odawara and visited the Odawara Castle. It dates all the way back to the 15th century and had a tumultuous history with multiple changes of power. In the mid-1800’s, it was mostly demolished when the new Meiji government ordered the destruction of domain castles.
The castle today is a reconstruction and holds a museum of historical documents and samurai weapons. Though we didn’t go in because the chrysanthemum exhibition was currently going on in the castle grounds, and we were much more interested in that.
The chrysanthemum is unofficially Japan’s national flower and is the symbol of the imperial family. Seriously… does Japan must do everything better?! These were the largest and the most perfect chrysanthemums I’ve ever seen. There wasn’t as much variety, but honestly, each one was so much more perfect than the ones in Beijing.
But my grandma didn’t care so much for them and was a lot more interested in feeding the pigeons. :)
Hehe, she’s so cute! She’s like the Pigeon Lady from Home Alone 2.
Saw the most beautiful autumn scenery at Hakone
Odawara is a popular stopping point en-route to the town of Hakone, which is famous for its abundance of natural hot springs resorts, open air museums, and the Hakone Volcano crater. We went there to see the best of Japan’s autumn scenery. And for that, we went to the Hakone Museum of Art.
WOW, the colors were unreal. I could not stop taking pictures. Luckily, Auntie Hui loves taking photos as much as me, and we stayed there snapping away until the sky started to darken (which is like 4:30 pm in Japan at this time of the year) and our camera batteries started to die.
I’m pretty sure I will have a separate post on this, so I won’t share too many pics now. This was my absolute favorite part of the trip.
Had a slightly uncomfortable, but good, thermal bath experience
Back in the hotel, I had my first ever nude thermal bath experience. Since Hakone is so famous for their thermal baths, it seemed like a shame not to partake in one especially since the hotel has a complimentary bath. Yes it was pretty awkward, and I still insisted on wrapping the tiny towel around me when walking around.
But you know what? It is actually entirely possible to just not look and not feel weird about the fact that you’re hanging out in a pool with your family naked.
Saw Mount Fuji!
The next morning, we set off for Mount Fuji. Auntie Hui had hired a driver for the day. The first sight of Mount Fuji was absolutely breathtaking. We rounded a bend… and bam! There it was in front of us – a spectacular white peak rising above the clouds.
Auntie Hui said that we were really lucky to get such a good view of Mount Fuji. Because of the climate around the area, the famous mountain is often completely covered by clouds. Trying to get a clear peek (ha, no pun intended) of it is tricky, and is best done in the early hours. At this point, it was around 10 am already, so we were lucky to get such good visibility. And indeed, not even half an hour later, the the mountain was swallowed up by clouds.
We made our way up the mountain, on a road that carved through a forest of golden pines and into a fog that created a very atmospheric scene.
We were able to drive halfway up to Mount Fuji to Step 5 (a total of 10 steps) and admire this magnificent mountain from closer up. There was some snow on the ground and we also had fun with silly photos.
At this time of the year, Step 5 is as high as you can go on Mt. Fuji. All trails from this station onwards to the summit have already been closed until next July (the climbing season is only July – September). Auntie Hui climbed it last year and it took 7 hours from here to the summit! Maybe one day, I’ll be in good enough physical shape to do it too.
Visited Tokyo Imperial Garden
After we spent time exploring areas outside of Toyko, we were finally ready to do some sightseeing in the city itself.
First, Auntie Hui took us to Tokyo Imperial Garden (the free admission one), though I admit I didn’t think it was that impressive. I enjoyed the garden at Hakone a lot more!
But we did get there through Tokyo Station, which was a beautiful structure.
Saw the city of Tokyo from 150 meters up
Then in the afternoon, we went to Tokyo Tower – the tallest self-supported steel structure in the world! It’s even taller than the Eiffel Tower, from which it was modeled after.
The tower has a general observatory at 150m (490 ft) up, and a special one at 250m (819 ft) up. We went to the general one and it was a great 360 degree view of the city. The glass floor was a lot of fun too.
Checked out the night scenery at Yokohama
In the evening, we went over to Yokohama to take in the night scenery. Yokohama is a port city with one of the largest ferriss wheels in the world. We spent a while strolling along the bank and admiring the display of lights. From a quick research, it seems like that Yokohama is a vibrant town with a ton of things to do, and would be worth coming back sometime during the daytime.
And that was 4 days in Tokyo in a nutshell! It was short, but definitely one of the most memorable trips I’ve taken. I wrote a whole post before about why I didn’t like Japan the first time I went, but I really loved my time here and Japan is definitely worth more chances.
If anything, my grandmother is proof that you’re never too old to travel! It’s never too old to start filling that passport with stamps. We’ve even got tentative plans for her to visit me in Malaysia next (though she’ll need heavy convincing from my aunt and uncle again, but I believe we can do it!).
Many thanks to my Auntie Hui for playing tour guide, translator/communicator, host, and chef for these days! Doumo arigatou gozaimasu! (which was the only phrase of Japanese I learned the entire trip :P)