Brigitte Invades Japan!

Last week, we had the great fortune of our very first American visitor. The lovely Brigitte came over to Japan for a week and a few days. I met her in Tokyo for the weekend before she came with us to Niigata-ken.

The week flew by, and unfortunately, Dustin and I both had to work, so it was a bit crazy, but we were so lucky to finally have a visitor. It was great to see a familiar face, and hear what we'd missed after we left Springfield. It was also wonderful to have someone to show around, because we did a few essential Japanese experiences that we rarely make the time for... all in one week.

First, Brigitte and I had an exciting weekend in Tokyo. Since we hadn't seen each other in over a year, the majority of our two days in Tokyo involved lots and lots of talking. In between all of the gabbing, we somehow managed to see the National Museum of Modern Art, visit an old school onsen, eat Indian food twice, do a wee bit of bargain hunting in Harajuku, see a lovely night view of Tokyo from the top of Roppongi Hills Tower, and traverse half of Tokyo on foot.

We both REALLY wanted to see the crazy fashion of the Harajuku girls, but despite having searched for them up and down the streets of Harajuku and running all over Yoyogi Park, we didn't see any of these fashion wonders in their natural environment. We did see two convincing "Harajuku girls," but they were both pretty blonde Westerners. We saw a tamer version of the Harajuku girls we sought out, but they were employees at a store who sold these crazy fashions, so they still didn't feel authentic. Disappointed, we met my friend Ryo at the train station to go to Roppongi for dinner. In the crowd, I spied a girl dressed in all pink, complete with a frilly pink tutu, and topped with a shocking pink bob. In excitement, I exclaimed, "Ryo, look! I found a Harajuku girl!" He looked her up and down and said, "Eh... not quite. She's trying, but..." Apparently, there are still a few Harajuku girls hanging on to this street fashion, and they meet at Harajuku Station around noon on Saturdays and Sundays, but most of the fashion craze ended five years ago. Westerners just clued into this delightful style a little too late. Boo.

Tokyo was fun, but eventually we had to leave for the countryside of Niigata-ken. To lessen the shock of Nagaoka compared to Tokyo, we went straight to Niigata-shi, the biggest city in our prefecture. We met my British friend, Ellen, and my Japanese friend, Kyoko, for lunch at a soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) restaurant. It was an extremely rainy day, so we decided to do our sightseeing inside. We went to the top of the Toki Messe building, one of the largest in the city. The view wasn't nearly as impressive as the one in Tokyo, but it was interesting nonetheless, because we were right on the coast of the Japan sea. I could see the outline of Sado island in the distant fog.

When you think about Japan, it's pretty hard not to think about video games. They are such a huge part of the modern Japanese culture. I knew Brigitte wasn't too fond of video games, but I thought she should really experience Japanese arcade games. It was a bit of a hard sell, but when I told her that Round 1 had massage chairs, she agreed to give it a try... and she loved it! She had a lot of fun playing all the wacky Japanese video games. And we both relished the chance to use the massage chairs after two days of endless walking.

Once we got back to Nagaoka, we started showing Brigitte the typical Japanese lifestyle in the inaka. We did so much during her week in Niigata-ken. She had the chance to try so many different types of Japanese food, and she liked almost all of them. We went to an izekaiya and did karaoke. We even took her to a Japanese garden in Kashiwazaki where she got to enjoy the lovely fall momiji. At the garden, we did a tea ceremony with my friend Yumi. It was very interesting. We drank from cups that were around 400 years old. Thanks to Yumi's translating, we learned what each slow and calculated movement meant. My legs fell asleep about 15 minutes into it, but it was interesting.

I'm so happy that Brigitte got a chance to visit! It was great fun. You can see all of the pictures on facebook by clicking the new album on the list to the right!


Honeymoon Madness

A few months ago, a travel agent from Springfield e-mailed me about our honeymoon. Assuming that I'd given her my e-mail address way back when Dustin and I went to a wedding show in Springfield, I excitedly sent her my dream honeymoon and budget and awaited her reply. She got back to me quickly, "excited for the challenge" I was presenting, since we needed to get from Japan to Springfield, MO to (hopefully) Thailand and back to Japan again. AND I needed to be ensured that where we'd be on our honeymoon week, there would be vegetarian food available. I e-mailed with her for about 3 weeks and even had a phone conversation with her, but all of a sudden, she disappeared. Whenever I e-mailed her, an "out of the office" e-mail would be sent to me. I tried calling her a few times, but she never answered. It's been about a month since the last time I had contact with her, and still no word. It's very mysterious.

So, I decided to take the honeymoon planning into my own hands. I began researching resorts on the internet. I quickly discovered that Thailand had plenty of amazing resorts, but they were all out of our price range. Reluctantly, I ditched my dream of honeymooning in Thailand, and started looking at other options in Asia, since we'd have to come back to Japan anyway. I found many more reasonably priced resorts, but when I checked the airfare, it was all outrageous, or it required an extra day of traveling that I wasn't willing to accept.

I'll go ahead and apologize for sounding spoiled, but I really did not want to honeymoon in the Caribbean. Both Dustin and I had been to the Caribbean more than once (and we're very grateful for each opportunity to have done that) and we wanted somewhere new for our honeymoon. I didn't want my honeymoon experience to be tainted by any past vacations' memories, good or bad. The only thing I didn't want more than a Caribbean vacation was one of those cheesy resorts whose commercials you see full of smiling models with a martini in one hand and their sarong waving in the wind in the other hand, like... Sandals for instance.

After weighing the options in nearly every part of the world, and getting really excited about the possibility of honeymooning in Hawaii for a split second (before realizing it was even more expensive than Thailand), we finally settled on... Sandals Grande Ocho Rios in Jamaica. I know what you're thinking, "That is both in the Caribbean and the cheesiest resort you can find." Well, it was a deal we couldn't pass up. It was affordable, and neither of us have been to Jamaica. Plus, we won't lose too much time traveling, since it's so close to the U.S. And it's all inclusive, so all drinks and food is covered, inclusing special vegetarian fare. Our honeymoon will begin shortly after our first day of marriage does, which is something I prefer to spending the first 17 hours of married life on a plane.

Deciding where to go took about 3 hours of "discussion," but actually ironing out all the details and booking our room and flight took twice as long. We started out by calling Sandals to ask about the differences between two rooms we were deciding between. We talked to Arol, a Jamaican gentleman. He made us feel like respectable royalty instead of the young bums we actually are. He called me ma'am and Dustin sir. He insisted we upgrade our room, because we deserved it. He "could tell" Dustin was a man who enjoyed golf, which he is, so he suggested that at some point on the honeymoon, Dustin take some time at the golf course, while I spend the day at the spa. Well, Arol, that sounds like a great idea! We booked our ocean front suite and felt very special and appreciated. As soon as we hung up with Arol, however, Dustin reminded me that Micheal Scott and Jan (from The Office) had gone to Sandals in Jamaica, and I no longer felt very special, but I did laugh for a few minutes.

Next step: plane tickets. We had quite an agenda what with flying into Springfield, MO from Japan, and then to Jamaica, and back to Japan. When I'd looked for one-way flights to the U.S. from Japan 2 months ago, the cheapest I could find was $2,500 each, so I was most nervous about this step. Miraculously, we found tickets for the entire itinerary for less than two grand. Whoo hoo! We'd bought our tickets for our upcoming trip in December from Cheapoair, so I was confident in their ability to provide us with the tickets we wanted. They provided us with more tickets than we wanted. There were so many options. All of them, unfortunately, included an overnight stay on the way back to Japan, because no planes leave Jamaica before 11:00 a.m., and no planes in our price range leave after 5:00 p.m. That meant we could stay at O'Hare in Chicago, JFK in New York, or DFW in Dallas. We looked up all three on a website that rates airports. JFK was voted the dirtiest airport and Chicago got bad marks for friendliness. Dallas didn't have as many amenities as the other two, but it looked the most promising if we were going to have to spend the night on cots in an airport.

I clicked "Buy Ticket" next to the itinerary that included a stop in Dallas, and got a message saying "That ticket is no longer available." Drat. So, I clicked "Buy Ticket" next to the one with a stop in Chicago... same message. Grrrrr. JFK, here we come, ugh... "That ticket is no longer available." WHAT?!?! I tried about 10 flights and all of a sudden, none of them were available. I decided to call the 800 number on Cheapoair's website and see where these tickets suddenly disappeared to.

The friendly phone operator at Cheapoair conducted her business a bit differently than Arol from Sandals had. She made jokes, often at our expense, but there was an amiable tone to our conversation. She congratulated us on our engagement, told us about her mother traveling to South Africa (though I'm not sure why), and joked with us about having to see things for ourselves since we were from "The Show Me State." She did eventually help us find the tickets we wanted in her database. She asked us which flight we wanted and noted that the biggest difference was which airport we'd be staying at. I explained that we'd already researched the three airports and found that JFK was too dirty and Chicago was too mean. Suddenly, her voice lost all of its warmth and friendliness, "What's wrong with New York's airport?" I told her that reviews said that JFK airport was really dirty, and suggested that it probably had more to do with the heavy flow of traffic than anything else. She informed us that she lived 15 minutes from the airport and it was a very nice airport thank you very much.

She then quickly put us on hold, made the reservations, put us on hold a dozen times more, took down our information, and hung up with us. Oops. At least we had our honeymoon all planned out! Or so we thought... When I checked the e-mail confirmation the next morning, I discovered that our friendly phone operator at Cheapoair had reserved a ticket for Dana and Duston. Dustin's name was spelled correctly in all of the Cheapoair customer information, but misspelled with the airline, which meant the ticket was useless for anyone but Duston Asby. NOOOOOOOO!

After speaking with the credit card company and several different men in India for another 3 hours that day, we finally had everything settled. Phew.

In about six months, we'll be flying from Tokyo to Springfield, MO, preparing all the little details I haven't yet anticipated for our wedding, getting married, then flying to Montego Bay, Jamaica for a week, and then flying to Dallas, TX (where we decided to to splurge on a room at the Hilton outside the airport using all the points we'll rack up from our reception), and then finally going back to home sweet home, Japan. It's going to be the busiest, craziest, funnest two weeks of my life. I can't wait! Hooray.