On Deciding To Go To Japan

by wired2theworld on April 11, 2011

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I’ve wanted to go to Japan for a long time now, but I think it might have been the movie Lost in Translation which sealed it into my mind as an object of fascination. Recently, close friends went for a week and came back raving about how much they had enjoyed Tokyo. 

So when in early February Singapore Airlines was offering a special 5 night package to Tokyo to promote their new double-decker Airbus A380 planes on the LAX-Tokyo route, we jumped on it. The package included round trip airfare, 5 nights at the Tokyo Hilton, airport transfers and 1/2 day tour all for about the same cost as the airfare and was valid for the dates we needed for David’s Spring Break (the travel life of a teacher is dictated by school schedules). We had to buy the package through one of the authorized travel agents Singapore Vacations uses, and while for some unexplained reason this prevented us form selecting our seats in advance (causing me much travel anxiety), I was happy with the outcome and set about planning the trip in the two months we had left before departure.

Then on March 11, 2011 disaster struck. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit offshore of the north east coast of Japan in the middle of the afternoon. Forty five minutes later, we watched the news, live from Japan, as a tsunami hit the coast, a gigantic wall of water slamming into buildings, roaring across fields, ripping apart everything in its path. In the aftermath, boats teetered atop buildings, cars were stacked 3 high like children’s toys, and houses, those which had not been shattered, were found upside down, blocks from their foundations. A nuclear power plant was all but destroyed and struggled to keep the reactors cool.

In the days which followed we were horrified and saddened at everything we saw, yet also profoundly impressed by the fortitude and resilience of the Japanese people. People got together and helped others  and there was no looting, no rioting. In Tokyo, people walked miles home because the trains weren’t running, yet the buildings were still standing, constructed to withstand large quakes and their aftershocks.

Of course, people asked us if we were still going to take our trip. We asked ourselves the same question and discussed it at length. For days. For weeks. We adopted the “wait and see” mantra and thus waited and watched. Things got better in some places though it’s clear that some of the towns and cities hit by the tsunami will never be the same and the recovery will take years. But it was the nuclear plant and its ongoing trials which gave us the most concern. Friends threatened to steal our passports to prevent us from going. Coworkers told us we were crazy and even “stupid.” People on internet message boards called those still planning to go “selfish.”

So we waited and watched some more. I investigated our options to cancel, and if needed we could do so with very little penalty. We also had travel insurance, which in this case, did not cover the situation so I was glad to have the option to cancel from the airline. During those weeks Singapore Airlines canceled the launch of the A380 on the LAX-NRT route. With tourism to Japan down over 60%, hotels were closing floors and temporarily shuttering restaurants to save energy and cut costs. Small business were starting to suffer for lack of customers, both locals and tourists.

Rumors of radioactive water, rolling blackouts, food shortages swirled around the media. I became more and more frustrated with the over-sensationalism and outright misinformation I saw in the news. Reports coming directly from people in Tokyo said things were getting back to normal and our hotel was not affected by power outages. Kyoto seemed to have had little impact from the aftermath of the disaster.

Finally, about two weeks before our departure date, we decided to go. After all the investigation and discussion, we felt it was safe and that we could accept any remaining risk. We thought we could do our part, albeit small, by not canceling our trip and spending our tourist dollars there in Japan.

Peko Peko Charity CookbookI’ve also contributed to a fantastic charity cookbook which is being created with recipes from 50 incredible food bloggers and cookbook authors. It’s called Peko Peko; A Charity Cookbook For Japan and while it has not yet been published, please check out the web page for the book, and put your name on the mailing list so that you can be alerted to the release date. If you like Japanese food, this promises to be a wonderful cookbook to inspire you to try cooking Japanese food at home.

Coming next…Planning and Preparation; helpful links for planning a trip to Japan.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jenjenk April 11, 2011 at 7:09 am

So excited that you’ve decided to go!! Even if you decided not to, I would’ve supported that, too. It’s a tough decision to make and not one that anyone else can make for you.

You’ll have a fabulous time, no doubt. Be sure to spend a good chunk of time in the Kansai area – it really is one of my favorite parts of Japan!!

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2 wired2theworld April 11, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Jen- We have 3 nights in Kyoto and are hoping to spend some time in Nara and Osaka while there. Can’t wait!

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3 Derek Helt April 11, 2011 at 7:47 am

I think deciding to go to Japan is a well-reasoned, logical choice. Many people do not know how to react without massively overreacting, it seems.

Here on the Oregon coast, we had a tsunami warning after the earthquake in Japan. They closed the schools, which was a “better safe than sorry” decision that made sense. However, some people actually left town and headed for “the valley,” as we call the Willamette Valley. To me, that seemed to be a ridiculous overreaction.

Have a great time in Japan. Look forward to the blog posts.
Derek Helt recently posted..The Tall Ships are Back

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4 wired2theworld April 11, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Derek- yes, people will always overreact, and I blame the over-sensationalizing in the media for that. It’s what sells.

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5 Myra April 11, 2011 at 8:58 am

I’ll admit to being one of the worried friends who hoped you would cancel. But – I understand why you are going, and if I was in your situation, I’d probably do the same. Not only will you experience Japan during a unique time, you’ll be directly supporting their recovery. I hope you keep in touch while you’re away! Safe travels.
Myra recently posted..Facing Fear- Climbing the Arc de Triomphe

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6 Noelle April 11, 2011 at 10:23 am

I understand both sides. I had a trip planned to Thailand before the tsunami there. And I still went. Many people asked me why I was still going.

Can’t wait to hear stories!

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7 Tris April 11, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I wish I were going with you. I think there is a reason your trip was already planned at this time. You are probably in for something amazing. If anyone should go to Japan right now, it should be someone like you and David, who are experienced travelers, who respect the people at your destination and who actually want to learn about their culture, and figure out how you can contribute. Good luck and have a fantastic time.
Tris recently posted..Damage Inc @ House of Blues August Album Download

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8 wired2theworld April 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Tris- Thank you for your sweet words. I wish you were coming with us too, wouldn’t that be fun? We need to plan another trip somewhere…

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9 Chez Us April 11, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I traveled to Germany, during the Gulf War, when they said we shouldn’t go anywhere; I was fine. It adds to the adventure. I cannot wait to hear all about the planning, and the trip. Will be following every step of the way.

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10 Karen @offthemeathook April 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm

People told me not to go to Syria and Lebanon, which was one of the safest-seeming, most welcoming regions I have visited. Friends say don’t go to Mexico now, it’s too dangerous but I don’t agree so I keep going back. Same with parts of Africa. You have to just make the choices that make you feel comfortable. Nowhere is perfectly safe or uncomplicated- and I agree with using your tourism dollars to support in some small way. Have a great time and we’ll look forward to hearing all about it!
Karen @offthemeathook recently posted..photojournal Morning Madness at Mzizima Fish Market in Dar es Salaam- Tanzania

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11 hawaiiantraveler April 11, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Have a fantastic trip! Can’t wait to hear all about it. Try Mitsuno in Shinjuku right across the street from the Hilton in the Sumitomo Bldg. Fantastic views and Kobe beef.

Aloha!

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12 Caanan April 12, 2011 at 3:27 am

We understand the dilemma and your decision 100% – we would have made the same decision (hmmm, great minds). We’ll keep an eye out for full details of your journey and for that cookbook – just what we need is another food passion.
Caanan recently posted..Travelogue – conducting a B&B showdown in Provincetown

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13 Mara April 12, 2011 at 9:02 am

I am one of those who canceled my trip but that was because of a friend in Kyoto who was pretty adamant that I should cancel because of her fears of the nuclear issue….I was and still am sad I didn’t go….so I will enjoy reading your trip report.
Have a wonderful time!

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14 Keryn April 12, 2011 at 9:15 am

I am so excited you are going! We were starting to plan a trip to Japan for the fall, but after the nuclear power plant issues, we have had to rethink this plan. If it was just the 2 of us, I wouldn’t worry, but with a little guy, I’m having to reassess the level of risk we take in our lives. You have thought this through though and it is an amazing travel deal and time to be traveling. I have an editor who just left for Tokyo and will be there for a month. He didn’t hesitate at all before he left. I can’t wait to hear all about your trip!
Keryn recently posted..Lisbon in B&W

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15 Scott - Quirky Travel Guy April 12, 2011 at 3:51 pm

I once went to Cancun right after a major hurricane… I’m glad I did, but it was definitely a tough decision. I look forward to reading more about your trip!
Scott – Quirky Travel Guy recently posted..Memphis in May- Attending the Beale Street Music Festival

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16 Todd | Todd's Wanderings April 13, 2011 at 9:48 am

Good for you! I’m glad you guys are stilling going through with your trip and I think more people should. I was in Japan with my wife during the earthquake and she is still in Tokyo with her family and is doing fine. I’m in Kosovo for work but will be going back in June. The rest of Japan is perfectly safe and while the North east has amazing challenges to overcome, people not visiting will not help the economy.
Todd | Todd’s Wanderings recently posted..Hiking in Tokyo- Mount Takao

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17 Andrea April 14, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Great post! I think it’s great that you’ve decided to still go – we are planning to be there at the end of the year and our itinerary isn’t taking us anywhere near the disaster zone. Of course it was one of the first things we thought of when the earthquake struck but after being in New Zealand during the Christchurch earthquake we were able to put things in perspective with regards to the areas that are potentially dangerous and unsettled versus the rest of the country being fine! And why not help them out with your tourist dollars. Have a wonderful trip =)
Andrea recently posted..Autumn in El Chalten Part One- Fitz Roy Trail

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18 Nancie April 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Living in Korea, the biggest concern right now is the radioactivity. We either hear a lot of sensational “crap”, or nothing. Neither the Korean or Japanese governments are being very forthcoming. I’m hearing everyday “don’t go out in the rain”……rolls eyes.

Enjoy your trip. I spent time in both Kyoto and Tokyo last year, and loved every minute.
Nancie recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday- April 14- 2011- Reclining Buddha- Bago- Mayanmar

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19 Scene With A Hart April 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I just returned to mainland Japan on Monday. I’m in the US Navy so our return was predicated on the radiation levels. I came back to see the beautiful cherry blossoms in bloom. They seem to signal a rebirth in Japan every year and I think that this year they came at the right time. My friends here tell me that life is returning to normal for people in the Tokyo/Yokohama/Kamakura region where I am. I must agree. I think you will arrive here and discover the Japan that you’ve been reading about. Looking forward to following your journey.

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20 Jim April 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Good choice, and there’s a lot of Japan to explore without going anywhere near the disaster zones. Here in New Zealand we know full well the misconceptions created in peoples mind overseas that travel to a country is dangerous even though the disater affects only a part of the country.
Keep travelling guys!

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21 Sailor April 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm

I can’t imagine whats going through your mind when all these happens around the date your scheduled travel. It is saddening situation.
Sailor recently posted..Norwegian Dawn in Caribbean

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22 jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World April 26, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I think it’s awesome you’re still going. Only a part of the country is affected and I’m sure you’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the country. Japan is such a fascinating country. I’m really looking forward to your travel stories.
jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World recently posted..My Solo Traveling Moments in Cartagena

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23 Vivian April 27, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I am so glad that you decided to go, as a matter of fact, I wish I could hug you for doing so. So much is going on there, in spite of the risks there is still so much you can do while you are visiting. I cannot wait to see how your trip went.

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24 Joe Pritchard April 27, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I’ve always wanted to go to Japan too. So glad you made the decision to go, I look forward to reading about your experiences. Safe travels.

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