I have to start by saying that this was a trip of a lifetime! Japan is such a special place in the world and the people and culture of the region truly are one of a kind.
The trip out to Japan started when I placed 5th at the USA Snowshoe National Championship in 2019 at Cable, Wisconsin.
You can read about my recap from the 2019 Nationals here:
Here I am on my way to the 5th place Finish to make the National Team!
Preparation For the World Snowshoe Race:
It was a great feeling knowing that I would be able to represent our country out in Japan and then began my year-long preparation for the World event. 2019 came and went as 2020 started, I was in full-swing in my training and preparation for the race. I worked on building my base with nice long runs, plenty of hills training and nice steady state and some tempo runs. I felt like my conditioning was solid.
We had a very mild winter here in New Jersey where I was not really able to get any time out on snowshoes-something that I need to be better at in preparing for my competitions but like riding a bicycle, running in snowshoes is not something foreign to me, so I did not get discouraged about my lack of time on snowshoes. Before long, it was the day of our flight.
On February 11th, we boarded our early-morning flight to from Philly to Denver, where we would then connect to Tokyo, Japan. This was my first international flight and it was such a blast to have my wife be able to take the trip with me. She made this trip really special!
What is it like to fly international?
Well, to Japan, it was a long flight! It was about a 13 hour long flight and great thing that we upgraded to extra leg room and that was something well worth it! We had many meals every couple of hours and Ashlee and myself dove in with watching the various movie options available on the plane. We napped a little but mostly stayed awake. Once we would arrive in Tokyo, it would be around 4pm in the afternoon there. Our plan would be to stay awake as long as we could so that the next morning, we could awake in Japan time and be better acclimated to the extreme time change.
We then arrived in Tokyo…It was an initial impression that will stick with me forever.
We rode through the escalators up to customs and it was so quiet through the airport. Soon we had signs with some English and Japanese symbols everywhere. We saw Nintendo characters like Super Mario and Donkey Kong welcoming us to Japan!
We quickly went through customs and then waited for our checked bag at baggage claim. It was such a similar yet different site than in America. The baggage claim was clean, almost sterile and quiet. We grabbed our back and then headed out to catch transportation to our hotel in Tokyo. As we entered the main terminal, we ran into USA team members: Joe Gray and Jim Miner. We chatted a little bit about the flights and Ashlee and myself walked through the terminal to get acquainted with getting bus tickets and getting some Japanese currency through a Currency Exchange.
After we received some Japanese Yen, it was time to get our bus tickets and to hit up the little food kiosk for some snacks. Japan is pretty cool because they have similar drinks like Coca-Cola but also different types of juices, teas, and other drinks you have to try to really understand what it might be.
Japan First Impressions:
People walk FAST!
We got onto the bus and headed to the hotel. The drive was fun as the sun was starting to set and as the large city-scape of Tokyo came into view. My first thoughts about the city was that it was similar to many other big cities with the large skyscrapers and as soon as we entered into the city, it felt like a scene from Godzilla.
With a city population of 14 million and about 40 million in the metro, Tokyo is the largest city and metro in the world. As you enter into the city prefectures, you start to get the feeling of how far-reaching the city goes. As we entered into Shinjuku, the prefecture where we would be staying for the next couple of days, it reminded me of New York City in Manhattan. It was incredible seeing all of the hustle and bustle of the city. Take Manhattan on a busy day and triple it! The crowds of people looked like waves in the ocean.
Shortly after passing by Shinjuku Station (it is like Penn Station in NYC), we arrived at our hotel: Hotel Washington. We checked into our rooms which are small like NYC hotel rooms and have something pretty cool…
Yes, the toilets in Japan are amazing! They have heated seats, are very comfortable, and have many features like different sprays and cleaning methods for your bottom and also have bird or water noises to make going to the bathroom more peaceful and more private to others. They are a constant plus throughout this trip and something I wish the US had.
After checking in, we were starving and headed to a local dive. The food of Japan is pretty incredible. We entered the sushi-bar type eatery and was seated. Japan has warm toilets you use to cleanse your hands before every meal. I really enjoyed this custom and it also went into how clean Japan is. Our meal was a delicious stew that cooked before our very eyes right in front of us. It was so unique and our first try with local saki was excellent. In Japan, saki pours often are placed under a little plate that fills-up with the saki. The history of how this overpour was started is debated but really its meaning is about providing a level of care and respect in service at restaurants. It makes you as the customer feel like you are getting more for your money and in turn will hopefully drink more and eat more. This meal was the perfect start to our trip in Japan.
We then met with the team over a beer and then headed to sleep. The time change is almost opposite of New Jersey. When it is morning in Japan, it would be nighttime back home. I thought time adjusting would be hard but it really was not too much of a problem for Ashlee and myself.
We spent the next day checking out some of the sites. I woke up and did my first run in Tokyo. It was a mild and cool morning: high 40’s to 50 degrees as I set out along the city streets. What I witnessed during my run was a level of peace and tranquility I had never experienced while running in a city. It was quiet. No one talking, just the sounds of footsteps of those people walking to work. It was not packed with people and I was blown away with my first encounter of the real Japanese lifestyle. I did an out and back running through some residential areas. Here are some photos that illustrate what I saw.
Yes they have Denny’s in Japan too!
The Quiet Streets of Tokyo!
Nice City Park right by our hotel!
After my run, we then explored Asakusa, a major shopping district in Tokyo. It was cool to be immersed in the whole experience of being in another culture. It took us some time to figure out the subway system, but once we did, things became much easier as we traveled all across the city.
Asakusa is a cool place with temples and shrines in the back-center portion of the shopping district followed by stands and stores with all different types of cool nick-nacks. We loved the shops with yummy candy, chop sticks, t-shirts of Godzilla done in funky art, and all different types of key chains, post cards and so much more. It was like being in Times Square in New York City, but instead was all tourist shopping here in Japan. It was so cool!
We had lunch at a ramen bar nearby and let me tell you that the ramen is soooooo good! If you are ever in Japan, you must try it! After we finished our time shopping, we then headed back to Shinjuku and our hotel to get ready for a food and drink tour. Tokyo is a very clean city and the local culture and cuisine here is really cool. If you like seafood and unique snacks and candy-man Japan has it all!
Cool Temples and sights of Asakusa!
We met in the Shinjuku station and then proceeded with Noori and two other couples: one from Australia that was on their honeymoon and another-two nurses from Guam. Ashlee planned this whole excursion and it was truly one of the highlights. We went on a tour of the many great gastropubs and bars that line Golden Gai- a narrow corridor to some of the best little dive bars in the area.
We had delicious food options and some great beer, sake, and hard drinks. The ambiance of Golden Gai is truly one of a kind with the various bars are like the size of a small closet and everyone packs in. With our crew, we even had the chance to hang out in a karaoke bar. That was so much fun having drinks and singing songs. We closed out the evening checking out a few more bars where there was no cover charge for foreigners. The one we checked out had tons of people from Australia which we found out that Japan is a big travel destination for them. It is only a 4 hour flight and many Aussies like to go skiing in Japan’s mountain regions.
It was an amazing night and a perfect day exploring all of what Tokyo has to offer.