I ate pizza in Kyoto, shopped for cheese in Tokyo, listened to hip hop in Hiroshima and still managed to fall in love with Japan.
It helped that my travel companion was a patient translator and that her kind, wise, generous, smart aunt and uncle put us up for nearly half the trip, feeding us lots of home-cooked Japanese meals (sukiyaki, oysters, natto, croquettes, sushi, pickled vegetables, pickled plums, unagi, tako), loading us up with tips and hand-drawn maps for our journeys around Japan, and allowing us to indulge in their kotatsu and ultra-modern Japanese bath.
My exploits while traveling for much of two weeks on a JR rail pass include chowing on Osaka-style fried noodle-and-cabbage-and-meat cakes in Nara, eating toro (fatty bluefin tuna) for the first time outside Tsukigi in Tokyo, interviewing the president of a Japanese winery with Anne in Ushiku, dipping Udon noodles in level-15 hot sauce in a bluesy Hiroshima dive, imposing upon a Bangladeshian journalist for admittance to the Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo, earning a year of good luck by squeezing through a wooden pillar in the biggest/oldest wood building in the world (in Nara with a Korean student and two Japanese salarymen), running from monkeys in Miya Jima, taking lots of baths in ryokan, buying Boss hot coffee out of vending machines, riding subways with lots of schoolkids and Shinkansen with lots of businessmen, scrounging dinner at a convenience store, and meeting fellow travelers, including a sustainability expert from Switzerland, a Chinese education student living in Australia, a Korean learning Japanese in Tokyo and two old Russian men. And ending every night with a beer and chat with Anne.
More later, including pictures. For now I am back and ready to relax for a couple more days before work begins again.