If I hadn’t kept a journal on this trip, I’d have little to say, since I wouldn’t remember anything. I was consumed with counting the gang, checking in with them, ensuring their passports were still in my possession, counting them again, going over and over the itinerary for the city part of our trip, convincing my internal clock to wake me at the right hour. Counting them again. I think, in truth, I was afraid to sleep. What if? What if? What if?

So when they knocked on my door that first night in Shinjuku (a section of Tokyo, like Brooklyn in NYC), hungry, as I’ve explained, I was glad to see them. If I could see them, I could make sure they were safe. Did I want to leave this hotel at this particular moment? No I did not. Did I want them to be alone, or to be alone, even less?

Off to the convenience store we went.

A first trip to an Asian convenience store is both fun and overwhelming. You want and need food. But you just aren’t sure what it is you’re buying. And even if you recognize, say, oreo cookies, something tells you they won’t be the same. It’s the design of the package: too light, too strange. Which is correct, says experience. Buy you it anyway. Unless it’s dried squid in a vacuumed package, indeed, I say, have at it.

Oh! By the way, Zima still exists in Japan! My host told me to take a picture because no one back home would believe me. And then we joked that it’s not fresh Zima, it’s just been on the shelves for, like, 10 years, which is untrue. They still make it in Japan! Anyway. I digress. 

I don’t know what all the students bought that night/morning in our bodies. Crackers, cookies, power bars, fresh fresh fruit, some juice. I’m not sure. Enough to quell their hunger. Enough to get them through the night/day in their bodies. Enough to start their journeys about being brave eaters, which they were going to need later, when at home stays, when dinner was offered and the only thing familiar was rice. Their love affairs with snacks had begun.

Look familiar-ish? Maybe some tic tacs? Some starbursts? A sandwich cookie? Gobstoppers? Would it surprise you to hear that none of these are remotely like any of those?

The adventure of food. It’s a huge part of travel. Snacks sustained our crew that first night. But then came morning.

We had a bus to catch for a day-long city tour, and we were going to miss the breakfast included for the price of our rooms (apparently for 4 out of 6 rooms, that is,) so we had to find something to eat. We saw a few restaurants with traditional breakfasts (and luckily, most restaurants have vivid pictures of what they sell outside) but the kids weren’t yet feeling bold about eating.

In their defense, this next pic is of a traditional Japanese breakfast, which may not be for everyone, and which was served to me by my host grandmother. I personally love this food, this light style of eating, all of it. The kids, however, found a McDonald’s not two blocks away, and they ate hash browns. From McDonald’s. In Tokyo. And were happy.

From left around to big plate: pork and scallions, greens, apple pie, boiled apricot pasta salad, a washcloth, and on the plate an egg, a tomato, and two types of fish.

Bellies full, we figured out the short trip to meet our bus (at the Hyatt, the very one at which we’d been dropped the night before.) We took the subway this time (no hour-long walk) just two stops, as one can think a lot clearer when one has had sleep, and can decipher just how to choose a subway line and figure out how to purchase tickets. For about $10 and in about 3 minutes we were there to meet our guide.

Into the heart of the city we went.