I felt refreshed, that first day in Tokyo, after four hours of sleep. Fine, I only wish I’d felt refreshed. Yes, I can hear you laughing, friends, but my infatuation with sleep was nowhere to be found.

Maybe not refreshed. But geared up and psyched out of my mind to BE IN JAPAN!? You better believe it. Sleep schmeep. With a coffee and a custard bun in my belly, we were off and running.

First stop on our guided tour: Tokyo Tower. It’s beacon red, while everything else in the city is gray. See? It’s red and very towery. 

In just 30 minutes, we rode up a crowded elevator, took in a 360 degree of the city, rode back down and boarded the tour bus again, all that was needed to get a feel for Tokyo Tower. That, and paying triple for key rings, stickers and the like. As you do. Oh, the kids stood on a glass-bottomed piece of floor and looked down. That was pretty wonky.

Do you want to know the craziest part of this photograph? See those sandals on the bottom right? They belong to one of my students, waiting her turn to get on the glass. Since downloading these photographs onto this computer, advertisements for those EXACT sandals appear randomly beside my newsfeed. Terrifying? Coincidence? Your guess is as good as mine.

P.S. They are lovely, but I do not want the sandals, so stop reminding me they exist, internet.

Second stop: a garden, deep in the heart of Tokyo. The moment we stepped in, it was zen. It’s in the middle of one of the largest, most sprawling cities on earth, but you’d never know it. It felt like an oasis. Several weddings were being photographed while we explored the koi pond, Shinto shrine, and tea ceremony building. It was gorgeous.

Zen peace.

The tea ceremony we witnessed was likewise peaceful and serene. The presenter was delicate in her manner; graceful and poised. We learned that serving tea correctly takes a lot of time to learn, and hours of practice, to perfect. She made it look simple. The matcha tea was strong, and gave a good kick for the next leg of our day: lunch.

We were welcomed to a Japanese barbeque, cooked for us on our very own hibachis in the center of tables – a delightful treat. Beef and pork, onions, green peppers, garlic, and mushrooms were cooked to perfection and served to us, miraculously, every time we’d barely cleared our plates. A very satisfying meal, and, I must say, I felt much better about the kids having plenty of real, delicious food in their bellies. We all felt fantastic. Save for the tiredness, which threatened to pull us under every time we sat still for more than two minutes.

After lunch, we continued our guided tour of the city. Though it was cold and a little rainy, we boarded a shuttle boat and got to see bits of Tokyo from the water.

A view from my seat toward the center of the boat.

And my view looking the other direction! They’re SO happy. What joy.

After the boat? Shopping. These pictures give you a feel for the crowds, the blue sky, the towering shrine above the street, and the beauty of our surroundings. Kids bought lots of gifts and memorabilia here.

Back to the bus we went. We had one more stop on this guided tour. We went to the financial district of Tokyo, from which we could see part of the Imperial Palace. And a mote. But if I understood our guide correctly, it was not actually the palace, and not a moat used as a moat, anymore. Derg. So, no pictures from you, weird stop on our guided tour!

Ah. Then the tour was over. Our bus pulled back into the bus terminal and we departed. I was still organizing my backpack when a young red-headed man named Patrick Carland joined us, reached out and took a thousand pounds of weight off our shoulders. Before Patrick, I was a stranger in a strange land and leading the blind while blind. After Patrick, I was a participant on one of the best trips of my life. (Patrick made the trek down from Aomori, the town to which we would be traveling in another day or two. He speaks fluent Japanese and was an invaluable addition to our journey.)

Patrick arrived and changed the already stunning world we were exploring, when, in a booming voice he bellowed “Welcome! Welcome, my delicious little pieces of sushi wrapped in seaweed! Let’s go get some dinner!” And we did. 

Not all heroes wear capes.