We were up by five in the morning in Hanoi to catch a cab (the wrong cab, unfortunately, since we had prepaid a different one and had to pay again with this guy since he wasn’t the cab driver we actually booked. This guy knew no more than hello in English, which is more than we know of Vietnamese, so we cannot rightfully be mad about it.). In all honesty, I wasn’t excited about Tokyo. I had been a couple weeks earlier when we originally booked our flights. But at this point, I’d been sick so many days in a row, I just wanted to be home. It had nothing to do with being tired of travel, or no longer enjoying the adventure— no, I don’t think those things will ever stop lighting a thrill inside of me no matter how long I live and see the world, but it had everything to do with being downright ready to get my health figured out. When you’re sick as much as I am, it affects your mental health too. And mentally, I’m frustrated and anxious about it all the time. We have travel insurance, but I’ll be brutally honest, I don’t trust American doctors to care and figure out what’s wrong with me half the time— much less a doctor in SE Asia that possibly doesn’t know my language. But Robbie, bless his sweet and wonderful heart, mustered all the optimism within him, and assured me Tokyo was going to be great, that we’d make the absolute most of our last week abroad, and that we would not let me feeling sick hinder us from going out (that we’d just address the stomach/bathroom situation when we came to it each day)— and we’d do it together. And sure enough, he was exactly right. Little did I know Tokyo would become my favorite city in the world. Praise Jesus for knowing just the right gift to give Robbie and me at just the right time.
We had a long layover in Guangzhou, China. Landing there and looking out the windows felt like we were landing back in Thailand, based on the terrain surrounding us. It was jungle in all directions and plenty of dirt roads. When we were in mid-flight on our “China Southern Airlines” connection from Guangzhou to Tokyo, I had my phone out, on airplane mode, playing a stupid phone game, trying to pass the time on this four hour flight. One of the Chinese flight attendants came over to me and said very kindly, “We’re still technically above China right now, so you’re not allowed to use your phone. You can get it out again in Japan.” What?? So crazy! It wasn’t that she thought I was not in airplane mode or something, it had everything to do with Chinese laws and using your phone in China. Robbie and I found this interaction fascinating. We take so many things for granted.
A four hour flight and a two hour time difference later, we arrived in Tokyo around 10pm. We grabbed our bags and got out several thousand Yen (100 Yen is about 1 U.S. dollar), found the train ticket desk, and purchased two tickets to Shinjuku station. This night we discovered how beneficial our time in Paris really was. Our daily experience with the Paris metro, how the ticket scanners work, how it’s imperative you hold on to your ticket your entire journey because you’ll need to give your ticket back to the machines when you get to your destination, how to read subway maps to figure out where we are going and what line to take, and even how to stay calm in the midst of thousand-person crowds in skinny station hallways— all came in handy here. We felt like pros. What would have been a stressful nightmare before Paris, was now a no-big-deal situation we felt confident in. The first things we took notice of: The train was spotless and smelled sterile like a doctor’s office (for being the biggest city in the world, you don’t expect the trains to be so clean) and the different adorable cheery Japanese music jingles that played in each station as you arrived. We made a train change in Shinagawa and then exited at Shinjuku (supposedly the busiest train station in the world—which would be our main station for the week). As we walked around, looking all around us up and down the walls and ceilings for signs pointing us to the west exit, a sweet thirty-something Japanese man, whose name we discovered is Shun, approached us and asked us if we needed help finding our way.
I tell ya, I wish I had photos of all the people who, even if we just had a short conversation, impacted us on this trip. Shun told us his wife was going to be meeting him at the station in thirty minutes so he had plenty of time to kill and that he’d love to walk us to our airbnb! Can you believe that? He kept apologizing for his “bad English” which is just shocking to me because he was doing so great! A few times he wrote down some questions or comments he was trying to make to us in his google translate app and handed his phone to us to read as we walked through the city at night. We walked out to the west side of Shinjuku station and Robbie and I were all heart eyes as we absorbed the lights and skyscrapers we have not been accustomed to seeing lately. Shun walked us the fifteen minutes to our airbnb, which was a huge relief for us to not have to fuss with figuring that out—always an obstacle when we first get to a place. He even added us on Facebook when we got to our place, telling us to message him if we had any questions about getting around the city or what to do. We did in fact message him and he gave us a ton of restaurant recommendations.
It was probably 11:30pm by the time we were inside our apartment and had unpacked our bags a bit. I was starving and we remembered there was a Burger King just down the street that was still open when we passed it with Shun. It felt like the right thing to do since Burger King had sort of become sentimental to us in Hanoi. So we picked it up, brought it back, and enjoyed every bite. (I don’t think Burger King will ever taste as good to us again, as it did in those moments we were “starving” in those Asian countries, and I kind of like that. We hadn’t eaten at a Burger King for maybe 4 years before now, and we probably won’t make it a regular thing coming back, and I like that too.). Things we appreciated that night more than we ever would have before the month before: clean tap water (and being able to brush our teeth without bottled water) and being able to flush our toilet paper instead of throwing it in the trash can. Honestly, huge blessings we don’t consider often. We also loved that the weather felt like December and not July, and our hearts felt so excited for Christmas.
Day one in the city we decided we would just explore Shinjuku, the area of Tokyo we had our airbnb in. We chose that area because Shinjuku station is so large, that we knew we could get anywhere in the city with few train changes pretty quickly. But Shinjuku itself is quite bustling, and a very popular area to hang out in. This day we did more walking and exploring than actually doing much of anything, but it was glorious and wonderful. We immediately knew we loved Tokyo. Guys, this city is so clean and so quiet. For being the biggest city in the world with 9.5 million people, you certainly expect loads of traffic, honking, and just general noise. But that’s not the case. We quickly realized what rule followers the Japanese are. If the walk signal on the crosswalk was red, they did not go. Not even when it was very obvious no vehicle was coming for a long while. If it was red, there was absolutely no walking. This sort of shocked us. On one occasion, we crossed on red because we knew we could make it before any cars came, and I swear we were being stared down by a huge group of Japanese people huddled on the other side of the intersection having no idea what we were doing or why we were doing it. The trains all have signs in English and Japanese telling you to put your phone on silent and that you can’t actually talk on the phone. I guess these things sound a little strange to announce how much we loved them, but it’s true nonetheless. Everyone walking the streets were so quiet, kind, and “obedient”. There was no trash anywhere on the sidewalks or streets (a huge difference from Vietnam where the trend was to throw all trash onto the streets and then have someone sweep it off the roads late at night), the trains were clean, and the people are so cheery and wonderful to be around. Everything about Tokyo felt more modern than even the United States. Take the bathrooms for instance— Every toilet had a multitude of buttons on a panel connected to the seat, located to your right when you’re sitting on it. These buttons controlled the temperature of the seat warmer (yes, seat warmers even on the toilet in our airbnb), the strength of the bidet flow (no, I still haven’t tried a bidet— too scared), and even the volume of the bird chirping ambience noises (or rushing water noise or other nature sound that they had programmed to play automatically while you “do your business”). These toilets are so amazing and advanced, I’m going to seriously miss having loud noises play while I’m on the toilet in the United States. It’s brilliant!
We had brunch at a well-known French toast cafe in Shinjuku that morning. And it is rightfully popular— it was hands down the best French toast we have ever had. It’s like they injected it with drugs or something. haha It had the most gooey lava center and we topped it with a maple syrup/whipped cream mixture. Afterwards we walked to “Beams” a well-known Japanese clothing and gift-items store. It was so rad. This store is everything quirky and stylish and modern. It was four floors of awesome, all-Japanese-made goodness. We spent so much time looking at all the weird art and trinkets like refurbished 1980’s boomboxes and playing cards that had hand-drawn numbers and suits. We didn’t buy anything but it sure was fun just looking at it all. This reminded Robbie and me of the type of afternoon we love to have in Omaha: Going to brunch together, just the two of us, and then wandering around a walkable neighborhood in the sunshine and finding fun shops we’ve never been into before. We spent the majority of the afternoon walking the streets and getting a feel for where everything was, and loving every second of it. Shinjuku is a bright and bustling entertainment district with flashing screens on buildings above you like Times Square or something. Every intersection was expansive and just watching hundreds of people cross in every direction (of course, not until the walk sign was green, haha) at each one was a fun experience in and of itself. So many people yet the air was quiet and calm. It felt safe but vibrant and alive. And the people are stylish like they are in Paris. We ended up at a place called Tokyu Hands (yes, it’s spelled with the “U” at the end), which was another interesting Japanese store with so many fun things to look at. One of the floors was entirely crafty and DIY stuff, so I spotted some supplies to make earrings so Robbie and I wrote down some questions in our Google translate app for a woman working there and she fixed me right up with some gold chain I needed cut for the earrings I was imagining in my head. Afterwards we walked to a local udon restaurant. Udon is a dish named after the type of noodles it’s made with. Udon is made from buckwheat and it’s very thick wide noodles. This particular shop makes them from homemade dough right in front of you in a very small, very narrow shop that maybe holds 6 people at tables and 6 people up at bar seats. This is incredibly common, we found out. Nearly every restaurant you pass in the city is situated in immensely small spaces that only hold a handful of people eating at a time. I have no idea why this is the case because most of these places are popular enough they could easily expand. For instance, we had to wait in a twenty minute line outside of the restaurant for our turn to go in and sit down. The expectation is that you get your food, eat it as quickly as possible and then leave so the next patrons can enter and get their food. And they don’t do take-out (we asked). I’ll be honest, I had so much anxiety in that small space. It just unnerved me to be in that tight of a space and to feel the pressure to eat quickly instead of at my own pace. But it was worth it. Robbie had his udon hot (you can have it hot or cold) with a baked fish cake, and I had mine hot covered in parmesan cheese and milk with tempura bacon— I kept calling it my Japanese macaroni and cheese. haha So good and the best part was that there were only Japanese people in there. You KNOW it was awesome if only locals were there. That night I made my “puff ball” earrings (you’ll understand when you see the pictures) in the airbnb with Robbie lying beside me. I did feel sick that day, especially after the French toast, but we didn’t let it keep us from enjoying our day. I went to bed that night so thrilled we came to Tokyo despite my illness. We loved this place.
Day two is so exciting to write about because it incorporates one of our best friends, Quinn. We met Quinn in Omaha a couple of years ago. She moved to Omaha from North Carolina to pursue ministry with international students through a ministry called “Global Friends.” Since meeting her, we dreamed of Gospel work together and started a refugee ministry alongside her at Citylight Benson, our church. Quinn has many incredible things about her but one thing I’ve always been in awe of is that she heard from the Lord at 13 years old that she was supposed to be a missionary. She never lost that dream/hope/goal and has been working towards it every day since then, begging God for clarity on where that would be with what people group. Through her time with international students, she felt her heart connecting with the Japanese. She always imagined herself going someplace third world, but she found the Spirit asking her to go to Japan (a country that is one of the most void of the Gospel in the world). So she obeyed. She moved to Tokyo in November of this year, just a month ago, and will start language school in January and will do that full time for two full years! We planned to meet up at a Starbucks outside of Shinjuku station. Seeing Quinn across the sidewalk from us as we walked up, the first friend’s face we had seen in four months, was pretty dang exciting! I was giddy and Robbie and I gave her the biggest hugs we had within us. We spent the next hour or two catching up over coffee and talking about the adventures all three of us had been on before getting to Tokyo. Quinn is loyal and loving. Something I love about Quinn is her relationship with Robbie. That’s always special to me when my girlfriends develop sincere relationships with Robbie that are meaningful beyond their friendship with me. (I’m looking at you Rachel! ;)) They joke with each other and also talk deeply about what the Lord is doing in their lives and where we are all feeling challenged. We wandered over to a fancy tie shop with her (looking for a tie for our mutual “fancy friend” back home: Neal), and then to Shinjuku Gardens. This park is everything every city in the world needs right in the middle of all the hustle. It’s acres upon acres of calm sanctuary, clean and green, the trees are huge and numerous, many still with colored leaves still hanging on before winter totally settles in. We joined the multitude of other people enjoying the sunshine in the midst of a wide open field, with the skyscrapers still in view, sitting and chatting and loving being with a familiar face we love so much. Hearing about Quinn’s transition to Tokyo has been going is humbling, knowing God may ask something like this of us one day. It’s inspiring too. If you think of it, will you pray for her? Pray that she would learn Japanese quickly and “easily” (God CAN perform miracles— this language is HARD!). Pray that the Lord would heal her of her Diabetes (that she’s had since she was fourteen). Pray that God would use Quinn to bring many many people to know the Hope and miracle of the Gospel. I know Jesus is so pleased with Quinn, as I am too. She’s easy to love and she’s an amazing friend. This girl and I are always checking in on each other’s health and constantly praying for healing for one another. I know the Lord will do great things through us both despite our illnesses, but we ask in His name that we be healed.
After a few hours in the gorgeous park, we ate a late lunch together and then spent way too much time trying to find Daiso, the famous “100 Yen store” haha. We eventually found it after many wrong turns and it now being dark out. She picked out some surgical masks she needed on hand in order to be culturally sensitive to the Japanese expectation that you’ll wear a mask if you’re feeling ill. haha We finished our long and wonderful day at a jazz cafe, me with a hot chocolate and Robbie and Quinn with some Japanese cinnamon “assam tea.” We played cards and talked some more, soaking up all the time we had left with our girl. The assam teas came with these cinnamon sticks that looked like cigars so we took a funny photo of Robbie and Quinn together “smoking” their cinnamon sticks and playing cards. What rebels! 😉 The day seemed to slip away from us all too fast before we were sending her off to catch her train back to her part of town. My heart wishes we could just visit her each week, since we saw her multiple times a week just six months ago when we were all living in the same city and doing ministry and life together. Thankful to get a picture of life there, the people she’ll be serving, and the culture she’ll be a part of. I know God placed her exactly where He wants her. What a beautiful thing to see. I’m so proud of her too. ❤
The next day was Friday and we ventured out to Harajuku, a popular district of Tokyo, renowned for its colorful street art and fashion scene and for the many quirky vintage clothing stores lining the main street, Takeshita. We emptied out of the train station directly onto Takeshita, and sure enough, we were greeted with bubble gum pinks and bright yellows, cotton candy stands and sweet crepes, ice cream shops, and the air looming with nutella. It was an experience just to walk this street. We were all sorts of excited and Robbie was determined to get the famous “three-times-the-size-of-your-head” cotton candy from one particular shop. It is massive and rainbow colored. We watched the lady spin it right in front of us, pouring colored sugar rocks into her machine, twisting and twisting the handle until all the sugar became wispy. It was so pretty you didn’t want to eat it, but it felt like the appropriate thing to do in colorful Harajuku. We walked in and out of many vintage stores (seriously one of Robbie and my favorite things to do anywhere we are, but Tokyo has quite the fashion scene so these stores were especially fun). I ended up purchasing a burnt orange felt coat and an adorable shark dress/shirt that Robbie insisted we get for me because it was so adorable. Boy am I thankful for a husband who thinks the same way I do. ❤
We wandered the district of Harajuku for hours, down side streets, down “cat street” (a fancier upmarket shopping street with zero car traffic), into eclectic design stores that Robbie could have spent hours in, and then into a hedgehog cafe. It’s the first of its kind and it was way too expensive just to spend thirty minutes there but we’re glad we did it. We’ve pet Faroese sheep and Norwegian goats, gotten up close with Swiss cows and Thai elephants and now we can say we’ve held and cuddled Japanese hedgehogs. They were adorable but not as soft as you may think (although their bellies are as squishy and soft as you would imagine). We kept laughing while we were there, as the hedgehogs kept wanting to crawl up our arms instead of staying cozy in our palms. But Robbie successfully got one to fall asleep in his hands and it really made the visit satisfying. haha We saw some Mario Cart racers down a busy street (full grown men in Mario and Luigi costumes driving mini red Mario Cart go-cart type cars), and stayed until dark when the streets lit up with Christmas lights in the trees that dangled above the roads. We grabbed dinner at a place that specializes in Japanese gyoza. Gyoza are just potstickers, but again, the dough for them is homemade right in front of us, and we had so much fun watching them make our dinner right in front of us. Even though we got an order of six of them each, we loved them so much that we ordered another batch to share before we left. The night ended with a walk through a boutique mall— 5-story mall filled with unknown eclectic brands with the most amazing clothing. I’m telling you, we haven’t been shoppers this entire voyage, but Tokyo has such cool stuff to offer, and it’s a good thing we seriously had no room left in our backpacks for extra things, otherwise we would have bought way too much to bring home. We got back to Shinjuku for the evening and ended our night the way we did most nights in Tokyo, at Tully’s Coffee really near our airbnb. If this hasn’t become obvious by now, Robbie and I are creatures of habit. We love having a place we call our own, a place that feels familiar in the chaos of all the travel and unfamiliarity that we can go to again and again (take the Coop grocery store in Switzerland or the cat cafe in Thailand, or King’s Garden in Copenhagen, or our acai bowl place in Amsterdam, or Espresso House coffee shop in Copenhagen and Stockholm, or ‘Paul’ Bakery in Paris, or our specific gelato place in Amalfi). We do it at home too. We have our favorite local coffee shop, and our handful of favorite local restaurants and we go there again and again, because things become sentimental for us practically overnight. Each of those places I mentioned bring back a rush of nostalgia already for me. I’m such a sap, but it’s true that Tully’s in Tokyo will have the same effect. My Malawi hot tea with steamed milk and honey became my staple and I had it five times in the chilly nights in Japan in December.
Saturday morning we woke up and got to the station pretty early, and made our way thirty minutes over to Tsukiji Fish Market. The largest and most famous fish market in the world. After going to so many markets between Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, we were sort of over the idea of going to another one. But we had become obsessed with Tokyo in the last seventy two hours, so we figured Tokyo’s market had something special to offer that was new and different from what we’d seen before. I’m so glad we went. This market was full and hectic, yet somehow still calm and clean. There was not a wicked smell of fish like we expected considering there was always some kind of off-putting smell in the markets of Southeast Asia. Honestly this market was beautiful and I kept imagining what it would be like to live here and be able to get fresh fish any day of the week. We observed many men who literally brought suitcases and were filling them with loads and loads of fish. They were Japanese men, the suitcases weren’t because they were traveling, it was simply to be able to more easily transport all the fish they were buying back home. We saw a hammerhead shark on display, fresh tuna that had been caught that morning, and even dried jelly fish. After moseying through the tangle of streets and booths for a couple of hours, we ended up grabbing a handful of sushi that had been made with that morning’s catches. We journeyed back to Shinjuku but stopped along the route home where we would have made a train change anyway to see another district of Tokyo we had heard about: Ginza. Ginza was incredibly wealthy and too upscale for our tastes, but we still made time for one shop there— a visit to a Sanrio store to see if we could find something “Gudetama” for Bretty. Gudetama is an adorable Japanese character (made by the same company that came up with Hello Kitty so many decades ago). His character is essentially a lazy egg yolk. You must Google him. He’s impossibly adorable (Kawaii, as the Japanese would say to describe something that fantastically cute). We were first introduced to him by Brett and so we thought it was only fitting we get her something of him for her in his motherland. We were able to find a silly keychain and an adorable 2018 calendar for her with him all over it. By 2:30 we were back at our apartment in Shinjuku, eating our unbelievably delicious sushi, me completely dying over how amazing every bite was. We had bought the perfect amount. My favorite was just the sticky rice sushi that has just a thin slice of fresh tuna lying across the top of it, and then dipped in soy sauce. Our Saturday night in in Shinjuku was mostly made up of eating more Udon for dinner and walking around the enchanting Omoide Yokocho, an alleyway in the city full of izakayas (Japanese pubs) and Japanese diner-style cafes that still preserves and reflects “old Japan”. The name literally translates as “Memory Lane.” Ahhh just remembering it now is so fun. It’s packed along the narrow street with locals eating and drinking. We never stopped in any place, we mostly just walked it several times to take in all the hanging lanterns, the dangling colorful banners between buildings, and the warmth the grills of each restaurant gave off. About half of the restaurants didn’t have front walls, they’re incredibly narrow (like most of the restaurants in this part of Tokyo), and everyone sits at a circular bar together similar to an old American diner, where the food gets cooked right in the center of all the people. This street had a certain magic to it and Robbie and I loved just watching all the people.
A couple of days into our Tokyo adventure I got a text from my girlfriend, Jacquie, who Robbie and I have known for years and years. She’s a dear friend who has lived in Alaska for the past year, stationed there with the military. Jacquie and I have shared so much over the years, we’ve been through a lot together. She’s a friend who is so easy for me to be around, someone who loves with an enormous heart, someone who I’m so comfortable to just be myself with. I could hardly believe it when she told me she had just gotten temporarily stationed in Misawa, Japan until February and was making a trip that weekend to Tokyo! Who knew we could just go to Japan to see some of our great Omaha friends? We met her Sunday morning at Shinjuku station, with the sweetest greeting complete with tears. We boarded a train and emptied out at Shimo-Kitazawa. I’m so glad we went here. It was just a shot in the dark. It became my favorite neighborhood of all the places we visited in Tokyo. It’s a district void of cars, one that is lined with adorably stylish and modern buildings along narrow beautifully paved roads with Japanese symbols written on them in fresh coats of white paint, fancy bicycles, and a littered with a million cafes and vintage shops (similar to Harajuku except way less touristy and way more cozy). Tokyo has a thing about male fashion, so this was great because while Jacquie and I talked a million miles a second, Robbie could shop around in all the stores dedicated to only guys. We got breakfast and caught up, wandered through a little Sunday morning market of vendors selling hand-made goods, and then walked these streets for five hours. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, there were still colorful leaves blowing around our feet and we all fell in love with Shimo-Kitazawa for it’s artsy and beautiful atmosphere. This was a place we could live. One ridiculous thing that happened though that we couldn’t stop laughing about was that Robbie was politely asked to stop whistling in one hipster shop. Apparently it detracted from the vibe they had in there. I’m telling you, the Japanese appreciate their quietness. haha We’ve joked about that ever since: “Remember that one time you couldn’t whistle while you shopped?”. We ventured outside of the city center, into the residential part, and over to a cream puff factory. Totoro is another character famous to the Japanese, and these were precious little cream puffs in the shape of Totoros complete with eyes and a tiny hat and everything. Jacquie appreciates this kind of adorableness the way we do, so the three of us enjoyed just staring at the cute dessert and laughing a bunch before we all indulged. Robbie was set on making sure we got enough pictures of her before we ate her. haha
The afternoon was spent discovering the busy walking street of the neighborhood. It seemed to come out of nowhere. We’d spent hours wandering streets that were practically empty. We admired gorgeous lush flower shops and eclectic coffee shops, enjoying watching the commotion and neighborhood-feel of it all. We completed our day together with a hysterical visit to a purikura store. If you don’t know what Purikura is, it’s worth a Google search. haha It’s most popular among Japanese high school girls. But lots of tourists do it too just because you have to do it at least once while you’re in Japan. It’s essentially Photo Booth pictures that you can afterward decorate and alter using a stylus on a screen, and the photos get printed as stickers. It’s pretty outrageous, automatically giving you lipstick and wider, glassier eyes. Even though it cost us 400 Yen, it was worth it for the laughs and the experience. We spent a ridiculous amount of time perfecting the silly decorations on our photo, giving ourselves bunny ears and stupid phrases on the photos like “Besties” and such. It was the perfect day, we couldn’t stop saying that. We hopped on a train back to Shinjuku, said a cherished goodbye and talked about how we’d never forget that day, and sent Jacquie off to Tokyo station to catch the bullet train back to Misawa.
It was 5pm when we dropped Jacquie off and Robbie and I were still very much alive with the excitement of the day. We decided to hop on another train out to Shibuya. Shibuya is an area that’s famous for their “Tokyo Times Square” and the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world called the Shibuya Scramble. This was so fun just to come out there at night when all the changing light up screens on buildings were flashing and glowing, and to join the hundreds of people crossing in every direction, including diagonally, in the Shibuya Scramble. It was more chaotic at night in this district than Shinjuku. We battled the crowds and found a fun conveyor-belt sushi place to stop for dinner. We had no idea what we were doing, but had the nicest waiter who explained everything in nearly perfect English. I like sushi more than Robbie but he’s so sweet to want to take me out to sushi one more time before we left Japan. It had been such a fun day and I remember looking at Robbie and then looking around this sushi shop, the only white people in there, and thinking about how far we’d come. We had one day left in this whole adventure, and it hardly felt real. Here we were in Tokyo, navigating the subways and trains with complete ease and zero anxiety, finding hidden gems in the city that held special treasures for our hearts, and enjoying local cuisine and embracing everything that life in Tokyo had to offer. We felt so satisfied, so content. We felt like Tokyo was this exclamation point on the end of four incredible months. Tokyo was the summary of the trip that exclaimed “Look at us! We are pros at traveling!” (or so we like to think).
Robbie and I made our way back to Shinjuku that night and of course over to Tully’s coffee for my Malawi tea and a latte for him. And I cried. I shielded my face to keep the tables around us from worrying about me. But I cried so hard, and so ugly, right there at our table. Robbie held my hands underneath the table and looked at me with sympathetic, longing eyes. The emotion came out of nowhere, as soon as we had sat down. It just hit me. One more day of this adventure left. How? How had we made it to the end? My heart felt like it was being gutted from my chest. I was looking into the eyes of my extraordinary husband, and seeing 18 weeks of adventure and thrill and love, magic and mystery and inspiration. It felt like it was a hundred years since we had been in the Faroe Islands, navigating little green mountains and feeling isolated and free from the entire world, where this whole voyage really began. I felt like we had become different people, better people, more in love with Jesus and each other. And here we were now, in Tokyo, a place we never planned to go to when we set off, but were ridiculously in love with now. We had no regrets as I breathed deep and Robbie said, “You’re not allowed to cry when it’s been this good.” He was right. It’s been too good, better than any dream my mind could have imagined.
Monday morning, December 11th, we woke up to our last day of life in other countries, the last day of exploring new and exciting places with every sunrise, the last day of the best four months of my life. We did what we had learned to adore about Tokyo—hopping on a train and discovering new neighborhoods. This day we found Naka-Meguro. The sun was extra bright this day, absolutely beautiful, beating down on our happy fluttering hearts. I think Robbie and I held each other’s hands a little extra tightly, and moved a little slower than normal trying to drag out our day with every bit of stubbornness we had. We found the most perfect bakery (City Bakery) just outside the station, ate two amazing baked goods each paired with fresh squeezed orange juice for Robbie and homemade hot chocolate with fresh-baked marshmallows for me. Total bliss. After sitting there awhile and enjoying the stillness, we made our way down streets along the river. There were cute sidewalk cafes and upscale clothing stores, but our favorite was an enormous modern bookstore. We spent more than an hour wandering the several floors (amidst several buildings separated by a floating tunnel), looking at books and movies, photography, music, beautiful planners and tourism books, feeling tempted to buy a book on the basics of learning Japanese (I’m obsessed with this place!) or at least a Japanese cookbook. We didn’t actually leave with anything, but it was fun to dream. Naka-Meguro was the least touristy of any place we’d been, even less than Shimo-Kitazawa. We had walked the neighborhood til our hearts were content.
When we made it back to the station, we had such a hard time figuring out how we would end our last night abroad. We debated for the longest time and just really felt this pressure to make it something unbelievable, but the thing was— we’d already made our time in Japan unbelievable, nothing could take that away from us. We thought about going back to Shimo-kitazawa because we loved it so much, but felt like we’d already seen everything we wanted to see there. We wanted to return to Shinjuku Gardens, but it closed at 4:30 so we knew we wouldn’t have much time there by the time we trained back and walked over there. We thought about just picking a random stop on the train routes, but didn’t want to wing it on our last night. So instead, we went back to Shinjuku, had Japanese Tonkotsu ramen, walked several of the busy streets again at night to just enjoy the atmosphere of Tokyo and breathe it all in, and then ended it smiling at Tully’s coffee.
At Tully’s we made a list of our favorite places we went, ranked in order. It wasn’t easy to do, and sometimes we disagreed on where certain locations should go based on our favor of them. We could agree on our top four favorites in order and that goes: Loften, Norway; Wengen, Switzerland; Faroe Islands, and then Tokyo. We reminisced, we laughed at ridiculous and stressful moments we’ve had along our journey. We talked about the people we met along the way that made the biggest impact on us from our surf instructors in Norway to our neighbor in Switzerland who took us under his wing and bought us cheese and eggs from the local dairy farmer on the mountain side. I follow almost everyone we’ve met along the way on instagram and it brings my heart so much joy to watch emily’s life in Vietnam, Kian and Nikki’s life in Norway, Jemima’s life teaching yoga in India, etc. Life is so beautiful and Robbie and I felt that beauty in all it’s branches and fullness that night. We didn’t feel sad anymore, we felt thrilled and blessed.
That night we played Christmas music loud in our apartment, packing our backpacks up for the final time. What would it feel like to not live out of a backpack anymore? It had felt like we’d been doing it for forever. We had acquired a few new items in Tokyo and we laughed as we stuffed our backpacks even fuller than they had ever been. We were giddy with the memories of 126 days across our hearts. I am convinced we are the best of best friends there ever was. Robbie is my whole heart— I imagine God designing Robbie’s gentleness, compassion, and humor with me in mind. I imagine God seeing Robbie and saying, “You’ll be perfect for Chase. You’ll be the biggest blessing I’ll give her in her life on this earth. And I am pleased with how you two will love one another.”
As I write this from back home in Omaha, Nebraska, it brings tears to my eyes to imagine our days in Tokyo, and how beautifully we ended our adventure. It brings tears to my eyes to remember how it felt to call Cambodia home for five days and Slovenia for seven. It makes my chest ache to remember our autumn days in Amsterdam riding bikes and wandering canals. I ache for our slow and precious days in Tuscany with incredible sunsets, home-cooked meals, and lots of Bible reading. I yearn for coffee and devotion-filled mornings in the Swiss Alps, the wide open ocean in Santorini, the joy and romance we felt in Amalfi, the days we spent serving and being inspired in Athens. I crave long hikes on confusing but breathtaking trails in Northern Norway. Part of me feels like it shouldn’t be over because there’s got to be more we are supposed to see and experience. But it’s just the longing the Lord has put in our hearts for quality time and not just existing but thriving. These last four months have and will continue to mean more to me than what I could ever express in words. I’m sure there’s a language in the Heavens that could fully articulate and encompass what this all meant. There has to be a word that can embody and express the feeling of deep spiritual fullness, presentness, uncontainable joy, and brilliant excitement for each new day. I hope these feelings never subside. I pray the adventure doesn’t stop here, and I have faith that it won’t.
Jesus, thank you profoundly, from the foundation of our hearts, for taking us on this journey. Thank you for exposing us to your glory in new extraordinary ways that we will never ever forget nor take for granted. You are our rock, the Faithful One, who has taught us to lean in when things are scary, to lean in when things don’t make sense, to lean in when we don’t know your plan. You have been ever-present, and ever-near. We love you with a love we’ve never had for our Creator before now, we love you with an aching in our chest for more—more of you. We have come back to the U.S. with even more open hearts than we started with, more exposed now to your creation (your people and landscapes, alike). We understand better why you love so deeply what your hands have made. Because we’ve never seen anything more incomprehensibly beautiful than the kindness of strangers we encountered in every single city and every destination. You are mighty and worthy to be praised. We know the adventure isn’t over. We know pursuing and following your will comes jam-packed with bold and wild ventures that are mysterious and confusing and risky. And we stand humbled by what you have given us so far, eager to be obedient to the next steps. In your name.
Thank you for following along, it’s meant more to me than you know.