Having friends that travel or live in other places of the world is great. Imagine meeting your buddy for a drink in the heart of Bangkok, or shopping with a girlfriend on the Champs-Élysées (or at least window shopping!).
That’s just what we did in Tokyo. One of the benefits of social media is the ability to stay in touch with long lost friends. When John posted that we were headed to Japan his high school buddy, Stefan Gillette, reached out. An active member of the US Navy, Stefan happened to be stationed just an hour outside of Tokyo. He and his girlfriend, Jennifer, were looking for an excuse to come into downtown, so we decided to meet up with them.
Our meeting at the Hachiko statue in front of the Shibuya station was blustery and bone-chillingly cold, so we headed for the nearest warm restaurant. The evening started with a light dinner at a traditional Yakitori joint. We stuffed our bellies with the savory, sticky skewers, washed down with a few glasses of ice-cold Sapporo. We sat on child-sized wooden stools in the midst of the warm, but smoky, restaurant while we caught up on the highlights of the last 10 years. John and Stefan hadn’t seen each other since high school. Stefan told us all about his experience in the navy and his latest trips. He and Jennifer had just returned from an excursion along the Trans-Siberian Railway, a trip that sounded fascinating.
We were the only westerners in that hole in the wall restaurant, but no one else seemed to mind. After dinner, Stefan suggested that we grab a drink, so we donned our coats, hats and scarves, and headed out into the cold windy night again. As we wound through alleys and side streets, I wondered how anyone could find their way. Every street looked identical to the next, each with quaint shops and restaurants and brightly lit signs. But then Stefan stopped and gestured into a small sunken doorway.
As we walked under the sparkly club sign, we descended a small and narrow set of stairs leading to the underground bar. My eyes adjusted to the dim light and I took in the scene of the dance floor. Groups of Japanese girls, dressed in their finest club outfits, swayed and bounced to the pulsing music, surrounded by big muscular guys. Stefan explained that most of the guys in the bar were in the Navy and then it made sense to me. So, we joined in on the fun. We took a few shots, snapped some photos, and enjoyed the dance spectacle.
After a few more drinks, we called it a night. Stefan and Jennifer invited us over to watch a football game the next day. The Navy TV station was showing the Seattle Seahawks vs San Francisco 49ers (the game to determine who would go to the Superbowl). We took them up on their offer, and ended up watching the Seahawks win a spot in the Superbowl. Both 49ers fans, Stefan and Jennifer were less than thrilled, but managed to congratulate us. We couldn’t believe our luck…finding friends so far away from home.
We’ve met some really fantastic people on the road, friends that we still stay in touch with today. Whenever someone invites you to come visit their hometown…take them up on it! You’re guaranteed a more meaningful travel experience.