I apologize for taking so long to write. It’s 7 a.m. on Tuesday here in Nihon (Japanese for “Japan”) and I still have a suitcase full of clothing – that should give you an idea of how set up we are.
Actually… we have pretty much everything. I just hate unpacking :p
FROM THE TOP!
I woke up at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday, took a shower, and left a half hour late for the airport. Saying goodbye to Cookie was the worst part of walking out of my house. Mom and Dad were coming with to the airport, but that pup’s big brown eyes made my own water. I miss my dog 😦
Luckily, Mike left a half hour later than he had planned for the airport as well, so we met up and went through dreaded security. With a last few waves and smiles to our parents, we stripped of our coats, jackets, scarves, shoes, sweatshirts, belts, un-cased our laptops and tried to hurry as quickly as possible. Even though neither of us were selected for the full-body Xray or the pat-down, I still feel that the process is incredibly invasive. Here I am in an airport in New York City trying to make sure I have all of the belongings I so carefully packed (and obsessively checked) and in the middle of it all I have to wonder where my SHOES are?
After donning our duds we made our way to Gate 4 to wait an hour and a half for our flight. I picked up a vanilla yogurt & granola cup, and Mike bought a $10 Airborne since I packed the $5 one I purchased in my checked luggage. Whoops…
We found seats 35F and 35G on our Boeing 777 and settled in. I was in awe of just how large the plane was. We were sitting in the second section, and each had at least 20 rows of 2 seats, aisle, 5 seats, aisle, 2 seats. We lucked out, too. Mike sat on the right side end and I next to him, but 3 empty seats lie between me and our neighbor on the left end. SCORE! It really was a godsend because my carry-on had my rainboats, 5 pairs of shoes, laptop, and external hard drive so it was hea-vy. Then my purse had two wallets, some toiletries, iPod, camera, book, folder, huge ball of yarn, hat, gloves, Scrabble cards, passport, and cereal because I thought we would be hungry. (OH how I was wrong. Our 14-hour non-stop flight came with non-stop goodies). Tied to all of that was my neck pillow (which was amazing to have. Thanks again and big props to Margaret.), and my canteen. Yeah.
My biggest fears for the flight were boredom and hunger. Hunger was definitely not a problem. About an hour in, we got a little snack bag of pretzels, “cheese corn sticks,” and honey-sesame sticks. I saved it. Then about an hour after that we got “lunch:” beef with rice for me, chicken & mashed potatoes for Mike AND 3 crackers and a petite triangle of Gruyere cheese, a roll, a small salad with pepercorn cream dressing, a sushi plate with smoked salmon sushi & a California roll, and a chocolate chip blondie.
Mike was out cold after that, but I had trouble falling asleep. I felt guilty reclining too much because of the guy sitting behind me, so I tried to read a little Fast Food Nation as a final farewell to America for a year, but gave up and decided to watch Despicable Me. Being too lazy to read might’ve been the more American action.
Following that, I tried to sleep for a few more hours but it was mostly restless. By this time Mike was awake and using his MacBook Pro. The flight attendants came around again with ham and cheese on a croissant-like roll and a KitKat, and it was by far the tastiest thing we ate. This is at about the 6 hours to Tokyo mark. Sadly, I was awake and staring at the flight path info over all of no-man’s-land and Alaska, and fell asleep just when we crossed the International Date Line and started over Russia.
I woke up with about two hours left in the flight and felt pretty refreshed. I ate my saved bag of snacks, giving most of the corn cheese sticks to Mike, and brushed my teeth in the airplane bathroom. Came back, grabbed my knitting and iPod determined to have fun and be productive when the flight attendants came around with our final 30,000 ft. altitude dining experience: cheese pizza with a cup of sliced kiwi & some other unintelligible fruit with Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies.
NARITA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
We de-planed and stopped off to go to the bathroom. After I was waiting with the bags, Mike comes out and says, “You’re in for a surprise” with a devious smile. I walk in to the women’s room all cocky, because I’m pretty sure he means a Japanese style toilet and I can see that that stall is clearly marked, so I avoid it. I wait my turn, do my business, then flush. Only there are 4 buttons on this toilet – all of which marked in English, but I can’t find “flush” anywhere. There’s bidet, heat, deoderizer, and “flush sound.” Flush sound… that’s got to be it, right? WRONG! I push the button and out of speakers somewhere in, yes, again, this is a TOILET, the sound of running water comes. I am now thoroughly embarrassed. I finally figure out how to flush the frickin’ thing and we make our way to immigration & customs.
We can’t quite figure out where to go, then wait on a long line and a Japanese man tells us we forgot to fill out the back of the forms we were handed on the plane, so I have to whip out my wallet and count my money as discreetly as possible. It dawns on me just yesterday that I am fairly certain I claimed to have 100 Yen, which is the equivalent of about one U.S. dollar.
We get to customs and it’s a breeze. A young man looks through my passport, writes a bunch of things, takes my photo, and prints me a little entry sticker. I’m finally here.
After getting our luggage – which Mike saw some guy wheeling away on a cart since we took so long thanks to a distinguished dent in one of his suitcases – we proceed through customs and the only thing I am asked is, “one year?” to which I say yes.
Turn the corner and BAM! My boss, Frank. I’ve been talking to him via Skype calls for 5 months and we finally met. He’s a super nice, helpful guy and, as Rebecca guessed, looks nothing like I’d imagined. He has what I thought a kind of Spanish accent, but Mike and I have now concluded that it’s probably his English affected by 22 years of speaking Japanese. He’s about 5’8″ (a giant in Japan), slightly balding with fair hair and blue eyes.
CELL PHONES – A PAIN IN THE ASS EVEN IN JAPAN
We go over to the SoftBank cell phone rental counter and get a phone. With just 10 minutes to catch our 40 minute train to Tokyo, we opt not to call home yet. The original plan was to use Mike’s iPhone to access the free Wi-Fi in the airport, but it didn’t work. We fork over +2,000 Yen for our tickets and get to the tracks. It’s true what they say about Japan – the tracks were nearly spotless. Not a MetroCard, food wrapper, rat, or mysterious puddle of liquid to be seen. It kind of made me miss home.
The train itself was even nicer. It had two large luggage racks and seats were assigned to these big, beautiful, comfortable chairs. I chatted with Frank while Mike tried to figure out how to call home. He finally decides to eat the roaming charges and text the new cell phone number from the new cell phone to his Mom, asking her to figure out how to call us since we couldn’t even figure out the $10 international phone card I purchased at CVS. By the time she gets it, we got through a tunnel and he loses the call. Then we have to board another train that takes ~75 minutes to take us to our new home, Oyama. Almost. We had to take a cab from the station to the apartment, and it was a challenge fitting all of our luggage into a car comparable to an ’80s Toyota Carolla.
It’s now about 8 p.m. in Japan and we’ve been traveling by planes, trains, and automobile for 23 hours. I’m exhausted. We get our luggage up to the apartment and Frank shows us how to use all of our new Japanese appliances. I go downstairs with Frank to the school I’ll start working in in just a week’s time (he’s having me train early so I can get money), and use his computer to call home, but it’s too late and Mom doesn’t hear the Skype ring, so I send a quick e-mail.
After our first Japanese meal of ramen and fried rice at the very cheap, 24-hour ramen shop across from our place, we grab some grub from the convenience store also across from our apartment. That’s the thing about Japan – across the street is a broad term since we leave in a little network/web of small streets with no names surrounded by the larger streets – like a Richmond Avenue back home. I buy a juicebox of Tropicana orange juice, a carton of “chocobanana au lait” when you translate it to English, and a three-pack of microwave rice, because by this time the grocery store is closed.
We say goodbye to Frank, go to the apartment, and Mike tries to set up the internet so we can call home. I honestly can’t remember what I did, but I assume I unpacked something. We made up our futons, and I collapsed into bed around 11 p.m.