Flying to Japan was surprisingly easier than I expected. I think this is partly because the airports got progressively nicer as we went–from kind of grudgingly helpful (at 5am) in Minneapolis), to no need to interact with airport staff at all in Chicago, to very polite and helpful people in Japan. My friend Titus and I both started out feeling less than great, and so it was easy for the day to only get better. Minneapolis was a little frustrating in part because it was early, everything was closed (boring), and we were hungry and tired. Titus had to wait for his guitar to specially inspected in security.
The flight to Chicago went really quickly, and once we were there it was pretty easy to find our way around. O’Hare wasn’t bad at all. It was well lit, lots of people, moving floors (which might have been too much fun), pretty-colored lights. We found a map, wandered around to find our gates, and then we sat to wait for my plane. It was a long wait, but not unbearable.
Flying with ANA (All Nippon Airlines) was a really good experience. The flight attendants were all really nice and very helpful. The only challenging thing was trying to decide between Japanese or English to talk to them since I only have enough Japanese to get their attention. It was a long trip because there was so much sitting involved, but luckily I brought enough things to keep me busy. I relaxed a little, worked on Japanese a little, and watched plenty of in-flight entertainment. The plane had screens in the back of every seat and a remote for each. There were movies in 6 (?) different languages, TV shows, music. (Titus watched a couple good movies on his flight, but he said he was jealous.) The food was good too–I’d rate it somewhere between cafeteria and restuarant. Of course, me being me, I spilled my soup first thing. Fortunately, it only went all over my tray and sweatershirt, rather than my clothes.
My first view of Japan was from the window of the plane as we were landing. Everything I could see was fields, farm eqiupment and trees. It was almost familiar, except all the corners were so square.
It was like someone had dropped a giant ruler on the fields to measure them. I’ve grown up in farm country, but I’ve never seen fields as straight as these. We saw more on the way to Haneda airport later, and lots of straight-edged waterways. I don’t know what the techinical name is, but it seems (a little too) efficient to have straight rivers.
Arriving at Narita Airport was easy for me. Leaving the plane we had to walk to go up one escalator, around a corner to walk across a moving floor, turn a second corner to a down escalator, take another moving floor before we reached immigration. It took me only 5 minutes to get through Immigration, Baggage and Customs. Afterward I waited for Titus. Even though his plane arrived about 20 minutes after mine, he spent an hour in Immigration.
The most exciting part of our time at Narita was being stopped by a police officer. He was walking through, watching a bunch of people in the waiting area, and he stopped to ask us for our names, passport numbers, and phone numbers. He also wanted to see our alien registration cards, but we had to tell him that we didn’t have them yet. After he left the guy next to us said he must have been bored and felt like bothering the がいじん / gaijin. It was probably true–he was very straight forward and not threatening at all, but when he first walked up and asked to see my passport, it was definitely an ‘oh ****’ moment.
We decided it was probably time to leave the airport and caught a bus for Haneda Airport–the next leg of our journey. We were both exhausted–Titus took the aisle seat to sprawl, and I just stared out the window. There were a lot more square fields along the way, and plenty of trees. We drove a few shiny buildings, but many more beaten-up ones.
We also passed two large ferris wheels (like the Eye of London) and Tokyo Disneyland.
Haneda Airport really speaks to the politeness and kindness of the Japanese. We walked inside and stopped in a spot out of the way. We were standing there, trying to get our bearings, when a woman walked over and showed us where to get our tickets. The women at the ticket counter were equally helpful, and the security was painless. Haneda should have been our hardest spot because there was little English to be found. Instead, it was super easy. The people who couldn’t speak did a lot of nodding and pointing, saying “Dozo” and helping us.
The airport was very nice and clean-cut. We walked around for a little while, then bought food and sat because we were exhausted. We were a little nervous about catching the flight because all the announcements were in Japanese. However we got on the plane with no trouble and passed out for the trip to Akita. An hour later and we were there. We had a little trouble because there were no taxis when we got there–a nice woman ran outside to tell us that one was on it’s way. Fortunately the taxi driver knew where we wanted to go with only the first word of the school’s name (although, where else would 20-something yr. old gaijin go at that time of day?).
Our long day ended at the dorms–there were people waiting to help us with paper work and moving our bags. And then we were allowed to fall into bed.
Japanese word of the day : gaijin / がいじん (guy-jean) a foreigner; sometimes derogatory