Okay. My first post. Finally.
There’s a lot to cover so I’ll be splitting it up into a few posts.
The first week has been both hectic and relaxing but overall very tiring. Lets start at the beginning. I flew out of Washington Dulles at 8:00am, meaning the day started around 4:30 in the morning. Keep this in mind because it will be important later. It was a quick hour and a half flight to Toronto Pearson airport at which time the nearly 4 hour layover began. When I got off the plane, my first stop was the international connecting flights desk. After telling nearly 90% of the people that got off the plane that their desk was for international connections and not domestic arrivals because nobody reads signs, to say they were annoyed would be an understatement. Fortunately, the woman I talked to had a sense of humor.
Me: So, my bags are being transferred to my next flight?
Her: They should be.
Me: Should be?
Her: Alright, yes. They will be.
Me: Okay, because its pretty important I keep those bags.
Her: Well, you are flying Air Canada after all.
The first thing I noticed about the airport was how nearly every store in it sold liquor. The duty free shop was about half liquor, half perfume. There was even a Bacardi Rum Bar right dead center in the terminal. If you ever want to get sauced at an airport, Toronto Pearson is the place to go. They also have this weird monolithic piece of modern art in the main terminal as well. Basically, it’s four half a foot thick, huge pieces of curved steel painted black. Pretty simple, yet cool to see in person.
Here’s the gate for my flight
At around 1:20pm, with much anxiousness and excitement, I got on my first flight to Japan. I’d say I had that feeling for around 2 hours before the monotony of sitting on a plane for 12 hours kicked in. The flight wasn’t too bad though. I watched Caddyshack and City Slickers through one side of a headphone, got 4 meals, and the people next to me mostly slept the whole way. 12 hours and a couple naps later the plane touched down in Tokyo’s Narita airport. Before, when I heard the name Tokyo I immediately thought of a bustling metropolis of shiny new buildings with about as many trees as you would find on the moon. So I was certainly surprised when we landed in an almost rural area at a very plain looking airport.
The first thing I noticed when I got into the terminal was how hot it was. Air conditioning in Japan is far less of a priority than it is in America. Literally the only time that I felt a fan the entire rest of the day was for about 5 minutes on a train when a small rotating fan clicked on. From immigration and the baggage claim, I made my way to the train ticket kiosk where they quickly turned down my traveller’s checks and made me get yen.
Man, I’m so glad that I printed out the train directions in Japanese. I’d probably have ended up sleeping in a train station and gotten robbed in the middle of the night. The only way my suitcases would’ve been protected is the fact that one weighs about 70 lbs. Not exactly a quick getaway. Anyway, through some gestures and broken English, I bought a ticket on the Kesei line out of Tokyo’s Narita airport on an hour and half long ride to Takasago, which I ended up missing the first time because of this neat little facet of the train system that I wasn’t clued in on. Maybe most railways are like this. I don’t know, I’ve never had experience with good public transportation. Looking at my directions gives the indication that I get off at Takasago and then get back on the same line and go 2 stops further to Isesaki. This is sort of correct. Apparently theres an express Keisei line that I was on that stops at the bigger stations and in order to get to the smaller ones, like Isesaki, I have to hop on the “local” Keisei line. I started getting suspicious when after Takasago we blazed past Isesaki and a few others. Thanks to the help of a well…helpful…station attendant I figured out the right train to get on and backtrack to Isesaki. This pretty much exemplifies the rest of the night. Confusion. No more missed trains or stations but at each station I went through the ritual of looking very lost, tired, and confused and then asking an attendant or ticket person where the hell I’m supposed to go. Thank God for those directions in Japanese…
So yeah, the rest of the night was super tiring. Thats why there are only pictures of the Toronto airport. I just couldn’t be bothered to bring out my camera. I’ve gotten plenty of shots of train stations since then so it’s okay. I ended up at my destination, Sori station, on the smallest train I’d ridden on so far (about the size of a Greyhound bus) at around 10:30pm, Japanese time; 9:30am US time. Hiro, the head of the family at the first place I’m staying, was there to meet me, asleep in his small white van. The first thing he said to me was probably 2 or 3 sentences in Japanese. Instant panic was my reaction since I thought he knew I didn’t speak the language. Pretty soon though his Japanese was infused with a little bit of English, to my relief. We made good conversation on the way up to his house, which is a 5 minute ride up a mountain on a tiny, windy, one lane road that is supposed to support two way traffic. He showed me to the cabin that will be my home for the next month and I met the other WWOOFer named Kevin, originally from New Hampshire but now living in Japan. Hiro made us some noodles since I hadn’t eaten in about 9 hours and then off to bed around 11:30.
So, let’s recap: wake up at 4:30am on Sunday, fly/be in airports for 18 hours, ride on trains for 6 hours, and go to bed at 10:30am Monday morning (11:30pm Japan time). Thats 30 hours of hell.
Oh, and then I got up at 6:30 the next morning.
I’m sure most of you are wondering what I’m doing here exactly and where “here” is. I’ll explain more about that in the next post. For now, here’s my “Daily Observation” about Japan.
Everyone has cellphones. I mean everyone. If you’re 100 years old and don’t have a cellphone you’re not hip. Riding on the trains, its not unusual to see a a twelve year old kid next to a 60 year old man, both texting like it’s their job.