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Welcome to Japan!

I went to bed after 1AM and barely slept. I think deep down inside, I was worried about missing my flight. I knew that after 4AM, I kept looking at my watch. Then I noticed my phone was on the bed. Since I had put it on the floor when I went to sleep, I must have picked it up. This led to a bit of panic as I thought (I was rather tired at 4AM) I must have turned off the alarm. So I laid in bed, sort of asleep, but checking my alarm clock every so often.

Finally at 5AM, the first of two alarms went off. I sort of laid there and waited for 5:20AM and got up anyway. I had prepared everything the night before, so I was ready to go. A chatted with Andy a bit and a bit before 6, we went down to meet the taxi. It arrived at 6:10 and I was off. 

We arrived at the airport about 6:50 and had to wait for 10 minutes before the JAL counter opened. Then a bit of a wait followed as there were a few people in front of me.  About 7:20, I had my ticket, and  began to move through customs. I felt a bit odd for some reason. I have to admit, I do have a slight fear for Chinese customs and immigration officers. For one thing, there was a sign saying, only 2 lithium batteries allowed, and I probably had about 8 when you factor in all of the batteries from the laptop, cameras, etc. But I didn’t have anything else illegal, and made it through.  Security also went by pretty quickly.

8:10, I was through security, and was hungry. I stopped at some airport restaurant but the sandwich was something like 70RMB. (about $10USD). I thought it was too expensive, but later realized that I had tons of RMB left over, and I was hungry. So I stopped at another restaurant to have a breakfast. It was 88RMB I think, but when I paid, they charged me 98RMB. I asked about the price difference and they pointed to small note saying a that orders were “subject to a 10RMB service charge.” Pretty dishonest I think. I paid then left.

The breakfast was ok. I got the “American Breakfast.” It had a certain Chinese feel to it. The tea was good as they gave me milk and sugar so I made some milk tea.

By 8:30, I was at the gate and had to wait a bit. We started to board at 8:55. The first thing I saw though when I got on the airplane was a Chinese newspaper had a nice picture of the recent Turkish Airlines crash. A bit unsettling I think! I don’t know much about this crash actually, so I could be mistaken about the details.

I was worried about my backpack as well. It was overloaded, and to make matters worse, the check in agent told me to carry my tripod on board. I was concerned it would be rejected at security, and then even after I got through, I was sure the crew would say no. I had to really push and shove, but my bag did fit. I’ll say though, there were some very large “carry ons” being brought on board.

The plane was a 737-800 operated by Japan Airlines. It had the personal entertainment system on it, so it was really nice. My one gripe was that my noise cancelling headphones didn’t fit the plane’s adio jacks. Also on board were people from many different language backgrounds. Spanish, Japanese, English, and Chinese could be heard here and there. I’m sure other languages were present, but I didn’t hear them.

After take off, I kept looking out of the window for what might be my last look at China. I looked at my magazine for a moment and then we popped into the clouds.

There was a time change in Japan, so I from here on out, my times reflect the new time. I watched The Secret Life of Bees, which was ok, but followed a relatively common storyline, and had all the usual suspects for the storyline as well.

We arrived about 2:10 (local time) in Narita Airport.  I didn’t see much of Japan on the way in, as there were heavy clouds there, too.  I waited to get off the plane as I was in the back anyway, and figured that there was no point in rushing. Once off, turned out that the crowd had disappeared. They all must have been going to other international connections. I was going to Japan, and was nearly alone as I waited for the terminal shuttle.

Once in the main hall, I waltzed through the quarantine which apparently took my temperature via IR camera or something, but otherwise didn’t intrude on my dance. Passport control was next.

A big difference compared to China is that Japan has order. Lots of it. Not a police state, but you do things logically here. People fill out immigration documents BEFORE they get to the passport control section, and helpful employees check your paperwork to see if you’ve filled out everything so there are no surprises when you get to the window. I needed to put the name of the hotel on my forms.

I hadn’t done this, as they were in my backpack, along with 20+ lbs of other gear. But I’d thought ahead, and for each stage of my journey, I had printed off whatever documentation I needed, and put it in envelopes. So I pulled out lucky envelope Number 2, and soon had the hostel name.

Passport control went by in just a minute, and none of the insane stamping that China does. Japan seemed to do things more thoroughly as well, taking my photo and fingerprints in less time than it would take to spit on the sidewalk.

I swung by the baggage claim, and could see my bag circling around. I grabbed it, zipped through customs, and I was in Japan! My next stop was to get my JR pass, which was easy, thanks to plentiful signs. THought I didn’t need any other help, all over the airport one could see employees who apparently were there just to help you find whatever it was you needed. The JR pass was quick and easy. I got  money, and then got a 2 day subway pass. Seemed a good deal actually.

Using my JR pass, I got on the airport express. Very nice and clean, and nearly empty. Another JR line, but this one had a bit of a subway feel to it. Then it was time to transfer to the metro, which is pretty easy. I’ll say that Guangzhou has a bit of an edge in this department. It was slightly difficult to make sure I ended up on the right side of the platform. The Tokyo cars seem very “busy” with advertisements hanging from the ceiling and tons of handles for you to hold on to. Plus, there are a lot of people using the system.

I had no trouble getting to my hostel, Asakusa Smile. This hostel thing is a new experience for me. People, a bar, 6 or 8 beds to a room. Really weird feeling. I think I must have come off a bit unfriendly when I checked in, but I was a bit blown away by the new culture. For example, drivers stop for you in the crosswalks!

This hostel has both WiFi and computers with internet, so actually, I’m pretty happy with it. I sent an email out to some people to let them know I got to Japan. I saw a guy using the computers and asked him what was a good thing to see. He made some recommendations. I removed my computer, chargers and cables to lighten my backpack, and went to look for a reasonably cheap dinner. I didn’t really find a place, and ended up grabbing some precooked meal at a convenience store. Delicious. I also bought a donut, but dropped half of that on the street. I picked it up, acted like I was looking for a trash can, and when any people who saw me drop it had passed, ate the rest of the donut. A bit gritty.

I returned to the hostel for my sweater, and took the subway to Shibuya which took about 30 minutes, but required no transfers. Shibuya is an ultra modern shopping district. However, it didn’t really send me. I was a bit tired, and actually was even slightly unhappy. I felt a little lonely without all the people I left behind in China.

I returned to the hostel and on the way, decided to concentrate on museums and more traditional or natural sights tomorrow (the 27th). On the 28th. I’ll be heading to a roller coaster park using one of the bullet trains. After that, I have  no idea.

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One Response to “Welcome to Japan!”

  1. Chenxi says:

    Thanks for posting, I’ve been checking your post over 20 times today. Looking forward the exciting stories,different experiences and beautiful photos to be shared,so please have lots lots fun for yourself and for us! You are not alone! :)