日本 redux

Well, I’ve made my way back to Japan. It’s been almost 10 years since I was last here (I came back to the States in May). This time I’m here with Jason and a few other friends, Sierra and Riley, and Nick (who will be here on Tuesday). I will try to post daily as this will preserve my memories the way it did 10 years ago.

We had to drive about 5 hours to fly out of SFO (waaay cheaper than our local airport, and less likely to get fogged in, surprisingly). Made it to Mom and Dad’s with about two hours to spare before  we had to leave for the airport.

Hung out with Mom and Dad for those few hours before Dad drove is to the airport. Our flight was to leave at 1am on Saturday so we got to the airport at 11pm to check our bag and get through security. I had checked the airline’s website for baggage rules and thought we were okay with our 66 pound check in. Turns out the limit is 50lbs. -_- Fortunately it was only $32 for the overage. However, our carry on was also juust over the limit too. Ugh. But the guy was super nice and said that he would let it pass. We got through security with no issues and made our way to the gate.

waiting for our flight at SFO

Tons of people waited to board and when we finally got on the plane, I was amazed at the enormity of the thing. We were in row 65, seats E and D, not even the last row. There were 10 seats across, and I was thankful not to be sitting at the window seat.

I unfortunately did not take any pictures inside the plane, but the accommodations were very nice. I have flown across the country a few times but have never had meal service (not entirely true, when I was young, my mom and I flew to Texas and I believe we did get meal service, but that was many years ago and things have changed). This flight we had two meals, and they were both very tasty. We also had a great selection of movies and I ended up watching 4 over the course of our two flights (The Girl on the Train, In Time, Never Let Me Go, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children).

I didn’t want to be super exhausted when we arrived in Japan, so my plan was to sleep during the last 8 hours or so of our first flight. This meant staying up for the first 6 hours. I was okay until about hour 5/5.5.  Thankfully we had brought our neck pillows and I was able to actually sleep deeply enough to dream for a few hours. After that, I would drift off for a little bit. I think I might have slept for about 6 hours but then they served breakfast and I was pretty much awake.

We arrived at the Taipei airport before our scheduled time and found our next gate, after going through a mini security where we didn’t have to empty our  water bottles or take off our shoes (yay!). I thought we were at our gate and have never seen such interesting seats at a gate.

Turns out the gate was downstairs:

that’s more like it

waiting in the Taipei airport

This next flight was only about three hours. When we first got seated, we were in the front row of the section and had ample leg room. The two ladies next to us (who appeared to be mother and daughter) asked if we wouldn’t mind switching seats with the younger lady’s husband and other child (she had a baby already in her lap). While we enjoyed getting the extra leg room, we were happy to switch, allowing us to have a screen to finish our movies. They served us another meal and I both finished my movie and watched another.

We arrived in Japan at about 11:30am on Sunday, pretty much completely skipping (or flying?) over Saturday.  We had to go through security and have our passports looked over, index fingers scanned, and pictures taken. Our passports have stickers that allow us to stay 90 days.

another airport picture

We went downstairs to grab our luggage and await Sierra and Riley’s arrival.  They were scheduled to arrive about two hours after us. Thankfully we were able to connect to the airport WiFi to connect with family back home and while away the time.

Not realizing there was another set of escalators further down, we weren’t able to greet them as they came to get their bags. By the time we realized and had gotten down to their baggage carousel, they were already in possession of one of their bags. The second bag was quickly retrieved and we made our way to customs, which we got through quickly.

Finally out in the main part of the airport, we had to get to terminal 1, where we could pick up our on-the-go WiFi. The information counter staff told us which free bus to take and I also utilized the currency exchange. The USD is a little stronger than Yen right now.

We got on the bus right away and were in terminal 1 within 10 minutes. Then it was back to the information counter to find out where to get the WiFi box. Up to the fourth floor and we were quickly connected.

We also needed tickets to get from the airport to our lodging and were able to purchase Tokyo Shuttle tickets for ¥1,000 ($8.98) each. The Shuttle wasn’t to leave for another hour, so Riley and I took the opportunity to find a machine to purchase Pasmo cards.  We had to go to the lowest floor and brave the crazy train station foot traffic (we had wisely left our luggage with our spouses). We did manage to find the machine (thank you, Tokyo Cheapo, for the helpful pictures!) and got the necessary cards, heading back upstairs and to our spouses. The bus was not long in arriving and we got out of the cold and wet (I haven’t yet mentioned that it was grey and rainy).

I am not sure how long we rode the bus, as I started to nod off. We made it to the station, and wandered down the street until I saw a stairway to somewhere underground. I figured there would probably be a train station somewhere down there and led our group down the stairway. . .

. . .and into a big underground mall. Huh. Anyway, we walked around for a bit, following vague signs for the JR line. Finally, we found it and the line we needed. Poor Jason was lugging around our ginormous bag and having to take it up and down the stairs and weave around the hundreds of people also wandering the station.

Made it to our first train and in 14 stops got off to make the transfer. Wound through foot traffic and down and up stairs, first going to the wrong platform (sorry, Jason!). Our train seemed to be going back in the direction we had just come from. When we stopped, I checked our app and realized we were going in the wrong direction. We were there for a little while and I was able to ask the conductor if we were on the right train. He said we were and so we all hurriedly got back on. Turns out we were at the end of the line, so I was both right and wrong. We made it back to the station we had just been at and in 7 more stops, were at our final destination.

We exited the station and were promptly lost. Having no idea which way we needed to go, tired, cold, and wet, we started in one direction, me navigating with Google maps. The dot was a little laggy so it wasn’t until we’d walked a few paces that we realized it was the wrong way. Turned back around and trying a different direction I started to panic when the dot drifted off course.

I stopped into an open shop and asked the man where we needed to go. Thank goodness for Google maps not being in English. The man did not speak any English but could see where we were trying to go. He reoriented my map to show me where the train station was in relation to us, and then came outside and walked down to the alley, showing me where we should turn left. Thanking him profusely, we were on our way again.

My allergies had been acting up since our second flight and I was now using my jacket sleeve to wipe my nose (tmi?). But the rain was also keeping my jacket pretty wet. Even though the air was cold, the movement of walking kept me warm. I also knew that, despite the current unpleasantness, this would make for a more interesting story (see how right I am now?).

We easily found our way down and across the street, then made a turn down a small alley and around another bend. Then, nothing. We couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to go. The dot indicated we were right on top of it, but it did not look right. All the addresses were in Kanji so we couldn’t use that to narrow anything down.

The rest of the party found shelter under a bike parking area with an overhang, while I went to figure it out. I started walking the way we had come, and saw a woman come out of one of the buildings. I flagged her down and she apologized, saying she didn’t speak any English. I showed her where we were trying to go, but we both determined that we had gone in the right direction.

I thanked her and made it back to the group, very puzzled. We were able to look up the Airbnb post and saw a picture of the front of our place. Based on that, and the caption of the picture, Riley figured out the approximate location. We shouldn’t have turned down the alley. We went back to the street and found it in no time.

Finally getting the keybox and door open, we were happy to be inside. No more than five minutes after our arrival, a knock came at the door. It was Melissa, a friend of our host. She showed us the space, which switch opporated which light, how to use the hilariously tiny washing machine, and how to use the shower.

the itty bitty washer/”dryer”; turns out the dryer side just spins the water out, you still need to hang dry.

After she left, we decided we should go out and get something to eat. It was about 7pm at this point and there was no food in our place. We had spotted a McDonald’s outside the station and a grocery store. We easily found our way back to the station and got our dinner. Then we headed to Seiyu for groceries. After wandering three of the possibly 8 floors, we got our food and headed back home.

I was still feeling pretty gross and knew it was very Japanese to shower at night (which is what I do at home anyway, but I was also very tired and considered waiting for morning), and made use of the shower while a load of laundry was being done. Not long after, we all went to bed, around 9:30.

shower

I am so happy to be back. I’m going to see my host family over the next weekend and another good friend, Shigeko, on Thursday. It’s still rainy today, but we’ll be fine. Hello, Japan!

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