When I finally arrived home from my stint with the CBC so many months ago, I was happy to be back. It will be nice to be home after my trip to Japan, even though it’s sad to leave it so soon.
When I arrived almost two weeks ago, I had no idea what to expect. There were a lot of questions, intrepidation, excitement, and desire. The fear would not last long, and I certainly got a healthy dose of adventure. But there is simply too much to see and do in Japan — you could visit for a year and before you could see enough to be satisfied.
We woke just after 10:00. Well, I woke up just after 10:00 — Chris and Kaz had been cooing at each other for a while before that. There was no hurried rush — there was only one activity on the schedule: going to the airport.
But first, I had to pack. I had to pack all my junk — old and new — into my cavernous backpack and figure out how I was going to take the remainder of my new-found knickknacks. Luckily, years of moving myself around have taught me that there are many ways to pack things. Even carrying back more than I came with (I ended up with a box with all the plates and all but one of the paper lamps, and the bag from the Raumen Museum with the bowl and a small assortment of candies), it was far from an impossible task.
Showering while Chris and Kaz ran to the post office (and mailed the package Tushar had asked me to mail in Japan), I finished packing save for my toiletries bag and the Japanese candy I would obtain shortly afterwards at the 7-11.
12:30 rolled around, and it was time to head to the train station. The train to Narita Airport comes only once an hour, and I wasn’t too keen on missing it. The day was becoming warm and sticky, and lugging a backpack that weighed almost as much as Kaz only made it more difficult. (I’m told there’s snow in Calgary, so maybe that’ll help keep me warm.)
Kaz accompanied me to the airport — she didn’t have to, but I very much appreciated it. (Usually when Kaz doesn’t need to come with me and does, I inevitably end up needing her to help me with the language.) Chris paid the minimum to see me off from the station. He had to work today, and couldn’t come to the airport.
The train arrived right on schedule, and it was time to say sayonara to my best friend again. In some ways, it was like we’d never been apart, and in others, an eternity since I last saw him. Hopefully, it won’t be another eternity until I see him again.
The exit procedure at the airport is rather interesting. Once you exit the train, you have to pass through a baggage inspection station. I have no idea what exactly these people do. They checked my passport (and Kaz’ ID card), glanced fleetingly at my bags, and waived us on. It was then up to the check-in counter.
At the check-in counter, I had to put my backpack through an x-ray machine prior to checking it. The officers asked to inspect it, which I half-expected. (I have a camera, a travel tripod, a large stack of manga books, and a few other things thrown in there that would give off some really weird readings on an x-ray. I helped the guard rifle through my things, without having to completely unpack my very carefully-packed bag. He was soon satisfied and I went to obtain my ticket.
Bag checked, boarding pass in hand, Kaz and I proceeded to wandering through the airport’s stores to kill a little time. I was earlier than I needed to be, so going through security right away would have meant a lot more time to kill on the other side. I found out one interesting thing: I bought my camera in the right place (the airport, as you could expect, as a lot more expensive).
Wandering around, we found our way to the Observation Deck, a fenced terrace that overlooks the international departure planes and runway. It would be my last picture of Japan.
I decided it was time to go through security. If I had to clear US Customs in Japan, it could take me over an hour. (I didn’t know if the US had the same customs arrangement with Japan that it does with Canada. For the record, it doesn’t.)
The security check was a breeze. Nothing checked. I collected my things and headed to Immigration. Kaz looked down on me as I descended the escalator. I bowed deeply, and disappeared into the bowels of the airport.
Immigration was stupidly fast. The officer merely tore out the rest of the disembarkation card, stamped my passport, and waived me on. They weren’t even that busy.
The flight left on time. I felt a twinge of regret as the plane headed skyward. Not regret for things I did or didn’t get to do — only that the experience was ending so soon.
As the ground below began to disappear under the clouds and haze of the mid-Spring Japanese day, I began to feel like I was waking from a vivid dream. You know that period when you’re starting to wake up, when things aren’t really clear? Where you drift in an hour of clarity before waking up completely? That’s what it felt like.
That’s where I am now. Thirty-four thousand feet above the Pacific, watching the sun set behind me. (I don’t want to watch the in-flight movies. They’re pretty poor choices.) I’ll be sleeping off and on for a few hours, waking only briefly in San Francisco before returning to Calgary. It is almost 18:00 in Yotsukaido, but the day is far from over.
We arrived in San Francisco a little behind schedule, but nothing too serious. Well, not too serious for anyone staying in San Francisco. If you had a connecting flight, say to Calgary, then you had a problem. This was the problem Ayo and I faced. Ayo was rapidly becoming my new best friend. I had first noticed him standing on the train station platform in Yotsukaido. (He was probably the only other black person in Yotsukaido.) I saw him again at the airport, and again in line for my flight.
Then I accidentally elbowed him in the back of the head putting my bags in the overhead compartment.
As it turns out Ayo and I have pretty much mirrored our trips. In fact, he was on the same flight out of Calgary. (He spent a couple of days in San Francisco before going to Japan.) We took the same train to the airport, the same flight to San Francisco, and the same flight to Calgary. And we found out at the same time that we were going to be running very quickly through the airport to make our connecting flight.
We didn’t even have an hour and a half. And according to the video we’d seen on the plane, we had to pass through immigration, collect our bags, pass through customs, and then recheck our bags, passing again through security before we could make our next flight. Based on my experiences with going through American airports, particularly Kennedy, I wasn’t particularly hopeful.
Immigration was easy. But my backpack was not forthcoming. In fact, Ayo, myself, and a couple of others had to wait almost 20 minutes before a page came over the PA system. Apparently, because we were connecting to flights so soon after arriving, our bags were automagically transferred to our connecting flight. Would’ve been nice if they’d told us that before we’d blown 20 minutes waiting.
Customs was easy without my large bag. Security was another issue. Although there wasn’t any huge lineup, my camera bag was searched because of all the weird things I’ve got packed in there. It’s typical, but nothing really unusual. A couple of minutes, and I was through.
Despite all the rushing, Ayo and I arrived at our gate to find that our flight was delayed. Figures. So we entertained ourselves discussing what kind of weather we were going to get when we got to Calgary. The first weekend we were away, Calgary got 60cm of snow. According to the fancy display with our flight information, it was -1 Celsius and snowing. A far cry from the 27 degree weather we’d had at Odaiba just a couple of days ago.
The flight was late leaving (no surprise there). A couple of short hours later, we pulled into Calgary terminal. I was in the home stretch. It was just a matter of immigration and customs. I have yet to have a problem there. Bags in hand, I grabbed the first bus home.
Am I happy to be home? Yes and no. It’s always nice to be home, but Japan was such a great place to be that it’s hard to leave it behind so soon. I could live there very easily. It’s an unbelievable safe place, it’s clean, and it’s an interesting place to be. Chris made a good point about Japan life: even the mundane daily tasks of Japanese life are interesting to Westerners. We don’t do them. It would probably be true in reverse, too. When the mundane things become interesting, it’s hard to be bored.
This adventure is over. Disaster notwithstanding, I’ll visit Japan again. Next time, though, I’m going to see more of the country. So much to see, so little time (and money).