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22 Days in Japan, Day 1: A Rainy Start

June 16, 2010 in Featured, Travel

Day 1. Trip start. Today is the first day in what will hopefully prove to be an entertaining study of Japanese culture, the first of 22 days in Japan. Warning: long post ahead.

This entry is part of a series, 22 Days in Japan: A Series »

Somehow I make it to JFK airport, New York three hours early of my scheduled 1:05 pm departure. Once I check in to get my boarding pass, the counter person informs me that I’m receiving a complementary upgrade to “Premium Economy” status. Most excellent. Trip score so far: Cary 1, Trip 0.

For three hours I take over one of the Samsung charge stations and sit around and play games on my laptop. It’s too bad airports (at least I don’t know any that do) don’t offer free wi-fi. That’s one of the places where it’d be the most useful – lots of people with laptops, and lots of waiting. Match made in heaven.

At 12:50 pm, the gate attendants announce that the flight will be delayed an hour due to weather. Dammit! At this point I realize mistake number one: always double-check check-in times for the hotel that you’re staying at. The latest check-in for my hotel is 9 pm. The flight’s scheduled to land at 4:35 pm, or at least before the delay. It takes about 30 minutes to get out of the airport, plus 2 hours from the airport terminal to the train station closest to the hotel. I still don’t even know how to get to the hotel. That means I’m in Dangerous Territory. I don’t like being in Dangerous Territory. Things there generally go from bad to worse.

We board the plane at roughly 1:35 pm, and I have to say I’m pleasantly impressed by my new Premium Economy status. It’s the difference between getting power plugs, slippers, lots of space, decent meals, Haagen-Daz ice cream and, uh…none of that.

Nothing really noteworthy happened on the flight, thank goodness. No screaming babies, no overly large people sitting on both sides of me, or any real turbulence. But I don’t get much sleep – only a half-hour nap at best. Jet lag (or anxiety) kicking in already?

Nothing noteworthy happened on the plane, but I did get some Haagen-Dazs.

Nothing noteworthy happened on the plane, but I did get some Haagen-Dazs.

Eventually I end up at Narita International Airport. My experience here can be best summed up in this sentence: I can’t find an ATM, then I can’t find an international ATM, then my ATM cards stop working, then I can’t find my way out of the airport, and finally I can’t figure out how to buy a train ticket. For anyone who’s reading this, here’s a tip: take the Keisei line from Narita Airport to Ueno – that will get you to a fairly main hub in Tokyo, in the northeast corner. The fare is 1000 yen, which is important because you purchase train tickets by distance rather than a fixed cost.

As the train rolls out of the airport station and into actual Japan, my first impression of Japan is…wet. Apparently it’s one of those 10 rainy days that Japan gets in May. That number turns into 12 in June and it gets progressively worse from there.

It takes about an hour-and-a-half to get to Ueno, and another fifteen minutes to figure out how to get to Minami-senju station. (hint: take the Hibiya subway line). By the time I get out of the station, it’s already dark out. Mistake #2: taking a late flight is not a good idea when your hotel is located in the middle of nowhere.

I walk around for a good fifteen minutes, trying not to stray too far from the train station lest I get swallowed up by some strange Japanese monster with large eyes and tentacles or something. I end up back at the train station. I try two of the GPS units that I have on me (cell phone, and a Garmin). One crashes and the other, for some mysterious reason, can’t seem to establish a lock. Eventually I have to resort to finding a pay phone and calling the hotel, and even though the guy on the other line spoke excellent English, he couldn’t give me any real directions other than “ask the station person”. What? I ask a couple of people in the train station for help and get lots of finger pointing in different directions.

It’s a horrible feeling to be cold, wet, lost and alone in a foreign country.

As luck (or maybe lucky planning) would have it, I have a saved Google map of Tokyo on my laptop. The detail isn’t great, and the only marker on it is a rough approximation of my hotel that I’d added way back home. But it gives me a general direction, and that’s good enough. I make it to a 7-11, one of the landmarks mentioned in the hotel directions. 7-11′s are great. Or at least they are now, compared to the ones in the USA that are generally lacking in the pastry, prepared meal, and dessert departments.

From this point getting to the Hotel New Koyo is a snap. The hotel isn’t impressive by any means – it’s got some of the absolute smallest rooms that I’ve ever seen in my entire life – we’re talking a rectangle about 7′ by 5′. Basically just enough space for a tatami mat and maybe (this is a big maybe) a suitcase. The building’s also a little old. But it’s hard to complain when you’re paying 2500 yen per night, and all I really needed was a bed anyway. In most hostels you share your bedroom with a bunch of other strangers.

My room at the New Koyo measured about 5' by 7'.

My room at the New Koyo measured about 5' by 7'.

I end my first day in Japan by going to a nearby restaurant and ordering a Yakisoba. Note to self: yakisoba doesn’t have very much meat in it. And I like meaty dishes.

…continued in 22 Days in Japan, Day 2.

***

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