Sunday, July 4, 2010

Edo meets Tokyo. (エドが東京に会う。)

Well, as I'll be out and about for the next week or so, I thought that I would set up a few posts before hand, just to make sure that you, my readers, are properly entertained, even should I turn out to be too busy to update appropriately.

I am nothing if not considerate, after all... even if slightly unnecessarily so, in this case. Ahem.

In any case, I thought that it might be best to form a theme. Since I will be out and about in state I have never before visited, I felt myself to be inspired--why not write about my experiences from all the prefectures I've visited? There really are quite a lot of them--even more  if you count drive-throughs on the night bus and 新幹線 (shinkansen, bullet train.) More, even, than American states I've visited, at last count (unless you count layovers, but I don't tend to.)

Admittedly, this may turn out to be more along the lines of "Edo's experiences described as almost entirely independent of the prefecture she was in at the time," but... you never know, it might make for good reading anyway.

And hey, it's my blog; what did you expect, really?

For lack of a better idea, I thought I'd go chronologically: I will attempt to chronicle my experiences in every prefecture I have visited (we're not going to count those drive-throughs after all) in the order I visited them. Most will only get one run-through, despite numerous visits, excepting situations in which a massive amount of time or a massive difference in experience separated the two (or more) visits.

...Did that sound like the abstract to a research paper or what?

Anyway. Here we go.

Tokyo (東京都), June 2007

I think this one winds up being a lot of Western gaijin-type's first stops, simply because of that whole lack-of-other-options deal. Sure, you can fly into Kansai International, or maybe Chubu if you're lucky, but Narita is by far the easiest airport to schedule a flight from the US to. And while Narita itself is technically in Chiba, the only thing Chiba-esque about it is the boost it gives to their economy, so we're counting it as Tokyo.

Besides, that's what they call it on all the travel sites.

Anyway. Between my Freshman and Sophomore years of college, I went on the Hokkaido International Foundation's summer program, and since I had never before been to Japan, I though it would be best to take them up on their group flight offer. They would pick us up from Narita, house us in a hotel overnight, then pop us up to Hakodate the next morning through Haneda.

Definitely a bit of a jog, but sort of necessary for us American types, unless you're lucky enough to find a flight through Sapporo. Korean friends, however, could simply fly from Seoul to Hakodate. Talk about unfair flight patterns.

Anyway, my first experiences of Japan mostly consisted of one of the waiting rooms in Narita airport--siting with a bunch of college kids I had never met (though we all got along remarkably well; I can say nothing but good things about the majority of the people on that program) and discovering after about an hour and a half of no one coming for us that we were waiting in the wrong place.

You'd think that she would have come looking instead of just waiting for the mass of our foreign hineys to magically show up. But I digress.

There was much jet-lagged hilarity and playing with vending machines; someone bought themselves some Calorie Mate, and we all had a hearty guffaw at their somewhat futile attempts to actually eat it.

When we were finally collected, we were shipped off to that hotel we were promised, where we were shacked up with people we had met only hours before and sent to bed. (I... honestly can't remember what we did for dinner. Oh, how the mind goes as we get older...) We were woken up at the crack of early to have breakfast at the lovely hotel buffet before heading off to Haneda; luckily, we were all so jet-lagged still that it wasn't really a problem.

Then came the fun part.

Let it be said, though, that our ordeal gave me a great respect for the efficiency of Japanese airports in general--were I to be screwed in airport in the world, I would take a Japanese airport any day of the week. Because oh my goodness, talk about efficient.

But I suppose I should start at the beginning.

We were all shuttled to the airport and told to stand somewhere near the entrance while our chaperons dealt with checking our baggage/shipping our baggage if we had chosen to do so, fearing overweight charges. (Turns out we needn't have worried... but I won't get ahead of myself.)

We were then left to stand around, looking awkward and stupid, for a good forty-five minutes or more; none of us knew exactly what was going on, only that he had basically been abandoned, and that we were getting dangerously close to missing our plan, even though we had arrived in plenty of time.

Finally, when it appears to those of us in the know that we have fifteen minutes left, we are pushed into the baggage check line, where we basically form a sort of conveyor belt of people and luggage, everyone doing their best to get their massively heavy suitcases up onto the counter for the nice ladies (who are looking pretty damn harried at this point) to tag, check, and send off to the plane.

Due to the rush, no one is charged for overweight baggage. (HA!)

After this, we have five minutes. To go through security. And get to the other end of the airport. In America? Not possible. We would have given up hope, throw our arms into the air in despair, and been forced to wait for the next plane. (For that matter, our bags would have never made it onto a flight taking off in fifteen minutes. Are you kidding me?)

But no. This is Japan, damnit, and we are going to make our flight.

The security guards have been warned, and when they see us coming they rush us through the line, allowing us to cut in front of the crowd and apologizing profusely to everyone along the way. We are told to leave our belts, shoes, and accesories on, because (a) Japanese x-ray machines are too smart to be fooled by a silver necklace, a steel belt or 1/2 inch heels, and (b) damnit there's no time!

We make it through in record--no, miracle time, and begin running towards our gate, which, while perhaps not as far as possible from the checkpoint, is pretty darn close. There are more harried (yet extremely kind) airport ladies at the gate, waving us through and encouraging us to continue with our running-pace, despite the stitches that had no doubt developed in our collective sides.

In the end, while I'm not sure if they had to hold the flight for us or not (there were more than twenty passengers in our group, after all; that's quite a number of disgruntled letters to have to deal with later!), but we made that flight, and were off to Hakodate without a hitch in order to take our placement test that morning.

Let it never be said that we didn't get excitement out of that group flight plan.

When Tokyo comes up again in my chronological back-tracking through Japan, rest assured that it will get another post--my HIF and AKP  Tokyo experiences were nothing if not separated by vast amounts of experience, language ability, and a certain Kansai-biased jadedness. Not to mention, you know, purpose--I was actually going to visit the next time.

... Wow. This turned out to take a much longer time than I had originally predicted. Probably because I have that distressing tendency to ramble and go into way too much detail... So much for setting up a lot of posts in advance... oh well. I apologize, dear readers, but it looks like you're going to have to be at the mercy of my free time after all!

This is Edo, signing off with some seriously over-worked typing fingers.

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