My first blog, titled Bright Green Gaijin Pants, was a chronicle of my time as an exchange student in Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan. I’ve decided to repost its contents on this blog. For a full list of all these posts, click Bright Green Gaijin Pants on the menu, above.
The first blog post of any real worth that I published from Japan was far larger than it had any right to be. It was actually several posts combined and posted at the same time because I didn’t have internet access when I first got to Japan. I will be reposting them seperately, as they were meant to be. They’re still long, though. I’m sorry. I was a noob.
Originally published on October 16, 2005.
Pre-script: I didn’t get a chance to post this for a while, so it’s really long. As such, I’ve inserted some subheadings so that people who don’t want to read it all at once can figure out where they were more easily. You can probably also use the pictures scattered throughout as landmarks. Speaking of the pictures, I’ve forced them into a smaller size for sake of blog layout. If you right-click and view image, you should be able to get the full-size picture. On with the show.
So. I am in Japan. Last time I posted on the blog, I had just landed in San Fransisco. After I left the Internet kiosk, I proceeded to seek out the US customs office to register my laptop and digital camera. I never found them. I got a set of directions from an information desk that led me to Alien Registration. They gave me another set of instructions that I had trouble following. I was running out of time (since my search had taken me to the other end of the airport and I had to go back through security to get to my gate), so I had to give up. I hope I don’t have to pay taxes on them later. :s
After that, I had fun trying to find my gate. I worked my way back to the other end of the airport, realizing as I carted my too heavy carry-ons that I should have just sucked it up and packed two suitcases. Who would ever have guessed that a laptop bag full of socks would be so heavy? Either way, I got back to the far end of the airport only to discover that my gate — 100 — was not there. It ended at gate 90. So I found the nearest information desk. It turned out that gate 100 was over near the Alien Registration office. Hobaggery. Luckily, I didn’t need to make the 20-minute walk again, as my boarding pass rated me a seat on a shuttle near the information desk.
This was a very good thing, as in the hour that I spent wandering around I realized that 80-some degrees is very hot when you’re used to weather more along the lines of 40 degrees and can’t take the time to sit down and rest. I was over-heated and under-watered, and really wanted some Gatorade. Unfortunately for me, while wine shops had been in abundance, I didn’t find any place that even sold water, much less Gatorade. Fortunately for me, the shop nearest to my gate sold both. Woo! I got a bottle of each and proceeded to sip the Gatorade as I went down the escalator to my gate. Victory!
Shortly after I took this picture, I realized that I was the only one there, and that boarding should be starting soon, if it hadn’t already. I went to a courtesy phone and tolerated the United airlines phone service long enough to find out that the gate had changed and the flight was delayed by 20 minutes. I went about 200 feet down the hall to the new gate, and found that boarding had, indeed, already started. I finished my Gatorade and waited my turn.
The flight was pretty miserable. I slept for a good deal of it, but when I awoke it was to an aching bum, a sore throat from the mistreatment of my body (read: lack of water), and the knowledge that Japan was soooo far away. The food was good, but because I hadn’t eaten in far too long, my body wanted to reject it. I forced myself to eat everything in front of me (except the melon slices; those are icky), though it took me a while. I also fed myself a variety of drinks over the course of the flight — green tea (which helped settle my stomach when accompanied by food), water, milk, apple juice, orange juice. I thought about getting a screwdriver to help me sleep, since alcohol is free on international flights, but I didn’t think the added dehydration would help at all. The in-flight movies that I recall seeing snippets of around sleep were Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Moulin Rouge. The one I stayed awake for was Batman Begins. I dunno if they played more than that; it was a ten-hour flight, so it would make sense to have four movies, but they had trouble with the video system at the start of the flight.
Then I landed at the Narita airport in Tokyo. I looked out the window as we landed and saw that it pretty much looked like any other airport I have ever been to. The airline names on the planes were different, and the workers had the bright uniforms customary to the Japanese, but everything else was the same. Unfortunately, the weather in Tokyo is very comparable to that of San Fransisco. I was well-served by forcing myself to intake sustenance on the plane.
Once I got off the plane and headed further into the airport, I sought a bathroom. The first bathroom I came to was very nice. When I opened the stall, I encountered a Japanese-style toilet. For those who don’t know, it’s little more than a fancy hole in the floor that flushes. I had been told at some point to not be surprised if I encountered such even in international airports, so that didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me is that it was about 2/3 the size I expected. Compare to my shoes.
This, combined with the fact that the few camping excursions I have been on were not enough experience for me to have found a good way to keep pee off my pants when crouching, made me a little uncomfortable. I managed to not get any pee on either my pants or the floor, but I came to the conclusion that I need to make sure and practice or something.
I took some pictures of the sinks and the “Air Towel” hand dryers, too.
I wish I’d gotten pictures of the conveyor belts. The first thing I thought when I saw them was, “In case you’d forgotten that the Japanese drive on the left…” There were signs up reminding people to stand on the left and walk on the right, as well as green footprints painted on the left-hand side.
When I got to the Alien Registration point, there was a very long line. It was indicated that it’d take an hour or so to get through it, but I think it only took about 40 minutes. There were windows on one side of the room which were laser-etched on the bottom 3/4, and the only thing of interest that I saw through the top part was this ad, of which I got a picture later.
“For watching movies, plasma.” (For everything else there’s MasterCard?)
Once I got out of there, I needed to pick up my baggage. When I got to the baggage carousel, I did not see my bag. When I asked the United airlines people about it, a 5-minute computer search told us that it had not been put on my plane, and would be put on a later flight. The good humor toward United that had been fueled by my earlier dealings at the Anchorage airport wilted. Before leaving, I tried to pack a change of clothes in my carry-on, but I didn’t quite succeed. Including the clothes I was wearing, I had three bras, two pairs of panties, two shirts, one pair of pants, no skirts, and all of my socks.
The lady was helpful, writing up the baggage report and then seeing me through the customs station with directions to the bus ticketing station. My connecting flight to Kushiro was to leave from the Haneda airport — also in Tokyo, but a bus ride away. (Ha, in Anchorage I was told that I would need to switch terminals. They neglected to mention that the second terminal was in another part of town.) So I went to get a ticket. It was about 16:10 here at that time. When I got a ticket to Haneda airport, it cost 3,000 yen and was for the bus leaving at 16:50. So I sat around at the bus station for a while, noting that Japanese flies are just as irritating as American ones (if a bit smaller than I am used to in Alaska).
When I finally got on the bus, I took a seat near the middle. I took the following picture of the people outside waiting for other buses before switching seats with a guy near the front so he could sit with the girl next to me.
I then took a picture of what was out the front window.
At this point I would like to mention that the bus service is called “Friendly Airport Limousine.” Very Japanese.
The ride to Haneda airport took a little over an hour. During the ride, I noted some things about Japanese roads. First, somewhere around 4/5 of the cars I saw were either silver, black, or white, and in that order of popularity. Other colors tended to be dark (navy blue, hunter green, etc.) or very pale. I saw one red car and one brownish-orange convertible, but even the orange of the convertible wasn’t that bold. The next thing I noticed was that all of their speed limits were painted on the roads as well as being visible on red and blue signs. The driving on the left only really seemed strange when making right turns at intersections.
I know I dozed a bit, but I woke up as were getting into Tokyo proper. I took the following pictures; the first is blurry, which makes me sad, but I intend to keep it anyway ’cause it was a good view.
When we pulled in to Haneda airport, I looked at the clock. 18:09. Crap. My plane left at 17:55. (It is here that my total dislike of United was sealed forever.) Good thing I had already completely missed my plane, because it just so happened that I got off the bus on the exact opposite side of the airport from Japan Airlines. It took me about five minutes to get there, at which point I explained my plight in broken Japanese to one of the JAL desk women.
She was awesome. She got me on the next flight to Kushiro with little fuss. Turns out that said flight was to leave at 7:50 the next day. She then took me all over the terminal, to first the currency exchange, then to the hotel reservations desk, then to the bus station on the other side of the street from the airport where I could catch a free shuttle to my hotel. It was about the best customer service I had ever had, especially since she knew less English than I do Japanese. There she left me, with a time and place of arrival for the shuttle as well a promise that the airline would call the university and tell them about my delayed flight.
I sat down on the sidewalk to wait, noticing that the sidewalk there is really awesome. The picture I took is a bit blurry, but since I zoomed it in all the way you can still see that it’s not cement. It’s a whole bunch of tiny stones glued together into a sidewalk somehow.
When the bus came, the driver stowed my bags for me. When I got to the hotel, I found myself impressed on so many levels. I paid 9900 yen to stay there (I didn’t want to pay that much, but there weren’t any nearby capsule hotels and I didn’t think I could stay awake all night at the airport); it made me realize just how bad a deal the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge is.