I almost always suffer from anxiety just before any extended flight. Not that it is very bad or crippling, just somewhat annoying. There is an inherit danger with travelling, especially abroad. You take yourself out of your comfort zone and into a unfamiliar and somewhat hostile environment. Not that is really hostile to you (well, some places are) but everything can be so different that it appears to assault your senses. This is what always strikes me whenever I get ready to travel. This time it was especially strong, seeing as how I am travelling on my own for essentially the entire trip, without really knowing anyone in Japan and without any local support.
All of this began to strike me just before I went to bed the night before my flight. Throughout the night I would wake up with a feeling of dread, knowing that I would not see my family, my friends or my girlfriend for the next several weeks. A part of me desperately looked for a way out, trying to figure out how to salvage as much of my savings as possible and how to explain my way out of this voyage.
But there was no turning back now. Plane tickets had been purchased, hotel room and apartment room had been reserved. Savings accounts had been emptied and closed. Funds had been shifted into one central location. Checks had been cashed and cold card Benjamins were in my wallet. My goodbyes had been said and to go back on them would be stupid. Besides, other parts of my mind knew that this would be an exciting trip. Having long been a bit of a lonesome wanderer, this trip was perfect for me. The trip there is easily the hardest part and can make the strongest person think twice about what they are doing. You cannot allow yourself to defeat yourself before you begin.
Getting there physically
Got a fairly good nights sleep the night before my flight. I have a memory of waking up in the night in a hot sweat, absolutely drenched and unable to sleep. I cannot be certain of this memory, for even the morning after it felt very much like a dream. Who knows if it was true, but what I do know is that I continued my fine tradition of constantly waking up and falling back asleep the night before my flight. Despite this constant cycle I was still able to wake up mostly refreshed. Had a brief breakfast of two biscuits with butter. Put way too much butter on them, but thankfully this did not cause me any problems during my flight. Said my goodbyes to the housecats and got into the car with my mother. Our drive was pretty normal for going through San Francisco in the morning with two or three slowdowns but nothing major. I was thankful my flight was departing close to noon, thereby allowing me to avoid the hell of the communte. The drive was mostly quiet with only a little bit of discussion. We spoke more as we approached the airport. When we arrived, I hopped out, got my things out and gave mom a final hug before going into the terminal.
I was thankful that Narita airport is an exception to the 50 pound rule for luggage. My fat bastard weighted in at 63 pounds and otherwise I would have been forced to pull out my spare bag and pack some items into it. Got my boarding pass, passed through security and went to the gate. The flight would leave in a hour so I went to the phones and gave my girlfriend a final call. It was a harder call to make than I care to admit. Mind you, I am not an overly sentimental man and can be horrifically stoic at times (much to said girlfriend's chargrin), but that was legitimately a difficult call for me. I might be able to call her once or twice before I return, but given the horrific cost of international calls I cannot call her often. It was also difficult because I did not know what to say. After a brief call, I returned to the gate and prepared for the flight. My mp3 player was in need of trimming. Too many songs on it were not worth the space, but many others were needed to get me through this 11 hour trip. Finally, shortly after I completed my transfers we boarded the plane.
It would be nice to say that the flight was good and that I enjoyed those 11 hour, but when you are forced to sit next to an India couple who insists on talking at a loud volume I would wager no one would consider that flight good. The wife's tendancy to prop her legs up onto her husband's legs caused him to try to claim more and more space on my side of our shared armrest. He also enjoyed randomly deciding to talk to me, sometimes when I was about to fall asleep or was busy reading. We were also on a 747 that still had the old style entertainment system that forces everyone to watch the same movies at the same time. My situation was also not helped by being in the rear of my section, making it very difficult to see the bottom of the screen. Other passengers thought that stopping right in my line of sight to the screen so they could strech was a good idea. Idiots. Only managed to get maybe an hour of sleep during the flight. The food was alright, but only moderately so. My diet is a strange one and has no special meal that I can order ("Yes, I would like a meal with no fruits or veggies please. Just some meat, maybe some bread would be nice") so I never get enough to eat. Time crept by very slowly, almost painfully so. Looking at my watch was like a stab to the heart. Einstein was right about relativity.
Thankfully, we finally touched down at Narita. I moved quickly to customs, knowing that I did not want to be at the end of the line when everyone gets off the plane. Unfortately, once I got there I was placed in line to wait behind what must have been the slowest immigration officer ever. Sure, she was cute and nice to look at after being stuck in a dark, noisy, recycled-air plane, but that cuteness wore off after the fifth minute. Finally got the chance to jump into another spot and went through quickly. Only took me ten minutes to get my luggage and pass through customs. Exchanged the majority of my cash and went to get my ticket on the Keisei express. Got stopped before I got to the counter and was asked by a policeman to fill out this survey thing that basically asked the same questions that customs asks. How odd. Completed the survey and got my ticket and made it to the train just as it arrived, ensuring me a comfortable and heated seat for my trip.
Train rides are always an entertaining experience in Japan. Usually no one wants to sit next to you. After being on the road for over half a day I imagine do not smell of fresh flowers and I would not choose to sit next to me either. There were some other foreigners in my car and they took the seats next to mine for a while, but even they moved after a while. I do not think I really smelled that bad at all. Maybe I just looked like hell (when I got the hotel I saw that I did). Had to switch lines when I got to Aoto station, which is where I look my first photo. I lack the words for it, it is just best to see it. Switched to a subway line after I was done with the rails and after another 30 minutes I finally arrived at my hotel.
Sakura Hotel specially caters itself to foreigners and was packed with them when I arrived. Got the key to my room and discovered for myself just how damned small it was. You could not fit two twin sized beds side by side in there. But a bed is a bed and it cost less than 60 dollars so it was alright. Took a shower (in a room so small that another guest described it as taking a shower in a prison) and got myself cleaned up and ready to head out. I was due some walking and needed to fill my belly before passing out. Before I could do that I needed to check in with my loved ones. I plugged my laptop into their network in the cafe and discovered that I needed an adapter to charge my laptop. They have the same plugs for the live and neutral but lack a ground, forcing me to be brief. Walked around for a while until I found a ramen place where you place your order on a machine, get a ticket and then give the ticket to the staff. Much easier. Ate my ramen and then wandered around for a while, just looking around and taking in this small part of Tokyo. The night looks so much different in Tokyo. I am not referring solely to the light pollution but there is just something different about this place. Shanghai is different too, but I enjoy Tokyo so much more. I could only walk for so long before my body finally started to drag. Got some Pocari sweat before I returned to the hotel and relaxed in bed until I finally fell asleep around 9pm.
Photos for Day 0 - January 11th, 2007