Step Two: I Finally Make It to My Adventure Destination

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I woke up from my Texan respite, and started on the last leg of my journey to the land of the rising sun. Settling into my exit seat, I was excited about the extra legroom, but completely bummed by my lack of window (odd plane design) and the inconvenience of having to store everything in the overhead bins. I figured that with such a LONG (over 13hours) flight I was planning on doing ALL OF THE THINGS. I would work on my Japanese phrases (as in: Learn some.) I was going to start the rough draft of my first Adventure Blog post. I was going to plan out in detail all of the many things that I wanted to see and accomplish whilst in Tokyo.

Instead I enjoyed reading my books (the Divergent series), sleeping, and watching movies. It is very easy to convince yourself that you really do need to be watching movies all of the movies you’ve been putting off instead of being productive, especially when you are in a near sleep state and all of your words start to blend together. I think they would at least… Actually I wouldn’t know. My laptop hung out in the overhead bin for the whole flight.

Anyway, the nice thing about a long flight is that they give you wine. Not, “Would you like a tiny bottle of wine for the price of your first born?” but rather, it is right up there with a water or orange juice as a free choice to go with your meal. So I got to pretend I was a classy broad with my wine and (processed) cheese as I flew across a big ocean.

 

Keeping it classy while up in the air.

Keeping it classy while up in the air.

As my earlier post indicated, I eventually landed and pulled into the Narita International Terminal in one piece. Making it out of immigrations/customs soon became my travel trial #2.

Apparently my flight AND EVERY SINGLE OTHER INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT in that airport belched out their passengers at one time, causing a frustrating bureaucracy bottleneck. I liken the experience to waiting in line to get your badge for Dragon*Con (or any other conventions, I can bet.) There are some interesting characters waiting along side you. Everyone is a little bit excited, and a little bit nervous that they won’t get approval, and will miss all of the fun things that they had paid a lot of money to get to do. Also, not everyone smells his or her best. And the air conditioning appears to be broken (or possibly non-existent).

I finally make it to a numbered queue, with only 3 or 4 people in front of me. No sooner than I park my suitcase next to me, a smartly uniformed immigrations officer comes up and points to myself and two others. “You, you, you- come with me,” and motions to the ominous corner room labeled “ Waiting Room”.

I think this would be a good time to mention that at this point I am off the grid. I’ve no cell service, and I was not entirely trusting of the one rōmaji WiFi labeled “FREE WIFI!” and I neglected to get an actual phone number for my cousin (I never said I was a girl scout.) So as I make my way to what I can only imagine is going to involve rubber gloves and another 16 hours knocked off my trip, I begin to think of all the different strategies I could use to contact him were I detained for some reason. I am immediately relieved when the situation is finally made clear. The officials were trying to “speed up” the lines by opening up every available station…. And possibly terrorize incoming tourists in the process. (But that part was just a bonus, I am sure.) Admittedly, the officials were quite courteous throughout the whole process, a behavior I continued to notice throughout my whole trip. After about and hour or so of slogging though Immigration/Customs, I finally made it down to baggage claim where I quickly found my cousin (and the much needed coffee he brought with him.) For future travelers: Tall redheads make extremely efficient beacons when searching through Japanese crowds.

My first day in Japan was a drizzly one. By the time we pulled out of the parking deck, it was late afternoon and rush-hour traffic was starting to hit its peak. This meant that I got to experience the fun of Tokyo roads and traffic at their finest.

I don't know about you, but to me this sign makes driving down really fast hills look FUN!

I don’t know about you, but to me this sign makes driving down really fast hills look FUN!

Here I shall start my list of Some of the Things I Observed About Tokyo (Road Addition):

  • That previously mentioned courtesy stops the moment you are behind the wheel.
  • I have never seen a more elaborate setup of blinking LED lights on the road signs. If you are prone to epileptic seizures, you would be best to avoid the roads.
  • It takes a while to get used to driving on the left side of the road- even if you are just the passenger.
  • I saw these bumper stickers on a lot of trucks. They are a form of crime prevention/social shaming, with the sentiment roughly, “I see what you did there.” *

(* OK, so that is my generalized interpretation. A more accurate one can be found Here.)

These glaring stickers are everywhere.

These glaring stickers are everywhere.

  • Pedestrians and cyclists really don’t care, and so you had better be ready to stop the car at a moment’s notice.
  • As long as you have your flashers on, the side of the road is your parking lot.
  • I am not sure how everyone is able to drive around so much because gas can get freaking expensive over there (average about $6 a gallon). Plus tolls average out about $15 one way
  • Despite some of these crazy road antics, there are relatively few accidents

 

We arrived safely into Ōme, my base of operation for the week. But before getting to the house, we go to fulfill my first (so coffee was technically my first) food request of the trip: RAMEN! And while I am sorry to say that I did not get a glorious food pic to make you all jealous over, I was so hungry and it tasted so good, that my regrets are rather small on that slight oversight.

As it was my very first day (half-day) EVER in Japan, I would like to say that after eating of the most delicious ramen, I was ready to go exploring and get in as many experiences in this amazing country as possible. That would be a really great thing for me to have done. Instead, I promptly fell asleep, overwhelmed by the collective exhaustion built up over the past couple of days.  Because that is how I roll.

But that meant I woke up to a beautiful start, rearing to go, for Day 2.

Step One: I Decide to Have an Adventure

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Here's a hint regarding what this whole post (and subsequent posts) will be about. You've been warned.

Here’s a hint regarding what this whole post (and subsequent posts) will be about. You’ve been warned.

A few years ago my cousin found out he was to be stationed at the Yokota US Air Force base in Japan. His sister and I swore that we were going to take advantage of this fortuitous placement, and come visit him in Tokyo. Last year, his sister followed through on her threat, and had a wonderful time. This year, it is my turn. I decided a few months back that I needed to stop putting off this opportunity for an adventure. But telling yourself to, “step outside your comfort zone,” and actually following through with it can be a very daunting task. As luck would have it, I had already renewed my passport a while back, I had my funds in order, and my cousin was agreeable to having me come visit for a few days. I had run out of excuses. As the days counted down to my departure, the whole trip seemed rather surreal to me; was I actually getting on a series of flights by myself to a whole other country where I don’t read or speak the language? You Betcha!

While I was tempted to get these stylish American flag shades, I decided to err in a less "in your face" on my face approach.

While I was tempted to get these stylish American flag shades, I decided to err in a less “in your face” on my face approach.

One month quickly counted down to two weeks, then two days, then the night before, and suddenly Chris has dropped me off at the airport and I am boarding my first flight on my way to Japan. Everything seemed to go very smoothly for that first hop over to Dallas-Fort Worth. From check-in to gate I had no major issues, and I even had an entertaining (though not necessarily appropriate to repeat here) seatmate for the flight.

Plane #1 was rocking this in-flight entertainment dealio.

Plane #1 was rocking this in-flight entertainment dealio.

I really should have known that it was all too good to be true. As I eat my really tasty Tex-Mex late-lunch, I check to see how my connecting flight to San Francisco is doing. It is at this point that my luck seems to turn, and my first stabs of anxiety set in.

In my defense, I ordered the beer BEFORE finding out about the crazy delays that awaited me. Of course, then I was really glad I had ordered the beer.

In my defense, I ordered the beer BEFORE finding out about the crazy delays that awaited me. Of course, then I was really glad I had ordered the beer.

The flight from DFW to SFO was delayed. I knew going into this whole adventure, that I would be pushing my luck with a short (1 hour- OK, “short for me”) layover in an airport that I don’t know (and it is also pretty big), to catch the last leg of my international travel  part one- Getting There. As I watched the flight information, my hour layover gap shrank to 45minutes, and then 15 minutes… and then it became apparent that I would miss my flight all together. As I fretted over this realization to the check-in counter, they had “good news” – I would NOT be missing my flight into Japan… because it was canceled. Well, great. I had a nice big “All flights in and out of SFO have been delayed since last Saturday” wrench in my plans. (And it was a mighty big wrench. Bigger even than the really big ones that you can find at your local DIY improvement stores.) Calls were made, nails were bitten, and many a face-palm was had.

Eventually a plan was created that did not have me bouncing around to a whole bunch of other airports with further crazy delays and potential flights missed. I was lucky enough to interact with a very clever Customer Service Representative of the airline I was flying, who helped me not only avoid taking the now woefully delayed SFO flight with it’s subsequent crazy layovers and flight connections, but also managed to get me there earlier. (OK, not as early as my original cancelled flight, but still- a couple hours is something.)

As the evening rolled around, and I started to catch up with a grad school friend who lived in the in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and I hadn’t seen in years, I realized that this was a pretty good detour for my adventure to have. So while I would now be arriving in Tokyo 16 hours later than my original plan, maybe I had still somehow earned some good airport karma along the route. I don’t know, but I was not going to question it.

(Disclaimer: Don’t worry! Future posts of this adventure will contain more- and much prettier- pictures. I was just not terribly photo-happy for a chunk of this beginning part… OK?)

 

(Well- Except here- Here I was a bit snap-happy. Also slap-happy.)

(Well- Except here- Here I was a bit snap-happy. Also slap-happy.)