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2014 trip to Japan: part 1 of...who knows. - words first
some sense later
wrayb
2014 trip to Japan: part 1 of...who knows.
Started writing this on night arrived in Japan on 9/30.

In Tokyo. I've come here a few times over the last six, seven years. Just enough that I can say that I am starting to have a pattern, a routine. Maybe. I have a ryokan (Japanese style inn) that I where I have stayed at least three times. It feels like four because on at least one trip I would stay here and then goes to another city for a couple of days and then return here.

So about fours hours ago I arrived at the airport and I write some notes about the trip before I go to sleep feeling cozy in a familiar space.

The flight was exhausting. One factor, I worked all night and morning before leaving from a customer site for the airport at about 10:30AM. Departure scheduled for 2:50PM.

The customer is in Jersey City. I'm flying out of JFK. Went on PATH train from Exchange Place in NJ to World Trade Center stop and walked to E subway World Trade Center platform. Took the E all the way to the Air Train connection at Supthin Blvd in Queens, with a very fast (trotted with my suitcase) stop at my apartment to pick up about 40,000 Yen (about $400) that I had forgotten the night before.

Although I did have time to make the quick stop at the apartment, and so hadn't needed to bring my suitcase with me to work the night before, I didn't feel I had time to stop at 52nd Street and Park Avenue CITI bank to get more Yen for the trip (40,000 yen wasn't going to be enough). Made the transfer from the subway to the to Air Train that goes into JFK airport at about 11:48AM. Get to terminal and get checked in and through security and bought more Yen from young lady at exchange place who said that my birthday is the same day and year as her father. When I walked up to the the booth she had been in process of shutting everything down to go on lunch break. Another minute and she would had been gone or telling me she was closed. My exchange receipt says 12:39PM.

Bought liquor filled chocolate for gift for in-laws; nut filled chocolate as gift for son's co-workers and niece.

Bought Shake Shack basic hot dog and burger and 6 Point Crisp beer. The beer was pricy. Consumed quickly and had a few moments to take a deep breath before boarding flight at about 210PM for our 2:50PM departure.

Somehow I'm in boarding Group 1 (maybe I paid for it when buying the ticket?), so after the first class and other priviledged passengers I was about the 20th person to board. Easily get to seat and stow the gift chocolates (big shopping bag with 10 little boxes inside) and backpack overhead. Aisle seat, all seats filled in my row and pretty much all the airplane. I'm getting too old and frumpy to travel comfortably but getting all my stuff in the overhead and an aisle seat is the best I can expect.

To pass the time (12 hours) instead of my usual practice of sleeping as much as possible on flights, I watched movies (the two meals and the small sandwich snack are best forgotten), mostly in Japanese with sub-titles:

"Apology King" - comedy, comedian Sadao Abe is character who does free lance consultation helping individuals succeed giving life changing apology. New Japanese word: dogeza; formal showing respect and sincerity by kneeling and bowing forehead to the ground.

"A boy called H" (original: "Shonen H") - WWII as experienced by a young boy in Kobe who enters Jr. High in the spring following the Pearl Harbor attack. The movie starts well before the war, showing a Japan where European things are increasing to be held in suspicion as the fascist nationalists gets their grip on Japanese society. The family has extra pressure because the father is a tailor specializing in western men's clothing with many westerner's for customers and the mother is a devout Christian. Movie ends as H (Hajime) sets off to find his own trade in the shattered post war country.

"Eternal Zero" - WWII movie again. This time from point of view of 26 year old man who after his grandmother's funeral is roused from lethargy (he has failed law bar examination a few times and is wondering what he should do with his life) when his sister presses him to find out about their true grandfather (they grew up only knowing their step-grandfather). Movie is mostly a series of flashbacks illustrating the recollections of various retired-Zero (Japan's WWII fighter plane) pilots who re-call with either digust (majority) or ultimate respect (two key characters in their grandfather's past) the highly skilled pilot who had never blindly accepted Japan's call for soldiers to gladly give their life in sacrifice to the empire but did finally volunteer to be a kamikaze pilot and thus provide the plot and inspiration for these times that this movie (based on a book) intends.

"Edge of Tomorrow" - recent Tom Cruise film which I'd heard about and which I enjoyed more than I expected.

"Homeland" - Family drama with radiation contaminated Fukushima as the setting for two brothers long separated after younger brother took responsibilty for vandalism done by the "hot headed" older brother. Movie ends with younger brother having chosen, despite official evacuation still being enforced, to return to work the family rice farm, taking their mother whose age and trama induced dementia seems is helped by being back in familiar surroundings. As for the older brother, he finally gets on with his life to farm alternative land outside the radiation zone with his wife (who had been supporting the family and getting out of the claustrophic temporary refugee housing by doing hostess work, which she claimed despite meeting clients in hotels did not include doing "IT".)

After the fifth movie there was less than 2 hours of flight time left. Breakfast was served and then I tried to Sleep during the last hour.

Did not fill out my forms on the airplane so I was the very last person from my flight to pick up my suitcase. My encounters with immigration and with customs were smooth. A mumbled Japanese polite word from me. Many Japanese words I cannot understand (worse than my usual minimal comprehension due to my exhaustion) and smilingly be waved through, my forms apparently answering any question they might have. I wish I could have a copy of my entry photo. The glance I got, I was very red faced and glaringly trying to focus my eyes on the machine that was scanning my index fingers.

Found the ticket booth for SkyLiner, a reserved express train from Narita to my stop in Tokyo: Nippori. My few words in Japanese to ask for my ticket were sufficent that the clerk spoke to me in Japanese at a speed I could not comprehend but she pointed to the key information (time, car and seat number) on my ticket and I realized the next train was just minutes away.

The trip is about 50 minutes. When more than half the way there, I fell asleep, waking when arriving at the end of the line, Ueno. One stop past the station near my destination. At the exit I showed my ticket to a worker and mumble fragmented Japanese: "I am sorry"; "I am a bit sleepy" and I am smilingly waved through. Walked the block to the local train that would bring me back to the Nippori station. Very slow working with the vending machine to buy SUICA, a card I can put money on for riding subways and trains. There are enough machines that other customers don't have to wait for me. Get to the train platform. Let one train go because I didn't yet have time to verify I had picked the platform with train going the direction I needed. I was on the correct side, so got on the next train about 8 minutes later.

At Nippori, took an escalator which brought me to a station exit away from the direction of the ryokan. Minimal understanding of signs mixed with vague memories and I headed in the direction that I hoped would lead me to the ryokan. I walk pulling the suit case and carrying the big bag of gifts wondering if I am remembering the neighborhood streets correctly or if I deceived by my superficial, all-these-little-streets-around-the-station-look-alike, awareness of my surroundings. A couple of blocks later I see definite familiar landmark and am relieved that despite taking the wrong exit out of the station that I am on my way to the ryokan that will be my base for my first week in Japan.

Drop my stuff in my room and go out to buy some food and drink to bring back and eat in the room.
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