Monday, June 8, 2015

Japanned, Day One

My Wife and I went to Japan for ten days. We had a blast. I took notes.


If there was one thing I wasn't looking forward to about this trip, it was the flight itself. In a nutshell, I think flying is the absolute worst. It's a "First World" kind of worst, sure, definitely, but from beginning to end, the experience is usually everything bad about County Fairs, Bus Stations, and the DMV all rolled into one. There's people everywhere, which is bad enough, but they're also the type of crowd that is that awful combination of being tired, confused, lost, entitled, and dirty. The lines are endless and unbelievably slow, and "security" is an obnoxious joke run by half-wits and high school drop-outs. The seating is terrible, of course, and not just for big people either. The seats are uncomfortable and cramped, and saying they're "thinly padded" is a compliment. There's always some selfish butthole in front of you who seems to think they need to push their seat back, as if it is somehow more comfortable that way, and does something other than just take away what little space is provided for the passenger behind them. It smells. It's hot. The food is barely deserving of the name. A checked bag almost guarantees it will be lost, stolen, or have something broken within, if it actually makes it to your destination. You get the sense that there's probably poop on everything. And that's not even mentioning the fact that it costs a billion and a half dollars each time you fly.

It's the worst.

And I was resigned to the unavoidable reality of 12 hours of it, grimly steeled, like a doughboy crouched in the trenches the moment before the charge is sounded.

But y'know what? Delta's flight from Minneapolis to Narita was pretty all right. The airport wasn't a giant cluster-fuck of mouth-breathing boobs. I didn't get randomly searched, for once. The lines moved at a regular pace. There was plenty of knee room in my row. They had a WACKY safety video before take-off. And when I say WACKY, I mean... WACKY! There were puppets! And no one else in the video seemed to notice! The Pilot was wearing WW1 era goggles! WACKY! Who puts a pizza in an overhead bin? Someone on a direct flight from Crazy Town straight to Funny Bone-ville, that's who. And once we were in the air? There were lots of free movies and TV provided with free headsets. There was plenty of... eh... half-decent food, but lots of drink services too. Two hot towels? Who do these people think I am, the Queen of Sheba?

So, yeah... not bad. Pleasant, actually. This was a good sign for the trip, I thought.

The only sour note, was that there were a surprisingly large of amount of people who just had to take Monster Dumps during the flight... We weren't even seated all that near the toilets, but... damn. I mean, I realize it's 12 hours, but Tour Rules apply, people. Also during the flight, while watching other rows interact, I was surprised by how many people seemed to prefer to be monkey-crawled over by the people sitting to the inside of their row, rather than just standing up and letting that person by... most likely so they can go take a Giant Poo in the Lavatory.

Anyway, we left MSP on Tuesday the 12th at 1:10 pm and landed at Narita International on Wednesday the 13th at 3:20 pm. Long time. Over the International Date Line to boot. But really... shit, before we knew it, we were in Japan...

Narita International Airport is well outside Tokyo. It's huge. Huge. Like, endless dream huge, the type where you're supposed to make a flight but the Terminal keeps going and going and going... The walk to customs was about 57 and a 1/2 miles, give or take, but the upside? At the end of that long walk, Japanese customs is friendly and quick and seem to just assume you're a dumbass who can't speak any language other than mumbled English, so whatever, have fun in Japan, smiling American.

Hooray! The wife and I were loosed upon a foreign country with nothing but our wits, our rolly bags , and our confused expressions. We were on our own, squinting at the signs and standing on the side of the escalator where you're supposed to walk and walking on the side of the escalator where you're supposed to stand!

Fucking Heinlein had no idea, man... No idea!

Luckily, my Uncle Will and my Aunt Kelly--they're Professors, don't cha'know... wicked smart--were in Japan on Sabbatical (which is an Academic way of saying "I won't be coming into work for a year"), and they sent us extremely helpful instructions. Thus, armed with a small stack of home-printed and oft-folded paper, we managed to get our tickets and find our train... kind of easily, actually. To be honest, the signs in Japan really aren't that hard to follow. I mean, when they're in Japanese they are, but otherwise, where there aren't fairly easy to understand pictograms, pretty much every digital display switches over regularly to English. All you have to do is take a few seconds, look, wait, think. Like the saying goes: Easy-Peasy Japanesey.

The Narita Express is a super-comfy train ride to Tokyo. It's the only way to go. Don't rent a car. Don't take a taxi. Reasonably priced, and it only takes a little less than two hours. An hour and a half? I can't recall, my notes are a little jetlaggy at this point. Whatever. It's a great ride and fantastic way to relax after a long flight.

Plus, the view from the train was a like a tour of anime landscapes...

Ela slept. I stared. It was fantastic. You know the sentiment, so much like home, and yet so different. Other side of the world, baby. I was enthralled. So much so, that I forgot to take pictures of the megaplex cityscape of Tokyo on the way in. Sorry, just watch Blade Runner. Anyway, a couple of hours--and an a pair of easy transfers that were clearly described in our excellent stack of notes--later, and we found ourselves in Yokohama. My phone didn't work at all in Japan, and so far I had zero free Wi-fi signals, it was like living in the 90s again, like a boss.

I was unplugged, and on vacation.

The Yokohama Washington Hotel, right off Sakuragicho Station. On the bay, close to everything, this part of Yokohama had a feeling very much like the Pacific Northwest, breezy and calm, and cleanly metropolitan. That's not a picture of our actual room, of course, but that's definitely what it looked like. I wanted a clean version to show you. It actually looks like there's more room in that picture between the desk and the bed than there was in our room.

It was like a really comfortable closet.

Our room. Ela's foot. Notice the bottle of Tomato Water, let me assure you... accidental purchase.

Comfortable closet or not, the view was great.

                                  Yokohama by day.                                                              Yokohama by night.                                  

We got there about 6 pm, so we lounged a bit until Will showed up at 8 or so. It was great seeing Will again, it had been awhile. He came with gifts. Saki. Snacks. Our wonderful PASMO cards, all loaded up and ready to go. And best of all, a little pocket sweat towel and a little packet of klee-nex. Why? Because it's hot as fuck in Japan. Seriously. Plus, it's super-crowded too, and air conditioning costs money, yo. The most Japanese solution ever? Just carry a small towel with you, so you can wipe your sweaty brow. The Klee-nex is because, much like public garbage cans in Japan, you're usually on your own. Meaning, when you most need it, there will be no paper in the public restrooms. I think that's known as Japanese Murphy's Law

So, yeah... this stuff proved to be invaluable, people. Invaluable.

Fully kitted-out, we headed to the neighborhood known as Noge--which despite being pronounced "No Gay" is actually more like "Yes Gay"--in search of food and drink. It's a bright and flashy and friendly area, all tight little narrow alleys lined with bars and karaoke and restaurants and these small stall-like restaurants with only five or six seats in them that are apparently considered more like the dining room of the regulars, than they are so much open to the public. Most of these places only serve one or two things too, just the things the owner knows personally how to make. Not that you couldn't go to one, but if you did, you'll probably just end up sitting in someone else's seat. Weird, huh? 

We found a place and we ate and talked. Talked about our lives and the trip. We caught up, and we planned ahead. Meat on a stick. Noodles. Fish. Nama beer too. "Nama" means "raw" and when used to reference beer, you're basically ordering whatever's the cheap, main beer they have on tap. Usually Asahi or Kirin. Kelly met us there, and it was great to see her again too. There was more food and talk.

Gochiso sama (or Gochiso Sama Deshita) means: "It was quite a Feast" and it's kind of like saying: "Thank you for treating me." It's a nice thing to say after meals, and not commonly known. The Japanese really appreciate it. We finished our food and ended up walking around Noge, seeing the sights, learning the lingo, and watching the young gangsters in their sharp-toed shoes trying to rustle up customers, all while drinking beer and Chu-hi from the endlessly available and--as it turned out throughout the rest of our vacation--incredibly convenient vending machines and 7-11s.

Basically, the Drink Vending Machines have everything from coffee to water to pop to juice, to occasionally even beer. And they're everywhere. Everywhere. Every corner. Down alleys and dead-end streets. Always. Everywhere. Who services them? I don't know, I never saw anyone, but they were always full, clean, and in working order. They're great. And if you can't find what you want in a vending machine, the 7-11's will definitely have it. The 7-11's have everything. They're super clean too. Plus, this is where you can find ATM you can use. Also, they're open 24 hours.

I wonder if people wonder why they're called 7-11...

Chu-hi is a fruit flavored vodka drink in a can. Pineapple is great. So is Mango and Lemon. Grapefruit is all right too. Coconut is kind of gross, but other than that one exception, it's all incredibly refreshing on a super hot day. Plus, it'll fuck you up... surprisingly quickly... But at the time? Super refreshing.

Fully fortified, we went Karaoking.

I don't know whether to praise or condemn a Karaoke bar that doesn't have "Baby Got Back", but does have "Baby Got Sauce". It's a ballsy stance, Japan... a ballsy stance. Kelly sings old, romantic Japanese pop songs. Ela always picks rap. Will's ready for anything. I added Crackling Rosie to my list of Go-to Karaoke tunes, and I gotta say, I killed it.

Super fun, we eventually headed back to the Hotel. Collapsed.

Day One done,


Mark Teats said...

Mmmm. Vodka in a can. Day 1 sounds like it was pretty darned fun.

Jon said...

It was. And tiring

the library bird said...

More! Can't wait for day 2. Want to try tomato water now.

Jon said...

It is an oddity. I wouldn't call it gross... but I wouldn't call it good either. Day Two tomorrow

the library bird said...

watered down V8?

Jon said...

I got into detail in Day Three