Friday, July 10, 2015

Japanned, Day Ten

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


Morning came too soon on Day Ten. From our plushly carpeted and comfortably climate-controlled cocoon forty-four floors up, it was a bright and clear day in Tokyo, hardly smoggy at all. It looked like the type of day made for anything...

Too bad for us, the day's tasks were already set.

Today was the day we were going home.

We had only been at the Park Hyatt for a single night, so it wasn't too difficult to gather up our stuff and start packing. From the very start, this day had always been inevitable, unavoidable, much like the Park Hyatt's check-out time, so... we packed. And this was serious packing, folks, the "rolling up all the clothes and folding everything else extra tight, and then laying across the rolly bag in order to zip it closed" type of packing. We weren't in a rush, but we didn't have a lot of time either. Our last day in Japan wasn't even going to be a full day. Our flight was scheduled for later that afternoon.

Take a look...

Do you see that? How's that for crazy? We leave Japan on Friday the 22nd at 4:40 pm, and we ARRIVE in Minneapolis on Friday the 22nd at 1:45 pm! You know what that is, right?

That's right... Time Travel.

That's just how I roll, kids. Straight outta Gallifrey, a crazy mother fucker called... who?


Anyway, so our plan was to check out, have the hotel hold our bags for a bit, meet up with Will and Kelly for one last Viking Buffet, pal around a little, and then scoot on over to Shinjuku Station and catch the Narita Express to the airport.

And from there... Home.

It was do-able, we had plenty of time, but we had to be mindful of the clock too. The train to the airport was going to take us about two hours. The inevitable slow-ass drag through the ridiculousness that is airport security was probably gonna add another two hours on top of that. This means we're gonna have to leave Tokyo a little after noon, and that means we've only got a few hours left here on the far side of the world, all of which ultimately means... Our time was almost up, so it was past time to say goodbye to the softly-lit and downy-soft world of the Tokyo Park Hyatt.

It was time to check out and get our last day in Japan started.

The hallway home...

The service at the Tokyo Park Hyatt was ridiculous, totally top-notch; they were ready and willing to take care of our every need. From beginning to end, they were all about the customer. We could do no wrong. While checking-in had seemed like an intense job interview, checking-out felt like we were breaking up with a very understanding lover. They were putting on a strong face, but they were sorry to see us go. We assured them it wasn't them, it was us, we just couldn't stay any longer. They nodded in resigned understanding, because we would always have the good memories. Was there anything else they could still do for us...?

They were more than happy to hold our rolly bags and satchels for us.

We met Will and Kelly at Girandole, and caught the end of what turned out to be a pretty amazing Viking Buffet. They had everything you usually find, and then some. There was a very heavy (and very moneyed) focus on fruit and yogurt. There was a waffle bar. Eggs to order, American eggs, the yokes weren't nuclear orange! There was bacon too, actual bacon, cooked the right way! Do you know how much that stuff probably cost to ship in? Me neither, but I bet it was a lot. In fact, that was basically the theme of the Buffet, of Girandole, and of the Tokyo Park Hyatt itself.

Again, note the real silver silverware, people.

Maybe it doesn't need to be said, but the Tokyo Park Hyatt is obviously not lycanthrope friendly.

It was great to see Will and Kelly again. Sure, it had only been a few days, but still, it was really nice. Before this trip, we hadn't seen them in forever, and so this was a great way to reconnect. It was especially nice, because it really felt like it hadn't been as long as it actually had, that's comforting. It's nice to have family like that. In the end, we really had a good time on this trip and a lot of it was directly due to them taking us around and being so generous with their time and energy and friendship. They were a blast to hang out with, and we got to see and do a lot of stuff we probably wouldn't have otherwise had the chance to. Getting together again on the last day was the perfect way to cap the trip. So, brunch was on us. It was the least we could do. Plus, despite a concerted effort on our part, Ela and I both had a buttload of change on us, so they got that too.

But the Viking Buffet could only last so long. We stuck it out as long as we could, chatting until we were the very last people in the whole restaurant, and the staff had finished cleaning up all the other tables and chairs except for ours, so we left. We walked down and got some coffee. We came back and stared out over the great Tokyo skyline. We hung out. It was a bit melancholy. We were stuck in a holding pattern, not enough time to go do anything, but too much time to be idle. Eventually, the inevitable, we headed for Shinjuku Station and flashed our JR Pass for the last time. Will and Kelly came with us all the way this time, because after we left, they were going to catch the Shinkansen back to Yokohama, back to the remainder of their Japanese stay, back to teaching English classes, drinking chu-hi, and browsing the shops. L-I-V-I-N... y'know what I mean?

I was so envious.

Shinjuku Station, like I've said, is huge, but the walk to the platform for the Narita Express seemed to take forever. The hallway just went on and on and on. A continuous white tiled hallway with the faint hope of a train waiting on the far end. It felt like we were trying to make a connection at O'hare.

See that hallway going back around the corner? That was Mile 8.

When we finally arrived, we only had a few minutes to wait before the train arrived. Will and Kelly already had our extra souvenirs and our endless thanks, so all that was really left were the hugs and the handshakes and the reluctant goodbyes. This felt like the real, true end of our trip to Japan, everything after this was just Ela and I shuffling between worlds.

We boarded the Narita Express, and we were off, the return journey officially begun. Our last Japanese train ride. Now, seriously... I know I've said it before, but one last time... the Shinkansen is the only way to travel. Driving is for suckers, man. The train is where it's at. 

We settled in and watched Japan slip past, falling away behind us.

Here's a nice surprise: The airport in Japan wasn't nearly as awful an experience as it usually is in America. I don't know if it was the available and helpful staff, or the clearly marked and efficient lines and the people's willingness to stand in them, or the fact that they don't waste everyone's time by making you take your shoes off. Whatever it was, we breezed through security like we had a golden pass and an official Princess for the Day tiara.

Quick as you please, we were on the other side of security and in the Main Terminal. Way early too, well ahead of schedule. So we had some time to kill, and it was a good thing too, because making it to our gate involved a lot of hallways.

A lot of hallways. A lot. But that gave Ela several chances to scoop up a few last minute souvenirs on the way. The lady is obsessed with tchotchkes and knick-knacks and weird Japanese snacks, people. Little gifts for later dates... How else would we know that we had been there?

After that, it was just like any other airport: Lots of vaguely confused people stuffed into too small a space, looking like hell and dragging around too much crap, their blank faces puffy with the doomed hope a seat might open up. Honestly, if not for the Japanese announcements, the gate area really could have been in America. Granted, it probably felt this way because it was the International Terminal, but those Australians could be any brotastic cluster of loud, drunken frat kids. Those Germans could be my lumbering and sunburned neighbors. Those mainlander Chinese could be... well, whichever group either adamantly refuses to acknowledge the line even exists so they can harangue the poor gate agents without waiting, or maybe the group who blatantly cuts in line utilizing a kind of faux-nonchalant osmosis, a technique akin to a kid who believes they're invisible as long as they don't look directly at anyone, refusing to give up until they are bodily shoved away... Whatever group that is... that's who they are. And while we're being disparaging, why is every American wearing sweatpants? Do you pigs own any shoes that AREN'T flip-flops? Where's your national pride, you mouth-breathing troglodytes!

Eventually, Ela made me sit quietly and read my book.

Time in the Gate Area has no meaning. I've never understood why people rail against it. You aren't going anywhere until they let you, so you might as well have a seat and wait. That's what we did, and soon enough, we were all slowly filing on board, shuffle-walking up the aisle, and settling in for the long flight. Too soon, we were in the air, homeward bound. Our time in Japan was done.

Gochi so sama, Japan!

Otherwise, except for the two assholes in front of us that kept trying to put their seats back, the flight was pretty pleasant. Despite the long hours of being trapped in a metal tube filled with stale farts and bad perfume, Delta International was not too bad. Over the next fourteen hours, I managed to finish up my book, and then I watched Guardians of the Galaxy, and then Children of Men, and then The Rewrite. Yep, it was a very pleasant experience.

In fact, it hardly seemed like fourteen hours at all. Before we knew it, the flight attendants were preparing for landing, and the plane was banking as we circled our destination. The city was all spread out beneath us. The Mini Apple. The City of Waters. One half of the Twin Cities--the better half--and the 14th-largest metropolitan area in the United States, home to approximately 3.8 million residents. Minneapolis.

Our home.

And as we touched down... the trip was well and truly over.

That kind of sucked.

But the cats were really happy to see us, so that was nice. They had a litany of complaints ready, though, mostly because the bathroom remodel was a complete cluster fuck, but hey... home again, home again, jiggety-jig, right? Safe and sound too. At least there's that. Plus, it was nice to be back to my own bed again. When we flew west to Japan, I didn't feel jetlagged at all, but flying home, back east, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Time Travel can wear a guy out, y'know?

I took a nap forever. Good thing we came back in time for a three day weekend.

Our Japan trip was the trip of a lifetime. The sights, the sounds, the people, the food, all fantastic. Unforgettable. My wonderful wife and I travel well together... well, we do a lot of stuff together well, but when it comes to traveling? We're top notch. She's sweet and cute and doesn't have the best balance, so the best thing about the whole trip was that I was sharing the experience with her. And what an amazing experience it was. The funny thing about Japan, I was struck by how familiar it all seemed, probably due to too many movies and anime on my part, but it was more than that, something I haven't quite been able to identify yet. It all looked and felt exactly like I expected. Now, mostly this could be chalked up to the fact that, no matter where we are, we're all basically the same, people are people, but there was something else... it also felt like the realization of a fantasy, like the fog cleared and we were standing at the gates of a mythical land only known in books. A tad hyperbolic, I know, but like I said, it was an amazing experience, all of which is still crowded together in my head. I'm still processing, but in a nutshell, it did not disappoint. And yet, even with all that expectation and familiarity, it was also like nothing I'd ever experienced before. The sense of time and history is always right there, ancient traditions so integral--a feeling a relatively young country like America simply doesn't have--and yet, just as present everywhere was the gleaming razor's edge of the future. That's Japan, the old and the new all shoved in right next to each other, crowding against each other, but somehow fitting. I loved it. Even now, coming home again feels like waking up from a dream.

Seriously, if you ever get the chance to go, take advantage.


Hopefully someday we'll go back.

Day Ten Done,

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