Adventures in Japan-Planes, Trains and Automobiles

A year ago yesterday, I departed St. John’s airport, on a 2-week trip to Japan. This turned out to be the most exciting adventure I’ve gone on (except, of course, becoming a parent). Over the next two weeks, I’ll be posting about my time in Japan: Places, people, and experiences that have stuck with me over the last year.

As I mentioned, I slept very little the night before my departure – 2 or 3 hours tops. Upon arriving at the airport, I was greeted with a grim sight: a big line-up at the Air Canada desk. Turned out, there had been a flight the night before that was delayed until the morning, which meant I was in line behind a lot of tired & cranky people. As a rule, I prefer to be at the airport a bit earlier than is necessary, but on this occasion I hadn’t worried about it. The line-up moved surprisingly quickly, and I made it through security with plenty of time to spare.

A bit of sleeping happened on the flight to Toronto, despite my best efforts, but once I arrived in Toronto it was time to be awake. My parents came down to Toronto and went out for breakfast with me, since I had a fairly long stop-over. It was a really nice chance to catch up with them, since we hadn’t been together since Christmas the previous year. The only downside to it was that it wasn’t a very long visit – we all would have liked a bit more time. But, before long, it was time to head back to Terminal 1 to get on my flight to Narita Airport. Just before I got on the plane, I made sure to pick up the final component in my experiment in avoiding jet lag: a can of Red Bull.

Most of the travelling I’ve done has been in cars, on buses, or smaller jets. Until that day, I had never been on a jumbo jet, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. As it turns out, it was pretty much the same as the smaller jets I’d been on, other than having a LOT more people on board. Walking through First Class, I definitely felt a little envious – they had seats that practically turned in to beds!

The flight itself was surprisingly uneventful. There were a couple of small children behind me who insisted on kicking the back of my chair every so often, but that wasn’t a huge problem. I watched a couple of movies and some TV shows, as well as did some reading. I did sleep for about half an hour at the beginning of the flight, but otherwise I was able to stay awake all the way to Narita. The only thing that really struck me about the flight was the food – I’d never had an actual meal on an flight before, and they offered both a Western and a Japanese option. I opted for the Japanese option, mainly because I really enjoy Japanese food. About two hours before we were slated to land, I broke out the Red Bull, to make sure that I was reasonably awake until I got to the hotel.

Passing through the airport and customs was surprisingly smooth – I had heard some horror stories about people having trouble entering Japan, but I didn’t run in to any problems at all. After getting my baggage, I went down in to the basement of the airport, where the JR Rail office is. Virginia and I had decided to purchase a JR Rail Pass, but since they weren’t active until the day we planned to head to Osaka, I had to purchase a separate ticket for the Narita Express to get in to Tokyo. They had a really good deal which involved getting a round-trip ticket, as well as an electronic cash card used in the Tokyo transit systems.

While I was waiting for the train to arrive, I made my first purchase in Japan – a bottle of Suntory Vitamin C.C. Lemon. It wasn’t the tastiest drink, but since it had lots of Vitamin C in it, I figured it would be a good idea – after all, I had just spent over 14 hours in an airplane, breathing recycled air from several hundred of my closest friends. This was also the first of many encounters with the famous Japanese Vending Machines.

To be blunt, the Narita Express is an awesome way to travel. The seats are comfortable, the ride is smooth, and there’s a food & drink cart that comes by. The ride to Shinjuku station took a couple of hours, and I did doze off a couple of times, but managed to watch out the window as we passed from the rural outskirts of Narita, in to the modern city of Tokyo. The Japanese countryside is a fascinating place for someone interested in gardening and farming – there seems to be a lot more small-scale agriculture going on there than there is here in Canada. I guess it’s because most of the houses have very little land, so community gardens are kind of essential if you want to produce your own food.

Navigating Shinjuku station proved to be quite a challenge. By the time I arrived there, I was definitely feeling the effects of my experiment. I also discovered that, even if people can understand what you’re trying to say, they don’t always know what to tell you. I asked several people for directions (including the transit cops that were all over the place), and got lots of different answers. I finally managed to get to the subway line that took me to my hotel. I would later discover that the walking distance from Shinjuku station to my hotel wasn’t far at all, but it was probably best that I did take the subway that night. The subway stop was right outside the hotel, which made it easy to get in there, check in, and get in to the hotel room.

I had spent over 24 hours in transit, and was quite exhausted, but I was also hungry. It was time to hunt down some food. Wandering out in to the street, I had a bit of a moment – I was in Japan.

Tomorrow-Unpacking and Exploring

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