Japan: Arrival (Episode 01)
I hadn't slept much. The little time I had left that wasn't used preparing for the trip was spent preparing for our return. The few things I kept, such as my game consoles and computer, were strewn about the bedroom floor; the rest of my stuff was on its way to a storage facility in Oklahoma. See, we were to be moved out of our house in Texas and on the road to Fort Sill the day we got back to the States. I wanted more time to get ready, but it was my fault for spending so much time messing with my new Xbox 360 S and watching Lost. (I had set up my own mini home theater in my room after the movers took our projector and spent more time on Netflix than I should have.) I wasn't completely unprepared, though - after spending eight hours trying to find our hotel in France, I made sure of that. This time, I bought two binders, one for me and one for my brother, and made note of some key bits of info to avoid issues later, such as directions to our hotel and a small glossary. I figured the covers of the binders should represent things we like from Japan, so I put some art of Metal Gear Solid 3 by Yoji Shinkawa on mine and a badass drawing of Toshiro Mifune on my brother's.
The stuff I kept in our binders, including our itinerary info, basic phrases, and the aforementioned directions and glossary.
I also brought the menu I had been using for our local Japanese restaurant, Shogun. I've always had an aversion to seafood and was able to count on my fingers the number of times I ate it throughout my life. Figuring this was something I should get over, I started going to Shogun a few months before the trip to try foods I never had before. I circled the things I liked and placed an asterisk by things I didn't like. Having now been to Japan and various Japanese restaurants across the U.S., I can say Shogun has had the best food I have ever had - we once drove six hours just to eat there! Also, I ate more than what the menu shows; I just stopped circling stuff at a certain point.
When it comes to being authentic, Shogun is the Kid Rock of Japanese restaurants. Mmmm, old Giant Bomb memes...
With an 8:20 AM departure, there wasn't a lot of time to mess around. After gathering up our luggage, unplugging all the electronics in the house and taking a stupid picture, we took a cab to the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport.
After checking our bags and getting our boarding passes, we headed upstairs to wait in the food court. Luckily for me, there was an arcade right across from where I sat.
My boarding passes and the book we took on the trip.
A couple of shots of the arcade. On the left is the Global Arcade Classics machine I played Rastan on. On the right is the only full shot of the arcade I had. I was waiting for the announcer lady who interrupted my video to shut up so I could finish talking.
I didn't spend much time actually playing games. The arcade had Global Arcade Classics, T-Mek, Giga Wing (which wasn't working), Tekken 3, Off Road Challenge, Demolish Fist, Ranger Mission, and San Francisco Rush: The Rock (Alcatraz Edition). I played Rastan on the Global Arcade Classics machine, but it was time to go through security so I rushed through the game until I died, hence my terrible playing in the video. A short while later we were on the tiny plane en route to Houston. We arrived about an hour later and took a bus to the actual airport, which is the first time I've ever had to do that. We took a train cart to Terminal E and waited to depart for Tokyo.
We were a little concerned about our flight. Every international flight I've been on had seats in rows of three. On Travelocity, they had an overhead map of the plane and let you click on the seats you wanted, which I thought was pretty cool. There were rows of just two seats in the back of the plane, and I chose to go with those. My brother had recounted a story in which he sat in the back on an international flight before, and the seats didn't lean back at all, which would be pretty bad for a 12-hour flight. It ended up not being a problem, and we had the benefit of not sitting next to someone else.
I was surprised by the variety of people on the plane. I'm sure I would have heard a lot of interesting stories if I asked them why they were going to Japan (though I know there were a few on their way to China), but I decided to indulge in the massive entertainment selection available, instead. Far more robust than when I went to France, there were 192 movies, various TV shows like The Office and The Simpsons, music, and a video game selection that included basic titles like Asteroids. I tried to watch Up in the Air, a movie I have still yet to see, but my headphones couldn't go loud enough for me to hear all the words. I decided to watch movies I liked and already saw before, such as Get Smart and Ratatouille. I went with the beef and rice meal for dinner, which included bread, salad, and a cookie. It was actually pretty good, like most food I've had on planes, contrary to what comedians of the '90s led me to believe. Maybe something about being 34,001 feet in the air makes food taste better. That, or it's improved over the past fifteen years or so.
They brought around fruit and eggs for breakfast. I skipped the eggs, since any eggs that aren't made by me usually aren't very good (the trick is lots of margarine and salt). They soon brought around the customs declarations forms, and we landed at Narita International Airport shortly afterward.
What the customs declarations forms look like. Riveting!
After taking the escalator down past the "Welcome to Japan" sign, we stood in line for about twenty minutes with the rest of the people entering the country. We scanned both our index fingers and had our pictures taken, got our luggage and handed customs our forms and continued on through the airport. They didn't bother looking in our bags or anything, and it was the first of many instances that revealed just how much better dealing with Japanese airport employees was compared to the TSA.
We went to go purchase our Suica & N'EX package from a lady who didn't speak English. Thanks to those handy Arabic numerals, however, we were able to eventually figure everything out and went toward the train heading for Shinagawa Station. We got on the Narita Express and sat in our reserved seats, 7A and 7B, placing our luggage at the front of the cart in a convenient storage area.
Some of the pamphlets we picked up, along with our Suica & N'EX receipt.
Attached to the ceilings were TVs that displayed trip progress, news stories, advertisements, an overhead map of the next station, updates on other train lines, and the time; they would even cycle the information through various languages.
When we weren't looking at the TVs, we were admiring the view out the window. One of things that surprised both my brother and I, even on the flight in, was just how green everything was. There were seemingly miles of perfectly cut grass without a dead patch of brown in sight, not to mention all the lush trees. Passing by dozens of homes with clothes hanging out to dry only reinforced the quaintness of it all. Another unusual sight, though I'm sure it's no different in America (not that I would know since public transportation here is terrible), was seeing everyone playing with their phones at the various stations we stopped at. You would have been hard-pressed to find someone not staring at a tiny screen of some sort as they waited for their ride.
Look at all that green! Also, the first McDonald's we saw.
There were a couple of people reading manga on the train, one of which was a Weekly Shonen Jump. At one of the stops, a white guy with an N7 Mass Effect shirt got on. As we arrived at Shinagawa Station (the entire trip was about 70 minutes) I was sure to say "Awesome shirt." He looked up from his DS (I think he was playing a Pokémon game) and said, "I appreciate it." in an accent that wasn't American, and I gave a thumbs up and simply said "Mass Effect", which I think should totally be a thing.
Shinagawa Station is a large place with various shops for whatever one might need, including a Super Market (That's the name of the store!) that's always crowded. Outside of Shinagawa Station is a large crosswalk that takes you to the Shinagawa Prince complex, which is composed of a few different towers. We stayed in the North Tower, which was a little tricky to find at first as the complex is so big. During my stay, I saw several different stores (including a drug store), a movie theater, a bowling alley, a bunch of restaurants, and that wasn't even close to everything the complex contained. I could have seen Gary Whitta's The Book of Eli with Japanese subtitles!
I accidentally read about the revelation at the end on NeoGAF before seeing the movie. :(
After checking in, we took an elevator to the sixth floor. There was a vending machine as soon as we exited that contained various drinks, such as orange juice, tea, and ... beer. Asahi, specifically. My brother was thrilled.
Our room was right by the elevator, and my brother practically passed out after we got settled. I hadn't slept properly for about 39 hours at this point, but I wanted to get some writing done for the trip. I decided to go to sleep as to not disturb my brother and later awoke a bit earlier than him at 4 AM. I knew trying to rest at this point would be a pointless endeavor. I was too excited, because today was the day we were going to Akihabara.