Thursday, March 18, 2010

Quite Enough of a Good Thing

Hi readers—I began this post back in Japan (in fact, early in Japan), and I am back home now, sitting by the fireplace in the living room at 3:30am, wide awake and starving, because my body seems to think it's 7:30 at night, and where is my fish for the evening??? I'm not allowed to eat anything, however, because I have to go to the hospital at 6:00am to begin proceedings for my Gamma Knife event later today. More on that sometime soon over on I Thought I Was Done With This.


Ian and I and J, Ian's work partner and, slightly, boss on this expedition, were met on arrival at Narita airport by Y, one of the people who would be taking the course. This was quite a relief, as all I could see in my jet-lagged state (it's not just the hours of time difference [7; now 8 because of Daylight Savings back home]; it's definitely the hours in the air as well [10]), were Japanese symbols and black-haired people, and that gave me really no clue as to how we were supposed to get to our hotel, which I hadn't paid any attention to, and which Ian remembered wrong. Anyway, we were whizzed through crowds and down hallways and between other travelers. Ian and J were each handed a large envelope of cash—their travel per diems, and food per diems (that saved us the hassle of immediately having to locate an ATM that would work with American banks—many don't)—and then we stopped briefly and bought tickets.

We found ourselves in reserved seats on a train to Yokohama central, switched to a different train and went one stop further to Sakuragicho station, were ushered through the purchasing of Suica cards so we didn't have to buy individual train tickets anymore, and then led out of the station, up an outside escalator, past a Starbucks and into our hotel. We were met by K, a colleague of Y's, who was also staying in the hotel (they both work in labs in other parts of Japan), and the two invited us to dinner. They treated all three of us to dinner that night, and indeed we were treated to dinner the next night as well, and the next night as well. The four-pack of Theo chocolates and the colorful fish-themed magnet that we'd brought for each Y and K started to seem embarrassingly small. We'd been warned about the lavish hospitality of the Japanese, but had way underestimated it.

I will say this: the second two dinners were attended by most of the students in the course, and so 11 people dividing the cost of feeding 14 wasn't quite so bad, but still. We were quite relieved when we were finally allowed to start paying for some of our own sustenance.

The trip up to Kushiro in Hokkaido was equally well-managed, with one exception. Although the train did run from Yokohama to Haneda, the main domestic airport, an airport bus was deemed quicker. We were herded onto the train for one stop from Sakuragicho back to Yokohama Central, then ushered at a fast clip through the station and out a back door where we got into a snaking line. A bus pulled up and the line started moving—not terribly fast, but no hesitation, ever, to allow you to catch your breath. In moments our bags had been taken from us and stowed under the bus and we'd boarded, scanning our Suica cards on the way. Our guides had headed straight for the back, and Ian, who could see farther than me, paused to look around, to see if maybe there were seats together that he'd missed. "No, no, there are two across the aisle from each other back there; go, go!" I hustled him along, caught up in the rush.

We took the two seats, a couple people came back and took the last two just behind us, and people kept coming back. They didn't stand, however: when the last permanent seat was taken, the person grabbed a folded seat from the side of one of the seatbacks and unfolded it into the aisle. He sat down. The next person unfolded the next seat and sat. Then a woman next to us. Flap-flap-flap-flap-flap the rest of the aisle filled up and we were on our way.

When we arrived at the airport, 45 minutes before our flight was due to take off, Y & K headed immediately for baggage check. Here is where their incredibly efficient system broke down.

I had an itinerary from Orbitz, but I did not have a ticket or a seat assignment. When we followed them to baggage check, we were turned away. At least, I was, and Ian, being the gentle and responsible spouse that he is, came with me. We got into a line of people waiting for Ticketing instead, K, joining us to make sure the language barrier didn't slow things down, because at this point we had about 30 minutes before our flight was due to take off. K assured us that going to the gate 15 minutes before was sufficient, and I chose not to worry about it. It wasn't my fault that no one had checked to make sure all the cogs were well-oiled and ready to roll.

Anyway, I was very glad to arrive in Hokkaido where it seemed that things didn't need to be quite so efficient.


And now I am going to head to bed, in the hopes that I'll be able to sleep for an hour and a half, and ignore this aching maw of a belly.

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